By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

How St. Isidore of Seville "Saved Civilization"

He is now--fittingly--the patron of the internet which you are now using because of his heroic, pivotal role in preserving and saving classical culture for a Europe beset with invasion by Germanic tribes. He himself was of Hispano-Roman and Visigothic background (the Visigoths or West Goths were the predominant Germanic invaders of the Iberian Peninsula). Thus, both physically and intellectually he was a bridge that "saved civilization" for Europe. (He was also honored later with the Catholic title "Doctor or Teacher of the Church," as was St. Augustine.)

His landmark encyclopedia of classical knowledge--known as the Etymologies (although the work goes well beyond etymologies)--has now been translated by Cambridge University Press (2010). See this Amazon link.

Here is how his work is described by its Cambridge University publishers at the above link:

"This work is a complete English translation of the Latin Etymologies of Isidore, Bishop of Seville (c.560-636). Isidore compiled the work between c.615 and the early 630s and it takes the form of an encyclopedia, arranged by subject matter. It contains much lore of the late classical world beginning with the Seven Liberal Arts, including Rhetoric, and touches on thousands of topics ranging from the names of God, the terminology of the Law, the technologies of fabrics, ships and agriculture to the names of cities and rivers, the theatrical arts, and cooking utensils. Isidore provides etymologies for most of the terms he explains, finding in the causes of words the underlying key to their meaning. This book offers a highly readable translation of the twenty books of the Etymologies, one of the most widely known texts for a thousand years from Isidore's time."

In the introduction, the Etymologies are seen as "arguably the most influential book after the Bible, in the learned world of the Latin West for nearly a thousand years" (p. 3)--namely, throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Isidore "may be included among the last humanist polymaths of late antiquity, and also among the early and most influential medieval Christians scholars" (p. 16). Thus, Isidore was a bridge between Roman and Goth, between antiquity and what followed.

One of the blurbs on the book's back cover is also worth noting:

"This extraordinary mix of encyclopedia and dictionary must be the most historically important work never to have been translated into English until this fine collaborative effort."

Now, the above is not to minimize the great role of the Byzantines in preserving classical culture for both the West and for Moslems. But on the theme of saving or preserving classical civilization, Isidore is unignorable. And his legacy lives on in the internet which now gives us an instantly accessible encyclopedia of knowledge for the entire world.

(Image under Creative Commons License)