Liber ethimologiarum [Etymologies]

LJS 184 contains the text of the most comprehensive encyclopedia of the early middle ages, originally written by Isidore of Seville in the early seventh century. It is arranged in twenty chapters covering subjects from theology to shipbuilding. As evidenced by this late medieval copy, the Etymologies had an enduring role in codifying medieval systems of knowledge.

The organization of the text prioritizes the seven liberal arts. The first chapters are devoted to the subjects of grammar (Book I), rhetoric and dialectic (Book II), and mathematics (covering the subjects of Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy). Thus, the reader is led through the seven liberal arts in their proper order, providing a foundation for the following chapters. LJS 184 gives extra emphasis to the chapters covering the subjects of the liberal arts by dividing the section on mathematics into two chapters, rather than the usual one.

Isidore of Seville’s definition of dialectic, located after the first decorated initial on fol. 21r, highlights the importance of Aristotle for the early medieval understanding of the subject, declaring “Aristotle brought the argumentative methods of this discipline under certain rules and named it ‘dialectic’.“[1] The importance of Isidore of Seville’s understanding of the liberal arts for the makers and users of LJS 101 is also apparent from the inclusion of a definition of rhetoric attributed to Isidore of Seville on the first page of that manuscript.

[1] Isidore of Seville, The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, ed. and trans. Stephen A. Barney, et. al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 79.