A glimpse into 12th century Renaissance and medieval scholarship

You know how medieval writers can really bewilder with their “forward-thinking” and remarkable acumen. Sometimes they even show signs of modern scholarship. You would not expect them to look beyond the limit of their narrow society and inquire into matters which for them seem too lofty to be gazed at.

Take John of Worcester, one of the distinguished 12th century Anglo-Norman chroniclers. His style is very peculiar and he inserts witty comments but never would I have thought to stumble upon the following passage in one of the manuscripts of his Chronicle:

“I set down here the first month of the Arabic year and the day and hour with which it began so that the work which in Arabic is called ‘Ezich’ and which the learned al-Khwārizmī wrote most carefully on the course of the seven planets, and laid out in tables, is not consigned to oblivion.

The year of our Lord 1138 began according to the Arabs on 16 September, and this was the first day of the first Arab month Muharram, on Friday at the sixth hour, the dominical letter being B. I think this is the 537th accumulated year from which the Arab era begins, that is the 22nd simple or plain year.

In the ninth year of pope Innocent, the third year of King Stephen of the English…”
(The Chronicle of John of Worcester, ed. McGurk, p. 260-1)

For an Anglo-Norman annalist to embed in his work Arabic dating solutions (taken from Adelard of Bath’s calendar tables: AD vs AH dating conversion tables) is quite exceptional and deserves our admiration. This is yet another symptom of the evolving Renaissance that contacts with the Muslim world and access to a wider range of Greco-Roman literature made possible.

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