Adelard returns to Bath - Key Dates

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Also known as Athelhard (English) and Adelardus Bathoniensis or Adelardus Bata (Latin), Adelard has been called the first English scientist. He wrote treatises on the Abacus and on the Astrolabe, the most important scientific instrument of his time.

His translations (with commentaries) of works on Mathematics and Astronomy from the Arabic helped to introduce new science to the west, and to restore knowledge of Greek science which had been lost. His book on Natural Philosophy showed how reason and observation could be used to explain natural phenomena.


1080 Adelard was born in Bath around this date.
1088 The rebellion in favour of Robert of Normandy was crushed by his brother William Rufus. Bath had been badly damaged and was sold to the newly appointed Bishop of WELLS for £500.

1090 Bishop John of Tours (also called John de Villula) transferred his
seat from Wells to Bath, and began to build a great new cathedral here.
Adelard is thought to have attended the school of the Benedictine.
Monastery which became the cathedral priory.

1100 Adelard was sent to Tours, one of the great cathedral schools founded by Charlemagne, where he will have studied the seven liberal arts:- the trivium (grammar, rhetoric and dialectic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music).

1105 He was in France where he played the cithar (a stringed instrument --
forerunner of the guitar) to the queen. This must have been Matilda , wife of Henry I. In " De eodem et diverso"he describes how a little boy was so carried away by the rhythm of the music that he waved his arms with great enthusiasm causing the company to laugh aloud. Queen Matilda is said to have been "generous to poor scholars and musicians".
He began to travel widely visiting Salerno, famous for its school of medicine, Sicily, now a Norman Kingdom, Greece and probably Toledo.

1106 In this year he returned to Bath He witnessed a charter for Bishop John. He was then serving as a member of the Bishop`s staff, his name being included among those of the "ministri".

1107 He was in LAON acting as tutor to his nephew and some other students.
Here he probably wrote "Regule Abaci ", a treatise on the use of the Abacus,
(an early form of calculating apparatus.) It is dedicated to his "dear friend H" most likely one of his students. His philosophical work : "De eodem et diverso" must have been written about this time also. It is dedicated to William, Bishop of Syracuse (1108-1116) In this he discusses the problem of identity and diversity in the form of an allegory. He describes how he walked one evening at Tours beside the river Loire with one of his teachers and met two matrons - Philosophia and Philocosmia. The views of the first are represented by each of the seven liberal arts in personifications which appear in turn. Philocosmia has as her handmaidens Riches, Power, Honour, Fame and Pleasure. It is of course Philosophia who wins Adelard's heart.

1109 He set off on his travels again. In the next seven years, he visited Sicily, Italy , Asia Minor, Spain and probably North Africa.

1114 He was in Manistra, near Antioch on a bridge at the time of an earthquake. He may have obtained important Arabic msnuscripts in this area.

1116 He had probably returned to England. Here he set about writing `Quaestiones Naturales`. In it he speaks of his desire to discover the manners and customs of his own country. He says that `he has learned that its chief men are violent, its magistrates wine-lovers, its judges mercenary, its patrons fickle, private men sycophants, those who make promises deceitful, friends full of jealousy, and almost all men self-seekers`. This book is in the form of a dialogue between uncle and nephew. The nephew asks 76 questions concerned with natural phenomena ; these include : Why is the sea salt? Why do some animals see better at night? How is the globe supported in the air? What causes tides?

Adelard thought there need be no conflict between science and religion. "I will detract nothing from God;" he wrote," for whatever is, is from him and by him; yet not even this is said vaguely and without due care, as we must listen to the very limits of human knowledge: only where this utterly breaks down, should we refer things to God." This book is dedicated to Richard, Bishop of Bayeux (appointed 1107). It was first printed in l480.

At about the same time he was writing "De Cura Accipitrum" a treatise on the care of falcons. He tells us it is based on the "books of King Harold". It shows a wide knowledge of English herbs and of the diseases of falcons, and also an understanding of the practice of falconry.
Medicinal plants referred to include:-columbine; radish; St. John`s wort; mallow; spindle tree; blackthorn; cinquefoil; hawthorn; apple; stonecrop; parsley; ivy; broom; elecampane; wormwood (artemisia absinthium); ash; gromwell (lithospermum); water figwort; water betony; wild thyme; basil thyme; wild basil; betony; red dock; oak; leek; duckweed.

After 1116. During the ensuing years Adelard made two important translations from the Arabic. The first was `The thirteen books of Euclid`s Elements of Geometry`. The original was written c. 300 BC in Alexandria. No Latin version had survived the Dark Ages but two translations had been made from Greek into Arabic in the eighth and ninth centuries. Adelard`s translation, was used by Roger Bacon in the next century and became the basis of all editions in Europe until 1533.

Al-khwarizmi`s Zij (or Astronomical tables) were also translated by Adelard. Since the original no longer exists, Adelard`s version is very important.
Other works translated by Adelard were three texts on astrology:- Centiloquium Ptolomei; `Isagoge Minor `(shorter introduction to astronomy) by Abu Ma`shar and the Liber prestigiorum Thebidis, a book on the theory of images by Thabit b. Qurra. He may also have translated a short book on chiromancy from the Greek.

1130. In this year Adelard was granted a small sum of money (or a fine was remitted) from the revenues of Wiltshire according to an entry in the Pipe Roll. It is thought likely that this was a reward for work done at the Exchequer and that Adelard would have been familiar with the accounting methods used there (based on a chequered cloth laid on a large table) which are known to have been taught at Laon.

1142 Ten royal horoscopes have recently been attributed to Adelard. They have been linked with events in 1149 and 1151. One records a meeting between a master and a former pupil, who might be Adelard and Henry II. Adelard may have acted as tutor in mathematics to the young Henry when he was in Bristol with his mother, Matilda, in 1142 - 1146, staying in the house there of his uncle Robert of Gloucester, natural son of Henry I.

Late in his career, Adelard wrote a treatise on the astrolabe - ` De opere astrolapsus`. It is dedicated to Henry, nephew or grandson (nepos) of the king. With the astrolabe it was possible to calculate the height of a building, the depth of pits and wells and also the longitude and latitude of any place. Since it showed the positions of the stars and planets in relation to the signs of the zodiac, it was also used for astrological predictions. Perhaps its most important use was in telling the time by day or by night; it continued to be used for navigation well into the l7th Century.

1160. The last of the royal horoscopes is thought to have been cast by Adelard in this year. It is not known when Adelard died or where he is buried. Little remains of the great Norman cathedral which may have been completed before his death, although part of the floor may be seen through a grating on the right of the Alphege chapel in the Abbey, and the base of the pillars of the crossing can be seen outside the east end. A section in the Abbey Heritage Vaults is devoted to Adelard,

Sources:-Adelard of Bath, the First English Scientist by Louise Cochrane; British Museum Press l994. Dictionary of National Biography: Adelard; Matilda; John de Villula etc. . Encyclopaedia Britannica: Adelard; Euclid; . Dodi ve Nechti by Israel Gollancz (London l920) contains the first translations into English of Adelard's Quaestiones Naturales, as well as a later Hebrew version.

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