Lest I paint too grim a picture of the doctoral student’s life and efforts, I should clarify that while there are days when researching with medieval manuscripts feels like a very slow attempt to squeeze meaning from a stone, there are at least, in compensation, the days when you actually find something, even the something, that makes the previous weeks of fruitless research almost worthwhile.
In his work the Didascalicon (c. 1125), one of the classic theological texts of the twelfth-century renaissance, Hugh of St. Victor lays out an integrated view of human knowledge, insisting upon the need for a scientific pursuit of the traditional arts in order to relieve life’s physical weaknesses and to restore humans’ union with the divine Wisdom. Unusually, as well discussing the traditional pedagogic categories of the trivium and quadrivium, he includes sections on the practical and mechanical arts (such as commerce and agriculture).
In his discussion of the process of study, Hugh also gives us an intriguing peek at his own school days:
Our books have informed us that the pre-eminence in chivalry and learning once belonged to Greece. Then chivalry passed to Rome, together with that highest learning which now has come to France. God grant that it may be cherished here, that the honour which has taken refuge with us may never depart from France. God had awarded it as another’s share, but of Greeks and Romans no more is heard; their fame is passed, and their glowing ash is dead.
Chrétien de Troyes, c. 1170
An incredible thirteenth-century chronicle intersecting the genres of biography, hagiography, and autobiography. Ostensibly a record of the life of Louis IX of France, later canonized Saint Louis, eyewitness Jean de Joinville adds a good deal of his personal thoughts, experiences, and perspectives, making this one of the most interesting and personal of medieval primary sources.
Image: Saint Louis embarks from France in 1248 on the disastrous Seventh Crusade.