Bede: On the Nature of Things and On Times

Translated with commentary by Calvin B. Kendall and Faith Wallis

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ISBN: 9781846314964

Publication: October 14, 2010

Series: Translated Texts for Historians 56

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The Venerable Bede composed On the Nature of Things (De natura rerum) and On Times (De temporibus) at the outset of his career, about AD 703. Bede fashioned himself as a teacher to his people and his age, and these two short works show him selecting, editing, and clarifying a mass of difficult and sometimes dangerous material. He insisted that his reader understand the mathematical and physical basis of time, and though he was dependent on his textual sources, he also included observations of his own. But Bede was also a Christian exegete who thought deeply and earnestly about how salvation-history connected to natural history and the history of the peoples of the earth. To comprehend his religious mentality, we have to take on board his views on “science” —— and vice versa. On the Nature of Things is a survey of cosmology. Starting with Creation and the universe as a whole, Bede reads the cosmos downwards from the heavens, through the atmosphere, to the oceans and rivers of earth. This order (recapitulating the four elements or fire, air, water and earth) was derived from his main source, Isidore of Seville’s On the Nature of Things. However, Bede separated out Isidore’s chapters on time, and dealt with them in On Times. On Times, like its “second, revised and enlarged edition” The Reckoning of Time (De temporum ratione), works upwards from the smallest units of time, through the day and night, the week, month and year, to the world-ages. Bede’s innovation is to introduce a practical manual of Easter reckoning, or computus, into this survey. Hidden beneath the matter-of-fact surface of the work is an intense polemic about the correct principles for determining the date of Easter —— principles which in Bede’s view are bound up with both the integrity of nature as God’s creation, and the theological significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. In these works Bede re-united cosmology and time-reckoning to form a unified science of computus that would become the framework for Carolingian and Scholastic basic scientific education.

Calvin B. Kendall is Emeritus Professor of English, University of Minnesota.

Faith Wallis is Associate Professor in the Department of History at McGill University, Montreal.

Illustrations Acknowledgements Abbreviations Introduction Date and Purpose of On the Nature of Things (ONT) and On Times (OT) Structure and Content of ONT and OT Unity of Conception of ONT and OT The Place of ONT and OT in Bede’s Thought Bede’s template: Isidore of Seville’s De natura rerum (DNR) Bede’s transformation of Isidore’s DNR Bede’s Attitude Toward Isidore The Easter Controversy and the Pedagogy of Computus The Christian World-Chronicle Bede’s Science: Continuities and New Directions The Transmission of ONT and OT The reception of ONT and OT: glosses and excerpts Principles Governing this Translation Inventory of Manuscripts and Editions of Bede’s ONT and OT Bede: On the Nature of Things A Poem of Bede the Priest The Chapters of On the Nature of Things 1. The Fourfold Work of God 2. The Formation of the World 3. What the World Is 4. The Elements 5. The Firmament 6. The Varied Height of Heaven 7. Upper Heaven 8. The Heavenly Waters 9. The Five Circles of the World 10. The Regions of the World 11. The Stars 12. The Course of the Planets 13. Their Order 14. Their Orbits 15. Why Their Colours Change 16. The Circle of the Zodiac 17. The Twelve Signs 18. The Milky Way 19. The Course and Size of the Sun 20. The Nature and Place of the Moon 21. Method for Determining the Course of the Moon through the Signs of the Zodia 22. The Eclipse of the Sun and the Moon 23. Where there is No Eclipse and Why 24. Comets 25. The Air 26. The Winds 27. The Order of the Winds 28. Thunder 29. Lightning 30. Where Lightning is Not and Why 31. The Rainbow 32. Clouds 33. Rains 34. Hail 35. Snow 36. Signs of Storms or Fair Weather 37. Pestilence 38. On the Dual Nature of the Waters 39. The Ocean’s Tide 40. Why the Sea does Not Grow in Size 41. Why It is Bitter 42. The Red Sea 43. The Nile 44. That the Earth is Bound by Waters 45. The Position of the Earth 46. That the Earth is Like a Globe 47. The Circles of the Earth 48. More on the Same Subject: the Art of Using Sundials 49. Earthquake 50. The Fire of Mount Etna 51. The Division of the Earth Bede: On Times The Chapters of On Times 1. Moments and Hours 2. The Day 3. The Night 4. The Week 5. The Month 6. The Months of the Romans 7. Solstice and Equinox 8. The Seasons 9. Years 10. The Leap-Year Day 11. The Nineteen-Year Cycle 12. The ‘Leap of the Moon’ 13. The Contents of the Paschal Cycle 14. The Formulas for the Headings of the Pascal Tables 15. The Sacrament of the Easter Season 16. The Ages of the World 17. The Sequence and Order of Times 18. The Second Age 19. The Third Age 20. The Fourth Age 21. The Fifth Age 22. The Sixth Age Commentary: On the Nature of Things Commentary: On Times Appendix 1: Bede: A Hymn on the Work of the First Six Days and the Six Ages of the World Appendix 2: An Excursus on Bede’s Mathematical Reasoning Appendix 3: Bede’s Calculation of Tidal Periods and the Purported ‘Immaturity’ of On the Nature of Things Appendix 4: Bede and Lucretius Select Bibliography Index of Sources General Index

The translation itself is extremely well produced: it stays close to the Latin yet employs the best in modern idioms; I could uncover no errors of any kind. Scholars of Bede and the early Middle Ages will read these works with great interest for the light they throw on the organization of Bede's thought and the larger trajectory of his biblical vision; historians of science, meanwhile, will enjoy having in so inviting a volume translations of two early medieval works that had a strong hold on understandings of chronology and cosmology up till modern times.
Scott DeGregorio   ISIS, Volume 103, Number 2

The introduction is a goldmine for manuscript scholars, offering a detailed discussion of the transmission and glossing of the manuscripts of On the Nature of Things and On Time. A wonderful inventory of manuscripts that gathers dispersed information and corrects and updates, it would itself be enough reason for many readers to buy the book
  Speculum 87.4

The volume meets the generally high standards of the series to which it belongs. The interlinear references to the page numbers of the Latin edition, that of Charles W. Jones from Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, cxxiii, are very helpful in works such as this (though on p. 109 the reference to /588/ in the Latin seems to have disappeared; it should appear just after the first semicolon in ch. 5). Much work has been expended on these seemingly slight texts and it is to be appreciated.
  English Historical Review, vol 127, no 529

Accurate, elegant, utterly clear and easily accessible, even for readers who lack expertise in the relevant disciplines. The Commentaries and Appendices shed floods of light on Bede's mental processes and expertise, and will represent a very significant landmark in Bedan studies. The book, in short, will be a wonderful addition to the series of TTH.

Format: Paperback

Size: 210 × 147 mm

222 Pages

ISBN: 9781846314964

Publication: October 14, 2010

Series: Translated Texts for Historians 56

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