from Donatus or Priscian; rhetoric, often with the aid of extracts from Cicero's De Inventiane and Topica, or the treatise Ad Herennium. For the trivium generally a favourite text-book was Cassiodorus (d. 568), De Artibus et Disciplinis Liberalium Artium. For the quadrivium, and for the more advanced logic, the standard manuals were the treatises of Boetius (d. 524), which included some Latin transcripts from parts of Aristotle's Organon. Boetius, "the last of the Romans," was, indeed, an author of cardinal importance in the higher education of the earlier Middle Ages. Another standard work was an encyclopaedia of arts and sciences by Isidore, Bishop of Seville (d. 636), containing a mass of information in every recognised branch of knowledge (Originum s, Etymologiarum libri XX). It is characteristic of education in the Middle Ages that compendia of this poor kind had largely superseded their own classical sources in the ordinary use of the schools. Note should be taken also of the persistent tendency to look for allegorical and mystic senses beneath the literal meaning of a passage. This tendency dates at least from the teaching of Cassian (flor. c. 400), one of the chief founders of Western monachism. It was applied first to the Scriptures, and thence transferred to other books, with an influence which did much to vitiate the medieval study of literature.
The period from c. 500 to the latter part of the eighth century was that during which the general level of knowledge in Europe was probably lowest. Gregory of Tours (d. 595) could declare that "the study of letters" had "perished." Nearly two hundred years later Charles the Great re-echoed the complaint, and sought a remedy. Yet, even in those centuries, there were places of comparative light. Chief among these, on the Continent, were the Benedictine houses. It was in 528 that the Abbey of Monte Cassino was founded by St Benedict. His rule, formulated in 529, provided for regular study. Thenceforth his Order, wherever established, was a powerful agency in the maintenance of knowledge. To the Benedictines is largely due the survival of the Latin classics; indeed, it would be difficult to overrate their services as guardians of books in the darkest age of Europe. In Germany the Benedictine Abbey of Fulda, founded by St Boniface (d. 755), was pre-eminent during the ninth century as a.home of literary studies. Meanwhile the condition of letters in the British Islands was somewhat better than that which prevailed on the Continent. This was conspicuously the case in Ireland, the stronghold of Celtic monachism, which was independent of Benedictine influences. The Irish monasteries, many of which arose before 500, were prosperous. They were devoted to learning, derived partly from a monastic community, the once-famous Insulani, planted (c. 400) by St Honoratus in the isle near Cannes which bears his name; and they had the unique distinction of witnessing to an affinity between the Celtic and the Hellenic spirit. Alone among the religious houses of the West in that age, they fostered