Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/541

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
525
A BOTANIST OF THE NINTH CENTURY.

on the duties of children to their parents, and afterward supported the pretensions of the claimant, whom he considered the rightful heir, without regard to the probable result of the contest. He laid aside his office in 842 and retired to private life, where he employed his time in the composition of his most important work, "De Universo" He was, however, permitted to remain at this congenial pursuit only till 847, when he was chosen Archbishop of Mayence, and was confirmed by the Emperor Louis, notwithstanding he had been a steadfast adherent of his brother and adversary Lothair. He died in the possession of this office in 856, leaving his books to be divided between his beloved Fulda and St. Alban's monastery at Mayence.

It is now time to estimate the value of the life of Rabanus to science, and especially to botany. In the long period between the irruption of the barbarians and the revival of learning in the fifteenth century, three persons whose labors were independent of each other stand especially prominent—Rabanus Maurus, the Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, and Albertus Magnus. The two latter were superior in originality to the other, but Rabanus was the first German who took the pen and endeavored in his work, "De Universo", to make accessible to his contemporaries what the ancients knew.

Of course, he worked in the spirit of his times, and the theologian is constantly appearing between his lines, endeavoring to keep what he might write in accord with the Holy Scriptures. The principal authority from which he drew was the "Origines" of Isidore of Seville, who himself again drew chiefly from Pliny. His work considers in twenty-two books the following subjects: 1-5. Theology; 6. Man and his parts; 7. Kindred, longevity, marriage, death, monstrosities, and beasts of burden; 8. Other animals; 9. Astronomy and meteorology; 10. Chronology and festivals; 11. Water; 12-14. Geography; 15. Philosophers, poets, sorcerers, and heathen; 16. Languages, civic and military ordinances; 17. Mineralogy; 18. Measures, weights, music, and medicine; 19. Agriculture and plants; 20. War, armor, and the theatre; 21. Arts and trades; 22. Household and farming implements. After the fashion of his time, he gave more attention to the mystic meaning of the objects of nature than to their real properties, and attached the greatest importance to the explanation of names, in which so curious ingenuity was employed as to justify the quoting of a few specimens: Death is called mors quod amara sit, or in English because it is bitter; the horse is called equus, because only those horses are harnessed together that are alike in size and color (æquare); the panther has received that name because he is a friend of all (πάντων) animals; the swan is called olor, because its feathers are entirely ('ὅλος) white; the ivy is called Hedera, because it is given to kids (hælis) for food; the willow is called Salix (quod celeriter saliat), because it springs up or grows fast. Rabanus adhered quite closely and uncritically to his originals, and it therefore gives us no surprise