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The Medieval Discovery of Nature

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THE MEDIEVAL DISCOVERY OF NATURE This book examines the relationship between humans and nature that evolved in medieval Europe over the course of a millennium. From the beginning, people lived in nature and discovered things about it. Ancient societies bequeathed to the Middle Ages both the Bible and a pagan conception of natural history. These conflicting legacies shaped medieval European ideas about the natural order and what economic, moral, and biological lessons it might teach. This book analyzes five themes found in medieval views of nature – grafting, breeding mules, original sin, property rights, and disaster – to understand what some medieval people found in nature and what their assumptions and beliefs kept them from seeing. Steven A. Epstein is the Ahmanson-Murphy Distinguished Professor of Medieval History at the University of Kansas. He is the author of numerous articles and six books, including Genoa and the Genoese 958–1528, Speaking of Slavery: Color, Ethnicity, and Human Bondage in Italy, and An Economic and Social History of Later Medieval Europe 1000–1500.

T HE MEDIEVAL DISCOVERY OF NATURE STEVEN A. EPSTEIN University of Kansas

CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS

Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, S˜ao Paulo, Delhi, Mexico City Cambridge University Press 32 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10013-2473, USA www.cambridge.org Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9781107026452 C Steven A. Epstein 2012 

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 2012 Printed in the United States of America A catalog record for this publication is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Epstein, Steven, 1952– The medieval discovery of nature / Steven A. Epstein. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-107-02645-2 (hardback) 1. Human ecology – Europe – History – To 1500. 2. Nature – Effect of human beings on – Europe – History – To 1500. 3. Philosophy of nature – Europe – History – To 1500. 4. Nature – Religious aspects 5. Civilization, Medieval. 6. Europe – History – 476-1492. I. Title. GF540.E67 2012 304.2094 0902–dc23 2012012295 ISBN 978-1-107-02645-2 Hardback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party Internet Web sites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such Web sites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

In memory of David Herlihy

How to gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness, is in fact for most men at all times the secret motive of all they do, and of all they are willing to endure. [Yet] . . . the first gift of natural existence is unhappy. William James The purpose of Nature is the happiness of humanity. Adam Smith The natural is always without error. Dante Alighieri Nature is Life. Pliny the Elder

CONTENTS

Abbreviations

page ix

Preface

xi

Acknowledgments

xiii

Introduction

1

CHAPTER 1

The Discovery of Nature

4

CHAPTER 2

The Invention of Mules

40

CHAPTER 3

Like Produces Like

78

CHAPTER 4

The Nature of Property

113

CHAPTER 5

The Nature of Disaster

148

Conclusion

185

Bibliography

193

Index

203

vii

ABBREVIATIONS

PG J. P. Migne, Patrologiae cursus completus: Series Graeca, Paris 1857–66 PL J. P. Migne, Patrologia Latina, Paris, 1844–55

ix

PREFACE

This brief preface must explain the title and scope of this book, before the introduction launches the reader into Nature as some ancient and medieval people found it. First, Nature with a capital “N” means the living ecology of this world, what we today call the biosphere. Although standard advice on writing holds that an author should stress what the book covers and not what it excludes, the fuzziness of Nature, even narrowly defined, requires a warning label for the readers. Nature in this book does not include the cosmos outside this Earth and hence omits that favorite medieval science – astronomy. Nor does it engage the planet’s nonliving chemistry manipulated and studied by alchemists. The supernatural is often relevant and theological works provide some important witnesses to Nature, but what has been called the theology of nature, or natural theology, or indeed the heaven above or the hell below us, are not our subjects. Fortunately, Dante wrote a natural history of Inferno and Paradiso, and Pliny the Elder, perhaps the first natural historian, ably covered the Earth he knew. Human beings, as much a part of Nature as the plants and animals frequently appearing in these pages, are our subject, although we are not so much interested in that part of Nature between their ears, the processes of the human mind. What premodern people found in Nature was first and foremost themselves, their bodies, what they were, and what it meant to be here. It is certainly true that they also found there the means to food, clothing, and shelter – the basics of life fundamental to any economic history of the Middle Ages. But these vital activities are not our focus. Because Nature is such an immense subject, its discovery may appear a presumptuous endeavor, by contemporaries or posterity. A path through this immensity will be inheritability – how living beings in Nature make copies of themselves, how like produces like. In turn, xi

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Preface

this theme will raise more questions about how people affect Nature and how it shapes them. What people discovered in Nature by living in it turns out to be a series of ideas that form the chapter subjects of this book and they will be explained in the Introduction. Unfortunately, there are very few medieval naturalists or proto-ecologists to study so we must look for sources in almost every genre of writing. Yet, it seems best to avoid the lexical fallacy that presumes that the absence of a word indicates that the subject did not exist. As we will see, medieval people of all types had plenty to say about Nature in our sense. And this did not mean that they simply copied Pliny or provided a tenuous bridge from the Ancients to the Moderns. There is something more to what medieval people found in Nature. Finally, this is not a scrapbook in which I have used the scissors and paste options to assemble some images of Nature depending on the vagaries and happenstances of my reading. In biology this kind of cobbling together of data is known as bricolage and has become in the humanities and social sciences a way of doing scholarship. I do not intend to belittle this approach, for how else could we learn what the best readers have found? But the reader is entitled to ask whether or not the slender threads of explanations in these chapters represent a broad path of important premodern insights or simply some cranky dead ends. In other words, is what I have found in the sources at all worthwhile to you? Only the slow process of reading and response will settle that question. I am painfully aware of the gaps in my reading and the omissions in this book. My hope is that some readers will be encouraged to press forward to correct these flaws. The plan here is to investigate a problem – what premodern people discovered in Nature – not by picking up what is lying around in the libraries and archives, but by asking a series of questions and putting the results between these covers. Like many such endeavors, these findings as an entirety, never gathered in one place before, are simply one way to assemble the pieces of evidence into a coherent pattern. My twenty-first-century interpretations, written in light of Nature’s past five centuries and with tools unavailable to premodern proto-naturalists, would be impossible without their discoveries and theories.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I am grateful to Beatrice Rehl at Cambridge University Press for all her hard work and persistence in seeing this book into print. Pamela LeRow and Paula Courtney from Digital Media Services at the University of Kansas provided invaluable assistance in preparing the manuscript for the press. Fred Goykhman of PETT Fox Inc., Kenneth Karpinski of Aptara Inc., and Amanda J. Smith of Cambridge University Press expertly helped turn the manuscript into a book. Brian Catlos and Sharon Kinoshita invited me to speak about hybridity, setting me on the path that led to this book. Jean Brown Epstein made valuable suggestions, especially on the Bible. My friend and colleague, Don Worster, gave me the benefit of many useful ideas about nature. Two anonymous readers for Cambridge University Press helped improve the manuscript and its arguments. All of them are blameless for the remaining flaws and infelicities. I have dedicated this book to David Herlihy because what I learned from him endures.

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INTRODUCTION

L

ITTLE IN MEDIEVAL CULTURE ENCOURAGED ITS PEOPLE TO LOOK

to Nature for any lessons on morality, happiness, or anything else more complicated than wringing food and resources from it. Although finding the hand of Providence in Nature was its oldest lesson, there might be others. Medieval people discovered their rules and reasons for moral conduct outside Nature, in secular law codes or revealed religion that told them what God wanted. Sometimes the ordinary work of finding food, clothing, and shelter within Nature caused people to confront conflicts between what they believed to be right and what they saw in Nature. These dilemmas opened up the prospect of disturbing choices about right and wrong to people disposed to think that morality was unambiguous, the same everywhere, and revealed in Scripture. Many were taught to think that Nature was fallen, depraved, and hence in most respects impenetrable to human reason and a distraction to the real purpose for which a moral person existed for a short time in this world. A few people came to believe that they could learn something more from Nature than being comfortable in it by the fruits of their or other people’s labor. Neither position implied that people should therefore hate or love Nature, but some did and others simply responded to the beauty or horrors they saw in it. The monotheisms taught that the natural world existed to serve humanity. But could it teach them anything worth knowing beyond the material processes by which they were born, ate, reproduced, and died? What was in Nature as they found it? The premise of this book is that medieval people, obviously existing in Nature, were blocked in their ability to understand what they saw there. “Nature” here means everything associated with later naturalists – in other words, the living part of the universe. For the most part, we will agree with 1

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Pliny the Elder that Nature is life here on earth. Assumptions about the purpose of Nature, the meaning of inherited wisdom about it, and the precepts of their faiths all made it difficult to fathom the processes of Nature. In these circumstances some people retreated from Nature as much as possible and placed their thoughts and hopes on higher things. Others attempted to find a way forward by, in a sense, going around Nature and appealing to answers above or beyond it, the realms of the supernatural. Jesus said His kingdom was not of this world, so what could be found here that was worthwhile, and why spend time looking for it? The argument of this book does not concern those who retreated from or looked away from Nature. Their behaviors have received ample attention in the scholarly literature on communal religious life, magic, and superstition, among other subjects. Our concern is with those medieval people who pressed forward, into Nature, if still not thinking themselves completely of it or this world. These people did not judge the results of natural processes as tricks by the designer or, even worse, as the wiles of Satan. The argument of this book is that certain practical tools or fresh habits of thought allowed some medieval people to discover new things in Nature, even to change it, to make themselves more comfortable in it, and perhaps to find in Nature some happiness – one antidote to their fears and perhaps even a guide to moral behavior. The plan is to make this argument by investigating five issues where confronting Nature was especially challenging but hence also potentially beneficial. First we must look closely at what precisely is meant by the medieval “discovery of nature.” A method to test and evaluate medieval ways forward into Nature is to examine what people understood about an aspect of botany – grafting. This manipulation of Nature bore strange fruits and required ingenuity, theories, and a desire for its consequences. A second strand of the argument about Nature concerns the mule as the clearest case of an animal hybrid that tested the medieval understanding of what was natural and permissible in Nature itself. The third part of the argument takes up inheritability – why and how did like produce like? Often a first interest in this question brought the inquirer to the vexed question of the inheritability of sin as a model for understanding the process of Creation itself. These three approaches to Nature come together in the fourth theme, the problems surrounding the possessing of Nature, the inheritability of Nature itself in the form of money, property, and even enslaved human bodies. Private property is also private Nature. How and why did it come to pass that some people became more comfortable in

Introduction

Nature by owning it? Death was the inescapable fact of life in Nature. Yet people claimed the right to pass property down to their descendants, like producing like in the family itself but also wealth in land and everything upon it, under it, or simply passing across it. Finally, the fifth issue concerns the ways some medieval people saw Nature as an agent occasionally independent of God’s wrath. Examining medieval attitudes toward disasters and other natural phenomena illuminates this agency and brings us to their struggle to combat risk and fear by inventing insurance. These perspectives enrich in rewarding ways the typical stories about medieval people and their encounters with the natural world. Making Nature’s history longer and more complicated is not enough to command your time and attention. As we think about how to survive in the Nature we have fashioned here, why not reimagine another context in which people believed Nature and God commanded them?

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HIS IS A BOOK ABOUT MEDIEVAL IDEAS CONCERNING NATURE AND

what cultural tools enabled premodern people to understand, manipulate, and even own it. Although the idea of what can be passed on is primarily studied here in the natural world, other aspects of being a copy or an heir also appear. The initial approach is to use two tools, biology and linguistics (pragmatics), to read the historical sources to find evidence on inheritability.1 This method requires clarity in language, especially the changing meaning of key words. By way of entering the problem of who discovered Nature and why, let us explore for a moment the common theme of inheritability, which will surface repeatedly in topics like mules, sin, and private property. The problem with the word “inheritability” is that it is an ugly modernism evoking advances in evolutionary theory and genetics foreign to medieval thinking. Although we must use the word for the moment, please try to think of it as a tag for the simple phrase “like produces like.” As we will repeatedly see, this phrase increasingly meant something important in our period bridging ancient and modern thought. Inheritability concerns those innate characteristics of living things that can be passed down to descendants by natural means. Those behaviors that are taught and endure as the human cultural inheritance are not the subject here. Nor are we yet so concerned about things inherited by people, although, as we will see, the language used to describe both processes often overlaps. Passing down requires offspring and implies reproduction, and this is where matters 1

4

On pragmatics and history, see Jef Verschueren, Ideology in Language Use: Pragmatic Guidelines for Empirical Research (Cambridge, 2012) – the basic points concern implicit and explicit meanings, and that writing is of course never free of ideology.

The Discovery of Nature

become complicated. Even a fire may reproduce itself by spreading, and the character of fire remains the same, but it seems wrong to apply inheritability to fire, probably because even though it moves and seems to eat, it does not live. Light too seemed to propagate itself, but few monotheists thought that it lived outside a person. The concept of similitude also applied, as we will shortly see, to the truism that “like produced like.” This phrase has many meanings. It was used by Charles Darwin in 1859 to illustrate a fundamental belief of breeders. He also observed that “the laws governing inheritance are for the most part unknown.”2 This is the context for understanding inheritance in this book, not the foundations Darwin laid for a clearer understanding of the problem of biological inheritance. Even defining “like” left some room for ambiguity. But similitude was not exactitude, and this fact posed more questions about reproduction. Finally, reproduction was a curious phenomenon because it seemed to work in both living and dead systems, and indeed crossed and blurred the line between the two materialities as inanimate things produced or generated living creatures. Many words described how living entities reproduced themselves without extinguishing the original, so that there were more of them than before – the process of multiplication. Peter Biller has closely studied medieval demographic thought with an intense focus on theories concerning multiplication.3 For Biller, the key question about multiplication concerned how and where human populations increased since the Flood, and whether some “foreign” peoples were more numerous and hence more threatening to medieval Christian Europe than others. The end result of multiplication without checks seemed to suggest that the world might fill up with people – the calamity later envisioned by Thomas Malthus. Although this unlikely prospect (at least in the Middle Ages) could become for some theologians a pretext to argue for virginity or that the obligation to be fruitful might be placed in abeyance, it did not affect ideas about inheritability. In practice, Biller found most of his demographic thought in medieval theologies of marriage, a subject with a vast scholarly literature then and now. Peter Brown investigated the negation of multiplication, how and why some late

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Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (New York, n.d.) p. 19 for the observation and quotation. This is the Modern Library edition, possibly the first book I purchased as a boy. For what follows, see Peter Biller, The Measure of Multitude: Population in Medieval Thought (Oxford, 2000) especially pp. 60–88 but also throughout book.

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ancient people renounced sex, embraced chastity, and in some cases even contemplated undoing the power of death by refusing to have children.4 Although these choices remained distinctly minority views in the Middle Ages, those invested in them would have little or no interest in inheritability. Brown mentions a subject he labels eugenic sex – those ancient (and mythic) practices by which couples believed they could affect the offspring.5 As we will see, these and other ideas about parental influences enter the broad issues concerning inheritability and will form a major focus of the later chapters in this book. But again, for those who for whatever reason had decided against perpetuating the human species, such matters were trivial. Some aspects of the general issue of inheritability have already been well studied, especially as they concern human reproduction. Joan Cadden has carefully sifted the ancient and medieval evidence to explore one important aspect of inheritability – how male and female parents produce girls and boys, and how they may shape or affect what their children in some mysterious ways inherited from the parents, but again not exactly.6 This study also proves that medieval medicine is the place to look for one aspect of applied biology – inheritability. Maaike van der Lugt has investigated the issues surrounding what we might call supernatural reproduction, and these exceptions provide clues about what was considered ordinary or plainly natural.7 Her emphasis was much more on generation than inheritability, as her examples prove: the (apparently) spontaneous generation of worms (and other ostensibly simple living things), the unique Conception of Jesus and its special problems, and the occasions when demons impregnated women who then gave birth to a demonic hybrid. Worms, flies, and other creatures appeared daily; Jesus was born once; and the demons were extraordinary and repellent. These exceptional cases, however compelling as stories or explanatory models, do not get us very far in understanding ordinary inheritability. Nonetheless, these two excellent books and other studies have really advanced our understanding of human procreation and sex differences. How to study inheritability in medical and 4

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Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York, 1988). Ibid. pp. 20–1. Joan Cadden, Meanings of Sex Differences in the Middle Ages: Medicine, Science, and Culture (Cambridge, 1993). Maaike van der Lugt, Le ver, le d´emon et la Vi`erge: Les theories m´edi´evales de la g´en´eration extraordinaire (Paris, 2004).

The Discovery of Nature

theological sources becomes a challenge in looking for unexpected topics that introduce the subject where it might be least expected. A recent issue of the journal Micrologus devoted to heredity from the Middle Ages to modernity is the best introduction to the meanings of “heredity” in the longue dur´ee stretching from about 1300 to 1800.8 The issue is nonetheless sensitive to the classical inheritance and the scholastic understanding of it before 1300, as well as the dawn of modern genetics in the nineteenth century. The editors of the issue wrote an important introduction to what is a series of case studies or preliminary soundings into what we might call the special cases of inheritability where manageable research agendas are mostly about people – nobles or Jews, a little on dogs and horses, and nothing on plants. Leaving the specifics for later, let us note themes suggested for closer inspection over the course of this book. Legal texts will take up inheritability not just for wills and succession, but also to define a status like noble or slave. Theological texts do the same work for Jews and especially in the fifteenth century address the important topic of whether there is something innate in Jews that can be inherited, regardless of religious conversion, something impure in their blood. Medical texts might also include this issue about Jews and other ethnic groups as well as more specialized topics like hereditary diseases. The science of physiognomy, which studied the features of the human body, especially the face, for clues to human temperaments and behaviors, might also provide a mechanism for explaining special matters – for example, why the faces of children sometimes resembled one parent, or the other, or indeed neither. All these points suggest that a broad and interdisciplinary approach to inheritability will yield the best results, and that as many different types of sources as possible merit scrutiny. I plan to show in this chapter that inheritability was well understood in surprising ways by many medieval people, from scholars in their lofty perches in the great universities to farmers in the most remote countryside. Paying close attention to their uses of languages to describe what they knew repays the effort. Modern advances in genetics and plant breeding suggest fresh questions to investigate about how medieval people thought about grafting vines and fruit trees. Botany has been neglected in modern studies, but certainly not by 8

ˆ et Epoque ´ L’h´er´edit´e entre Moyen Age moderne: Perspectives historiques. Edited by Maaike van der Lugt and Charles Miramon. Micrologus 27 (2008), good for the state of research up to around 2004.

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the millions of medieval agriculturalists looking for ways to get more food from their soils and labors. Money was also capable of reproducing itself, often in morally dubious ways, and its procreation, like that of people, encouraged speculations of all kinds about how and why this occurred. Finally, the problem of the hybrid, be it plant, animal, or human, challenged conventional notions about Nature and purity. The offspring, in the case of people, were often deprecated, but nevertheless needed to be explained. Most of these themes come together in the life of St. Francis, whose experience enables us to see how far thirteenth-century views of Nature had grown from their roots.

FINDING MEDIEVAL NATURE Two phrases about Nature in the Middle Ages have incited a vast literature and baffled synthesis and conjecture. They are “the Discovery of Nature” and “Reading the Book of Nature,” and the academic industries deriving from these now tiresome clich´es or banalities have overwhelmed the original and ancient kernel of value they contained. Because this study depends on a patient and attentive analysis of language use in context, we are certainly interested in the histories of the word “nature” and its shifts in tone and meaning over time. Whoever was discovering Nature or reading its book, they were not what later centuries would call naturalists. The metaphor of “the book of nature” is probably as old as the book.9 E. R. Curtius followed this engaging metaphor from the twelfth century to the Brothers Grimm.10 Whoever first discovered or read the Book of Nature, it would be a very long time before there was a chapter on inheritability. This is a peculiar but not unfamiliar intellectual problem: we have an important topic to explore – inheritability – without a single medieval work explicitly on the subject. Nature supplies the evidence, but we have no naturalists looking for it, just as we will be looking at botany without any medieval botanists. Some scholars depreciate historical research on themes

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See in general The Book of Nature in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Edited by Arjo Vanderjagt and Klaus van Berkell (Leuven, 2005) p. 35 Augustine may have been the first to use the trope in Latin, but Aristotle was certainly close in Greek. Kathleen M. Crowther, Adam and Eve in the Protestant Reformation (Cambridge, 2010) pp. 185–90, explores the trope and concludes that, though old, it came into its own in the sixteenth century. E. R. Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Translated by Willard Trask (Princeton, 1973) pp. 319–26, and the book of nature would be a serious book for a scriptural culture.

The Discovery of Nature

like the economy, or inheritability, reasoning that if medieval people did not use these abstract words to describe their world, they are modern inventions imposed on the past and distorting it. There is a point to this objection; I suppose no one will ever write a book on medieval genetics or cell biology. But the absence of a word does not always prove that the subject was absent. On the model conceding that medieval people came late to the word “economy” but thought and engaged daily in markets and buying and selling, we can see that “inheritability” is a word they seldom used. Nonetheless, they thought a great deal about innate traits in people and bred animals and plants over many generations with definite goals in mind. These required some reason, unnatural selection, for believing that they could change the species God had designed – with an inbuilt mechanism allowing for fixing the subsequent change! Historians and critics have long relied on philology to provide the basis for any such analysis of a concept whose meaning and use change over time. Yet as Marie-Dominique Chenu, an early and still fresh observer of the twelfthcentury discovery of Nature, claimed, “Return to the ancients always begets a historically oriented humanism, to be sure; philology becomes its instrument, and the human sympathy we derive from such study is not without a certain aristocratic distinction.”11 This interesting sentence connects the alleged medieval discovery of Nature to the larger project of “returning to the ancients” – the many guises of classical revivals or renaissances. We assume here that the medieval interlude might best be described as yet another “rediscovery of Nature.” Of course, classical authors like Aristotle, Theophrastus, and Pliny the Elder, to name the first three that come to mind, knew Nature well enough, let alone the many millions who had toiled on the land to extract from it the food necessary to feed those articulate members of society encountering Nature less onerously. So let us concede that some ancients knew Nature, and some of the pagans understood it the same way Spinoza later simply suggested it, that Nature was God. This Nature seemed altogether too secular for all those monotheists occupying the middle ground between ancient paganism and what some have called, fairly or not, the rise of modern paganism. Yet the monotheists, suspicious of any response to Nature that smacked of polytheistic spirits in 11

M.-D. Chenu, Nature, Man and Society in the Twelfth Century. Translated by Jerome Taylor and Lester K. Little (Toronto, 1997) pp. 3–4 from the essay “Nature and Man – The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century,” which contains the well-known section on “The Discovery of Nature.” Anyone who read this work at a formative stage of education has been influenced by it forever.

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every bit of it or some pantheistic aura embracing all of it, knew their creator made the secular world. It was therefore meaningful. Nature is this world as we find it, and opinions varied about whether the supernatural had more information to reveal about Nature than we might see and learn for ourselves. The theologian and philosopher William of Conches (c. 1090–c. 1154) has an early (from the 1140s) and important view on Nature. He wrote that “nature is a certain power grafted into things, making like from like.”12 Many of the themes of this book appear in this short sentence, which, as far as I can tell, may be William’s original idea. Three points merit notice here. First, Nature is not a place or an idea but a living force. Second, William uses a wonderful word – “graft” – to explain how this quality is inserted into things. As we will see, grafting plants interested medieval people and was an important agricultural skill. Third, the phrase “like from like” has a long sequel in Western thought. This stance is the first take on the problem of inheritability – the ability we have (and share with other living things) to make something like ourselves, to reproduce. William was discussing Nature in contrast to production, the work of the craftsman who makes something we now see as artificial, not natural. These opinions, in some ways already venerable by the time William expressed them, became increasingly well known. For example, St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) also found grafting to be a powerful image, in her case for describing what God had put in Adam’s rib from which he made Eve.13 Eve, another case of special creation, became in Hildegard’s writing a 12

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William of Conches, Dragmaticon Philosophiae. Edited by I. Ronca (Turnhout, 1997) 1.7.3 p. 30: “natura est vis quaedam rebus insita, similia de similibus operans.” All translations are my own unless otherwise noted. A search of the Brepols Library of Latin Texts Series A (accessed January 24, 2011) reveals that the phrase appears only eight times: six by William in various works, once in the obscure early-twelfth-century sermons of Isaac de Stella, and once in the thirteenth-century chronicle by the Dutch Premonstratensian Emo abbot of Bloemhof. The modern editors of this text were unable to identify the source of this phrase, which Emo used in a theological digression, but in context he might have picked up the idea from something he read in Augustine. See H. P. H. Jansen and A. Janse, Kroniek van het klooster Bloemhof te Wittewierum (Hilversum, 1991) pp. 156–7 for Latin and Dutch translation. For these reasons it seems fair to credit William with bringing the phrase to life. See also Clive Staples Lewis, Studies in Words (Cambridge, 1967) pp. 24–74 for a discussion of Nature not in the context of the environment or biosphere. Hildegard of Bingen, Sciuias, pars 1 visio 2 cap. 11: “Nam de costa insito calore et suco Adae Eua formata est.” Brepols Library of Latin Texts- Series A, accessed April 28, 2011. Hence the qualities of heat and juice found in males also appeared in women.

The Discovery of Nature

way to argue that what was important and powerful in Adam passed to Eve. The great Latin dictionary compiled by 1286 in Genoa by Giovanni Balbi, the Catholicon, defined “nature as a power naturally grafted in things producing like from like.”14 Very close to William’s language, these words make clear that the natural processes of procreation placed similitude at the core of Nature. Like producing like defined Nature. Before we return to the question of the discovery of Nature, it is worth noting something about William’s simple definition of Nature because it harmonizes the classical pagan and monotheistic traditions about reproduction. Given that we are asking here why and how does like produce like, we would do well to remember the clear and emphatic monotheistic answer to at least the why question: because God commanded it. There is a very long and important tradition in biblical exegesis concerning the divine command to people in Genesis 1:28 – “be fruitful and multiply.”15 All we need to notice for the moment is the general order to multiply, to make more people.16 Many subsequent monotheistic observers would be content to believe that because God ordained human reproduction, the mechanism, the power in us, naturally and inevitably guaranteed that we would succeed in multiplying ourselves and make more people like us. This view of things made curiosity about the details of the “how” irrelevant to the divine command, which was cause enough to explain the outcome. Of course like produced like – how else could we multiply? An earlier biblical passage alluded to this result. In Genesis 1:11–12, the reproduction of plants is explained as being each “after its kind.”17 The mechanism of reproduction, or 14

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Giovanni Balbi, Catholicon (Mainz, 1460) at natura, the main part of a longer definition “Et natura dicitur quedam uis naturaliter rebus insita de similibus similia procreans.” Note already the issue of grafting. Balbi drew on previous dictionaries and other sources back to antiquity. A justly well-known study is an intense survey of exegesis of this very line, by Jeremy Cohen, “Be Fertile and Increase, Fill the Earth and Master It”: The Ancient and Medieval Career of a Biblical Text (Ithaca, 1989). Cohen’s interest covers both halves of the command, and his work demonstrates to historians the benefits of exegetical works as sources for opinions on many issues. This approach is valuable for a number of other biblical passages considered in this book. Cohen does not address the problems of inheritability as they may relate to the order to “multiply.” As Peter Brown has emphasized, following Augustine, the command to increase and multiply was issued in Paradise before the Fall; see The Body and Society pp. 400–1. In the Vulgate Latin, twice “iuxta genus suum” and once “secundum speciem suam,” words to ponder throughout but usually species is an individual example of the type, the genus that breeds true.

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the procreation codified by Balbi, as God ordained, ensures continuity of type, by analogy to the plant kingdom for all animals. For many this explanation from Genesis is enough to explain the result of like producing like. We are interested in the people who want to know more and see problems and inconsistencies in the general rule. Pagan and monotheistic ideas about Nature had become so intertwined by the Middle Ages that it is perhaps better at the beginning to take a step back and ask how deep the commonalities go. Before we divide the world into Athens and Jerusalem with respect to Nature, can we identify some even older human ideas about Nature? Our interest here is not the entire cosmos but just a few assumptions that framed the narrower issue of inheritability.18 There is no point at this stage to bothering about which surviving text may have been the first to articulate a view; instead, we are interested in human lore. Most people believed that the earth was designed, although a persistent minority view saw it as the product of chance. The designer’s plan for creation was not simple or transparent. Holy Western texts like Genesis placed mankind in dominion over the natural world. Human reason, illuminated by scripture and revelation, was capable of grasping at least part of the designer’s plan. What did the Psalmist mean by asking, “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” compared to the heavens, where the angels dwelled above people made “a little lower” than themselves (Ps. 8:4–5). A principle of plenitude held that the world contained a rich diversity of creatures and resources. Everything that can exist already existed; the designer was not continuing to make new things. Humanity was a purposeful part of this created world, which was bountiful and contained even more than people needed to survive. This diversity and plenitude of life on earth were old ideas waiting a very long time for Charles Darwin to see a connection between them that profoundly affected how nearly all people understand these facts today. Once again, to comprehend Nature in its pre-Darwin state, we must see these facts the old way. Diversity was part of the design; the benevolent creator wisely provided for humanity, even down to the hardest-to-understand features 18

My views here have been deeply influenced by many works, but especially Clarence J. Glacken, Traces on the Rhodian Shore: Nature and Culture in Western Thought from Ancient Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century (Berkeley, 1967) and Donald Worster, Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas (Cambridge, 1994), which picks up the story in the Enlightenment and carries it through the twentieth century. For a global perspective, see Joachim Radkau, Nature and Power: A Global History of The Environment (Cambridge, 2008).

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of that plan, like mosquitoes. Plenty was good when it came to fruits and wild game, or troubling when it concerned human beings and the problems of the world filling up with people. In the Middle Ages, these monotheists in the West learned that their world was even bigger than they had thought, and populated with numerous and threatening peoples like the Mongols.19 Yet whatever issues the principles of diversity and plenitude raised, they did not, before Darwin, directly concern the problem of inheritability. This diversity of life revealed a unity and harmony in Nature, which, had it been left undisturbed, was a Golden Age or Paradise. The problem with this idyllic moment is that by the time in history when people began to preserve their thoughts in tales or writing, it was over. The strands of thought we must now distinguish as pagan or monotheistic had different traditions about why this perfect harmony in Nature no longer prevailed. The monotheistic story of Paradise Lost is so familiar it need not detain us now. What we must remember is that people fell and had to leave Paradise, and the Nature they now endured was not the natural home God first intended for them. Postlapsarian Nature became a secular battleground where Nature appeared sinful and bloody rather than pure and golden. The good part about the Fall, however, was that it presumed an end; this world was not eternal but by the designer’s plan now had a beginning, a middle of unknowable duration, and a vivid end. Before the monotheists validated this account, other stories taught that this world was eternal and renewing itself or that it had a life cycle of its own, dooming it to stages ending in senescence and death. The monotheists could live with the theme of decay because it was congenial to the doctrine of original sin leading to an end however conceived, but the eternity of the world was for them a nonstarter that medieval authorities branded as pagan and/or heretical. In both conceptions of Nature it was still useful for some to understand how and why like produced like in the interval, whether it was forever or simply long or short, depending on the designer’s plan. The monotheists explained the diversity of life in Nature, and its many bounties, as wise provisions of the plan. Older, mundane ideas continued to complicate this stark vision. Each of them, as we will see, has a role to play in understanding inheritability. If a believer in the monotheistic plan wanted to work hard at it, these ideas could be made congruent to the great design. This task was certainly easy when explaining human greed as a great factor in the 19

On this theme, see P. Biller, The Measure of Multitude pp. 227–39.

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resulting diversity of life among peoples (richer and poorer, etc.) and even their sway over favored plants and animals to the detriment of others. Diversity has two faces – within and among the types. Nature contained many types of living things, but all people, men and women, shared common features, which, in turn, were diverse, not identical. Preindustrial greed explained why some of these individuals thrived while others became slaves, why some animals disappeared while others served man. Was greed a trait like red hair, or a temperament, or disposition that could be inherited? The role of fortune or chance in Nature was another old idea that conflicted with a perfect and harmonious plan, but a belief in fortune was too ingrained to simply jettison (along with the goddess) in the face of monotheistic certainties.20 In terms of inheritability, a person might be born a favorite of fortune, but was this too a trait passing down some lucky family lines and not others? A third venerable belief was what we might as well call from the start astrology, a very old and pervasive doctrine connecting changes in the heavens to developments and diversities down here. The monotheists could try to domesticate astrology and make it part of the great design, but weighty authorities like St. Augustine and the Bible dismissed the entire explanatory model as pagan nonsense. Yet there always remained room for believing or hoping that astrology simply revealed possibilities that prayer, for example, might avert. So there was a way to believe that astrology was part of the divine plan and its purpose was to warn the wise or the faithful about heavenly influences – down to the beams from stars and planets – that might be affecting their fortunes in the here and now as well as into the future. Finally, climate itself, or even the soil, the simple fact that physical nature as we find it is not uniform across this world, might explain the diversity of living things in this world, down to the ethnicities and even different colors of the people living here now. In brief, the holy texts and their busy interpreters could make human greed a sin and hence a legitimate explanatory model for some current failings in Nature. But fortune, astrology, and climate found no convincing positive support in the holy monotheistic texts. Anyone trying to use them to explain inheritability was headed for trouble with the rule and boundary makers.

20

For some astute observations about the role and artistic portrayals of fortune, see Alexander Murray, Reason and Society in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1978) pp. 98–101 and Plate III. The point where Fortune steps off her wheel and instead turns it marks a big change in what fortune means.

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Because an interest in the style as well as the content of the thought (and art) of classical antiquity has frequently been called Humanism, Chenu was right to see the links between an admiring return to the ancients and a humanism that was always in tension with some Christian, Muslim, and Jewish thinkers who saw that enterprise as basically secular, and hence trivial, or wrong (of course, some did not see it that way).21 Perhaps Nature had to be sacralized, or better, perhaps theologians had to take the lead in a bookish return to or discovery of Nature that would repackage classical learning into an acceptable understanding of mundane Nature and its laws. After all, the injunction to read the Book of Nature was more likely to send the literate to read Pliny rather than to go out into Nature and learn about the reproductive cycle of mosses. (The metaphor of Nature as a book was probably bad for botany, reading, and Nature!) The theologians also had the task of searching their holy texts for evidence of ideas about Nature or even better signs in Nature revealing deeper truths. This was not always an easy endeavor, because the texts mostly originated in the harsh and stark natural world of the eastern Mediterranean. And yet this was the milieu giving birth to the idea of Paradise, with all its lush diversity. And this Eden, or whatever one might call it, contained all the later problems surrounding the natural, the preternatural, and the supernatural, let alone the contrasts between it and the heavens above and whatever was below. Yet it would be wrong to expect that all or indeed any theologians would be engaged enough in the natural world to comment on it, or want to read about it, or ask peasants about it. R. W. Southern identified the problems. Scholastic culture “did nothing to promote the study of the actual operations of the natural world, except in human behaviour and in the sciences of the mind.”22 Theologians would inevitably be drawn to those aspects of the natural world shedding light on their central preoccupation – sin – a deed and a thought. The Bible, as the revealed word of God, contained everything worth knowing about sin, leaving Nature no additional lessons to teach. Nature was where sin now occurred, beginning with the very thoughts of the sinner. And as Southern also saw, whatever facts observers gleaned from the natural world were anyway unreliable because they came to the mind through fallible mortal 21

22

Going back directly to the holy texts or the earliest holy commentators on them was not a secular endeavor, but it did not take people back to Nature – except to Paradise, or their current fallen condition in this secular world. R. W. Southern, Robert Grosseteste: The Growth of an English Mind in Medieval Europe (Oxford, 1986) p. 94.

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senses, and the best minds of the past, with Aristotle leading the way, had anyway already grasped and described the essentials.23 This intellectual context did not preclude natural science as we understand it. Rather, theologians, the busiest medieval writers, were not so inclined toward looking for fresh data as they were likely to compile the best old ideas. And yet, as we will see, curiosity occasionally triumphed over habit, and some theologians and other writers recorded new details about Nature, including inheritability. Eventually, the people who drew the food supply from Nature put down some ideas and discoveries of their own, especially for our purposes about breeding more useful plants and animals. The second point from Chenu concerns the work of history – what historians do. Given that we have a diachronic problem here – a medieval conception of Nature that is at least partly a recovered ancient one (and both appreciated in the twenty-first century through the filters of many intervening developments) – we need a historical method. Above all we require some sense of a history of ideas about Nature (and inheritability) embedded in contexts changing over time. Precisely defining this changing Nature is work for later; for now we need to be clear that it includes more than looking out the window to gaze on the world, or the cosmos, or even the universe. We beings, unlike angels in so many ways, cannot expect manna to fall from the sky or to subsist on that endlessly diverting resource – angel food. Instead, humans need to eat and to respond to beauty, and they need to reproduce or generate their own kind, or else their role in Nature terminates. This is the context for a history of humanism that must become immediately a broadened Nature, an ecology of wilderness and farming, an economy of food and work, an environment including people. It must be more than occasional articulations about what someone wrote about what they called Nature. Simply put, a catalog of medieval ideas about Nature, in the very best scholastic tradition, accomplishes nothing.24 The third point from Chenu concerns language, or linguistics, or what for historians has been the primary tool for investigating changes in meaning of words over time – philology. For any medievalist working largely before 1300, this means the philology of medieval Latin, as practiced across a continent 23 24

Ibid. pp. 173–4, rephrased here. This is not to depreciate the value of Glacken, Traces on the Rhodian Shore, a complex book whose author understood well the Middle Ages, but did see it as an interlude between more creative periods of curiosity about the natural environment. Modern human agents have a far greater capacity to change this world, as Worster and others have demonstrated.

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with styles and schools of Latinity hardly yet studied or understood. Historians who work on written words do not need to be reminded about philology or linguistics, but they would do well in my view to pay attention to what our colleagues in pragmatics have accomplished in the last few decades.25 Pragmatics is the study of meaningful functions of language in the context of explicit and implicit meanings. Meaning is what the writer intended to convey, and in our case the Latin language carries the intention. All users of language make choices about the words, grammars, and arguments they use. Hence a real dynamic exists in language between the interadaptability of strategies of language use and the implicit and explicit generations of meaning. This linguistic analysis assumes a past intentional meaning we can study and recover, and hence differs from much of postmodern literary theory. There is, of course, the meanings we make today about, for example, ecology, but our task here is to explore old, historical meanings about one aspect of Nature – inheritability. Already our context of pragmatics reminds us of how this word is used in many contexts (before the rise of modern genetics) that shaped how medieval people thought about the issues. At first there may have been the idea of the heir, a concept familiar enough to everyone living long enough to become one. The last will and testament provides one major, legal context for thinking about a kind of inheritability. This well-studied approach concerns the transfer of wealth and power from a testator, a dead person, to an heir. These legal personalities and their context are not yet what we have in mind, but they certainly affected the language, the form of thought surrounding the concept of inheritability. For our purposes we will first bundle together and then unpack pieces of the problem of explaining inheritability. First, especially from the theologians but because of them a bother to everyone else, is original sin, in theory the inheritance no human could deny or refuse. Second, and not unrelated to the first, is the issue of hereditary disease. Illness is only a part of what we might inherit, but it is certainly a somber issue people wanted to understand even if there was nothing they could do about it. Third, the now-familiar phrase “like produces like” will come up in many contexts in this study. It introduces the difference between inheriting and reproducing, but on some fundamental level it was a way to have an heir without dying right away. Likeness and image 25

For what follows I rely on Jef Verschueren, Understanding Pragmatics (London, 1999) and Jacob L. Mey, Pragmatics: An Introduction (Oxford, 1993).

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suggest many contexts but at least they raise the question for a mechanism for controlling the process by which like may produce like, or in some cases not. On the most basic level, why do children resemble their parents, or not, or not exactly? Fourth, there is skin color as a proxy for racial difference. We may have five fingers because we inherit the trait from our parents or because of the way like produces like, but there is no way to pretend that this is as important a human trait as skin color and all for which it stands in proxy. Can an Ethiopian change his color? Why should he want to? How can he? What about his children by non-Ethiopians? – the list of questions is even longer and more challenging than that. Can where he lives change his color, can other people affect it, or the sun, or disease, or the passage of time? The inheritability of skin color and what it signifies has a longer history than some modern people think. Fifth, and finally, one more word – hybridity – an ancient Greek one with an interesting history of language use over time, indeed down to the present. The mixed creature has a medieval chapter, and it does pose the first way to talk about the inheritance of some traits that seem able to dominate or prevail over others, sometimes for the better, but often for the worse. A standard philological approach to the ways users of medieval Latin wrote about these topics is not enough. Pragmatics requires that we look at all of them, and others, and how language about one shapes use about the others. Above all, theologians were not the only people to use language to think about these issues. The last point from Chenu concerns what he meant by seeing a historically minded philological approach to humanism and Nature as making it possible for us to experience a sympathy (for whom?) that is somehow aristocratic (and this cannot be a good thing in French!) The sympathy idea, coming from a theologian, must mean that we can acquire from this endeavor a feeling for what the peoples of the past experienced in their discoveries and recoveries about the natural world. The ironical aristocratic idea may insist that we reject the hauteur of a species of dismissive philology that views all previous language use, like Whig history, as halting steps to our “more perfect” understanding of word use in context. Instead, we must rightly consider that our understanding of the meaning of words has not necessarily progressed, and we should perhaps join the theologians in worrying about just where a secularized Nature may be leading us anyway. (I write this line at the worst moment of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Disaster of 2010.) Maybe Chenu was also hinting that if we are looking for an antidote to aristocratic arrogance, we should look to those whose feet

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were firmly planted in the soil of France (Europe), the country people, the peasants – for whom philology has uncovered many more labels, most of them unpleasant.26

THE EXPERIENCE OF NATURE We have already been warned by Southern and other scholars not to expect medieval theologians to become vertebrate morphologists or botanists filled with discoveries about Nature. Nor do we see many of them seeking out the illiterate farmers and learning from them new facts of Nature, to be recorded as evidences of oral biology. The habit of acquiring knowledge by consulting people outside one’s institutional framework or social class was very uncommon. Similarly, most physicians engaged in academic medicine were not predisposed to consult herbalists or midwifes for evidence that might contradict Galen or Aristotle. Nearly everyone seems to have been predisposed to believe that minds like theirs or Pliny the Elder had already done this work and there was nothing more to learn about the natural world, except possibly from later travelers like Marco Polo who visited places unknown to the ancient authorities. We are not casting our net so widely as to catch every new fact about Nature – we are looking for the tiny bits that concern inheritability. Given all these circumstances, from the lack of curiosity among the educated elites to the illiteracy of the mass of the population and the limited horizons of even the most thoughtful travelers, where can we discover the fragments of experience in Nature? Even the poets in Latin were under the sway of ancient masters like Virgil and were more likely to pass on his lovely images of the bees than they were to consult a twelfth-century beekeeper and tell us something fresh about reproduction in the hive. What we will find is a few specks of gold amid a lot of tailings. And when we find richer veins, their emphasis may be a real puzzle. For example, the truism “like produces like” is related in old ways to another nostrum, this one medical – “like cures like.” A vast number of recipes for homeopathic medicines appear in medieval texts and they often rely on ground-up bits of animals and plants to cure diseases that in strange ways resemble the quality of the animal or plant. One need only ponder for a 26

See Paul Freedman, Images of the Medieval Peasant (Stanford, 1999) pp. 9–10 and elsewhere for an astute understanding of the fraught vocabulary surrounding the medieval farmer.

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moment the possible medical uses of mule testicles (hint – sterility) to see the opportunities and problems here. As a test case, consider one of the greatest medieval commentators on Nature, the Dominican theologian Albertus Magnus (?1193–1280), whose mammoth twenty-six books on animals has been rightly called the Summa Zoologica of the Middle Ages. We are lucky to have a superbly edited Latin text in 1,598 pages, well indexed and annotated, and remarkably a wonderful modern English translation in two massive volumes of 1,768 pages of texts and good indices.27 (He wrote an equally lengthy work on plants, which is considered later, and also used for this test of learned and popular sources of information about Nature.) My own readings and soundings in these texts, notes, and indices have revealed a few cases where Albert experienced Nature by asking someone about it and recording the answers. In other words, he has a lot to say about Nature and appears to be an authority on many subjects. He knew the literary works of his predecessors and referred to them frequently. What he learned by asking ordinary farmers and fishermen is less clear. I think even if he did ask, he would seldom write that he did in books intended for learned audiences, and all this in works revealing that he knew Pliny the Elder and Avicenna so well, and citing them at every turn. Such was the authority of the likes of Aristotle and the rest, and perhaps the potential embarrassment of admitting to relying on “vulgar” opinions. A second problem about this secondhand experience of Nature is that the learned sometimes show contempt for the rustici (a common word for farmers) and mention them only as ways not to think, and presumably sources of information not to trust. To take one example among many, the great predecessor of Albert, Thomas of Cantimpr´e (1201–72) compiled a huge Liber de natura rerum surveying all of Nature. A rare comment on rustici in the context of discussing bulls and cattle reveals the problem. Thomas notes that bulls spending too many years and too much time engaged in procreation die suddenly, and are debilitated a long time before death.28 What is striking about this alleged piece 27

28

For the Latin, see Albertus Magnus De Animalibus Libri XXVI. Edited by Hermann Stadler. ¨ Beitrage 1920); English translation ¨ zur Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters vol 16 (Munster, Albertus Magnus on Animals: A Medieval Summa Zoologica. Translated by Kenneth F. Kitchell Jr. and Irven Michael Resnick. 2 vols. (Baltimore, 1999). For what follows, see Thomas de Cantimpr´e, Liber de natura rerum. Edited by H. Boese (Berlin, 1973) 4.98.36–40 – “Hoc idem videmus in hominibus rusticis et agriculturibus, qui inexperti errant deliciarum et laborem expertes, cotidie,” p. 165.

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of pastoral lore is not the presumed source, whoever it was, but that Thomas goes on to remark that rustici behave the same way and one sees this all the time. This is what he has learned from peasants – that they are, in this behavior as in so many others, themselves like oversexed animals, not reliable oral sources on animal husbandry for theologian/naturalists.29 William of Conches, so prescient on Nature, wrote early enough in the twelfth century that we might hope his itinerant academic life and curiosity may have brought him into beneficial contact with the rustici. Chenu noticed a few cases where William belittled rustici, who were not interested in understanding the reasons behind things.30 A philosopher was hence not likely to consult them for any deeper sense of causes, for example on the reasons why like produced like. Chenu does notice where William seems to be recycling a peasant’s words, perhaps a kind of proverb: “To use a peasant’s words, Can God make a calf from a tree trunk?”31 The learned would certainly answer Yes; what the peasant thought is not so certain. These scant examples show the intellectual milieu in which Albert was educated and established his reputation. With this in mind, let us turn to his work for signs of reliance on the experiences of others. In book 22 on quadrupeds, nothing appears credited to peasants or hunters. Book 23 on birds yields two observations coming from common people – the vulgus. In 23.22, Albert notes that the common people say that there is a kind of goose that is born from a tree, and he probably thought this was nonsense.32 In the same vein he makes this comment at 23.35 concerning the stork – “The common people claim that the storks are offering it [a youngster thrown out of the nest] to the master of the house on whose roof they reside, as a kind of rent.”33 What can this insight be but a piece of folklore that Albert cannot resist including to enliven his account? Albert was very engaged in the topic of falconry and had much to say about hunting with birds. He talked to an experienced falconer (expertissimus falconarius) about how to capture a peregrine chick (23.57). When he later cited this person as being in the business of buying and selling falcons, he called him a heremita (23.60), evoking a solitary making a living in the wild mountains rather than a 29

30 31 32 33

P. Freedman, Images of the Medieval Peasant, pp. 133–56 an elsewhere has collected many negative images of peasants (though not from Albert or Thomas). M.-D. Chenu, Nature, Man, and Society p. 11 note 21 to Dragmaticon. Ibid. p. 12. See note 21 for references to the Latin or English texts. Albertus Magnus on Animals, p. 1565.

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religious recluse. This man was not a credulous peasant whose knowledge was to be mocked, but an expert in his field with reliable facts and experiences. To my mind this example proves that Albert was eager to consult, but not the mob. In this context of hunting birds Albert makes a remarkable observation about bird hybrids and the diversity of life around him.34 He has seen four types of falcons that he believes are regional variants and suspects that even more exist. He is curious about what causes this diversity of types in the genus of falcons, and he naturally turns to the standard determinants of diversity – climate, customs, and heat – to explain how such diversity in species might result. What he means by these influences could easily be the subject of another book, but let us simply note here that he has in mind environmental factors like the soil, the mating behaviors of the birds, and distance from the hottest zone at the equator as possible causes. Whatever is fostering these mixtures or hybrids (a word Albert does not use) is resulting in new species or types, and this is a truly audacious claim in a context where most educated people believed in the fixity and permanence of species and would continue to do so until Darwin. Finally, Albert sees that this mixing process and the new species also occur in geese, dogs, and horses. He surely knows that in these cases humans had taken a hand in directing breeding toward results they favored – like fatter geese, skilled types of dogs, and faster and stronger horses. What was happening out in “nature” with the falcons was different, and he later suspected (23.73) that breeding in the wild was taking place among falcons, hawks, and eagles. Only in this way could he make sense of the rich diversity of hunting birds in his world, not the product of human design, and also a relatively recent development. We should be impressed with Albert’s skills as a naturalist, but by now we should not be surprised that no peasants breeding better cows, sheep, or pigs appear among his sources. Even in topics that engaged his curiosity, like whaling, he was keen to note what he had observed about a beached whale (24.17) and had clearly talked to whalers who informed him about hunting the creatures at sea, but they are not credited as informants. Even if we suspect 34

At 23.73 p. 1470 in the Latin text – worth quoting the original here – “et licet diximus quatuor genera taliter permixtorum falconum ad nos devenisse, ratio tamen exigit multa esse et plura cotidie posse fieri talia falconum genera, et hanc putamus esse causam quod tam diversa genera falconum in diversis regionibus inveniuntur. Quamvis enim climata mores et calores animalium diversificient, tamen specierum tam similium diversitatem causat praecipue permixtio quam diximus, sicut et in generibus anserum et generibus canum et equorum fieri vidimus temporibus nostris.”

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that there is more popular understanding of Nature in Albert’s work than he cared to admit, we cannot prove it. Yet we might approach his work on plants in a hopeful spirit for possible signs that in their proper sphere – agriculture – farmers might become credible witnesses. In his work on plants Albert occasionally uses the word rusticus to refer to a rural person, most likely a peasant. Alexander Murray noted the intellectual disdain usually associated with this word.35 Beside suggesting a peasant, the word “rustic” also conjured up the image of a base, animalistic figure, hardly a reliable source of information. The thread running through Albert’s notices is manure or fertilizer, hardly positive contexts. Albert was clearly thinking about what he saw peasants doing rather than what they told him, and his memories were not of plowing or herding, but of manuring. The work of peasants showed that rotting fruit fed seeds – a commonplace observation.36 Nor is it surprising to learn that their labors prove that manure helps plants (7, 5). The one reference to a rustic skill concerns the knowledge that the greenery of bean plants might be used to improve the soil, presumably by tilling them in after harvest (6, 472). Common opinion does not fare much better. Albert claims it held that brute animals were superior to people because they ate more and could move around right away after birth (1, 94). This was of course wrong. He labels as incredible (fabulose) the belief, presumably common, that cats can become impregnated from catnip (6, 397), a power not likely possessed by any plant over any animal. Fullers seem to have commanded Albert’s respect and he cites them as the source of his information that the seeds from the plant called borath whiten cloth (6,396). At least he talked to them. These notices seem to be the few facts deriving from non-written sources in a long work on plants, but there is the other important category of knowledge where Albert seems to be drawing on his personal observations or perhaps uncredited witnesses. He states, for example, as a known fact how one type of wheat (siligo) turns into another (triticum) after two or three years (5, 55). This insight suggest that it was hard to preserve seed lines where different landraces of wheat were grown in close proximity and may have cross-pollinated, or that seed reserves were initially quite mixed and over time one strain predominated. We are learning something about medieval seeds here, but also we should 35 36

Alexander Murray, Reason and Society in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1978) p. 237–8. Albertus Magnus, De vegetabilibus libri vii. Edited by Ernest Mayer. (Berlin, 1867) 3, 54 p. 184. All references are to this edition, lightly indexed, but made from an autograph manuscript.

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wonder where exactly Albert could learn something like this. This problem in wheat was part of a larger question about how plants reproduced and changed over time. Like other medieval writers, he did not believe that plants reproduced sexually (1, 7), but he knew from ancient sources about male and female date palm trees (6, 172) – a puzzle in Nature. Change is the great subject in every discipline or field, and as we will see, Albert was especially intrigued by how like produced like in that most unlikely context – grafting plants. He knew that grafts worked better in species that were closely alike.37 Albert thought that grafting was another way to change one plant into another, but he was making a more complex claim than might appear at first glance. In his time, people were skilled at grafting a peach cutting into types of plum trees, for example, and he held that this graft improved both trees, presumably meaning the graft and the host, by making the fruit of both bigger and better.38 The same principle held for animals, and Albert cites the case of the donkey and the horse, also closely related, that make mules or hinnies – that is, offspring of a male donkey and a mare, or a stallion and a jenny, a female donkey. It is very important for our purposes that Albert has seen a connection between grafting in plants and animal hybrids like the mule. Because our main subject is inheritability, and because Albert did not see sexual reproduction in common trees in his world like the peach or plum, the fact that he sees any connection is unexpected. In this case, his analogy seems to break down at several points. His strong claim is that grafting improves the host and the graft when the species are closely related. Albert knew a lot about grafting, and this observation may rest on what he saw in an orchard. (Whether it is true or not is another matter.) But in our terms, grafting is cloning, not sexual reproduction as in the case of the hybrid mule. Creating a mule does not improve the parents, and common opinion held that the first cross, between the male donkey and the mare, produced the larger and stronger offspring, 37

38

Note this way of like producing like, I, 184 p. 89 – “Estque melior insitio similium in genere proximo in similia sibi secundum proximum genus, quam divisiorum in genere proximo insitio sit ad invicem.” Ibid. 5, 64 for this and what follows – “Illum autem modum jam experti sumus, quod inseruntur flagra persici in pruni vel cini truncum sive stipitem, quod mutantur ambarum arborum naturae, et fiunt escula majora et meliora quam sint alia escula. Et videtur hoc fieri, sicut in animalibus ex permixtione vicinorum seminum in complexione – sicut asini et equi – generantur muli vel burdones. Non enim longe est persicus a pruno vel cino . . . ” There are some challenges to the translation – Albert uses escula as a generic term for branch, no longer a winter oak, and cinus is a plum variety.

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the mule, while the hinny was smaller, weaker, and altogether less desirable. Albert may simply have in mind the view that the mule is in a way an improved horse and donkey, but it cannot be a graft. What he sees as the common feature may be the guiding human hand intending and able to improve Nature. But the raw materials must be close because of the general rule that like wants to produce like.

GRAFTING Grafting of trees or vines is a wonderful subject because it reveals human ingenuity leaping ahead of scientific understanding of how and why techniques worked, and the accomplishments of skilled grafters are astonishing. Our interest is in the narrow question of breeding – how for thousands of years rural people outside books had found another way to make like produce like. Grafting is a shortcut for producing favored plants without having to wait the years required for seeds to grow to maturity in the form of trees or vines. Hence grafting is in effect, in our terms, a type of cloning. Whatever the very distant origins of grafting across the planet, it is important to know that sometimes grafting occurs in Nature without human agents and can be readily seen.39 Common examples in Europe include cases where beech, elm, ash, poplar, cedar, and especially climbing ivy intersect and one plant ends up growing from another’s roots. All these instances concern plants of the same species, but even if naturally occurring cross-species grafts are very rare, they can suggest to astute observers the idea of experimenting to find the limits of compatibility. The skill of grafting in part consists of the ability to learn what rootstock – the plant that is the platform for the graft – will take what scion – the cutting or bud that can best be grafted into it. The basic lesson of grafting is that patient trial and error will be rewarded. Instead of waiting years for one type of desirable plum to be grown from the stone, cuttings or buds can be moved to other, compatible trees and produce fruits as early as the next year. Grafting can also be used to rehabilitate or repair older trees and plants, and this must have been particularly valuable in the vineyards and fruit orchards of medieval Europe.40 Because grafting may be 39

40

Robert J. Garner, The Grafter’s Handbook. Fourth Edition (New York, 1979) pp. 39–43 for this and what follows. Ibid. p. 247.

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observed in Nature, it could be viewed as a morally neutral lesson and activity, and another way for people to exercise their rightful dominion over Nature. Grafting’s symbolic and spiritual lessons pervaded Mediterranean cultures. For example, in Romans 11:24, Paul used the image of grafting an olive cutting from a wild to a good olive tree as a way to explain to Gentiles and Jews their respective roles in the new faith. The point is that grafting was a commonplace as well as a metaphor capable of moving beyond moral neutrality to crossing the boundary from wild to good – in other words, improving Nature. In the Mediterranean, this prehistoric method of propagating favored plants probably first concerned grapevines because wine was such an important discovery and cultural resource. Any technique producing grapes making better wines (and later raisins) in much shorter time periods offered farmers big advantages. Olive trees also benefited from this technique, but the real gains derived from fruit trees. Maps showing the extent of olive and grape cultivation in the Mediterranean reveal its distinct sea flavor, especially for the olive, which never strayed too far from seashore. We must remember that no medieval observer really understood sexual reproduction in plants, and we must leave to fiction any experiments in grafting animal parts. But again, apparently sexless plants did not raise any troubling issues about breeding and the fixity of species that would be unavoidable when it came to animals. We might begin by considering plant breeding in the context of what we can reconstruct about the overall goals and methods of traditional farming. Again, our subject is not premodern agriculture in general, but what its practices can tell us about inheritability.41 Hence the focus is on seeds and cuttings, and how farmers used these methods to grow food, produce more seeds, and ensure that like produced like. Noel Kingsbury’s recent survey of plant breeding makes a few suggestions, from a modernist perspective, about traditional farming techniques and their consequences.42 (1) Traditional farmers value reliability of plants over their yields – that is, their hardiness and sustainability over any differences in yield. (2) Pioneer farmers value fitness over yield. Farmers opening new lands cannot necessarily depend on the landraces from their previous holdings. Kingsbury rightly emphasizes the significance of landraces, 41

42

For a more general look at some of these issues in a global context, see the essays in Botanical Progress, Horticultural Innovations and Cultural Changes. Edited by Michel Conan and W. John Kress (Washington, 2007). I am drawing on here Noel Kingsbury, Hybrid: The History & Science of Plant Breeding (Chicago, 2009) pp. 400–2.

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those variants of basic crops like wheat that had evolved slowly over time to thrive in certain regional climates and soils. Pioneers naturally had nothing but their old seeds to bring with them, but whether or not they would thrive was another matter. The first concern of the pioneer had to be whether the crop grew at all, and then he or she could worry about yield. (3) Yield becomes important as crops enter the supply/demand calculus. Once like does indeed produce like, the seeds available for eating can enter the market to be bargained over and exchanged. (4) Traditional farmers saw crop varieties as divine gifts – one interesting way of labeling a favorable mutation! But they also saw these varieties as something they could manipulate and encourage. Two of Kingsbury’s assertions seem more problematic. (5) Crops have some kind of relationship to the supernatural. But we must ask what exactly this means. If seeds worked by magic, then inheritability is an impenetrable mystery. Particularly in a monotheistic context, if seed varieties are indeed divine gifts, then even an idea like inheritability can take us into values way beyond farming – as we will see, like sin itself. (6) Premodern crops changed so slowly as to be almost imperceptible. This will certainly seem true in contrast to what has happened over the last century, but over the long medieval centuries we will be entitled to ask for evidence one way or the other about this opinion. On a slightly more technical level, Kingsbury has a few more specific conclusions to offer. (1) Traditional farmers did not hybridize but they did notice and sometimes foster sports and accidents. Because they did not understand sexual reproduction in plants, they could not intentionally make hybrids by cross-pollination. Because they were producing clones by grafting, the scion could not influence the genetic content of the rootstock. (2) Traditional farmers could introduce sports and new varieties. (3) Traditional farmers engaged in conscious and unconscious natural selection. In other words, even if they did not exactly know what they were doing when they favored self-pollinating crops, it worked to their advantage over time. The patient selection of bigger and sweeter apples, for example, over time, by seed and by grafting, was a conscious strategy with discernible results. (4) Traditional farming fostered many landraces that contained varieties within and among them. In my view, the best example would be Roman wheat, among antiquity’s greatest legacies to the medieval world, where a large number of varieties suited the great regional variations in soil types and climates in the Mediterranean homelands and beyond. (5) The Roman and subsequent medieval experiences

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demonstrate that crops had spread along trade and conquest routes since the remote beginnings of commerce and conquest. Kingsbury has a nice medieval example of this phenomenon – the arrival of cauliflower in Italy from Lebanon in the later Middle Ages.43 The ancient agricultural manuals tell a complex story about grafting that is too tangled and complex for our purposes.44 The Roman agricultural writers, Cato the Elder (234–149 BCE), Varro (116–27 BCE), and Columella (4–c. 70 CE), were elite landowners approaching farming from the point of view of a slave owner intending to assign the most grueling tasks to expendable labor. They also wrote to advise farm managers. By Cato’s time, grafting was already a very old skill.45 From Cato the later authors understood that seeds and grafting were the two ways to propagate plants. Cato explained that when grafting, it was important to match the pith of scion and rootstock, and bark to bark. Cato does not speculate about why grafting works but he knows that something between the pith and the bark is key to a successful graft – what we know as the cambium, the layer of plant tissue that on one side produces more bark and on the other more pith. Cato valued vines and fruit trees and as a landowner he knows that growing these in a nursery simply takes too long. But it was appropriate for a gentleman farmer to take an interest in a skill like grafting that required talent and even some imagination. Varro was not a farmer but he too knew about seeds, sometimes so small that they can barely be seen. Time was also an issue for him – who wanted to wait to grow a fig tree from its tiny seed? Varro knew a bit more than Cato about compatibility and explained that grafting a pear on an oak would not work, but pear on apple did. Hence his understanding of the idea of species linked together certain kinds of fruit trees as good candidates for grafting. Columella became the great authority on grafting and provided in his De re rustica 5.10.21–11.15 an immense amount of detail on methods. The problem for this work was that it was hardly known before the fourteenth century, but it was quoted extensively by the fourth-century author Palladius.46 This writer, about whom nothing is known apart from the single manuscript of his work that survived antiquity, Opus agriculturae, became a favorite in the ninth century, 43 44 45 46

Ibid. p. 63. Some of this subject will be considered in detail in the chapter on mules. These three authors are all cited in the Loeb editions. For these details, see L. D. Reynolds, editor, Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics (Oxford, 1983) pp. 146–7 Columella, pp. 287–8 Palladius.

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and more than one hundred extant copies testify to its popularity.47 Hence the obscure Palladius became the authority on farming, probably because he took the best features of the genre and repackaged the materials for practical use, above all copying Columella’s useful way of organizing information and tasks by month.48 In 3.17 (a February job here), he presents long excerpts from Columella on the techniques of grafting but at 3.17.8 reveals personal information coming from a Spaniard on a fourth method of propagating peaches without stones, hence by grafting. He uses the most common word, insitio, for grafting, but also uses inoculatio for engrafting (a word with an important modern shift in usage, but showing how vaccination once seemed.) This book is not a history of grafting, so there is no need for more details here except to note that none of these ancient writers approached the topic from a theoretical point of view, and so issues of inheritability did not arise. Seeds, so often treated in tandem with grafting, were a mechanism by which like ordinarily produced like, if the seeds were cleaned, sorted, and not too old (among other factors). How seeds worked is not the issue here, nor did it preoccupy the agricultural writers. An astute observer of farming, Walter of Henley, writing in the late thirteenth century, recommended that managers change seed yearly in order to increase yields, and that it was best to obtain this seed from another person’s lands.49 Walter claimed to know this sensible information from experiment, and this kind of farming lore was doubtless known across Europe. Yet Walter proves the point by failing to speculate about why seed lines failed.

PIERO DE CRESCENZI AND HIS SOURCES The thirteenth century across Europe witnessed a vast increase in the written materials available about grafting and the problem of inheritability. Complicated stories about the surviving sources appear later. What we need to keep in 47

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For this text, see the excellent Teubner edition by Robert H. Rodgers, Rutilius Taurus Aemilianus Palladius, Opus Agriculturae (Leipzig, 1975). Mauro Ambrosoli, The Wild and the Sown: Botany and Agriculture in Western Europe: 1350– 1850. Translated by Mary McCann Salvatorelli (Cambridge, 1997) pp. 12–13 good on the long-term influence of Palladius; Ambrosoli stresses that Palladius’ readers were not passive users. Walter of Henley. Edited by Dorothea Oschinsky (Oxford, 1971) p. 325, in a well-known text soon available in English and French, and one that sometimes circulated with old standards like Palladius.

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mind is that Aristotle’s work on plants became available in the Christian west, partly as a result of Latin translations appearing, but also mediated through important Arabic sources like Avicenna. Second, as we have seen, Albertus Magnus wrote an immense work on plants that followed and incorporated much of Aristotle, but also took notice of important new sources translated from the Arabic, as well as the evolving Latin encyclopedic tradition. Third, around 1300, a lawyer from Bologna, Piero de Crescenzi, wrote a semipopular work on rural life that depended heavily on Albert, but was also aware of Palladius, Varro, Cato, and even Aristotle.50 This work, which also discussed animals, enjoyed great popularity and was eventually translated into several vernacular languages – into French by 1373.51 Because this is not a study of manuals on grafting but an inquiry into inheritability, there is no need here to sort out in detail the tangled relationships among these texts. More useful is a look at what all this new material on botany contributed to a growing interest in explaining inheritability. The manuals tell a complex story about grafting techniques, too tangled and complex for our purposes. In Crescenzi’s book there is a chapter (Book 2.23) on grafting, but it is a straight copy from a near-contemporary of vast prestige, Albertus Magnus, that thirteenth-century polymath. Albert wrote a book on plants that reveals he knew Palladius but above all drew on the greatest master of all branches of learning, Aristotle.52 Here is the problem in a nutshell. Aristotle indeed wrote a book on plants, but it is one of the very few of his authentic works not to survive. Nicolaus of Damascus, writing in the time of Augustus, wrote a book on plants in Greek incorporating this work by Aristotle, but it too is lost, as well as an early Syriac translation.53 What survived is some type of Arabic translation made around 900, translated into Latin in Spain in the early thirteenth century, and then quickly entering the canon of important texts 50

51

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Petrus de Crescentiis, Ruralia commoda: Das Wissen des volkommenen Landwirts um 1300. Edited by Will Richter. 4 vols (Heidelberg, 1995) – a wonderful edition that explains in detail the heavy dependency on previous writers, and is also well informed on botany. Cited here by book chapter, and section. M. Ambrosoli, The Wild and the Sown, p. 68; Crescenzi was also an early printed book in Italian (1478), p. 44. Albertus Magnus, De vegetabilibus libri VII. Edited by Ernest Meyer (Berlin, 1867). The chapter on grafting is on pp. 622–30. For this complex story, see the edition Nicolaus Damascenus De Plantis: Five Translations. Edited by H. J. Drossart Lulofs and E. L. J. Poortman (Amsterdam, 1989), especially the remarkable table on p. xvi.

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because it seemed to be basically what Aristotle wrote, and that label always mattered.54 The learned tradition on grafting seems hopelessly compromised, and we have nothing to read by actual practitioners of the skill (before Piero). This tangle reveals, however, an old and universal interest in grafting that crossed all linguistic frontiers in the Mediterranean – think of the story from Aristotle to Crescenzi – Greek, Syriac, Arabic, Latin, and soon Italian and French. There is even a separate Hebrew tradition that preserves parts of the lost Syriac! We have two learned discourses to explore. As noted, Crescenzi mostly copied Albert and Palladius, who in turn drew heavily on Columella, so this takes us back to the first century. A second tradition, ostensibly Aristotelian, returns to the West from Arabic learning in the thirteenth century. Let us take Columella Book 5:11 as a benchmark. Botanical techniques need not detain us; the focus here is on grafting and heritability. Columella begins by observing that any kind of cutting can be grafted onto any type of tree, provided that the bark and fruit are similar. He repeats this finding at the end of the discussion, and he believes that the ancients (presumably Cato the Elder) were wrong to deny this. He counts four basic methods of grafting; the last concerns the special issues surrounding vines and is considered there. The three traditional methods are: (1) a tree receives a cutting in a cleft between its own twigs; (2) a tree receives a cutting between its bark and hardwood; (3) a tree receives a bud, and Columella claims to have a new method for moving buds that look as though they will generate good sprouts. He has a reliable way to cover grafts with elm bark and reeds. Propagating seedlings or even cuttings in soil to grow new trees required a nursery and the patience of years. Grafting yielded immediate results in terms of the fruits from good grafts, leaving the source of the grafts to continue producing its own good fruit and future grafts. Palladius in 3:16 on propagation relies heavily on Columella (a source not directly known by Crescenzi); although he lacks the enthusiasm for detail in the original, he claims to have talked to farmers directly, raising the prospect of new information. He does this in 3.17.8 by writing that a Spaniard has shown him a new way to propagate peach trees, as already noted. Otherwise, as a good excerpter and epitomizer, he re-presents Columella’s three types of grafting, in 54

Yet after 1250, scholars lost interest in this text and stopped commenting on it and teaching from it; see Maaike van der Lugt, Le ver, le d´emon et la Vi`erge: Les th´eories m´edi´evales de la g´en´eration extraordinaire (Paris, 2004) p. 65.

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about a quarter of the space, leaving out some of what practitioners might most want to know – for example, how precisely to lift bark in a living tree to make space for a cutting. Piero Crescenzi does not note this detail in his discussion of peaches (Book 5.22), which draws on Palladius and Avicenna. His main discussion of grafting appears in Book 2.13, which is partly from Albert, and a shorter notice in Book 11.18, and it appears to be original – always a hazardous assumption. Let us start with what seems fresh. He knew that it was better to graft like to like, according to type (genus), so pear to pear, vine to vine. Diversity in apples and pears and other fruits resulted from grafting. (Crescenzi understood that this might not result from planting seeds, and that grafting is indeed cloning because it preserves exactly what one wants.) He has seen that a graft draws its nutrients from the trunk of the host, and stops at the graft site any new shoots from the host. What grafting achieves is better fruits that are domesticated and become stronger on the host.55 Crescenzi has all the enthusiasm of a practical gardener who has much hands-on experience in grafting and hence changing domesticated plants. His long and highly original discussion of grafting is preoccupied with techniques and not with ideas about hybridity or heredity. Very little of what Aristotle thought about grafting has survived the complex transmission of his lost work. But any wisp of an idea would have his prestige and something of the quality of his mind and questions about the world. The Arabic version follows this chain of analysis.56 Animals were superior to plants, which served as food for them and did not move or have a soul – a sign of inferiority. Nor did plants sleep. Two important Aristotelian ideas were that the world was eternal and that it was still producing new species of plants and animals. These concepts troubled monotheistic assumptions and were often condemned. Plants grew where they were planted, sown, or appeared spontaneously. They could be planted by seed or from a cutting put in the earth or inserted into another tree – grafting. The best graft was from like to like, and his examples include the standard apples, pears, and figs. But he knew that similar grafted on similar also worked, so one could graft an apricot cutting on an almond tree. Even different grafts succeeded – here the examples include a terebinth on an 55

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Petrus de Crescentiis, Ruralia commoda. The end of 11.18 is “Omnis insitio quanto inferior, tanto melior; nam fructus magis domesticat et melius convalescit.” Nicolaus Damascenus, op. cit., p. 142 for plants and animals, p. 162 for grafting.

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olive tree – and he includes in this category mixes between wild and cultivated trees. The thirteenth-century Latin translation boiled away his speculations and most of the examples, but preserved the preference for like-on-like graftings, perhaps because it was so similar to the general rules for like mixing with like.57 Finally, we may briefly note what Albert, the summary of his age, contributes to the science of grafting.58 He stresses, like Aristotle, that the purpose of grafting is to be able to make like produce like, according to genus and not species, so the best is pear to pear. The benefit here is that the farmer gets exactly what he wants and is not troubled by the usual problems that result from mixed or corrupt seeds. So, in addition to saving time, grafting also guarantees the result. For this to be so, Albert has grasped that the scion will never develop any of the characteristics of its rootstock, and this is an astute insight. He has learned from Aristotle, and probably his own visits to orchards, that it is possible to graft very different types of plants (7.1.10.89), but whether this activity was mostly for show or actual yields remains unclear because Albert usually reverts, as he does here, to the undoubted benefits of like on like. Finally, the rest of this chapter pays a lot of attention to propagating seedlings, a useful reminder that this was the best way, over time, to mass-produce desirable varieties. I presume that one of the benefits of seedlings is their number, and I think farmers accepted a small waste of time here as they learned that not all seedlings exactly resembled the parent in the way that a direct cutting did. There was, however, an intermediate technique of getting a cutting to take root. But again, this method took patience in waiting for the cutting to grow its own roots and mature. Both the examples of natural grafting occurring in Nature and the skills of human gardeners and farmers encouraged people in unrelated fields to benefit from this evolving way of manipulating and improving Nature. One remarkable connection was made by the Italian surgeon Gaspare Tagliacozzi (1553–99) who published a book in 1597 called De curtorum chirurgia per insitionem – Concerning surgery on the maimed by grafting.59 Tagliacozzi’s purpose was to make known some 57 58 59

Ibid. p. 534 for the Latin translation. For what follows, see Albertus Magnus, De vegetabilibus, Book 7.1.10, p. 622. I have used here a facsimile edition of the 1597 Venetian edition, Gaspare Tagliacozzi, De curtorum chirurgia per insitionem. Translated by Joan H. Thomas (New York, 1996). There is an edition of the Latin text with an Italian translation by Werner Vallieri (Bologna, 1964) with a very brief introduction and rudimentary notes.

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surgical advances he had made in treating people suffering from disfiguring wounds to their noses, lips, and ears. In good humanist fashion, he began by examining how important the human face was, unique to people and found nowhere else in Nature.60 According to him, no two people had the same face, and its beauty and physical integrity were important because the face displayed emotions and temperaments that skilled physiognomists could read. He was even concerned that the features of the face could be manipulated for bad purposes, and he notes slave dealers in this regard as using artificial means to make money. But his main concern was to help those whose faces were damaged. Tagliacozzi claimed that he got his ideas for new methods of restorative surgery from Nature, in fact from agriculture.61 He later explains that the principles of his operations were derived from what he learned about grafting from Palladius, Columella, and Cato.62 Even more important was the grafting Tagliacozzi knew happened in Nature as one plant grew into another by inserting itself into living matter. This is not the place for a long excursus into the origins of what is really plastic surgery, but we need to emphasize the practical lessons that botanical grafting taught Tagliacozzi about how he might manipulate human flesh. His main advance was to see how a strip of skin and flesh from the upper arm might be cut and stretched over to the face, where it could be attached and grow together. After a long period of immobility, the connection to the arm could be severed and a person would have a new piece of his own body where before had been a ruined face. Tagliacozzi wondered if the graft might come from another person, and his authorities on grafting and his own observation of Nature assured him that this was indeed the case.63 Humans did not have the same amount of diversity in their bodies (one from another) as did plants, which he saw as far more variable. The problem with taking a graft from another person was entirely practical. Tagliacozzi for whatever reason did not perceive every possible lesson from grafting so he did not consider actually using a cutting from a person or someone else to make the graft. His method required that the graft remain attached to its source, the arm, for its blood supply. 60 61 62

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Ibid. pp. 7–9 for this and what follows. Ibid. p. 39. Ibid. pp. 43–6 for this key section; he does not list Crescenzi or Albert among the founders of his method, and this is not surprising for a scholar so respectful of classical learning. Ibid. pp. 59–60, citing Cato and Columella here, but whether or not he ever experimented with this on people is not stated in the text.

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Hence he reasoned, perhaps on the basis of experience, that two people would never tolerate the weeks of close proximity required for the graft to take!64

ST. FRANCIS St. Francis of Assisi (1181–1226) was not a university-educated reader familiar with the intellectual traditions about like producing like. His perspective on Nature has been seen as that of a Nature mystic or as someone precociously attuned to the natural environment.65 Certainly Francis deserves a place in an analysis of the discovery of Nature because some novel aspects of his life reveal an entirely new engagement with Nature, especially animals. Francis’s example encouraged others to see the “recreational powers of nature” and the possible common harmony of all God’s creatures.66 What Francis would have made of the problem of like producing like is unknown and very difficult to derive from the well-documented details of his extraordinary life. A close look at some wellknown stories about Francis and Nature illuminates important themes in our approach to the problem of inheritability. All subsequent medieval authorities – for starters, in the thirteenth century, Albert, Thomas Aquinas, and Jacopo da Varagine – knew these stories and whatever they wrote about Nature or Francis incorporates or assumes parts of these stories. Francis reflects and then broadcasts an understanding of Nature not deriving from scholastic or classical texts. That does not mean he is a reliable window on popular attitudes toward Nature. Francis was unique and his views were a remarkable combination of 64

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Tagliacozzi is careful to credit predecessors in this method and he cites on p. 62 by name Alessandro Benedetti, who was the author of Historia corporis humani sive Anatomice, originally published in Venice in 1502. A modern edition and translation into Italian of this work by Giovanna Ferrari (Florence, 1998) on pp. 290–1 contains the passage Tagliacozzi cites, and the editor (p. 293) credits it as among the first descriptions of nasal plastic surgery. Benedetti suggests that the arm supplies the graft, but he has nothing like the detail and analysis found in Tagliacozzi, nor does he mention grafting as inspiring this technique for repairing the nose. For the first approach, see Edward A. Armstrong, St Francis: Nature Mystic (Berkeley 1973), and the far superior study by Roger D. Sorrell, St. Francis of Assisi and Nature (New York, 1988). Sorrell is careful not to portray Francis as a proto-environmentalist. Dominic Alexander, Saints and Animals in the Middle Ages (Woodbridge, 2008) pp. 169–79 has some comments on Francis and animals. See the prescient remarks in David J. Herlihy, “Attitudes Toward the Environment in Medieval Society,” in Historical Ecology: Essays on Environment and Social Change. Edited by Lester J. Bilsky (Port Washington, 1980) pp. 100–16, here on Francis at 115.

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personal spiritual impulses and the vivid context of his world – crusading, the papacy, Cathars, poverty. His words, preached in Umbrian dialect and possibly some type of Italian, gaining him the reputation as one of the most moving speakers of his age, are all lost – except for rules in Latin and famous hymns. What we have are the stories or legends, here the ones concerning animals and, to a lesser degree, plants. Although, to my knowledge, the way Francis wondered about Nature did not concern its processes, his style of relating to animals struck his contemporaries and challenged their own understanding of what exactly was Francis doing when, for example, he preached to the birds or negotiated with the wolf of Gubbio about his eating habits.67 Our approach to the stories about Francis and Nature will be first to interrogate the main sources, the two lives by Thomas of Celano and the later account by St. Bonaventure, by looking closely at their use of the Latin language to explain Francis’ behavior.68 The first goal is to establish the key incidents for a collective portrait of that part of Francis’ life, by no means the most important, that concerned his view of Nature. These incidents are a representative sample and not an exhaustive list of his relations to animals. Celano I, 1.3. Francis’ curiosity about where he lives brings him to wander his neighborhood, where he sees beauty and much to admire in the fields and vineyards. But in the midst of his conversion experience he is careful not to love Nature – more is going on here. Celano I, 1.33. Francis has a dream about a huge, strong, tall, beautiful tree, a biblical image from the Book of Daniel, but it does not function in the same way as it did in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Here Francis is whisked to the top of this tree, a supernatural event granting him a unique perspective, and interpreted as being like going to the pope and having his petition granted. Celano I 1.58. At Bevagna, Francis comes across many birds, including doves, crows, and another type of black bird. He responds to or is moved by these 67

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Lee Patterson looks closely at the late story of the wolf of Gubbio in his essay, “Brother Fire and St. Francis’s Drawers: Human Nature and the Natural World,” now in his collected essays, Acts of Recognition (Notre Dame, 2010) pp. 234–51. His analysis of Francis and Nature differs from this one. This is not the place to enter the complex scholarship on these near-contemporary biographies. For the Latin texts used here of Celano’s first and second lives, and Bonaventure, see Analecta Franciscana vol. 10 (Florence 1941), cited by chapter and paragraph. Reliable English translations and introductions to these texts appear in the various editions of St Francis of Assisi Omnibus of Sources. Edited by Marion A. Habig and others – I have used the third edition (Chicago, 1973).

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inferior and irrational creatures (exactly inferiores et irrationabiles creaturas). He rushes toward these birds and greets them. Because they do not fly away and seem to want to hear the word of God, Francis addresses them as Fratres, brothers, and is directly quoted here. Francis tells the birds they ought to praise and love their Creator because they have been given feathers and wings and have the air as their dwelling (mansio). They do not sow or reap (as in the famous remarks by Jesus in Matt. 6:36 and Luke 12:24), but God protects and cares for them. The birds, according to their Nature, are joyous and behold Francis with open mouths, presumably singing. Francis passes among the birds, his tunic touches them, and he blesses them. Celano justifies this experience by noting that Francis was simple by grace, not nature; in other words, these were not the acts of a fool. In fact, Francis blamed himself for not preaching to the birds sooner. From that day, everything that flies, and all animals, reptiles, and even creatures that do not think were encouraged by Francis to praise and love God. Celano I 1.59. At Alviano, Francis is preaching, but a noisy flock of swallows prevents his listeners from hearing. Francis addresses the birds as Sorores (sisters) and tells them to be quiet, and at once they fall silent. To the people it is a sign he is a saint. Celano (1.59.13) explains that it is wonderful that these irrational creatures know the affectus of his piety – in other words, Francis can communicate with them. Celano I. 1.77. Francis had the spirit of love and piety not only for people but also toward speechless and brute animals, reptiles, birds, and other thinking and nonthinking creatures (muta brutaque animalia, reptilia, volatilia et caeteras sensibiles et insensibiles creaturas). But he especially loved lambs because they evoked Jesus. Celano I 1.79. One of many stories about Francis rescuing lambs – in this case he is horrified seeing some hanging alive in a market to be sold to be eaten. Celano I 1.80. Celano notes that it is impossible to supply every example of Francis’s love for all creatures, so he picks one about worms, known from Psalm 21 as a clear sign of humility when a person claims to be one. Francis collected the worms from the road and moved them to safety so that no one would step on them (1.80.12). He was also worried about bees in winter and wanted to make sure they got enough honey and wine (1.80.14). Celano I 1.81. Francis preaches to beautiful and fragrant flowers, inviting them to praise God, as if they lived by reason (ac si ratione vigerent). (What can this mean?) Celano I 1.84.1–20. In the context of his desire to observe everything in the Bible and follow in Jesus’ footsteps and imitate Him, on December 25, 1223, at

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Greccio, Francis creates a crib or manger for the infant Jesus, and he also has brought there a live ox and a donkey.69 The hay in this manger is saved and is used later to heal sick animals, and it helps women who are enduring difficult births and long labor. (There is a lot more to say about the Christmas cr`eche.) Only fresh examples taken from the second life. Celano II 165. It is the purpose of a pilgrim on a spiritual journey to leave this world, and presumably not to be delayed by it. But while one is here, Nature can be enjoyed and praised as God’s handiwork. Francis reverenced the stones he walked on (because of Peter). He prohibited the Franciscan brothers from cutting down entire trees when gathering wood – presumably they should stick to fallen branches. Celano II 171. Francis associates with an insect, Soror Cicada, who sings to him. This example leads Celano to a deeper analysis of charity. Celano II 172. If Francis had this level of affection for creatures, how much more did her have for those more closely related (germaniores) to Christ? Bonaventure knew these lives and collected fresh materials still available from oral sources. Bonaventure 8.6. Francis called all creatures brothers and sisters because he knew they had one beginning.70 He especially identifies with those that symbolize Jesus – like the lamb. Bonaventure 12.6. When Francis was preaching on the seashore at Gaeta, a crowd pressed him so closely that he took refuge on a boat that miraculously went out onto to the sea, without oars. There Francis safely preached, and the boat retuned him to land. Bonaventure uses this story to illustrate how even inanimate things obeyed Francis. The thirteenth-century Dominican archbishop of Genoa, Jacopo da Varagine (c. 1226/30–1298), compiled, probably in the 1260s, his most famous work, a great collection of saints’ lives and commentaries known as The Golden Legend.71 This collection circulated widely across Europe, was translated in the main vernacular languages, survives in hundreds of copies, and was among the 69

70

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The ox and the donkey are an old pairing, going back to Exodus 20:17 and the tenth commandment as examples of things not to be coveted. Analecta Franciscana, “pro eo quod sciebat eas unum secum habere principium.” p. 594. Depending how one interprets secum, this passage may mean that all the creatures have a common origin with themselves, or with Francis. He identifies so closely with them that it hardly matters. For background, see Steven A. Epstein, Genoa and the Genoese 958–1528 (Chapel Hill, 1996) pp. 171–4.

The Discovery of Nature

earliest printed books. What Jacopo wrote about Francis depended on the main Franciscan lives, Celano and Bonaventure, as well as his own extensive reading and knowledge of his times.72 Jacopo condenses the standard story but mentions most of the best-known stories, including preaching to the birds (156) and the cicada (158). On balance, there is more here on poverty than Nature. Given that this is a Dominican perspective on a Franciscan saint, perhaps we should not be surprised to see the absolute minimum on Francis and the papacy (145.42) and nothing at all on his canonization. What Jacopo omits is as revealing as what he notices. What should we make of the fact that he does not mention anything about the Christmas manger, a staple of Franciscan accounts? Nature was one of Francis’s loves; perhaps Jacopo was more struck by the saint’s “discovery” of poverty. Now that Francis’s life had entered the most authoritative collection of medieval saints’ lives, his story was now also part of the lessons of Nature. Perhaps his main teaching in this regard was the harmony between a spiritual life and a sensibility toward everything sharing Nature with us. No doubt Francis would have rejoiced to learn that his example was now part of the larger lessons from Nature. This chapter has examined the medieval recovery of ancient ideas about Nature and practices like grafting. People saw the hand of Providence everywhere, and on one level the certainties of a divine plan were enough to assure that like had produced like and would continue to do so. Yet people could affect Nature, down to the humblest gesture of Francis removing a worm from the road. Above all, medieval theorists and farmers learned that they could improve plants, even though in theory the species were immutable. What more might people be able to do to affect the processes of inheritability as they observed them in Nature? The example of Francis encourages us to take up a simple, common example, an animal rather than the plants we have investigated here. What we need is an animal humans bred and knew well. The best example for testing the limits of what humanity could accomplish in Nature, learn from it, and even change it is the animal they made – the mule.

72

For the Latin text, see Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea. Edited by Giovanni Paolo Maggioni. 2nd Edition (Florence, 1998) pp. 1016–32. The editor identifies some but not all the sources, and Jacopo’s originality remains elusive. For a closer look at the Genoese context of his work, see Il Paradiso e la terra: Iacopo da Varazze e il suo tempo. Edited by Stefania Bertini Guidetti (Florence, 2001).

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2 THE INVENTION OF MULES

O

NLY A PRESENTIST STUDY COULD PURSUE THE MEANING OF

“heredity” after the great shift in ideas about evolution and genetics in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Exploring the deeper ancient and medieval past, we must put the accomplishments of Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel aside. Before their lessons, premodern people had found, as we have seen, new reasons for when and how like produced like, making more of the same. Leaving aside modern ideas about descent and inheritance we must find a thread to follow that will lead us to ideas about acquired and inherited traits, about what was innate or unalterable, what people (and plants and animals) were given and what they might change about themselves, if we can grant a pronoun to a plant. Certain topics were easier to discuss about animals than people. For example, a later Byzantine tradition raised questions about reason or the mental life of animals.1 If animals had no knowledge of God and no soul, as Emperor Manuel Palaiologos contended, neither did they possess free will or the power of speech. Although animals were trainable – and here he has the horse in mind – they did not appear to have a fear of death. This Christian context, which also included a firm rejection of the pagan idea of worshipping animals, made it possible to think some things about animals without straying into heresies if the same ideas applied to people. Of course we are interested in the commonalities between humans and animals (and indeed plants) in Nature. The aim of this chapter is to take a first look at inheritability in a less contested terrain – the world of animals. 1

40

For this and what follows, see Manuel II Palaiologos, Dialogue mit einem Muslim. Edited and ¨ ¨ translated from Greek to German by Karl Forstel (Wurzburg, 1993) vol. 1, pp. 112–29 for this and what follows in dialogue four. The frame here is a discussion between the Byzantine emperor (the author) and a Persian sage, sometime in the 1390s.

The Invention of Mules

Medieval theologians, farmers, and others were certainly aware of the concept of inheritability. Consider, among many possible examples, this comment by the encyclopediast Thomas of Cantimpr´e (1201–72) who believed that mute and deaf people had mute and deaf children, that lepers had mostly leprous children, and that blond, one-eyed, and “mutilated” (he must mean amputees) had children who were not so.2 Thomas suggests no cause for these differing results; he simply notes them in a chapter devoted to “human monstrosities.” But he knew, on some level, that like did not always produce like. And so did farmers and breeders. What we need is an enduring example or fact rather than a slippery concept like inheritability, and for this task the mule is perfect.3 People enticed the parents of mules to mate, producing sterile offspring embodying features of different species. This creature – a hybrid – posed and ended questions about heredity, Nature, and human abilities to shape them. The broad class of agricultural treatises, which subsume pastoralism and mules, represent one benchmark for tracing information about inheritability over time from Antiquity through the Later Middle Ages. The problems with the oldest manuals on farming and rural life are many, as we have seen about grafting. Books written from the point of view and for elite estate owners address practical issues about maximizing income from land and are summaries of accumulated lore about best practices in farming and animal husbandry. They are not theoretical works, and they did not, as we will see, have to face the problem of a Nature that posed moral issues in the sense of some reproductive practices judged as against Nature. One would not turn to these works to learn, for example, what a mule was, but more likely how to make one. Breeding mules is the subject in the treatises most affecting what other types of reference works reveal about mules. 2

3

Thomas de Cantimpr´e, Liber de Natura Rerum. Edited by H. Boese (Berlin, 1973) pp. 99– 100. “Ex mutis et surdis muti et surdi infantes procreantur; ex leprosis leprosi plerumque nascuntur. Non tamen ex cecis ceci vel ex mutilates mutilati vel ex monoculis monoculi.” Oddly, the bear has been studied, apparently for its sexual practices – see Corinne Beck, “Approches du traitement de l’animal chez les encyclop´edistes du XIIIe si`ecle,” in L’enciclopedismo m´edi´evale. Edited by Michelangelo Picone (Ravenna, 1994) pp. 163–78. Dominic Alexander, Saints and Animals in the Middle Ages (Woodbridge, 2008) has exhaustively mined saints’ lives for notices of animals, but apparently found nothing about mules. For reasons to be discussed later, the morally ambiguous nature of mules makes this omission not surprising – yet there is the odd story of Antony of Padua and a mule, also discussed later.

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The oldest Latin books, by Cato (234–149 BCE) and Varro (116–27 BCE), circulated together since late antiquity, were known to medieval readers in Italy in the twelfth century, and were not hard to find and read.4 Cato confined his advice to agriculture and Varro explained the basic details about breeding mules, emphasizing that they were bigenerus, a Latin word best understood as hybrid.5 Columella (first century CE) provided even more details on donkeys and mules.6 Columella’s advice, however, was a rare book until the fourteenth century.7 A later writer, Palladius (fourth century CE) excerpted Columella’s work and followed his method of organization by ordering his books according to the monthly tasks of farming. Because Palladius found favor in early medieval writers, more than a hundred copies of his work survive and he became the great medieval authority on agriculture and pastoralism.8 Palladius passed on the practical details of Columella in Book 4:14, which covered March, possibly a good month in the Mediterranean for breeding mules. Palladius has almost nothing original to observe in this matter, but he is the great practical boiled-down source of information about how to create a mule from a donkey and a horse.9 After Palladius, the genre of reference works on agriculture is dominated by this author for nearly a thousand years. Yet Palladius has no apparent influence on the genres of other types of sources. Hence the problem of the mule and inheritability occurs in a wider context than that provided by manuals on farming – a source tradition much more important, as we will see, about plants. Animals, even more than plants, evoke many literary images, especially the horse, donkey, and mule. Their stories take us away from the questions surrounding inheritability, but they form part of the background necessary to see how premodern people understood animals. A clear example of this issue occurs in a miracle story from a later thirteenth-century life of the Franciscan 4

5

6 7 8

9

See L. D. Reynolds, Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics (Oxford, 1983) pp. 40–42. Varro Rerum rusticarum Book 2:8:1–2 (p. 392 Loeb). His work emphasizes that the mule is neuter, and that they were big and useful farm animals. Nothing on inheritability. Columella, De re rustica, Book 6: 37: 3–11 (Vol. 2 pp. 216–23 Loeb). L. D. Reynolds, Texts and Transmission, pp. 146–7. Ibid. pp. 287–8 and above all the modern edition by Robert H. Rodgers, Rutilius Taurus Aemelianus Palladius, Opus agriculturae (Leipzig, 1975) p. vii. Ibid, Book 4:14 begins clearly “Si quem mulorum genus creare delectat . . . ,” the same as Columella 6:36:4, as the editor notes, but Palladius does tell later readers that people make mules and the animals cannot make any more.

The Invention of Mules

Saint Anthony of Padua (d. 1231). The future martyr was preaching against heresy in Toulouse.10 Taunted by an unrepentant heretic, Anthony agrees to a test. The heretic will starve his mule (mulus) for three days and then the famished animal would be offered a piece of consecrated host and some food, and if the animal went for the sacrament, the heretic would become a Christian. The virtuous mule, in the sequel, went straight to the host and knelt down before it. This image of a kneeling mule was common across Christendom, and the miracle it portrayed was certainly a credit to the mule. Perhaps appearing in this story because he was sterile and probably castrated and chaste, the mule, ordered by Anthony to make this choice, was nevertheless somehow able to understand the command and obey. Anselm Turmeda (c. 1353–c. 1430) was a well-educated friar born on Majorca who eventually converted to Islam and fled to Tunis.11 While there, possibly around 1417, he wrote a comic disputation between a friar and a donkey about the alleged superiority of humans over animals. This wise ass, eloquent and learned, among other propositions argues from scripture that animals can be saved and are not excluded from the afterlife.12 Tales like this testify to interactions between people and animals in spiritually edifying and destructive ways. Although some sharp lines distinguished people from all their fellow creatures, inheritability turns out to be, like the miraculous, another topic for which the experiences of both are relevant.

MULES IN EARLY DICTIONARIES AND ENCYCLOPEDIAS The ancient treatises provide a touchstone for measuring the content and message of different traditions about mules. Given that we are looking carefully at language use in context, the other words used to define a mule carry important explicit and implicit meanings. What can one expect to learn by 10

11

12

The story appears in a life of Anthony known as Benignitas in Vita del Dialogus e Benignitas. Edited by Vergilio Gamboso (Padua, 1986) 16:6–16, pp. 508–12. The editor believes that the author of this anonymous life of a friar born in Lisbon was John Peckham, the future archbishop of Canterbury. For biographical details, see Roger Boase, “Autobiography of a Muslim Convert: Anselm Turmeda (c.1353-c.1430,” Al-Masaq ¯ 9 (1996/7) pp. 45–98; all his works, written after his flight around 1387 and presumably in Catalan, are lost and survive in French translations. Anselme Turmeda, Dispute de l’ane. Edited by Armand Llinares (Paris, 1984) here p. 88, where the donkey invokes Eccl. 3.21 where even the wise Solomon is unsure about the destinies of the spirit of man and the animals; there is much more in this vein.

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looking up the word “mule” in a dictionary? This word identifies an animal that most people probably learn about by observing one, not by reading an entry in a learned book. Even if the word is first seen rather than heard, only the rare reader of a dictionary would discover a mule in this way. A person might see a picture or a sculpture rather than the real animal, but the medieval picture books and cathedrals pose other problems, best deferred for the moment.13 If we line up from the oldest to the more recent the reference works educated people consulted about the meanings of words, we can learn something about shifting opinions and common attitudes toward any subject. Let us be clear about the English language before venturing into Latin. A plain mule has a male donkey father (a jackass) and a mare (female horse) for a mother.14 (An always less familiar and useful animal, the hinny, has a stallion father and a female donkey mother.) A mule looks like a donkey (big standing ears and long falling tail) with the body of a horse. A mule appears to be a big donkey following a pattern of hybrids where the head and tail resemble the father’s. Because the mare is much larger than the jackass, the mule she carries is larger at birth than a newborn donkey. Mules are hence larger and stronger than donkeys, and are tougher and more omnivorous than horses. Female mules were more placid and easier to ride; male mules were usually castrated to make them more tractable. Donkeys and horses are separate species in the equid genus, close enough to mate, but as they have different numbers of chromosomes, their offspring are sterile. Our ancestors knew mules were sterile but the causes and meaning of this fact were unknown and hence open to the imagination. A mule is in the rare class of animals we call hybrid, a word introducing other issues, especially about heredity. The first mules appeared before the invention of writing, probably (like most things) in the Middle East in a Western context. The natural histories of horses, donkeys, and mules are numerous, especially for the first two, but we can leave the generalities and begin the search for the beginning of the thread, the learned discourse, about them. It will be a long time before much practical lore and common knowledge about mules make it into writing. 13

14

For a recent, thematic introduction to the connections between people and animals, see Janick Auberger and Peter Keating, Histoire humaine des animaux de l’Antiquit´e a` nos jours (Paris, 2009). See, for example, Juliet Clutton-Brock, Horse Power: A History of the Horse and the Donkey in Human Societies (Cambridge, MA, 1992) pp. 44–5.

The Invention of Mules

The word in Latin to begin the story is mulus or mula for the male and female offspring.15 The image of the archeology of knowledge is partly useful here, because we are digging down through past levels of meanings to recreate the process of change. But much like a difficult excavation site, the upper levels have reused materials from the lower ones, and simply crushed much of the rest out of existence. Or, to shift metaphors, more recent reference works truly drive out older ones. The difficulties of this task require us to confine the search to the Latin traditions of the West.16 The fate of the oldest surviving classical Latin dictionary, the largely destroyed and mutilated single surviving copy of the De verborum significatione of Sextus Pompeius Festus (second century CE), is an archetypical story about the fate of old reference works; in one view, lucky to survive at all. As our interest here is the history of heredity and not dictionaries, we must leave that important story in other hands, except to note that for this word we must depend on Paul the Deacon’s (eighth century) excerpts from Festus. The facts preserved in this fragment are few: a mule is sterile, not its own genus but made from a horse, not like the sun shining its own light but like the moon.17 Already there is something incomplete about the mule. The other type of reference work, the encyclopedia, considered matters at greater length by topic and not by letters of the alphabet.18 Compilers in 15

16

17

18

See J. N. Adams, “The Generic Use of Mula and the Status and Employment of Female Mules in the Roman World,” Rheinisches Museum fur ¨ Philologie 136 (1993) pp. 35–61 for a careful look at how the female mula as early as the late republic came to stand for all mules. This article is an exhaustive guide to classical references to mules up to the fourth century. I have been careful to note gender where necessary from the medieval sources. In practice this means we must exclude Hebrew and Arabic traditions of encyclopedic knowledge from this investigation. Medieval examples of these works drew on Greek thought but knew little or nothing about the Latin tradition. For some good insights on Hebrew sources, see James T. Robinson, “Gershom Ben Solomon’s Sha’ar Ha-Shamayim: Its Sources and Use of Sources,” in The Medieval Hebrew Encyclopedias of Science and Philosophy. Edited by Steven Harvey (Dordrecht, 2000) pp. 248–69. In brief, Pliny the Elder’s great work remained in Latin and was not translated into Greek, Arabic, or Hebrew. This does not mean no readers in these languages read his work. Dictionaries and encyclopedia in these three languages merit further study not possible here. Sextus Pompeius Festus, De verborum significatione. Edited by W. M. Lindsay (Leipzig, 1913) “Mulus vehiculo lunae habetur, quod tam ea sterilis sit, quam mulus; vel quod, ut mulus non suo genere, sed equis creatur, sic ea solis, non suo fulgore luceat.” The fragment on p. 149 from Festus suggests that this excerpt is mangled and contains perhaps a quotation about the sun and the moon. There is a vast literature on medieval encyclopedias; as an introduction, see the collection ˆ (Orleans, 2002). of essays by Bernard Rib´emont, Litt´erature et encyclop´edies du Moyen Age

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the two genres were certainly aware of each other’s work, just as they drew on their predecessors. For mules, we can start with the great Natural History of Pliny the Elder, unfinished at his death in 79 CE. Pliny knew and loved horses, was interested in donkeys, and diligently discussed mules.19 This vast reference work is not a dictionary or even an encyclopedia, but it serves the same purpose of informing the reader about Nature, in this case at length.20 Pliny gives the example of a mare-and-donkey cross and notes that the offspring is a hardworking animal. His main concern is breeding and which crosses produce the best mules. The mule brings Pliny to offer some opinions about hybridity, and these merit a closer look. When one type of animal results from the mating of two different types of parents (Pliny uses the word genus throughout as biologists do today, and it has never been helpful to translate it as “race”), this hybrid offspring does not resemble its parents and is sterile. This fact explains why mules cannot reproduce. Then, in his way, Pliny records a number of odd facts about mules. The thread connecting these anecdotes is the Greek eastern Mediterranean as the home of some excellent lines of mules. Pliny knows but does not underline the fact that the wild asses of west Asia, producing vigorous lines of mules, helped explain what we know today that mules first appeared in the Middle East where wild asses thrived almost down to the present. He concludes, again with his relish for odd facts, with what a tasty delicacy a mule foal is – and he is one of the last authors to comment on the mule as food. Isidore of Seville (d. 636) wrote a massive work on etymologies that is a kind of hybrid between the dictionary and the later encyclopedia. His books also winnowed the classical inheritance for most subsequent readers and he became one of the first authors to Christianize some part of ancient knowledge. Inevitably his synthesis was also a great censoring of pagan wisdom, and much material did not survive the process. All important subsequent authors knew Isidore’s work or other authorities deriving from it, so for the next thousand years his words and opinions continued to shape educated minds about many things – for present purposes, the mule. Isidore comes to this topic in his survey of animals, after having investigated horses and donkeys.21 He considers the mule a third type of horse, called bigener, born from a horse and an ass, called a 19 20

21

Pliny the Elder, Natural History VIII, lxix, p. 121 in Vol. 3 Loeb. I agree with Aude Doody, Pliny’s Encyclopedia: The Reception of the Natural History (Cambridge, 2010) p. 5, which, despite the title, argues that “encyclopedia” is an anachronism, above all because Pliny intended to have readers, not consulters. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiarum XII, I, 57 ff. Edited by W. M. Lindsay (Oxford, 1911).

The Invention of Mules

mule in Latin, deriving from the Greek “to pull.” In Greek, this pulling involved the work mules performed by turning stones for milling. The Jews claimed that Ana, the great-grandson of Esau, was the first to mix herds of horses and asses and produce a new species, mules against nature (contra naturam – this last point has a remarkable sequel, as we will see). Mixing the stock of wild asses – onagers – with domesticated donkeys produced offspring even speedier in motion. This human ingenuity (industria) in inducing different types of animals into sexual reproduction resulted in a newly found species (genus) resulting from an improper commingling (adulterine commixtione). This observation brings Isidore to the well-known story of Jacob and how he increased the flocks due for his services to Laban by enticing the sheep to reproduce contra naturam lambs of the desired color, in this case because of the type of ram the ewes saw reflected in water as they copulated.22 This point presumes a complete theory of inheritance based on how visual perceptions of the mother shape the fetus she produces.23 This is an amazing story to raise in this context and joins Jacob to the mule in important ways – more to follow. Isidore drags his analysis back closer to mules by noting that the same procedures are used by horse breeders to induce mares to mate with and reproduce the best qualities in the stallions they see. (See later in the chapter for a separate medical line of inquiry, possibly known to Isidore, concerning horse breeding. If this stimulus works with animals, we must anticipate that it will have the same effects on women.) Pigeon fanciers know the same facts and breed their birds to produce the prettiest birds. Finally, pregnant women are well advised to avoid seeing the ugliest faces of animals, like dog-headed creatures and apes, lest their fetuses end up looking the same way. For it is in the nature of women that what they see – in the mind, at the moment of sexual passion or desire when they conceive – shapes the offspring produced. Isidore does not explain here the mechanism between the visual cause and the material effect. All he can do is repeat the now-general rule for animals, which absorb the external forms they see inside the mother to reproduce the physical type of those observed characteristics. (This rule is a marvelous way to explain how 22

23

See Genesis 31:37 for the actual story where Jacob induced the flocks to conceive speckled or streaked offspring by arranging that they see sticks and rods of poplar at conception, not any reflections in water. This mistake is not important to the theory of inheritance at work here. To judge from the medieval vernacular bible tradition, the main interest (and justifiably so) was on Jacob the trickster and not explaining the breeding questions. See Brian Murdoch, The Medieval Popular Bible: Expansions of Genesis in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 2003) pp. 160–1.

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one solid might enter another [the baby in the womb] via the sense of sight, presumably mediated by the common sense in the brain.) This tangent has taken us a long way from mules, and Isidore knows this for he briskly returns to bigener, and gives examples: the mule from a mare and an ass, a burdus from a stallion and a female donkey, a hybrid from wild and domesticated pigs, and finally two parallel and inconceivable crosses between sheep and goats, not relevant to our focus on mules.24 Isidore’s commentary on mules remained influential throughout the Middle Ages and became attached to other texts like the second-family illustrated bestiaries of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.25 Another ancient source influencing the medieval bestiary tradition was the Physiologus, an early Greek Christian text, likely from Egypt, that combined biblical and natural history lore on animals.26 This text has no entries for horse, donkey, or mule, but does briefly note the wild ass. St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179), who composed a great handbook on nature in the twelfth century, had little to say about the mule except that it was a cold, strong, fearless creature with no medicinal value.27 Christian authors changed the direction of the classical references in three important ways. First, lore about mules and the Jews endured and needed to be explained. Pagan authorities rarely cared about obscure Jewish rules and 24

25

26

27

J. N. Adams, “The Generic Use of Mula,” pp. 55–60 considers the meaning of burdo, which also appears as burdus or burdonus in medieval sources; p. 56 notes Isidore. See Willene B. Clark, A Medieval Book of Beasts: The Second Family Bestiary: Commentary, Art, Text and Translation (Woodbridge, 2006) especially pp. 159–61 for the entry on mules, a virtually perfect copy from Isidore. Unfortunately it was not the task of the bestiary to explain heredity, and it appears that the humble mule was seldom illustrated. See for background on the genre Jacques Voisenet, Bestiare Chr´etien: L’imagerie animale des auteurs du ˆ (Ve-XIe s.) (Toulouse, 1994); lots on donkeys. Haut Moyen Age W. B. Clark, A Medieval Book of Beasts, pp. 8–10 for background on this text. There is a good English translation, Michael J. Curley, Physiologus: A Medieval Book of Nature Lore (Chicago, 2009). The common version in Latin has been edited by Francis J. Carmody, Physiologus Latinus (Paris, 1939). This text does not concern most domesticated animals and has no entries for horse, mule, or donkey, and only briefly considers the wild ass. Hildegard von Bingen, Physica: Liber subtilitatum diversarum naturarum creaturarum. Edited by Reiner Hildebrandt and Thomas Gloning (Berlin, 2010), vol. 1 p. 350. “Mulus calde nature est et fortis, nec timorem habet, et quia de duabus naturis est, nec caro nec ossa nec pellis ipsius medicine coaptantur.” One of Hildegard’s main interests in plants and animals was their medicinal qualities, so from her perspective there was little useful about the mule. Given that the most beneficial plants were herbs, grafting was irrelevant and not explained. If this learned author studied Pliny, she did not take seriously his medicinal claims for parts of mules.

The Invention of Mules

traditions; Christians dwelled on such issues. Second, something about mules raised the question of Nature and what was in harmony with it, or against it. Third, attention to Nature remained firmly rooted in its possible medicinal benefits – a logical result of believing that everything’s purpose was to serve and affect humanity. Once the Bible became the main authority on everything, what little it had to say about mules mattered. Donkeys and horses make many positive appearances in both testaments. Yet, like all animals except humans, they could not expect to be resurrected.28 Mules, however, sometimes labored under the biblical injunction, “Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind” (Leviticus 19:19). What this passage actually meant across the centuries is a vexed question, but not one directly connected to hereditability. If Jacob Milgrom is correct, the real issue here concerns holiness and purity.29 The context of this prohibition contemplates three types of mixing: among diverse cattle, not sowing a field with two kinds of seed, and not making cloth with two types of yarn. What these activities have in common, according to Milgrom, is a crossing of the boundary between what is appropriate to people and what belongs to God. There is nothing here prohibiting intermarriage, and the text does not deprecate mules, which are in fact never mentioned in scripture in a negative way. Cattle in scripture referred to almost any four-legged domestic animal (but not a horse), and in practice what was at issue here was crossing or mixing horses and donkeys. Whether or not this obscure injunction mattered to anyone is hard to determine. Whatever the original Hebrew meant, we should be alert to subsequent uses of this passage to justify opinions about mixing. Indeed Milgrom thinks that a species of angels, the cherubim, who embodying a mixture of divine and human elements, suggest that God is in charge of such crosses, not people.30 Purity as an ideal certainly relates to the question of like producing like, and it may be a hereditary property, but at this stage it does not seem to affect any mechanisms of inheritance. Peter Sch¨afer has noticed a story in the Babylonian Talmud, edited in the seventh century and roughly contemporaneous to Isidore, that reflects on the 28

29

30

On this theme, see Francesco Santi, “L’animale eterno.” Micrologus 4 (1996) pp. 231–64, a vast survey of the scholastic literature on this theme, and alas a misleading title, at least for the animals. Leviticus 17–22, Anchor Bible, Vol. 3A. Edited and translated by Jacob Milgrom (New York, 2000) pp. 1720–1 on holiness code and pp. 1658–65 for his notes on this passage. Ibid. p. 1659.

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sterility of mules for an entirely different purpose.31 Here the rabbis, wishing to create an absolutely implausible scene, posit a mule that gives birth with a document hanging around its neck! By piling impossibility upon implausibility, the rabbis create another fiction, a mule’s afterbirth, which they propose as the ingredient to make salt lose its zest. The purpose of this polemic was to depreciate Christianity – hence perhaps the choice of the lowly mule. Leaving aside vanishingly rare cases where a mule may have actually given birth, we see that the rabbis thought it was such a tall tale that the idea of mule afterbirth was a true fantasy, something people never saw. Mules were not making anything like themselves, and could always serve as metaphors for sterility, or a kind of trick. Before resuming our survey of reference works on mules, it is necessary at this point to take a quick detour back to that other great compendium of late antiquity, Augustine’s The City of God, to see how it Christianized this tiny part of the classical inheritance concerning heredity and mules. Pagan authors and their opinions about mules did not have to encounter Noah’s ark. Augustine had to address a technical detail about mules: were they on the Ark? No. This is interesting because the animals entered the Ark in pairs, male and female. But Augustine first observes that there was no point to including sexless creatures.32 His orderly mind produced examples: flies, spontaneously generated, and bees, which he believed did not come in male and female varieties, were obvious exceptions to the pair rule. Mules had sexual organs and hence genders, but because they were sterile, “it would be a wonder if these last were included in the Ark.”33 Indeed. It was sufficient to have horses and donkeys in order to have mules later. But Augustine believes, without giving examples, that there are other types of animals as well who mingle with different species to produce new creatures. Yet then he writes, “If such creatures had anything to contribute to the symbolic meaning of the Ark, then they were included, for such a species also has male and female.”34 The Ark was fraught with symbolic meanings and

31

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33 34

Peter Sch¨afer, Jesus in the Talmud (Princeton, 2007) pp. 22–3 for this and some of what follows. The point of this story is to cite a natural event as unlikely in the eyes of the rabbis as salt losing its zest. Hence this story is part of an ongoing debate between Jews and Christians, in which the mule per se is incidental. Augustine, City of God. Edited and translated by R. W. Dyson (Cambridge, 1998) XV: 27, pp. 691–2. Ibid. Ibid. p. 692.

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problems not related to our theme; Augustine next turns to the vexed question of how Noah fed his passengers on the voyage. For now we must simply note that Augustine could not think of any symbolic reason to include the mules – perhaps because they lacked any discernible spiritual purpose or lesson? A problem here is that one parent of the mule, the donkey, is rich indeed in spiritual meanings and functions, as any bible concordance reveals. Whether it is a talking donkey (Balaam’s ass) or the one that Jesus must ride into Jerusalem, these animals have a special connection to people and important spiritual symbolism, characteristics not apparently inherited by the mules. Augustine knows well the pagan stories about changing a person into a donkey and mentions Apuleius’ Golden Ass as a famous example of the fable of transformations. He is more concerned about stories he heard when living in Italy about wicked female innkeepers who had the ability to use potions or pieces of cheese to turn unsuspecting male guests into beasts of burden.35 Augustine finds a lesson in these nonsense stories, which he considers either false or “so extraordinary that we are justified in refusing to believe them.”36 Of course God could do anything and change what He liked. Demons had the ability to deceive people and meddle with appearances – lesser powers than God’s, but real dangers to the humans fooled by them. Although in general like produced like and there were mechanisms of inheritance, Augustine also knows that anything in this world might mean or become something entirely different if it suited God’s will. This is the central fact making hereditability a sideshow to those thinking primarily about God’s sovereignty. This problem takes us just a short step away, to the problem of what we might call the unity or fixity of species, as most critically concerning our own. Here too Augustine faced the problem of melding the Christian view of the world to the observable fact of what the pagan authors like Pliny called monstrous races. These monsters were varieties of humans or mixes of humans with other species; prominent examples were a Cyclops or a person with the head of a dog.37 Augustine is not sure such tales are credible but again he seems to feel obligated to consider whether or not these creatures were aboard the Ark or in some twisted way descendants of Noah. And he certainly has seen odd human births, in the general category of children very much unlike their parents. 35 36 37

Ibid. Book XVIII: 18 p. 843. Ibid. Ibid. Book XVI: 8.

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But Augustine’s faith has many soothing responses to the apparent problem of the monsters. Anything that exists was created by God, who “knows how to weave the beauty of the whole out of the similarity and diversity of its parts.”38 Only in the sight of God do these human varieties make sense. All people descend from Adam, and if these monsters meet the minimal definition of human beings, namely that they are rational and mortal animals, then they are part of the human family. As Augustine sagely concludes, “Either the written accounts which we have of some of these races are completely worthless; or, if such creatures exist, they are not men; or, if they are men, they are descended from Adam.”39 This theory of inheritance contrasts with the one we need for mules, who have no descendants, and whose original ancestors in Eden were different species. Medical texts provide another conduit for passing down ancient theories about inheritance and sterility to medieval writers. What medical texts and thinking survive from classical antiquity concern people far more often than they do animals, but the sterility of mules was a convenient opportunity for mentioning general ideas about the causes of sterility in all animals, including people. For example, in the collection of medical lore now known as the Prose Salernitan Questions, deriving from the medical school at Salerno probably in the early twelfth century, a question came up about mules.40 All that need concern us here is that medical doctrine easily explained the sterility of mules by drawing on the venerable humoral theories going back to Hippocrates. The different humoral qualities of the horse and ass produced a male offspring with very dry semen unable to impregnate a womb. Sometimes medical lore entered the general stream of the natural history of the mule, but sterility as a topic concerning people received a vast amount of attention in the medical texts. The Bible, Augustine, and Isidore remained three mainstays of educated Christians deep into the Middle Ages. Even holding on to the thread about mules and inheritability, we could not follow all their influences across the centuries. We can look at one author, Rabanus Maurus (c. 780–856), who was 38 39 40

Ibid. p. 708. Ibid. p. 710. See The Prose Salernitan Questions. Edited by Brian Lawn (London, 1979) question 72 p. 34 – the question concerned semen but then addressed the ineffective semen of the male mule. This question also mentioned the tityrus, the legendary and elusive cross between a goat and a sheep.

The Invention of Mules

certainly well read enough to draw on the classical inheritance and reconceptualize a great deal of received information into numerous books of exegesis and commentary. In one work, De universo or De rerum naturis, composed some time in the 840s, Rabanus in twenty-two books revised, rearranged, cut, and augmented Isidore’s twenty books on etymologies. Much of Rabanus’s encyclopedic survey of human knowledge comes straight from Isidore, but he puts religion first, has far more from the Bible, and has trimmed away a lot of pagan Greek and Roman lore. Like many other medieval reference works, this one lacks a modern edition and is seldom studied. Rabanus enjoyed some popularity in his own times and subsequent centuries, and a famous illustrated Italian version of this text from shortly after 1000 testifies to the work’s influence. Let us see what he does with the mule, considering that he had Isidore before his eyes but did not simply transmit his source unedited. At the beginning, Rabanus picks up word by word from Isidore, deriving the word mulus from the Greek for “traction,” then the notice about what the Jews claim as the first use of mules – hence there was something new about them, contrary to Nature.41 Rabanus follows Isidore exactly with the point that mules bred from wild asses are superior. At this point Rabanus departs from Isidore and turns to his own memory, or perhaps some biblical commentary arranged by topic, to mention important notices on mules in scripture. These might tell us nothing about our interest in mules but they provide an important context for understanding the words used about mules. Also, some unique features of Rabanus’s thinking suggest that his book is not on the main trail of received knowledge about mules, for Rabanus next notes that the mule is a beast of labor or burden (oniferum) and that it signifies followers of foolishness. Rabanus knows that everything is a sign and has a spiritual meaning. Every use of the adjective “mulish” could be a metonymy attributing to the subject some mule-like quality. These habits of thought take him to that famous mule rider, Absalom, on his way to doom (2 Sam. 18:9). Next comes a remarkable passage from what he knows as Psalm 31 (32: 9), where man is warned not to be like the horse or mule, which understand nothing, whose mouths must be harnessed with a bit and bridle (the usual translation for camo et freno, in reality better understood as kind of muzzle, and a bit and bridle). To Rabanus, the bridle is a reminder to people that they must be on guard against diabolic frauds, sins, and be wary of 41

Rabanus Maurus, De universo PL 111 col. 216–17 for this and what follows.

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being misled by obeying pride. It is interesting to see Rabanus take the horse and mule as a pair, equal in their lack of intellect and needing a physical bridle to ensure obedience. People (excepting slaves!) do not have straps and bits to keep them in line, but they of course have the spiritual meaning of scripture to ponder. Rabanus believes that imprudent animals have lessons for foolish people too and he returns to the theme of the bridle, which he calls necessary for riding a horse, and he derives frenum from fero (carry), which he believes was an ancient word for horse (caballus). Rabanus does not follow Isidore in his view that this word is for a packhorse (12.1.41). The muzzle concerns the mule. These controls work on the jaws (maxillia), necessary for chewing and eating. The jaws too have allegorical and spiritual meanings about food, and at this point Rabanus stops himself from going off on that tangent. He returns from wherever he has been, to Isidore’s exact words about the mules as a product of human intervention, an adulterous mingling, and then straight to Jacob and his ruse about the flocks (Gen 30). Rabanus copies Isidore exactly here on Jacob and on to the next story about the doves (also in Isidore). Rabanus continues to follow Isidore more or less exactly through the points: 1) pregnant women need to avoid seeing terrible animal faces, like dog heads and monkeys, 2) on the same theory that what they see affects what the conceive and give birth to, because 3) the sexual act transmits external things inside the mother. Rabanus has nothing to add to Isidore here, and concludes his seventh book, on portents, with Isidore’s exact words on hybrids. Rabanus takes up animals in his eighth book, having treated the big domesticated animals in this book probably because he was so interested in their spiritual, portentous meanings. Rabanus did not take this information about harnesses from Isidore, which he considers in a completely different way elsewhere (20:16). Rabanus is one of many authors who mined Isidore. What he contributes to the mix is a deep knowledge of the Bible, leading him to other notices of mules (and horses and donkeys). Rabanus is also a useful reminder that the mule’s parents must figure in any understanding of what the mule has inherited from them. Rabanus is one of the first, but certainly not the last, to look past the literal issues to wonder what these animals mean in figures of speech, and if the mule is half ass, we can expect to read more about folly, hereditary or otherwise.

The Invention of Mules

MEDIEVAL REFERENCE WORKS ON MULES Papias was an eleventh-century grammarian and lexicographer about whom almost nothing is known.42 His dictionary cites many sources, Isidore in first place, followed by Augustine and including the main pagan and Christian ancient authors.43 Pliny the Elder is missing, as is Paul the Deacon who condensed Festus. The ancient dictionary tradition had ended but it had transmitted to Papias Isidore’s great work as well as a number of word lists defining by author rare or unusual words appearing in the Latin poets like Virgil, Horace, Martial, and Juvenal. Papias rarely supplies etymologies, and his brief entries are in strict alphabetical order, making his work easier to consult. His dictionary seems to draw on some good Latin source unknown to us, and seems intended to aid novice readers of classical Latin texts and the church fathers. A few Greek and Hebrew words appear, and some of the Greek is in its own alphabet, but Papias does not seem to know any more Greek than he would learn from a brief word list. This background is necessary to understand the function of Papias’s book in his time. It remains the earliest surviving medieval Latin dictionary, a point of first reference for anyone needing help in reading a text. It seems reasonable to presume that every boy and girl who saw a mule learned the word for it in their vernacular language, and might later in life come to this dictionary for other reasons related to their reading. And one could simply learn from a word list or even more likely another person what the Latin word was for any object. Here we again pick up the thread of what this dictionary taught about the word “mule.” Papias has two entries for the word mulus; the simpler one states that it is a species of animal made from a female horse and a male donkey, but sterile.44 (All this in twelve words.) The other entry is an unusual etymology and it takes, presumably from Isidore or some intermediary, the word from the Greek 42

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There is not much to read; see G. Goetz, “Papias und seine Quellen,” Sitzgungs. der Bayer Akademie (1903) pp. 267–86; the introduction by V. de Angelis to Papiae elementarium Littera A (Milan, 1977); and the introduction to the Ars Grammatica of Papias by Roberta Cervani (Bologna, 1998). Only the internal date of 1043 in the dictionary places it in time, and the assumption that Papias was a Lombard is a guess. The edition used here is Papias Vocabulista, Elementarium (Venice, 1492, anastatic reproduction Turin, 1966) p. 4, modern pagination. Papias, Elementarium, p. 212 “Mulus & mula species animalium ab equa & asino generantur nec generant.”

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“to pull” and gives as an example the yoked animal working at a mill for a miller. Then he writes, “The Jews claim that a nephew of Esau was the first to have a herd of horses mounted by asses in the desert and against Nature a mule was born.”45 This Greek etymology is straight from Isidore, but the claim of the Jews has been compressed and altered. Anas, the great-grandson of Esau, has disappeared and become a simple nephew or at most grandson, but the main point of the story remains – a mule is contrary to Nature. Everything else mentioned by Isidore has disappeared from Papias, but he had a separate entry for ibrida. Papias defined the hybrid as “born from an ignoble father and a noble mother,” perhaps a judgment on the status of the jackass and the mare, but something new.46 Although Papias preserved a bit of the idea of a hybrid, he cut the story of Jacob and his sheep, the breeding of other animals, and the way the sight of something ugly can affect what a pregnant woman carries in her womb. It makes sense that Papias, who valued brevity, simply stopped borrowing from Isidore when the older author wandered into other subjects. The purpose of Papias’s reference work was different, but his essentials still had something about the Jews, and something contrary to Nature about the mule. It is worth considering for a moment how Papias defines asinus, for he has three entries, perhaps signifying different strands of tradition.47 First he provides the etymology as derived from something to sit on, and he gives an odd piece of information that people had used donkeys before horses. This history of domesticating animals is an interesting guess and at least reflects the sensible idea that both animals had to be tamed before one could make mules. The point to all three animals was that people could ride them. Second he offers yet another etymology about sitting high on an animal but this time mentions other words, the one for a little donkey and, more important, the adjective asinine, a word with a rich tradition of metaphorical uses. (Mulish and asinine were not going to be compliments in any language.) Finally he notes some spiritual meanings (possibly from an exegetical source like Rabanus Maurus) of the word “ass”: it could mean humanity as a whole or the gentiles, or in the feminine signify the flesh or the people of God with the idea that they are tied 45

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Ibid. “Iudaei asserunt nepotem esau primum fecisse equorum greges ascendi ab asinis in deserto & contra naturam mulum nasci.” Ibid. “ . . . natus ex ignobili patre & nobili matre” p. 149. Papias has another entry following for ibridem, an animal born from a wild boar and a domestic pig. Ibid. p. 33 for all three.

The Invention of Mules

or yoked to something. Remaining focused on mules, we should nevertheless remember their parents, with Papias reinforcing the notion that there is a vast and positive learned tradition about horses and a much smaller and often pointedly humorous set of ideas and proverbs about the donkey and asinine people. Uguccione da Pisa, who compiled the second great Latin dictionary, the Derivationes, was not the more famous canon lawyer and bishop of Ferrara by the same name, but was active around 1200 and certainly knew the work of his predecessors, especially Papias. This lexicographer provides more and longer entries and illustrates the use of words in quotations. His work is fuller and richer, but harder to consult without the index the modern edition provides, because Uguccione grouped entries not in strict alphabetical order but in relation to word stems.48 Hence the entry for mulus is found under molo and connects the animal to milling.49 Uguccione begins with straight borrowing from Isidore with the Greek etymology for traction. He omits the story the Jews tell about Esau and goes straight to the story Papias skipped about Jacob, the long notice about how he caused the sheep to conceive against Nature but by trickery, to his own advantage. This subentry stresses the same two points as in Isidore: human intervention in breeding to produce a mixture contrary to Nature, and the example of Jacob. Next Uguccione picks up word for word Isidore’s observations about how horses may be encouraged to improve and conceive based on what they see. And then the same thesis about breeding also applies to doves. Finally Uguccione takes from Isidore the long account concerning how pregnant women can similarly conceive and have their offspring influenced by what they see during sex, down to the dog-headed creatures and the monkeys. At this point Uguccione drops Isidore and does not return to the themes of animal reproduction or the general questions surrounding types of hybrids. Instead he goes off on a tangent, finding another entry for mula, probably from a word list by a compiler like Osbern of Gloucester, who on the basis of a misreading from Horace and another word from Juvenal finds a bogus classical reference for a virgin mule.50 For our purpose, the point is that we now have 48 49 50

Uguccione da Pisa, Derivationes Edited by Enzo Cecchini et al. (Florence, 2004). Ibid. p. 789. Ibid. pp. 788–9, the notice of Juvenal leads one to the misreading by Osbern, which may be found and explained in Osbern of Gloucester (Osbernus Claudianus) Derivazioni. Edited by Paola Busdraghi (Spoleto, 1996), vol. 1 p. 410, for the mulio from Juvenal and the misreading of Mulvius from Horace – both references no doubt from word lists from

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a great Latin dictionary that circulated more widely than Papias, which provides another path for Isidore to reach a wider audience. The organization of materials in Uguccione, however, hindered its use. The thirteenth century became a time for renewing the great reference works and encyclopedias from the past. New texts were coming from Arabic and Greek sources demanding synthesis, and classical authors like Pliny the Elder and Palladius were directly reaching scholars who did not need to depend solely on older textbooks from Isidore and Rabanus. One of the first of these new compendia was by the Franciscan Bartholomaeus Anglicus (c. 1200–72); his De proprietatibus rerum was finished around 1245 in Saxony.51 He brought a wide reading and an inquisitive mind to this venture and he knew Pliny directly and used the recent translations by Michael Scot of works on animals by Avicenna and Aristotle.52 In nineteen books, Bartholomew surveyed things ranging from angels to colors and smells. Book eighteen treats animals, and Bartholomew begins with a brief excerpt from Isidore on where the word “mule” comes from and again why the animal is unnatural.53 But Bartholomew immediately departs from the paths Isidore and Rabanus followed because he does not cite or discuss here any of the biblical references to Jacob and all the rest. This approach did not occur because he was averse to long stretches of biblical citations; for example, in Book 6:17, where he discussed bad servants, he has a catalog of many examples from Hebrew scripture and the New Testament. Bartholomew has new materials at his fingertips but also fresh observations. He is scrupulous about citing his authorities so his own opinions stand out; for example, he saw that when the mule took after its horse mother, he was bigger, more attractive, and faster than a donkey, but he was lazier, more

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poets. Osbern was active around 1150; Uguccione did not cite him by name but drew on his work. For background on his life and work, see M. C. Seymour et al., Bartholomaeus Anglicus and his Encyclopedia (Aldershot, 1992). For some astute views on this author see Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science 5:401–35. The Latin translation of Avicenna’s book on plants animals, written around 1027, was another way for Aristotle to enter the Latin tradition; see Remke Kruk, “Ibn S¯ın¯a On Animals: Between the First Teacher and the Physician,” in Avicenna and His Heritage. Edited by Jules Janssens and Daniel DeSmet (Leuven, 2002) pp. 325–41. For what follows I have mainly used this edition, Bartholomaeus Anglicus, De Proprietatibus Rerum (Nuremburg, 1483), and also consulted another version (Argentine, 1505). The entry for mule appears in Book 18:70.

The Invention of Mules

misshapen, and smaller than a horse.54 Bartholomew does not know why the mule turned out this way and inherited different characteristics from its parents, but he is right on the details. Next Bartholomew displays his original reading of Pliny by citing (by book and chapter) some details on how mules are bred and information about their milk. (Not Pliny’s odd Neronian anecdote about his wife’s milk bath, however.) Aristotle then provides unusual details about mules – how much they drink and that they lack a gall bladder over the liver. Most importantly, Aristotle gives a respectable reason for the sterility of mules; he blamed the coldness of their sperm. Yet it is Bartholomew who appears to correct both Pliny and Aristotle by mentioning the subtle detail that very rarely, but nevertheless sometimes, female mules can become pregnant.55 But he has to come back to the truism that mules are sterile because they are contrary to Nature. This should allow for no exceptions, yet Bartholomew knows that in the real world exceptions occasionally happen. Finally Bartholomew has a culinary opinion – the flesh of a mule is worse than that of a donkey – and a piece of medicinal advice – mule dung is a good remedy for scorpion bites. As will become the rule, the entry on donkeys is much longer, though it includes some repetition of information about mules.56 Bartholomew begins briefly with Isidore but then parades learned information about donkeys from Avicenna, Aristotle, and Pliny. (Oddly, he cites Pliny as the source for the opinion that the milk and blood of a donkey are good against scorpion bites.) The striking feature of all this information about donkeys is that Bartholomew cites nothing from the Bible and its many notices of this animal. Instead, he devotes a lot of attention to the problems getting donkeys to reproduce, and this is the point that led him to preview what he would later write in more detail about mules. Again, the temperament of the animal matters; cold creatures are simply harder to entice into procreation. A hint about the purpose of these new reference works appears in the amount of space devoted to recounting the medicinal uses of animals in general. The issues surrounding inheritability have been thoroughly grounded in the natural world, with the venerable caveat, drawing explicitly on Aristotle and implicitly from the monotheistic traditions, 54

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Ibid. Book 18:70 “ . . . et ideo sequens mulus matris naturam asino est maior. pulchrior et velocior. sed equo est pigrior deformior atque minor.” Ibid and I think this is the author’s own qualification – “ . . . non impregnatur ergo mula nisi forte valde raro . . . ” – a possibility he does not credit to comments by Pliny or Aristotle. Ibid. Book 18:7.

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that what is contrary to Nature will be sterile. So, for example, to a theologian like Thomas Aquinas, not particularly interested in plants and animals, the mule was still a convenient tool for a logical analysis of species and creation in Nature.57 Another forerunner in the genre is the Liber de natura rerum by Thomas de Cantimpr´e, a massive undertaking in twenty books written and revised from about 1228 to 1244. Thomas, working independently from his contemporary Bartholomew, relied on the old standbys Isidore and Rabanus, but he also directly knew works in Latin by Aristotle, Pliny the Elder, Palladius, and even used Ambrose and Basil on the Hexameron. For the mule, Thomas drew mainly on Rabanus and Pliny the Elder, but what was most interesting to him was explaining the mule’s sterility.58 One of his ideas is that it is against Nature for the mule to reproduce because it is itself the offspring of two different natures, the hot horse and the cold ass – qualities not in harmony in a mule and hence interfering with reproduction. Thomas is hence one of the first to suggest a mechanism for an argument “against nature.” His entry for a hybrid is a straight copy from Isidore.59 The donkey has a longer entry than the mule and shows Thomas at his most original, depending on Rabanus for structure but displaying a wide and discriminating reading.60 The donkey is introduced as a vile and deformed creature, but it immediately becomes clear that Thomas intends to present a balanced picture. He does this by comparing the donkey to Jesus, who carried the cross and the burdens of humanity, and by contrasting its good qualities – a peaceful, patient hard worker – with its bad attributes – a lazy, stupid creature with a horrible sound. Much of what he has to say about donkey is not relevant to our focus on inheritability and the lessons of Nature. Yet Thomas extends an earlier point about the coldness of donkeys to suggest why they do not conceive in the north, in places like Scotland. (Regardless of the mechanism, he was on to something about the geography of donkeys and the greater reliance on the horse in northern Europe.) Thomas too thought about the donkey in the context of the Bible, but he did not follow a single theme from Rabanus or Isidore and instead displayed his own somewhat curious exegesis. 57

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Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones disputatae de potentia. Q. 3 art. 8 arg. 15, as close as Aquinas gets to an interest in the living word. Brepols Library of Latin Texts Series A, accessed March 31, 2011. Thomas de Cantimpr´e, Liber de natura rerum 4:68, pp. 148–9. Ibid. 4:51 p. 138. Ibid. 4:2 pp. 108–9.

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Taking from Pliny some strange opinions about how donkeys rarely had twins and preferred to give birth in the dark, Thomas was somehow moved to quote from scripture, “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (Matt. 6:3, a remark by Jesus on the mechanism of charity – what does this have to do with a donkey?!) Thomas has a plan, however, for elucidating the spiritual significance of the donkey to the clergy, and the donkey represents the patient enduring of tribulations and a complete lack of interest in the riches of this world. This last point, relating riches to charity, leads Thomas to the theme of drinking clear waters, which he contrasts from Jeremiah (2:18) and the taking of the muddy (wicked and backsliding) waters of Egypt and Assyria. What is striking here is how Thomas has clearly avoided the famous passages concerning donkeys in scripture and instead found his own lessons suggested by the humble donkey. Learned curiosity about animals was also in fashion in the thirteenth and subsequent centuries. Benjamin Z. Kedar noticed this story about the fourteenthcentury Florentine writer Franco Sacchetti.61 Here a Genoese friar was giving a sermon in which he compared his compatriots to donkeys, who, whenever one of them was beaten, scattered in different directions. Their rivals, the Venetians, resembled pigs, who ganged up on an attacker of any one of their number. Medieval people relished comparing “nationalities” to animals, and donkeys certainly had their good and bad habits. Their most common name, asinus, invited imagery and ridicule. Sometimes a detail is purely antiquarian or historical; Thomas knows from Pliny the Elder that Nero’s wife bathed in donkey milk.62 This anecdote has nothing to do with inheritability but it warns us that a greater direct familiarity with classical sources, even in donkey lore, means that many ideas are now on the table again that had been neglected or forgotten. Consider this detail. Thomas knows a book called the Liber Kyrannidarum, from which he learned that the tears of a donkey ground up and mixed with oil, and then burned in a lamp, made everyone at a banquet seem to have the head of an ass.63 These tears are probably not actual gleanings of weeping donkeys but were instead some sort of incense made from the 61

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Benjamin Z. Kedar, Merchants in Crisis: Genoese and Venetian Men of Affairs and the FourteenthCentury Depression (Princeton, 1976) p. 9. He dates the story to 1381. Thomas of Cantimpr´e, Liber de natura rerum 4:2 p. 108. Ibid. “Lacrima eius [asinus] cum oleo concussa et mixta in lucernam et accensa, omnes in convivio videbunt se habere capita asinina.” This book, purported ancient Persian lore by Kiranides, came to the West in a Latin translation in the twelfth century; see. L. Thorndike, Magic and Experimental Science, 4:229–31.

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hoof mentioned in the previous sentence. Natural history of animals has now extended to the spiritual, medicinal, and magical properties. These same qualities and more appear in a roughly contemporary work by the German Dominican (and teacher of Thomas Aquinas) Albertus Magnus (1193?–1280) who revised and redacted some time between 1256 and 1268 his vast project to comment on and extend Aristotle’s works on animals. Albert’s book, a true Summa Zoologica, treats Aristotle’s works in the first nineteen books, and from books 22–26 provides a kind of dictionary of animals.64 Here our interest is not in the big issues of inheritability and sterility considered elsewhere, but in the narrower topic of how Albert defined the mule and the ass in his dictionary of animals, which drew on the vast array of sources available by the mid-thirteenth century, including, above all in his case, Aristotle, Pliny the Elder, and Thomas of Cantimpr´e. The entry on the mule is brief.65 The mule is a familiar animal more like an ass than a horse. Albert notes he has discussed its sterility elsewhere. The rest of the entry is an odd assortment of medical details. A burning hoof fumigates a house and the mice flee. Mule marrow makes people unable to speak. Two mule testicles hung on a woman in a sack of mule hide will prevent her from conceiving. Again, Albert notes he has said other things (many indeed) elsewhere on mules, so he is brief here. What is startling is that there is hardly a word in common with Thomas. What does not appear in Albert is any biblical or classical lore cited by source; whatever the source of these facts, the result is very original. The entry on the donkey is longer and more complex.66 The ass is common, ugly, slow, hardworking, cold, melancholic, and stronger in the back than front. 64

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For this work there is an outstanding English translation by Kenneth F. Kitchell, Jr. and Irven Michael Resnick, Albertus Magnus on Animals: A Medieval Summa Zoologica. 2 vols. (Baltimore 1999) and the Latin autograph text has been consulted, by Hermann Stadler, Albertus Magnus De animalibus libri XXVI nach der C¨olner Urschrift vols 15 and 16 in Beitrage ¨ zur ¨ Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters (Munster, 1920). Ibid. p. 1521 for English and p. 1412 for Latin; the key phrase for the effect of mule marrow will be “stupidus efficietur,” so dumb in either sense. Ibid. 22.2.1.17 pp. 1450–2 for the English and 22.2.1.7 p. 1357 for the Latin. The relevant Latin for Albert’s own observation about mule hide shoes is 22.2.1.18 “ . . . et tandem adeo indurantur quod pede sustinere non poterit: hoc vidi expertum.” clearly original. His way of noticing Poppaea “quod Popea Neronis concubine in lacte calido asinae balneata est.” Thomas of Cantimpr´e “quod Popea Neronis coniunx se balneabat in lacte asine,” both deriving from Pliny the elder, but the phrasing suggests original detail and a common love of weird anecdote. Pliny himself put this in a section on medicines and cosmetics, and notes that she traveled with a train of donkeys kept for their milk – a detail not repeated by the two medieval writers.

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It has bones good for making musical instruments, and Albert claims to know how useful its hide is for making stout shoes. Its milk is thin and quite white, bathed in by Nero’s wife. The donkey is a devoted mother that shies away from the light to protect its weak-eyed foal. Albert concludes with a list of medicinal uses of donkey parts, and he draws on Pliny and other sources for odd recipes for roasted donkey liver for epileptics and its urine to treat kidneys. What is important to note again is that Albert has dropped all the biblical references he found in Thomas and added the fruits of his own experiences and wide reading. Vincent of Beauvais (d. 1264), the greatest medieval encyclopediast, compiled possibly in the early 1250s a series of reference works, the relevant one for our purposes being his massive Speculum naturale, in which books eighteen to twenty-two concern animals.67 “Compile” is the right word for his endeavor, especially in his accounts of animals, for his method was to provide excerpts from what he considered the best sources and nothing else, though he certainly knew and relied on the recent encyclopedia of Thomas of Cantimpr´e. Vincent brings together useful snippets from the vast tradition of learning that perhaps no one before him really tried to pull together as a body of received truth. He has four chapters in book nineteen on the mule, one on the main topic and then more on the same, a third on the generation of mules and a fourth on medicines derived from mules (!). Much of this is already familiar to us; for example, his main source on mules is Isidore, but he also knows Pliny the Elder’s great work well and provides copious extracts from it. Other main sources on mules were Alexander Neckham, the Physiologus, and one of many De naturis rerum, most likely the recent reference work by Thomas of Cantimpr´e.68 He also knew a work he thought was on animals by Aristotle and could provide odd bits from general sources like the Annals of the Romans. The value of all this is that we can now be sure – as, for example, in the critical chapter sixty-seven on making mules where Vincent cites Pliny and Palladius at length – that the entire classical Latin tradition could now be at the fingertips of any subsequent curious reader. Up to Vincent, it was uncommon to know both these authors, simply 67

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For what follows see Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum naturale (?, 1481?) vol. 2, a beautiful deluxe printed edition not paginated but cited here by book and chapter. For an overall appraisal of the work, see Eva Albrecht, “The Organization of Vincent of Beauvais’ Speculum Maius and of Some Other Latin Encyclopedias,” in S. Harvey, The Medieval Hebrew Encyclopedias, pp. 46–74. See the article Baudouin Van den Abeele, “Vincent de Beauvais naturaliste: les sources des livres d’animaux du Speculum naturale, in Lector et Compilator: Vincent de Beauvais. Edited by Serge Lusignan and Monique Paulmier-Foucart (Grˆane, 1997) pp. 127–51, pp. 139–40 for Thomas and Alexander.

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because their works were rare in manuscripts. This is to the good, but it does not help our history of inheritability to read Pliny and Palladius again, so many centuries after their time, with nothing new to record. The diligent drudgery of compiling extracts is to be admired, but Vincent is incurious about much else, including what the breeders of mules were doing in thirteenth-century France. The good and bad aspects of his method are on display in the odd sixtyeighth chapter on the medicinal uses of parts of mules – alas, the animal provides nothing useful while still alive. Vincent only knows the learned tradition, but it is in some ways stunning to see so much of it in one place. He knows from Avicenna (Ibn Sina, 980–1037) that ashes made from donkey hides can be used to treat ulcers and fistulas, from Belbetus (an otherwise unknown author of a Book on Senses) that ashes from donkey hooves can fumigate a house, from Pliny the useful properties derived from an oil made from these hooves, and from Aesculapius the recipe that the ears of a female mule and the testicles of a male one will prevent a woman from conceiving.69 One can see the sense of how the sterility of male and female mules might be transferable to a woman (and typically not to a man) needing birth control. What is also useful here is the immediate use of Latin translations of Arabic medical texts by authors like Ibn Sina and elsewhere the physician Razi to derive practical knowledge about mules – alas, here not about problems of inheritability but how they may serve humanity’s health. Chapter ten in this same book covered asses, and it is again all the familiar sources on display: Isidore, Pliny, Aristotle, and others, and here even more medical information from Dioscorides in addition to Ibn Sina and Aesculapius. The Catholicon by the Genoese Dominican friar Giovanni Balbi, completed in 1286, was the greatest of the medieval Latin dictionaries, holding the field across Europe far into the age of print.70 Balbi had access to a great library and knew the works of his main predecessors, Uguccione, Papias, and Isidore. Balbi combined the best features of the genre, following a strict alphabetical order for ease of use, many encyclopedic entries, and copious citations for use and authority. In a sense we have taken this journey to understand 69

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Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum naturale. Book 19 chapter 68 at end “Esculapius Auricule mulle et burdonis testiculi: si ferant a muliere: non concipiet.” See Steven A. Epstein, Genoa and the Genoese 958–1528(Chapel Hill, 1997) pp. 162–3; the edition used here is an anastatic reproduction of the most important early printed text (Mainz, 1460).

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the context of the Catholicon and the messages it contained about mules and heredity. Balbi begins by citing Uguccione and noting the Greek origin of the word and the connection to milling.71 Even though Balbi knows Isidore, he does not chose to resurrect the story from the Jews about Esau’s descendant, and instead proceeds directly to Isidore’s words about human ingenuity or industry affecting the adulterous commingling of species with the use of Jacob and the story of his flocks. Even though he knows the Bible well, Balbi follows Isidore here into the idea that what Jacob used was the reflection of what he wanted in the mirror of water. (Balbi may be following Uguccione here into the same error/interpretation.) The doves come up in both dictionaries in the same way, following Isidore word for word. The same holds for the longer story about women, the influence of what they see when they conceive, leading to the general conclusion spanning the centuries from Isidore to Uguccione and Balbi that in mating, animals transmit external forms inside (the mother’s womb) and, having internalized these images, the same quality comes across in what is born.72 At this point Isidore went on to discuss hybrids, Uguccione wandered into poetic meanings, and Balbi also concludes that he is free to bring in whatever fresh material he wants. Balbi has consulted other sources and he offers his readers far more than his predecessors. This text lacks a modern edition so we cannot know for sure what intervening work Balbi may be drawing on, or if he is simply displaying the fruits of a wide reading. His last point concerned how what gets inside a woman, by what she sees when conceiving, can be born into the world with the features or qualities of what the mother saw. This is one fundamental theory of inheritance we have uncovered. Balbi now notes that Augustine wrote the same thing about human conception in his five books against Julian – this work was about the Pelagian heresy. Next Balbi records that there is something in the medical writer Soranus concerning how a husband should make sure that his wife is looking at an attractive picture or image while in bed lest she give birth to ugly children. Then Balbi notes that Jerome wrote about a certain 71

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Giovanni Balbi, Catholicon (Mainz, 1460) every reference by alphabetical order, text not numbered by page. Ibid., the entire passage, hard to translate, from Balbi, is “ . . . Dum concipiunt talem sobolem procreant. Et enim anima [sic for animal?, same error in Uguccione?] in usi venereo formas extrinsecas intro transmittit. Earum satiata tipis rapit species earum in propria qualitate.” A few slight grammatical changes from Uguccione.

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woman who gave birth to a black child after seeing such an image (a black person) during sex. Finally Balbi returns to some grammatical points and winds up with the venerable and simple definition taken but not cited from Papias that mules come from a mare and a male ass and are sterile.73 Balbi has a separate, brief entry for burdo, a hybrid with a stallion father and a donkey mother.74 How can we follow Balbi to what he has added to the received explanation of mules? All we can do is consider the lexicographer’s context as a Dominican in late-thirteenth-century Genoa and make plausible inferences about his reading and habits of thought. Balbi had in mind the last image from Uguccione concerning how pictures seen by a mother influenced the appearance of her offspring. Some unknown intervening source or Balbi’s own reading prompted him to remember that Augustine had also written about a beautiful picture and the fear of a deformed offspring. Balbi provides an exact reference to Against Julian, but the story he actually cites is the one from that remarkable work of Augustine’s old age, his Retractions, where he corrects and comments on his previous books. What Augustine retracts there is a minor error about a deformed husband who, not wanting his wife to give birth to a deformed child, placed in his bedchamber a beautiful picture – a story he got from Soranus.75 Balbi’s Latin is actually closer to the retraction than the original text, so it seems reasonable to presume that he found the entire story there, including the long thread back to Soranus.76 73

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The source is hard to find, so here continues Balbi: “Ad hoc eciam facit quod Augustinus recitat [verso] in v. libri contra iulianum pelagianum quod Solanus autor medicine scripsit de rege cyprio quod cum ipse / et vir deformis solebat proponere coniugi sue in concubitu formosam picturam ne ipsa deformes parerarum filios. Jeronimo eciam narrat de quidam muliere quam peperit filium nigrum propter hoc quod in tempore coitus ymaginem vidit nigram.” Balbi, at burdo, where he also notes two scriptural passages using the word. ¨ (Vienna, 1902) p. 201. “ . . . ubi comAugustine, Retractationum. Edited by Pius Knoll memoraui deformem maritum coniugi suae, ne deformes pareret, proponere in concubitu formonsam solere picturam, nomen hominis, qui hoc facere solebat. . . . ” He notes that he had remembered a detail in error, Soranus had said the deformed man was a king of Cyprus, and he had not given the right name; in fact, he wrote it was the tyrant Dionysius – see next note. The original text of Contra Julianum may be found in PL vol 44 col. 813 “ . . . Nam Dionysium tyrannum narrat, eo quod ipse deformis esset, nec tales habere filios vellet, uxori suae in concubitu formosam proponere solere picturam, cujus pulchritudinem concupiscendo quodam modo raperet, et in prolem quam concipiebat afficiendo transmitteret.” It is important to demonstrate what text Balbi was using, and the words here for “wife” (uxor)

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Augustine knew Soranus, the Greek medical writer of the second century, by his right name, but it was not uncommon in the Middle Ages for this writer to be called Solanus, as Balbi does. Soranus wrote four books in Greek on gynecology, and from the fifth century various Latin paraphrases and translations existed, making it possible for the Greekless Augustine to know this work directly, and allowing Balbi to check the reference if he so desired.77 Soranus takes us back before Isidore and can serve as an alternate conduit of ancient information to medieval writers. Soranus in fact has four important stories to tell about ways to influence the appearance of offspring by what the mother sees.78 In a long section devoted to investigating the best time to engage in intercourse for procreation, Soranus concluded by questioning what “various states of the soul also produce certain changes in the mould of the fetus.”79 This is one way of discussing the question we call inhereditability, at least narrowly here, namely the way a woman can pass down influences she experiences before or during conception. Some of the stories here are old friends and indicate how complicated the process of transmission was from ancient Greek and Latin sources to medieval received truths. First Soranus, as transformed into Latin by Caelius Aurelianus, notes that some women who have seen monkeys

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and the notice of a king and not a tyrant demonstrate he used the shorter Retractions. Of course Augustine, revising his own work, remained close to his original diction. Indispensable for anyone using medical texts is Joan Cadden, Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages: Medicine, Science and Culture (Cambridge, 1993) pp. 26–30 for Soranus of Ephesus and his medieval significance. The fullest and best text of Soranus is the Greek version, virtually unknown outside Byzantium; for English translation, see Soranus’ Gynecology. Translated by Oswei Temkin (Baltimore, 1956) pp. 37–8 for Book 1:39; for the Greek text, see Soranus Gynaeciorum. Edited by Valentin Rose (Leipzig, 1882) 1:39 pp 204–5. This Teubner edition contains the Greek original as well as a Latin paraphrase attributed to Muscius, which does not contain the passage at issue here. Medieval readers knew Soranus; another Latin translation/paraphrase by Caelius Aurelianus, Gynaecia: Fragments of a Latin version of Soranus’ Gynaecia from a thirteenth-century manuscript. Edited by Miriam F. Drabkin and Israel E. Drabkin (Baltimore, 1951) explains how this works p. 16: “sic denique in concubitu femine visa simia vultus similes pepererunt. hinc etiam Ciprius tirannus ne sui turpitudinem corporis posteris daret, in amplexu venerio signa pulcherrima uxorem suam coegit intueri, quod adulterato visu alienas femine sumerent formas. equorum etiam nutritores cum equi equabas causa creandi corpra commiscentur nobiles pullos equarum visui opponent, quo supradicto exemplo tales rapiant per venerem formas. ut igitur minime portentuosa assequatur nativitas cum a nimia ebrietate sauciata labentia patitur visa, que Greci fantasmata vocant, decet feminas sobrietate servata veneris in gremia convenire.” Soranus, Gynecology pp. 37–8 for this and what follows.

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during intercourse had given birth to offspring resembling them. Second is the story Augustine remembered, here about the deformed tyrant Cyprian who made his wife look at beautiful symbols (whatever they were) so that she would give birth to attractive children. Third, some horse breeders have used a similar strategy and shown the best horses to mares to produce the best foals. The fourth story recommends that women be sober during intercourse because drunkenness might induce strange fantasies (from the Greek word phantasm) that would shape the child’s appearance. Soranus was in no doubt that children in part resembled their mothers, who contributed something real to their constitution – in this case, unstable hallucinogenic influences from drink! Because Balbi mentions only one of these anecdotes and names Augustine as his source, he does not in this case indicate that he knows the Latin Soranus. His vocabulary is closer to Augustine’s and his earlier story about the horse breeders was different and relied on reflections in water rather than direct examples. (Isidore had some of the same information as Soranus but again, on the basis of word choice and phrases, does not rely on him.) Hence we may leave Soranus (for the moment) and return to Balbi’s definition of mule, which did prompt recollection of a story about how something seen can affect or become something born – we can leave all details aside. What does this have to do with a mule? The one story about horse breeders is a possible connection. So too is the word for foal, pullus, which as we will see has connections to medieval words like guasmulus and poulain for human “half-breeds” in the eastern Mediterranean. The small step we must take with Balbi, from Augustine to Jerome in the definition of a mule, is that the animal prompts deprecatory thoughts about types of humans who are also mixed. Perhaps we can offer another hypothesis after investigating Balbi’s last remark, about a white woman giving birth to a black child because of something she saw. Thanks to the work of Frank Snowden, the reference in Jerome’s vast literature is known; it comes from an exegetical work on Genesis.80 Whether or not Balbi was the first to bring together these comments from Augustine and Jerome is unknown to me; somewhere in the many books by Albertus Magnus or some other thirteenth-century writer, Balbi may have found these references. But the 80

Frank M. Snowden, Jr., Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks (Cambridge, MA, 1983) p. 96, where Snowden notes that Jerome credits Quintilian for the anecdote, and the reference to Jerome’s Hebrew Questions on p. 145.

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chain of reasoning in the dictionary is his own, and the story in Jerome an unusual one. The question Jerome was investigating in Genesis was the story of how Jacob devised a strategy for increasing his flocks at the expense of Laban by claiming the discolored animals, the ones of mixed colors, not black or white (Genesis 30:31–42). We have just seen this episode in Balbi appearing as part of a very old set of associations about breeding and mules. But Balbi deserves credit for bringing the definition back to this ancient problem about human mixture and inheritance. After exploring some issues not relevant here, Jerome explains in detail how it happens that what is seen affects what is conceived.81 First Jerome emphasizes twice that this is a pregnancy according to Nature, both for the flocks and the human, because what any female sees during intercourse affects the offspring. Second, Jerome knows that this method of improvement is also the practice of horse breeders in Spain. Third, he has one of Quintilian’s set legal arguments where a matrona, presumably a white Roman woman, has given birth to an Ethiopian, certainly a black child. Her defense, against a charge of adultery because the child plainly did not resemble her husband, was that the appearance of the child resulted from an image she saw during sex. What Balbi remembered was the black child, whom he set down in a definition of mule. Why? Of course he does not tell us and historians are well advised to stay clear of the realm of conjecture. Yet pragmatics encourages us to look at the implicit and explicit meanings (especially in a dictionary) and to consider the context of Balbi’s thought. This context is the world surrounding the Dominican convent in Genoa in the late thirteenth century. Balbi’s direct context took in its library and the series of dictionaries and reference works stretching back to antiquity. 81

Jerome, Opera, Opera Exegetica, here Hebraicae qvaestiones in libro Geneseos. Edited by P. Antin. Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 72 (Turnhout, 1959) 30, 32.33 pp. 37–8. The relevant passage is “Nec mirum hanc in conceptu feminarum esse naturam, ut quales perspexerint siue mente conceperint in extremo voluptatis aestu quae concipiunt, talem, sobolem procreent, cum hoc ipsum etiam in equarum gregibus apud Hispanos dicatur fieri, et Quintilianus in ea controuersia, in qua accusabatur matrona, quod Aethiopem peperit, pro defensione illius argumentetur hanc conceptuum esse naturam, quam supra diximus,” p. 38. The reference is to a presumed speech by Quintilian, where a long and convoluted story about a faithless wife appears – the key phrase about the child is “nigra facies,” suggesting that Jerome substituted Ethiopian and that once again the evidence shows that color of skin stood as proxy for ethnicity in some cases. Brepols Library of Latin Texts Series A, M. Fabius Quintilianus (pseudo), Declamationes XIX maiores, declamation 10.4.14. Accessed May 14, 2011.

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The world outside his window was one of the Mediterranean’s great ports, a town where one was (and is) always climbing or descending, and where mules and donkeys (and not horses) were absolutely essential to moving goods inside the city and across the maritime Alps to the upper Po valley to the north. Genoa also contained an increasing and exotic population of slaves drawn from across the known (and even unknown) world. The children of these diverse slaves, many fathered by Genoese owners, formed an increasingly challenging part of the city’s population, consisting in part of the variously colored children of Genoese white male slave-owners. These facts of local life came together an enriched the definition of mule. Could a dark Genoese slave woman claim that her paler baby resulted from something she saw – other than the face of her owner?

THE PARENTS OF MULES Breeding mules from donkeys and horses is a difficult business to trace in the surviving commercial records from the parts of Europe where such documents survive from the central Middle Ages. Urban markets are most likely to leave some trace in the records, and by then the animals have been raised and brought to these markets, without leaving much of a documentary trail. Horses seem to be the draft animal of preference across much of northern Europe; donkeys thrived on the flatlands, and mules in more rugged terrain or where the soils needed their traction power. It is interesting to see one half of a donkey sold in Florence in 1305 because such transactions remind us that working animals were so important that humble people often needed to share them.82 Notices of sales of mules from Genoa in the 1370s show that the females were expensive and approached about half the price of a human slave.83 Wherever mules were numerous, the profession of muleteer was important because the mostly male 82

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Biagio Boccadibue (1298–1314). Edited by Laura De Angelis et al. (Florence, 1983) vol. 2, p. 241 sold for L5s.6, already shared with someone else. This same notary recorded a sale of two donkeys for L10 in 1298, confirming the price and suggesting that donkeys may have worked in trains; (Florence, 1978) vol. 1 p. 17. Other notices of donkeys in Florence from the 1290s show them at work hauling grain or wood and figuring in partnerships; see Ser Matteo di Biliotto notaio: Imbreviature. Edited by Manila Soffici and Franek Sznura (Florence, 2002), document numbers 218, 226, 540, 654, and 657, no notices of mules. Archivio di Stato di Genova, Cartolari notarili, Cart. N. 293, Benvenuto de Bracelli notary, 108r a mule for L20 in 1373, 122r for a pricier one at L27s7; this notary provides many examples of both mule and slave prices for this period.

The Invention of Mules

pack animals required skilled and patient hands to manage their vital work in transportation and other trades. Sedate female mules were mostly used for riding. The nonelite people who worked with and bred these animals must have possessed a great deal of information unfortunately lost to us, except perhaps for the few details that they may have passed to the industrious compilers of reference works.84 Some parts of Europe furnish more evidence than others. For example, perhaps as early as the 1290s, probably at Genoese Caffa in the Crimea, a merchant or missionary began compiling a great trilingual dictionary in Latin, Persian, and Cuman, the Codex Cumanicus. In this work, organized by topic rather than by letter of the alphabet, the Latin male and female mules appear as quite distinct words in Cuman, whereas in Persian, the root is the same with a feminine suffix.85 In a multicultural seaport, mules had their uses. At the other end of Europe, the late medieval agricultural treatises from England suggest that there were very few donkeys there – hence mules were rare and horses and oxen provided traction.86 The explicit meanings in Balbi’s dictionary have been closely explored, but the implicit ones are harder to negotiate across the centuries in the Latin language. Muleteers and slave traders in Genoa and elsewhere were not the implied audience for Balbi’s great dictionary, nor would they become so in the succeeding centuries of the work’s fame and relevance. And yet we have already expected that educated Latin readers, let alone ordinary people, did not need a dictionary to tell them what the word “mule” meant. But there it was, a long and complex definition, well rewarding the curiosity of anyone consulting the work, and standing out on the page by the sheer length of the entry. Balbi was certainly showing his considerable intellectual capital in this entry, drawing in his most important predecessor (Uguccione) and weighty church fathers Jerome and Augustine. The Bible did not provide any good stories about mules, especially when compared to the donkey (asinus). What Genesis does contain is the story of Jacob’s deal about the sheep with his equally tricky father-in-law Laban. It is true that at first glance this story has nothing to do with mules, but 84

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Materials exist, however, for studying in detail the market for mules and donkeys in Italian cities, and possibly in Spain as well, and certainly the profession of muleteer merits a special study not relevant here. Vladimir Drimba, Codex Cumanicus (Bucharest, 2000) p. 107, a fine edition of this difficult work that also has a facsimile of the entire manuscript. See Dorothea Oschinsky, Walter of Henley (Oxford, 1971); no notices of mules or donkeys in the treatises.

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at least since Isidore, the anecdote had appeared in the learned discourse about mules. Again, we should ask, more closely, why? Before addressing this question we should look briefly at what Balbi has to say about donkeys and horses. Donkeys have already repeatedly appeared in this chapter, possibly for the reason that medieval sources and common opinions favored fathers and the male line in most accounts. In brief, the mule was more like a donkey than a horse, and so much the worse for the mule. Yet a brief appraisal of the parents is worthwhile, especially given that the mule is a dead end with respect to inheritability. At the start of his definition of asinus, Balbi cites Uguccione on the derivation of the word from the familiar context of sitting and has a little from Isidore on the animal.87 Balbi mentions asinarius as a word pertaining to an ass (no value judgment yet) and mentions the proverbial work of the donkey at a mill. After a subtle point about the ablative plural for donkey, Balbi decided to illustrate his keen grasp of scripture with a passage from what he calls 1 Kings (more familiar to some modern readers as 1 Samuel 9:20). This story concerns Saul’s search for his three lost donkeys, a task resulting in the occasion when Samuel named him King of Israel. This matter comes up in the dictionary because it illustrates an obscure grammatical usage and is a warning not to over-interpret a dictionary. Yet Balbi’s next comment shows how much fresh material can appear there. Balbi takes notice of a homily (the eighth) by Basil of Caesarea on the six days of creation (available to him in the Latin translation by Eustathius). When biblical exegesis appears in a dictionary, we are on a contested frontier of knowledge, and above all we cannot expect to find a great deal of historical or literal information in medieval exegesis, although some odd snippets of information do come up in late ancient commentators.88 Balbi rearranges what he has derived from Basil, so it is useful to follow him in detail here as he departs from Saul’s search for his missing donkeys. The first comment is: “The ass knows the familiar voice of a person. He knows the way he has often walked.”89 Donkeys are useful 87 88

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Giovanni Balbi, Catholicon, asinus a sedeo . . . This is not the place to discuss the history of biblical exegesis or the problems this evolving genre pose to historians attempting to make use of the material, but I am guided by the excellent book by Lesley Smith, The Glossa Ordinaria: The Making of a Medieval Bible Commentary (Leiden, 2009), which makes clear the different expectations from and about literal and spiritual interpretations of the bible. Giovanni Balbi, Catholicon, “Intelligit asinus et hominis consuetus vocem. novit iter quod sepius ambulavit.” This is virtually the same as the Latin translation of Basil’s homily,

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companions to people. The second comment: “His hearing is really good and no other of the land animals can be compared to him.”90 High praise indeed for an animal not often called the king of beasts. Balbi is ratifying Basil’s view here about the many benefits of donkeys, perhaps because they knew rugged (Liguria and Cappadocia) parts of the Mediterranean. The third comment is the centerpiece of the extract and is a quotation from Isaiah: “The ox knows his owner and the donkey his master’s manger.”91 These divine words are meant to compare people unfavorably to these animals. The use of the word “manger” or “crib” (praesepe) would evoke to Balbi’s contemporaries the Nativity scene and especially the visual Christmas cr`eche with the obligatory ox and donkey recently invented by St. Francis. The fourth comment is “A fish is not able to recognize the person present feeding him.”92 Balbi and his source Basil are together here in making the transition from land animals capable of knowing individual people to fish that lack this facility. But why fish in a dictionary definition of donkey? To some extent, the fifth and final comment explains: “For the aquatic animals are not only mute but also ignorant and wild and untrained and intractable for all life and society with people.”93 Now Basil is thinking about the sixth day of creation, so it is no great surprise that his thoughts take him to the different types of creatures on land and in the sea. Balbi has another point to make about how profoundly useless fish are to people, compared to donkeys. Perhaps realizing that he has wandered far indeed from the definition of asinus, he wraps up this entry with an unusual message pointing his readers to what he relates about

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but Balbi omits the next phrase, “interdumque dux sit agitatori suo, cum erraverit . . . ” This from PG 30, Eustathius translation of Basil, col. 948; the sense here that just as the donkey knows the human voice and the paths, he can be a guide for his master who has strayed. Balbi, Catholicon, “ad audiendum ita vehemeter acutus. ut nullus ei de terrestribus comparari possit.” Again this is word for word the Latin Basil. Isaiah 1:3 “Recognovit bos possesorem suum et asino praesepe domini sui.” Ibid. “piscis vero nequaquam potest dinoscere nutrimenta praestantem.” This is an interesting problem because Eustathius’ Latin for this phrase following the biblical quotation is “piscis vero numquam potuit cognoscere nutrimenta praestantem,” different enough to suggest Balbi is paraphrasing or looking at some other source. In any case, the meaning is exactly the same. “Nam animalia aquatica non solum muta. scilicet eciam inscia et immicia sunt et indocta. et ad omnem vite societatem prorsus hominibus intractabilia.” This is almost exactly Eustathius’ words, but the sentence is the first one in the homily and precedes the biblical quotation – hence Balbi has rearranged points to arrive here at the intersection of animal and human societies.

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trainable terrestrial animals in what he has to say in the entries for ox, dog, and camel! Because inheritability is our theme and not the vagaries of Balbi’s dictionary or indeed the animal kingdom, we should not go down these paths for too long. But it is worth noting what Balbi has in mind about the common features of the ass, ox, dog, and camel. The first two appeared at the manger together but also have great value to people as animals working hard at the plow or the mill. Balbi’s definition of bos (ox) notes the labors of oxen and concludes with yet another notice of Basil and his ninth homily, concerning the necessity of stabling oxen over the winter in some climates.94 The definition for dog is also rich, emphasizing that dogs are trainable and wise, capable of remembering and even mourning their masters.95 It seems odd for Balbi to end this digression on the camel, an animal he was unlikely ever to have seen. Some of the things he knows about camels are strange. First he notes that a camel will not mate with his mother, a topic he has addressed in his entry on the horse – an animal we will consider shortly. This avoidance of incest makes the camel a moral animal. But Balbi has learned more from the eighth homily of Basil. “The camel always has a memory for evils and is persistent and fierce in its anger. And if someone has struck him, the resentment concealed for a long time, when he finds the opportunity he will return the injury.”96 It is fitting that the thirteenthcentury lexicographer and the fourth-century preacher find common cause in using animals to praise their virtues and to warn people to avoid their defects. The temperaments at issue for those animals joining us by living on land are important ones like loyalty, anger, and above all the qualities needed for living together in society, people among themselves or together with animals. What

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G. Balbi., Catholicon, bos – the definition is elaborated, relies heavily on Uguccione, and even cites Ovid. Ibid. canis. Balbi cites among his authorities Isidore and Ambrose’s work on the Hexameron, a work that itself drew heavily on Basil and may be another Latin path for Balbi to the Greek author. Ibid. camelus, citing Basil, “Camelus habet semper memoriam malorum. et ad iracundiam gravis et perseverans est. denique si fuerit percussus diu dissimulato dolore cum repperit oportunum tempus illatam protinus impendit injuriam.” Balbi is following Basil very closely here, following the second comment above on the excellent hearing of the donkey! Both Balbi and Basil go on to comment further on the famous anger of the camel, unlike any sea creatures (!) and a habit for people to avoid, who should not nurse anger and grievances, seeking revenge later.

The Invention of Mules

we have thus far learned about these behaviors is that they are inherited – even the ability to be trained or taught is a quality inhering in some creatures and not others. All this is well beyond Papias, who briefly gave the Greek etymology for camel, emphasizing its humility, and as an allegorical symbol of something weighed down with worldly riches.97 Horses enjoyed an excellent reputation in the Middle Ages. The mounted warrior, the fusion of man and horse, helped define the medieval period and its characteristic hero – the knight.98 Horses performed many agricultural tasks and their power came to define the term itself. Our interest is in the mare, as the mother of the mule, with something to pass on to her foal. Balbi provides a long and thoughtful definition of equus, mostly irrelevant for our purposes.99 Drawing extensively on Pliny the Elder and Isidore, among other sources, Balbi understands that the term “horse” is a general name for various types of them, and he knew the new medieval word caballus for horse. The definition takes a revealing path when Balbi directly notes the work of Aristotle on animals as it relates to camels. The question on his mind about horses is: do they know their mothers and do they have sex with them? This topic, not here called incest, also came up in the definition of camel, as we have seen. At this point in the entry Balbi retells a famous story from Aristotle about a beautiful mare. In brief, a king owns this horse and wants more like her. Hence what we have here is the concept of a breeding program, used by authors separated by fifteen hundred years for different purposes. The king plans to take her foal and breed him with the mother. This foal knows his mother’s face and in the sexual act, as he is mounting her, recognizes her face and flees. Balbi’s story is not clear about whether or not the coition occurred, but it does not matter for sex is not the point of the story. Having fled, the foal jumps from a great height and is killed. The word “suicide” is not used here to describe this act, but the presumed motive (horrified shame) and the method (jumping) make sense for a male, across the ages.100 Incest and suicide are not 97 98 99 100

Papias, Elementarium, p. 47. The literature on horses is vast – see, for example, J. Clutton-Brock, Horse Power. G. Balbi, Catholicon, at equus. See for background here Alexander Murray, Suicide in the Middle Ages: The Violent against Themselves (Oxford, 1998) and for the coining of the word suicida around 1178 pp. 38–9. It is a pity that Balbi missed the neologism. Like his great predecessor Durkheim (see earlier discussion), Murray confined his study to human beings.

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the themes expected in a dictionary definition of horse. Yet there are some things to note here. Balbi has interjected this venerable story because he wants to make the larger point, one he also found in Isidore, that people and horses have many things in common. They enjoy war, they recognize their masters, and in this case a colt knows his mother’s face. The hybrid Balbi concludes on is the centaur, not the mule. So clear in his mind is the melding of man and horse that the literal, if mythical, human-horse hybrid, rather than the mule, comes to mind. Perhaps this is because Genoese muleteers led their beasts and did not ride them. In the Byzantine tradition noted at the beginning of this chapter, Manuel Palaiologos was careful to distinguish the animal and the human mind, and he would not have attributed anthropomorphisms like shame and self-murder to an animal. Aristotle’s pagan sensibility here has crept back into the learned discourse in an eminently respectable and influential Dominican Latin dictionary. The morality of self-destruction was not a lesson Christians expected to learn from Nature. Horses can think, on some level, and old ideas about the commonality of all creatures, including people and their animals, again matter. It is worth noting that Emile Durkheim too told this story from Aristotle in his great foundational study of suicide, in his case to justify his decision to exclude animals from his book.101 He was unwilling to impute intentions to the behaviors of animals. Finally, Balbi’s story about the horse is also about breeding. Making mules by definition did not raise the chilling prospect of incest. Aristotle and indeed Balbi understood how the colt recognized the mare, but they did not wonder out loud about what the mother may have seen and felt. Surely the king understood that what she saw, as well as what impregnated her, affected the quality of her offspring. This is the same principle the tricky Jacob used with the speckled rods to influence Laban’s sheep to breed in such a way as to increase his share. Over the centuries of learned discourse about mules we have seen a little less of the Bible, a lot more of Aristotle, and certainly more attention to the medicinal uses of animal parts. This greater interest in healing does suggest a 101

See Emile Durkheim, Le suicide (Paris, 1930) p. 6, Aristotle carefully noted as History of Animals 9.47. Durkheim also worried about tales of dogs pining away for their masters. He was curious enough to check with breeders about horses and learned to his satisfaction that they were by no means averse to incest. For these reasons, among others, he decided to focus on people.

The Invention of Mules

more anthropocentric interest in Nature. And yet, was it truly anthropocentric to notice mules and then consider the status of human hybrids (because this seems to be one way of approaching the human dilemma, by thinking of animals first)?. Inheritability itself was a tricky concept, shaped by mysterious factors that sometimes edged close to the fine line separating ethical behavior from sin. This peril suggests another way for us to explore the issues surrounding inheritance and Nature, by looking deeper into “like produces like” and even into the inheritability of sin itself.

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3 LIKE PRODUCES LIKE

“Inheritability” is an interesting concept and a clunky word. An attentive understanding of its use in context must take into account that passing down something from one living being to another is part of a larger issue about how things affect other things, how like produces like. General human understanding about how to make mules was one example of a practical ability to affect inheritability without completely understanding it. This general issue is worth considering for a moment, because some medieval people saw narrow human aspects of inheritability or transferability as part of broader issues in the natural and supernatural worlds. What were the boundaries of the inheritable with respect to what was inside us, as opposed to mules out in Nature? This problem will take us to a variety of general topics like sin and specific people like Jews. The theme is to look for cases where some quality clearly moves from one entity to another and then ask how and why. For example, consider, as the English Franciscan Roger Bacon (d. soon after 1292) did, how a fire spreads or propagates.1 In the midst of a complex work mainly about light and how its properties spread and multiply, Bacon finds the example of a fire useful. Initially a fire is created where there was no fire before, but then it can generate other fires, or spread, without diminishing the original fire. This was an interesting result because in this way fire resembled people, who also reproduced without extinguishing themselves. A person or a fire or a beam of light was a species, a word originally meaning a form of something that 1

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Bacon was not the first to consider this issue, which goes back to Aristotle if not before – see, for example, in a Latin translation from the Arabic available in the twelfth century, his De generatione et corruptione. Edited by Joanna Judycka (Leiden, 1986) 318 b1–20. For what follows see the text De multiplicatione specierum by Bacon, in Roger Bacon’s Philosophy of Nature. Edited and translated by David C. Lindberg (Oxford, 1983) p. 87.

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by the thirteenth century had come to mean a likeness and was becoming part of a theory of natural causation.2 For Bacon a book on the multiplying of species must primarily concern light because it was a most important species, the one allowing us to see all the others. Bacon’s understanding of light in his context continues to amaze readers because it is profound on one of the universe’s central features. And yet Bacon could not help but see other problems about light and sight. He wondered, for example, why a sheep that sees a wolf for the first time fears it – what explains that reaction?3 Bacon has an explanation that has nothing to do with instincts or even the question of inheritability. His way out of the problem is not the point here.4 Rather, what we see in many places, once we pause to look, is that some ancient and medieval observers saw things in the natural world that raised questions about how one thing affected another, how seeing a wolf resulted in a sheep’s flight. Our main theme of like producing like has a philosophical variant, most visible in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1226–74), taking one of these forms: “Every agent produces its like,” or “Nature only produces its like.”5 These philosophical principles concern theories of causation based in Nature, but not limited to it, or even explained there. Aquinas did not share the deep interest in Nature shown by other scholastic theologians, notably his teacher Albertus Magnus. The agent might in fact be anything, and Nature is an abstraction. The circular outcome of this agency confines to a maxim this result – similarity. Another phrase occasionally appears, simply “similia similibus,” “like to like,” a way to explain an appropriate parallel. For example, Peter Comestor (c. 1100– 79) uses the phrase in his recounting of the story of Creation to explain why

2 3 4

5

Ibid. p. liv for Lindberg’s insightful analysis of the word, pp. 4–5 for Bacon’s definition. Ibid. pp. 24–25. Ibid.; Lindberg translates Bacon’s thought as crediting the sheep with an “organ of estimative power,” presumably a form of stored knowledge inherited from its ancestors! The first, “omne agens agit simile sibi,” a common saying (used at least twenty-two times in his works), perhaps coined by Aquinas, appears in his writings at various places; see, for example, Brepols Library of Latin Literature Series A De potentia, Q. 3 a. 1 arg. 12. The second, “natura non agit nisi sibi similem,” rarer, appears ibid. Q. 3 a. 8. arg. 15. Accessed March 31, 2011. The first has been the subject of a book; Philipp W. Rosemann, Omne Agens Agit Sibi Simile: A ‘Repetition’ of Scholastic Metaphysics (Louvain, 1996), on p. 23 translates the phrase as “every agent causes something similar to itself.” This is clearly a philosophical stance toward causation. In the translation of Q. 3 in On Creation by S. C. Selner Wright (Washington, DC, 2011) pp. 5–6, there is a learned note on the literature concerning arg. 12. Here the English is “Every agent produces its like.”

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Lucifer chose to appear to Eve as a serpent.6 Evil could take many shapes. This observation does not apparently concern either inheritability or causation; it is simply apt. Hence the phrase “similia de similibus,” “like produces like,” is our path into the lessons of Nature. Causation is too big a subject here; we take a small piece of it, living creatures, not light or fire. How do they propagate over time with the result that likeness and image, behavior and form, remain the same, more or less, at least sometimes? This is the messy and contingent world of natural causation in reproduction, one part of inheritability. Finally, again, the issue of language surfaces. This chapter must focus on the literate few and what they saw and described. Yet everyone else observed causation in the real world and made sense of it, in one way or another, in manners reflecting the literate consensus and occasionally straying far from it.

CREATION AND BEYOND Let us begin by looking at inheritability before there were people, at least as far as people were once capable of contemplating a world without themselves. For most of human history in the lands affected by Western monotheisms, that was the world on the fourth or fifth day of creation. Before “in the beginning . . . ” there was God and the angelic hosts (and their light). One of the few things that everyone agreed on was that angels were immortal and sexless creatures not reproducing their own kind, hence changeless, hence inheriting or passing down nothing. But when God called forth plants on the third day, the problem of inheritability began, yet for complicated reasons considered in detail elsewhere, plant reproduction – to ancient and medieval observers apparently sexless – engaged a different set of questions about why and how like produced like. The sea and air creatures of the fifth day were more complex than plants but even here there was a gray area and a big gulf between these birds and fishes and the animals and people created on the sixth day. As a first dip into the question of inheritability, we can get a preliminary sense of the question’s shape by looking at a genre of biblical commentary known as Hexameron, a way to organize sermons or homilies on the six days of creation. Once again the learned few preach to the many with unknown consequences. 6

Petrus Comestor, Scolastica Historia: Liber Genesis cap. 22, p. 39. Brepols Library of Latin Texts Series A, accessed May 9, 2011. The phrase may be traced back to Cicero and no doubt beyond.

Like Produces Like

But still, the preaching must reflect a general desire to understand how some things can come from nothing, and then multiply. An important early example, one influential for centuries, was composed around 360 in Greek by St. Basil of Caesarea (c. 329–79 CE). Here is what he has to say about the sea creatures: “The first command, that ineffable spirit, similarly created all of them, great and small.”7 This simple statement places God’s command in the category of a speech act, in this case a performative by which something happened, reality changed, because of spoken language. The point is that the creatures were summoned forth from the waters and airs, and on the next day from the earth itself. It is basic but necessary to remember that for so long this is how people understood why there were new things, radically different from their raw materials, and unlike anything that had existed before. The causes were supernatural, however defined.8 Human language alone could not accomplish the creation of physical objects, yet it could change reality, as in the simple words “I resign.” The special creation was of course humanity, made only once in a divine image, but we will worry about this later. Next Basil considers the land and sea animals, and he thought it necessary here to note and explain an important point, that these creatures were the same from the beginning through the relatively brief interval of a few thousand years down to his own time.9 “And descent remains unchanged in each species and unmixed with any other nature; there is no adulterous mixing corrupting the line like mules on land or some birds known [for this]. None of the fishes is armed halfway, with teeth, like sheep . . . ” The first fact Basil observes is that ordinarily nothing living changes or has changed since creation; all creatures remain what they have been. There is a glaring exception, however, that looms large in this book and has merited a chapter of its own – the mule. Already 7

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PG 30, col. 960, Latin translation by Eustathius of Hexameron, 7:2, the one commonly cited in the western church, for this and what follows: “Sed omnes tam tenues, quam majores, similter prima praeceptio, et ineffabilis virtus illa produxit. Magna est illis vivendi diversitas, nimia etiam in cujusque generis successione discretus.” All translations are my own unless otherwise stated, and I have tried to convey the literal words of these remote authors. See Robert Bartlett, The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 2008) especially pp. 1–33. PG 30, col. 940. Biblical chronology required a relatively young earth. The sense of duration is my interpretation for what he is talking about – “ . . . manetque in singulis generibus immutabilis ad aliam naturam inconfusaque progenies, ac non sicut mulorum terrestrium, vel alitum manifestarum stirpem adulterina corrumpit admixtio. Nullus piscium, ex parte dimidia, dentibus est armatus, sicut oves . . . ” There is a problem about the word alitum, trying for the Latin volucrum, to give a sense of the Greek word for wing – winged creature – bird.

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we learn (again!) that something is wrong with the mule, not created by God, but the result of some corrupting, adulterous sexual relation, and we know the culprits, a horse and a donkey. (Perhaps the origins of the later dictionary “adulterous commingling” are here.) And when God is not responsible, we infer human agency, and we suspect not for the good. In a sense, Basil is arguing that this kind of mixing is not natural or normal, because in creation we do not find halfway or intermediate forms (or missing links!) but pure types – he of course has not been to the Galapagos or read Darwin. His example is wonderful because it rests on a major biological difference between the true fishes and animals, which on land or in the sea have teeth. Toothless or teeth, nothing in between; this is how Basil observes Nature. Of course some fish have teeth, but not ones like grazing sheep! Finally, let us listen to Basil’s appraisal of the long interval during which like produced like. He began with a telling metaphor about a ball rolling down an incline and how it cannot stop before reaching a flat surface. This physical reality (however he understood acceleration before Galileo and Newton) gave Basil a way to express his opinions about how the natural law of reproduction would run true to the end; (1) So too the nature of things, set in motion by the command of God, passes through births and deaths; each generation of descent retains its similarity equally, the same, until it arrives at a fixed end. (2) It [this nature of things] makes a horse succeed a horse, a lion a lion, and an eagle an eagle, and by succession every type of animal is preserved up to the end and finish of all things. (3) For no space of time is able to change the properties of animals, but, as if made new, nature thus freshly moves forward with time.10

(1) Natura rerum, a common and frequently discussed subject, means Nature and its laws, which Basil here takes to mean a succession of generations, from a divine beginning to a divinely consummated ending, each generation of which remains the same. This image is close to an impetus of motion, in this instance through living beings and not inanimate objects like balls on an incline. 10

Ibid. col. 959 – “(1) . . . ita natura rerum Dei praeceptione commota, nascentium morientiumque facturam passim penetrans, uniuscujusque generis sobolem per similitudinem sui custodit aequaliter, donec ad statutum terminum valet pervenire. (2) Equum enim facit equo succedere, et leonem leoni, et aquilam aquilae, et singulas animantes sequentium successione servata, usque ad finem rerum omnium exitumque perducit. (3) Nullum enim tempus valebit proprietate animantium commutare, sed tanquam nuper constituta natura sit, ita recens fertur cum tempore.” Numbers my own for points in discussion.

Like Produces Like

(2) This mechanism of descent keeps the species apart and ensures that each type of animal remains what it was in the beginning until the end of the world. (3) Time does not alter these species, but renews them as copies through time. Hence at first glance these copies appear exact, and there are as yet no signs that the copies either improve or degenerate. In our terms, there is no room for natural evolution of any kind, except that which the hand of humanity achieves through breeding plants and animals, as the case of the mule showed. These breeders mixed and improved species even in Basil’s time, but they were irrelevant to his theme of creation. This commentary from Basil is a useful reminder about how inconceivable it ordinarily was that species might change when they were created to be exactly and forever as they are. And that insight includes people. Nevertheless, people observed that their children were a mixture of parental qualities, and that animals resembled their parents, more or less. “Like produces like” did not mean identical, and so there was always room, and a need, to explain slight changes in appearance over time. The species did not change, but aspects of it did – certainly, farmers and shepherds knew this. This is the paradox – how can we find ideas about inheritability that are not simply a virtual cloning from one generation to the next? As we will see, observing Nature forced another set of ideas that had to be melded into harmony with this prime assumption from Genesis. Another Hexameron, composed a few years later by Ambrose of Milan (c. 339–97 CE), drew on Basil but also reconceived for a Latin audience the same issues about the fifth and six days of creation. This is how he set forth the problem: (1) The word of God runs through all creatures in the creation of the world, so that suddenly from the earth all types of animals were brought forth as God ordered, and they all proceed, into the future, by ordained law, each according to its type and similarity, as the lion begets a lion, a tiger a tiger, an ox and ox, a swan a swan, an eagle an eagle. (2) What was at first an order grew into a rule of Nature forever, and therefore the earth has not ceased to offer the fulfillment of its duties. Hence the original species of animals is reproduced in future ages in a renewed succession of type.11 11

Ambrose, Hexameron (Prague, 1897) VI:2:3:9, again in the context of God bringing forth the reptiles and animals from the earth: “(1) . . . currit enim in constitutione mundi per omnem creaturam dei verbum, ut subito de terris omnia quae statuit deus animantium genera producantur et in futurum lege praescripta secundum genus sibi similitudinemque universa succedant, ut leo leonem generet, tigris tigridem, bos, bovem, cygnus cygnum,

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Again, in the beginning was the word (1), clearly echoing the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, the speech act that preceded everything else. Ordained law, a phrase in Latin heavy with traditional meaning, guaranteed that likeness prevailed across the generations. What was initially an order, really a kind of miracle, and again the meaningful Latin words concerning obligations and services, convey the strictures under which Nature operated. For Ambrose believed that the first animals were special, but each succeeding generation henceforth had to be renewed or reproduced in a way that preserved what we would call the phenotype, the way the animal appeared. Ambrose did not know the concept of the genotype; his concept of law explained what we understand DNA and RNA to accomplish as the mechanism of heredity in cells. There is a profound difference between these two models. Ambrose cannot take apart, recombine, or even analyze further this divine law – it is simply “ just so.” Toward the end of his life, St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430 CE) wrote an influential book, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, which affected medieval thought and resembled the close analytical style typical of a Hexameron. He was not in this work much interested in animals, how like produced like, or inheritability. But as usual with Augustine, there are some strikingly original thoughts that form part of the context in which subsequent people pondered these questions. Augustine meditated deeply about Paradise and what life might have been like there without sin, before the Fall. In a kind of thought experiment, he imagined a world in which sinless people reproduced, filled the world with moral people, and then moved on to heaven without experiencing death.12 Unfortunately, this idyllic path remained imaginary, and in the real world of work, pain, and suffering Augustine makes plain that animals too were intended from the beginning to reproduce, and some to be eaten by people.13 His main point was that these animals were not created to exist just once and forever, but to reproduce their own likeness as predecessors to succeeding generations

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aquila aquilam. (2) semel praeceptum in perpetuum inolevit naturae, et ideo ministerii sui obsequium praebere terra non desinit, ut priscae animantium species reparabili generis successione in novas reparentur aetates.” Again I have inserted the numbers to separate the two points. Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram, in CSEL vol. 28 part 1 (Vienna, 1894) Book 9: 4–10. Ibid. 3: 12.

Like Produces Like

and then die.14 Like Jonathan Swift’s eighteenth-century fictional Struldbrugs, Augustine’s people had to die in order to make way for others, and perhaps even to avoid despair. Augustine certainly knew the old legends about the Hyperboreans, a mythic northern people who, among other strange habits, apparently lived forever and ended their lives when sated with them.15 Humanity, possessing souls, posed different questions to Augustine, but he did note something prescient about people in comparison to the rest of the plant and animal kingdoms; there were not as many types (genera) of people as there were of trees, animals, and other creatures.16 He would not express the thought in these terms, because he was not Stephen Jay Gould, who believed that the survival of a single species of humans was a contingent fact of evolution.17 Instead, Augustine, who knew there were many types of plants, animals, and even angels, saw a divine plan in which humanity was unique. If people had remained in Paradise, they would have had different lives, but in our terms they would have all been clones of Adam, as was Eve. Augustine believed there was nothing wrong in speculating about these matters, and one need not believe only what one usually observed.18 Perhaps this idea mirrors common speculation about contingency and the uniqueness of humanity in Nature. It also suggests an unusually open mind, a quality not commonly associated with Augustine. Basil, Ambrose, and Augustine in the fourth and early fifth centuries drew on an incredibly rich array of classical and monotheistic texts in Greek and Latin, educational standards that would not be equaled for at least a millennium. Aristotle and Pliny the Elder, Moses and St. John the Evangelist, and many other authorities gave them a thread to follow through the maze of inheritability in plants and animals. As Erich Auerbach noted for a slightly different context yet in words that apply to inheritability, “[It] became wholly superfluous 14

15 16 17

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Ibid. 3:12 p. 78, here wanting to explain each created according to its kind and explain what the phrase means: “hoc est ergo secundum genus, ubi et seminum uis et similitudo intelligitur succedentium decedentibus, quia nihil eorum ita creatum est, ut semel existeret, uel permansurum uel nullo succedente decessurum.” Pliny the Elder, Naturalis historia, Book 4:89. Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram. 3:12 at end. A point he made in many places, but see Stephen Jay Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (Cambridge, MA, 2002) p. 846 for diagram of hominid species. Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram, 9:3 p. 272 “ . . . non autem in eorum genere nos esse debemus, qui non credunt, nisi quod uidere consuerunt.”

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as soon as earthly relations of place, time, and cause had ceased to matter, as soon as a vertical connection, ascending from all that happens, converging in God, alone became significant.”19 In other words, whatever little a pagan author like Aristotle or Pliny the Elder had to contribute to ideas about heredity, it became irrelevant and distracting in a Christian framework emphasizing God as the sovereign of all. His handiwork might seem inscrutable or miraculous, but probably was not accessible to frail human reason anyway. A major strand of exegetical tradition about Creation ignored Nature and plant and animal reproduction and instead emphasized the allegorical and theological implications of scripture.20 The learned hostility or indifference to the breeders may stem from this bias that improving Nature was at best a waste of time. Facts about this world remained worth trying to collect and to comprehend, especially if they confirmed God’s providence. One of these facts concerned why like produced like. But there were other approaches besides Creation to the issues surrounding succession, other questions to ask about just how like produced like. Let us begin again with the New Testament and take up a simple and familiar sentence by Paul: “Through one man sin entered the world and it passed through to all men” Romans 5:12.21 The one man is Adam and hence his sin first or original. (Eve is no parallel to Christ so she does not enter the debate here, even though she so often bears the brunt of the first sin.) Sin is inherited, but not like a house, but by some quality inside a person. This approach to sin is one of Paul’s many influential ideas and it will be taken up and followed to its many logical conclusions by that immensely influential writer, St. Augustine. Original sin as doctrine has continued to receive a vast amount of attention, but it is not our subject. Leaving aside the nature and meaning of original sin, we ask a simpler question: how exactly was it inherited from Adam and Eve? Every modern explanation since Darwin must be forgotten; there is (we hope) no gene for sin. Instead let us go to Augustine and listen to him explain

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21

Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Translated by Willard R. Trask (Princeton, 1968) p. 74. Auerbach was referring here to the classical sense of history, but he seemed to know that the point could be generalized beyond literature. See, for example, the thirteenth-century work by St. Bonaventure, Collationes in Hexa¨emeron, edited by Ferdinand Delorme (Florence, 1934), not at all in the tradition of Basil or Ambrose, or as below, his contemporary Robert Grosseteste. Jerome’s Latin here “propterea sicut per unum hominum in hunc mundum peccatum intravit.”

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this mechanism of inheritance, the inheritability of sin. A good place for us to overhear him is in a work in which he argued against someone who did not believe that original sin was inherited. In this book, Against Julian the Pelagian, Augustine cannot simply assert the truth or ruminate about the meaning of scripture; he must make a scholarly argument. And that is precisely what we want to hear. Yet we are not the intended audience; this was not his purpose. But this is exactly what historians do; they eavesdrop, in this case to recreate the living context of Augustine’s thoughts. Julian had used dialectic to doubt that the evil or guilt or penalty for sin born by the parents could be transmitted to their children. Augustine responds, and we will follow his words closely to understand their general context and implicit and explicit meanings.22 First Augustine apparently concedes for the sake of argument something to his opponent: what you say is correct, only if the evil of concupiscence did not come from the parent to the child. Augustine has more precisely defined this original sin as concupiscence or lust. Without this motivation, no seed is sown, no one is born, and nothing is inherited. Hence sexual reproduction and its impulses entered the world through sin, and in Augustine’s view, as we will see, these habits propagate sin. He is making an a fortiori argument: if lust is inherited, this strong trait can carry much more forward to the offspring. Second, Augustine makes a simple verbal point that matters a lot throughout his argument: how can Julian say that what passes over to the child does not come through to him? Augustine has just demonstrated 22

The Latin matters and it appears in PL 44 Contra Julianum Pelagianum 5:14:51 col. 812. “Recte hoc diceres, si malum concupiscentiae de parente non perveniret ad prolem: cum vero sicut sine illo nemo seminatur, ita sine illo nemo nascatur; quomodo dicis eo non pervenire, quo transit? Non enim Aristoteles, cujus categorias insipienter sapis, sed Apostolus dicit: Per unum hominem peccatum intravit in mundum; et per omnes homines pertransiit (Rom. V, 12). Nec sane tibi dialectica illa mentitur, sed tu non intelligis. Verum enim est quod ibi accepisti, ea quae in subjecto sunt, sicut sunt qualitates, sine subjecto in quo sunt, esse non posse, sicut est in subjecto corpore color aut forma; sed afficiendo transeunt, non emigrando: quemadmodum Aethiopes, quia nigri sunt, nigros gignunt, non tamen in filios parentes colorem suum velut tunicam transferunt; sed sui corporis qualitate corpus quod de illis propagatur afficiunt. Mirabilius est autem quando rerum corporalium qualitates in res incorporales transeunt, et tamen fit, quando formas corporum quas videmus, haurimus quodam modo, et in memoria recondimus, et quocumque pergimus, nobiscum ferimus: nec illae recesserunt a corporibus suis, et tamen ad nos mirabili modo affectis nostris sensibus transierunt. Quomodo autem de corpore ad spiritum, eo modo transeunt de spiritu ad corpus.” It should be noted that Augustine is citing a different Latin version of the Epistle to the Romans, but the meaning is the same.

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that what the child is physically comes through the parents; he is insisting that something else passes over as well. Third, Augustine makes an argument from authority. Julian’s reasoning contradicts the understanding of logic contained in the Categories of Aristotle. This point is a prologue to a more weighty authority, St. Paul and his comment in Romans 5:12, which in Augustine’s Latin uses a verb “comes through to” to carry the meaning of the inheritability of Adam’s sin. Fourth, Augustine makes an ad hominem argument that Julian does not understand dialectics, so he cannot argue effectively. Fifth, Augustine adopts the stance of the good teacher in this master class by a professor of rhetoric, and he was a skilled professional. He begins where his erring pupil is nearest to the truth. He defines the problem thus: what is in something (the subject) are its qualities. Hence without this subject in which the qualities inhere, they would not exist. (This is the type of argument Augustine claims Julian is making: without Adam the characteristic of original sin does not exist.) Sixth, Augustine proposes to lead his pupil to the truth by means of an example, and it is here that we want to pay close attention. The quality in the subject he selects to consider is color or form, and he asks: color or form without the body – what is that? What are the explicit and implicit meanings of this example? Augustine had a universe of subjects or objects among which to find one for his example – except for Adam, which has already been used. In the same vein he had infinity of qualities. The topic of the argument is Romans 5:12, and there the subject (or genus) was sin, and the species or example in his mind is concupiscence or lust. But now there is a big leap. Form is not really on his mind but is a clue to the subject – we are to ponder the color of a particular form, the human body. Why is color the salient characteristic of the human form? And what color is the first to be noticed? In this context of sin, it is going to be black. Augustine lives in a surrounding of color symbolism in which thinking about a color of the human body and sin will produce this result: think not of Adam but the Devil and you are there with him.23 23

I have looked in more detail at the issues of color symbolism and color prejudice in Purity Lost (Baltimore, 2007) pp. 205–6. See also for a broader context on Augustine, David M. Goldenberg, The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Princeton, 2003), and for some refinements his “Racism, color symbolism, and color prejudice,” in The Origins of Racism in the West. Edited by Miriam Eliav-Feldon, Benjamin Isaac, and Joseph Ziegler (Cambridge, 2009) pp. 88–108.

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Color (or form) is in a subject/body: how did they get there? Augustine contends they have come over by a process of affecting, they have not migrated out one body and over to another. This is astute because the color remains in the parent; the Ethiopian cannot change his skin color, let alone by having children. Augustine’s second argument from example, 6b, is meant to show how this process of affecting works. This North African’s example is indeed Ethiopians, who are black. They produce or give birth to blacks (a remarkably precocious use of the color for a type of people, or race), not as if the parents were passing along the quality of blackness as if it were a tunic/covering, but because by the quality of blackness of their own bodies they affect/shape the body propagated from them. This is an amazing understanding of “affect” because his definition of the quality of blackness goes beyond seeing it like a coat of paint to defining it as a pervasive and transferable quality, no doubt including other characteristics. But Augustine has a logical mind and he knows he needs to say more about how this affecting works. Even more wonderful then is the seventh argument, which seems like a digression but is definitely not. Augustine wants to consider how the qualities of corporeal things cross over to incorporeal things. He means: when we see these qualities, we store them in memory (hence they become incorporeal) and keep them there with us. He is certainly thinking: whatever the characteristic of original sin may be, we cannot see it. This sin is not a stain to be cleansed or even an invisible burden causing the sinner to be stooped or heavy laden.24 (Nor can it simply be an inherited memory!) The qualities, whatever they are (presumably sin, color, form, etc.), do not leave the original subject; they remain corporeally out there. These qualities come over to us via the senses – in the case of color, of course, by sight. So, from the body to the spirit, and in the same way from spirit to body, qualities have the ability to affect. These sensations appear to work directly on the human mind without recourse to language. Where will Augustine go with this? He takes up next our old friend Jacob and his famous flocks (Genesis 30:25–43). Now we revisit this story in order to look deeper at causation and not merely the results.

24

I am influenced here by one of the major themes in the book by Gary A. Anderson, Sin: A History (New Haven, CT, 2009). Anderson analyzes a biblical shift from sin as burden to sin as debt, but even as a debt, who can see it?

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Jacob is a bit of a trickster, but in his father-in-law Laban he met his match.25 This tale of Jacob concerns his desire, after many years of service, to disentangle his wealth from Laban’s and to return to his own land. Laban knows that he has been blessed through Jacob’s labors in the form of wealth that mattered: increased flocks. Asked to make his claim, Jacob proposes that he will go through the flocks of sheep and goats and keep for himself the speckled and spotted among the sheep and goats, and the brown among the sheep, all the rest for Laban, who agrees. After dividing the animals, Jacob becomes a kind of selective breeder in this astonishing way. He takes various wooden rods and makes streaks in the bark so that the inner white comes through. Jacob then placed these rods in the drinking troughs where Laban’s flocks came for water, and there they would see the streaked or speckled rods and conceive. And he got the result he wanted; the sheep and goats gave birth to speckled and spotted offspring, which by the terms of Jacob’s agreement with Laban became his property. This story concludes with a eugenic twist. Jacob has an eye out for the stronger animals in the flocks, and he is careful to ensure that they see the rods and give birth to animals eventually belonging to him. With these strategies Jacob ends up with more and better animals, an altogether richer man. This story is a place to pause to consider again the theme of trickery as it relates to the problem of like producing like. Without the monotheistic stance here in Hebrew scripture, everything might seem a trick – even in the Bible, the likeness of the sheep results from Jacob’s trick. Almost like a game of dice or cards, life itself might be a meaningless trick on the sheep passing through it. Jacob and the sheep raise the question of whether or not like producing like can be trusted, or is the outcome a mirage or a wily fix? The biblical context naturally favors Jacob at every turn so his deeds find ample reward. In this case, his selfish goal required that the trick be explained, and hence we have a mechanism for how living creatures pass on physical characteristics. This is also a straightforward story containing what must be a very old theory of inheritance, resting on the visual stimulus a female receives, not only from the male, but something else she sees while conceiving. Jerome’s language in the 25

See James L. Kugel, Traditions of the Bible (Cambridge, MA, 1998) pp. 382–3, 390–1, for some astute analysis of the story. Ancient readers probably concluded that it was God who increased Jacob’s flocks because he was favored, and the mechanism was simply a detail.

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Latin bible is simple and clear. He uses the word virga for the branch of wood, and the color that comes through the bark is candor, a good word for inner whiteness, and one carrying many positive connotations.26 These rods, having been placed in the troughs of water, presumably floating on top, were right before the eyes of the flocks and in aspectu of them the females conceived.27 As Jerome explains, in the heat of intercourse the sheep looked at the rods and gave birth to streaked and spotted offspring.28 (Neither Jacob or Jerome imitated the father of modern genetics, Gregor Mendel, and counted the varieties among the offspring.) Jerome makes clear that the white and black animals belonged to Laban and the mixed to Jacob, and we know he (or God) had arranged for the latter to be more numerous. Finally, Jerome’s Latin for the second strategy, how it came to pass that Jacob ended up with the stronger animals, makes clear that the mothers conceiving in the evening gave birth to weaker animals that became Laban’s and Jacob kept the stronger ones conceived in the morning (Genesis 30:41–42). Here he uses the phrase in earum contemplatione conciperent, again emphasizing the agency of sight. In the second case, the breeder also has a temporal theory about conception, perhaps again based on seeing, in this case the rising and the setting sun. (All this naturally raised questions about the special reproduction of blind people, and what hereditary blindness meant.29 ) Jerome has packaged for the Latin Middle Ages two theories of inheritance. The visual stimulus is again clear enough but the weakness of the evening and its dim light transferring itself to the offspring is presumed, and is perhaps so obvious that it required no explanation. Also, in the latter case, Jacob simply took advantage of the pairings of the stronger animals; he did not arrange the matings. But here is another possible mechanism; perhaps the strongest animals are the ones in some way choosing to mate in the morning, and that is the cause of the better offspring – like producing like – with the wily Jacob making sure these favored animals see the speckled rods. As we have seen before,

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29

Here the Latin Genesis 30:37. Genesis 30:38 Jerome’s Latin “ut cum venissent greges ad bibendum ante oculos haberent virgas et in aspectu earum conciperent.” Genesis 30:39 Jerome’s Latin “factumque est ut in ipso calore coitus oves intuerentur virgas et parerent maculosa et varia . . . ” For a good analysis of hereditary diseases in scholastic thought, see Maaike van der Lugt, “Les maladies h´er´editaires dans la pens´ee scolastique (XIIe–XVIe si`ecles),” in the volume ˆ et Epoque ´ Micrologus, L’h´er´edit´e entre Moyen Age moderne (Florence, 2008) 273–320.

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Augustine has his own Latin biblical texts and his understanding may not be exactly the same as Jerome’s or those subsequent medieval authors relying on his Vulgate. The issues surrounding creation, Jacob’s flocks, and Paul’s ideas about sin do not exhaust biblical passages that raised questions about inheritability in the minds of subsequent readers. Here, we can establish a baseline for exploring these issues by looking at the great Ordinary Gloss, the complex, collaborative work of standard biblical exegesis that became the first place to look for authoritative interpretations from the twelfth century onward to the age of printed books.30 This gloss is the wrong place to look for literal or historical interpretations of the Bible, but these are rare anyway, and we are in the hunt for those passages where even the most allegorical or spiritual interpretation must face, if not address, something about inheritability. A sample for us to explore: Genesis 30:32–42 Jacob’s contract with Laban Numbers 12:1 Moses marries a dark Ethiopian and provokes complaints from his siblings Miriam and Aaron Jeremiah 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Romans 11:16–24 Although some branches are broken, the Christians have been grafted into the wild olive Ephesians 2:11–22 Jesus made of two one new man, a possible hybrid The great edition of the gloss published in 1480 benefits from a modern reproduction that makes the text easier to consult.31 The text is the standard Latin Bible with glosses (commentary) inserted between the lines and/or in blocks surrounding the central block of scripture. Not all passages received extended treatment and this too is a guide to how medieval scholars read and used the Bible. Jacob’s story has already been explored. The gloss is entirely concerned with the spiritual meaning of the story and takes pains to examine the problem of whether the patriarch committed fraud.32 Obviously he must have experienced some type of spiritual revelation about the speckled rods, but the gloss offers no 30

31

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An excellent guide to this source and how to use it is Lesley Smith, The Glossa Ordinaria: The Making of a Medieval Bible Commentary (Leiden, 2009). Biblia Latina cum glossa Ordinaria published by Adolph Rusch (Strassburg, 1480/81) reproduced in edition by K. Froelich and M. T. Gibson (Turnhout, 1992) cited by volume and page. Ibid. vol. 1 pp. 78–9.

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mechanism for explaining the outcome and is not interested in the black/white contrast. Moses’ wife attracted almost no interlinear glosses and the main issue surrounding her was ethnographic – Augustine provided information about the ancient Midianites.33 The gloss claims that these people are now Saracens. Again, the wife’s color was not discussed, or its possible effects on the line of Moses. The Ethiopian and his color were treated as an image for the diversity of vices.34 Black evoked sin and whiteness beauty in the venerable context of color symbolism, but the main spiritual point was sin, and the Ethiopian and the leopard were not able to change their natures. The gloss on Romans needed to explain the concept of grafting and how from something small engrafted much might result. The glossators also had to address the problem of what was contra naturam. Grafting as a metaphor made people think about the actual agricultural task of inserting a cutting or bud into the branch of an existing tree or vine. This well-known procedure was a human invention and rarely occurred spontaneously in Nature. As the gloss explained, the cutting drew its sustenance from the old root.35 This was a nice metaphor for how Paul understood the relationship between Christians and Jews. The point in the gloss, however, is that God does nothing against Nature because Nature is what he made. What can this mean in the context of grafting, an apparently unnatural process? Being against Nature, as we saw in the previous chapter, was not a good place to be morally, although the miraculous was a separate issue not invoked here. Whatever grafting was, it was not a miracle. More likely we are supposed to join medieval readers in assuming that grafting was part of God’s plan, what was foretold, implanted in human ingenuity for the benefit of people. The new branch depended on the old roots, but everyone knew its fruit was not the same as the old plant’s species. As the gloss noted, that was the point of grafting – to place a good cutting into a tree that was not so good. And a seed from the new branch would, after a long time, result in a plant similar to the branch, not the root. Like indeed produced like. This was how Nature worked; the mechanism was irrelevant, unfathomable. Yet the lessons of grafting were ancient and well known.

33 34

35

Ibid. vol. 1 pp. 303–4. Ibid. vol. 3 p. 122: “tantam nigridinem vel varietatem peccatorum dicentes ut in candorem et unius coloris pulchritudinem transpire non posit.” Ibid. vol. 4 p. 298: “Dicitur quid est contra consuetudinem nature. ut surculus fructus radicis ferat. Deus tamen nihil contra naturam facit: quia. id est natura quod facit.”

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Finally, the comment in Ephesians 2 stated that the sacrifice of Jesus made of two one new man. This result looks like a hybrid; Jews and Gentiles merged to form one faith. (But Jesus was not called a hybrid; the term was derogatory, and his mixed nature was a theological quicksand.) The glossators would not be attracted to the theme of hybridity here with all its problems and mixed values and outcomes. Instead, they focused on the spiritual meaning of the sacrifice of the cross and how Christ’s death ended the discord between God and man resulting from sin.36 The point of view here was salvation and not hybridity. This stance confirms the general result from the standard gloss and mainstream biblical exegesis – a pervasive lack of interest in the mechanisms of inheritability. The spiritual and allegorical meanings of scripture remained paramount, and we should expect that only strange words or concepts might receive a brief explanation, much like in a dictionary. Yet these passages might lead more intrepid interpreters to the larger issues about inheritability, which we want to explore. Approached from a different perspective, the last example demonstrates how the rest of humanity inherited the penalty for the sin Adam and Eve committed. The source is again the great collection of saints’ lives, the Legenda Aurea, by Genoa’s Dominican archbishop Jacopo da Varagine. In this case he explained another part of the life of Jesus, His passion on the cross. In the key passage, Varagine is drawing directly from the classical source we have already used, Augustine’s work against Julian. This time the focus is on the cross, which Augustine/Jacopo understand as a mousetrap to catch the devil.37 Eve’s sin (Adam not mentioned here) was explicitly a debt owed to the devil, and there was a written contract to that effect. ( Jesus paid this debt and literally fixed the contract to his cross, a verbal image that apparently no artist has made visible.38 ) Eve’s posterity was obligated to pay the principal and the interest of this debt, hence the inheritability of the first or original sin. For the original Genoese audience and soon enough many others across Europe, this mercantile image would continue to make a lot of sense, as it had centuries ago to Augustine’s 36 37

38

Ibid. vol. 4 p. 372. For what follows, see Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea. Edited by Giovanni Paolo Maggioni (Florence, 1998) p. 347; the key sentence is “Eua peccatum a dyabolo mutuauit, cyrographum scripsit, fideiussorem dedit et usura posteritati creuit.” All the commercial language would have been familiar to a mercantile city. This is precisely the point G. Anderson considers in his Sin, pp. 192–3, where he has traced the problem of sin as debt well into the medieval period. I have searched to no avail many art databases looking for any image of a written contract being nailed to the cross to cancel humanity’s debt of sin, as suggested by Col. 2:14.

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readers. A venerable legal and moral tradition, which the Genoese knew well (as did many other Europeans), encouraged a testator to place on his or her heirs the obligation to pay all debts before the estate was divided among the beneficiaries. Those people contemplating their deaths wanted a clean slate with respect to debts, and this custom prevailed whatever the law said at various times and places. In the same way that a son or daughter was supposed to pay parents’ debts, so too did the children of Eve (and why not Adam) owe an immense debt, now of course wrapped into Jesus’ merciful sacrifice. This way of seeing sin as debt takes us out of Nature and into the realm of the supernatural and deposits us briefly into a legal and commercial milieu. After all, only humans practiced testamentary succession. Let us return to what else people could learn from Nature.

ANCIENT INHERITABILITY REAPPEARS Thus far we have investigated one theme of inheritability, sin, and what the monotheistic traditions about creation and the origins of humanity have to tell us about the general issues surrounding just how like produced like. This theme, like an archeological dig, has been investigated in a sequence of chronological layers beginning with Hebrew scripture to the top, complex levels of medieval biblical exegesis. Now, to continue this excavating metaphor, we must open another trench to gain a different perspective on inheritability. An important classical tradition on natural history existed, especially in Greek, and notably from Aristotle. Because our focus is on western European attitudes about inheritability, we can leave undisturbed the vast amount of learning in Greek, during the centuries when only a few classical Greek readers, a few ancient Romans, and then some Byzantines and Arabs knew anything directly from what Aristotle thought about the many subtleties concerning the generation of animals, of which humans were the most outstanding example. But from about 1220, everything changed in western Europe. Around that year Michael Scot translated Aristotle’s works on animals from the Arabic, ten books on the history of animals, four books on the parts of animals, and most important for our purposes, four books on the generation of animals.39 Around 1260, William of Moerbeke translated Aristotle directly from Greek, a language Scot did not 39

All this explained briefly in the edition of these four books used here, Aristotle, De Animalibus: Michael Scot’s Arabic-Latin Translation. Edited by Aafke M. I. Van Oppenraaij (Leiden, 1992) p. viii.

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know. About forty manuscripts of Moerbeke’s translation survive today, but sixty of Scot’s, a testimony to the success of the latter’s accurate and wellwritten translation, which served important thirteenth-century scholars like Thomas of Cantimpr´e and Albertus Magnus.40 Hence beginning from these decades, the best theologians, exegetes, and natural scientists wanted to incorporate all this sophisticated thinking about the natural world into the traditional Christian framework for explaining Nature and humanity’s place in it. Aristotle would soon become the master of those who know, but, among the many challenges he posed to Christian intellectuals, he was a pagan who had read important books they did not know. However, Aristotle mentioned some famous names whose works, or at least echoes of them, had survived antiquity and in some cases had been translated from the Greek or Arabic before his books on animals. Along with farmers’ curiosity about animals and inheritability, medieval people, like the ancients, had a practical hunger for useful medical information. The part of this vast lore concerning our theme touches on reproduction, or the generation of animals. People have been very interested in this topic because they had their own sexual problems and diseases they wanted solved and cured, and the illnesses of animals might have some important lessons. They also needed to understand a fundamental issue about inheritability: sex differences, or why a man and a woman had children of this sex or that (or monstrous offspring, or none at all), and could anything they do explain or affect these outcomes. It could be argued that the crucial inherited trait was sex, but leaving aside the rare, perplexing but fascinating hermaphrodite, the child was exactly like one of the parents – male or female. In this way like produced like more clearly than the mixed and troubling attributes we have been considering, like skin color or temperaments. Happily indeed for any student taking up the problems of inheritability, the aspect of sex differences has been thoroughly set forth in a great book by Joan Cadden.41 This book is the basic primer on medieval thinking about human reproduction, but apart from the big issue of sex differences, it only treats in a glancing way the wider question of inheritability in general. But the mechanism for explaining sex differences in children required everyone, the predecessors and successors of Aristotle, to have an opinion about what was in male sperm, and to 40 41

Ibid. pp. viii–xi. Joan Cadden, Meanings of sex difference in the Middle Ages: Medicine, science, and culture (Cambridge, 1993).

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speculate about the more problematic issue of female sperm, whether it existed or not, and what its nature might be. (A modern concept of gender, as culturally constructed, is not the issue here, nor is the biblical certainty on the existence of Eve’s seed in Genesis 3:15) Cadden explains well what any reader of the medieval Latin Aristotle needs to know – that the medical teachings attached to the names Hippocrates and Galen posited a theory of pangenesis, that the constituents of sperm came from everywhere in the parent’s body and explained why the child resembled (exactly or not is a separate problem) the father and the mother (depending on what she contributed to the offspring).42 On the narrow issue of sex differences, the sperm from the genitals explained the sex of the child (as well as other factors). But the important point is that Aristotle did not agree with the theory of pangenesis and argued against it in many subtle ways we will consider shortly. Hence from Aristotle readers must expect a different theory, positing only one type of sperm – male – for explaining how parental qualities are transferred from one parent to children. We have seen exactly this problem concerning the inheritability of original sin, but Aristotle of course did not bother with this and he did not provide at first a lot of weighty arguments for medieval theologians who cared deeply about that issue. Whatever arguments contrary to pangenesis Aristotle puts forward to explain why children resemble their parents in sex differences will apply to all the other traits. Pangenesis remained an issue in medicine even when the word no longer figured in the discussion. It is useful for us to note one point now because it comes up in a variety of contexts throughout this book. A theory of inheritance needed to account for the observable facts, and one phenomenon that puzzled ancient and medieval observers was that blind or one-armed people could and did have sighted children or ones with all their limbs. Lurking inside the pangenesis theory was the possibility that the sperm from the male parent, drawing on the different parts of the body, would be missing parts and that the offspring should reflect this unhappy circumstance, but did not. In practice, if we leave for another context the problem of hereditary blindness, medical theories of inheritance had to conform to the general observation that children did not ordinarily lack parts as a father might. This truism became incorporated in medical lore – most clearly in the texts known as the Prose Salernitan Questions, a medical compendium in a question and answer format. One of the questions 42

Ibid. pp. 21–3.

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concerned why a blind or amputated male parent did not pass on these traits to a son.43 For the moment, to keep this simple, all we need to remember is that for the amputees, observation trumped any theory. In his books on the generation of animals (including humans) Aristotle’s first and best arguments against pangenesis take up the question of other traits beside sex differences.44 Aristotle mentions voice, hair, beard, and nails as obvious problems. He must mean that if pangenesis were true, human infants would be born as miniature adults, but something clearly more complex is at work. Next, his mind turns to the equally puzzling fact that children have traits or characteristics from their grandparents or great-grandparents, and these cannot derive from parental sperm according to the theory of pangenesis. What he cannot explain in this theoretical framework we think of in modern terms as: why do some traits appear to skip generations? Pangenesis has no mechanism for explaining what we call recessive traits; if a quality was in the father, it should appear directly in his offspring through the sperm he makes. Aristotle’s most telling example of traits across the ages is this: “suppose a certain woman [must be white] has sex with an Ethiopian and gives birth to a white daughter, and then this daughter conceives and gives birth to a black female child.”45 Now the point of Aristotle’s argument is that everyone knew that this could happen, but of course we see here yet another example in the long tradition of categorizing people by color and ethnicity; there is no reason not to say race. This example makes it into medieval Latin in the thirteenth century and requires no elaboration; everyone still understood this happened. In light of what we have considered previously about plants, a subject Aristotle knew a great deal about, it is not surprising that he immediately goes on to note that the same thing happens in trees; he must mean that the seeds sometimes yield varieties quite different from the tree from which they fell. This result is more proof that the sperm of trees does not come from every part of the tree, as 43

44 45

The example here is from question 5 from the Prose Salernitan Questions. Edited by Brian Lawn (London, 1979) p. 3. These texts are found across Europe and seem to derive from eleventh- and twelfth-century responsa from the medical school at Salerno. The answer provided here suggests that Nature simply flees from imperfection and the proper ingredients can be drawn from other parts of the body – enough detail for a text mainly devoted to more practical medical issues. Aristotle, De animalibus, 722a. Ibid. 722a p. 25: “quoniam quaedam mulier coivit cum Aethiope et peperit filiam albam, deinde concepit illa filia et peperit filiam nigram . . . ” This same issue appeared in the previous chapter, in the Latin tradition from Quintilian.

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pangenesis would predict. (Plants could have sperm without sexes.) Grafting plants would prove pangenesis wrong even more neatly, but Aristotle does not mention this topic, irrelevant to animals and distracting to his main focus on male sperm.46 Aristotle’s principal theory about male sperm concerned its hot and cold qualities and how these affected the sex and other traits of offspring. These issues have been well explained by Cadden and we will revisit them as they are crucial to Aristotle’s theory for why mules are sterile.47 What concern us here are Aristotle’s broader observations about reproduction. Animals suitable to one another reproduce when their nature is close.48 They also had to be close in size, and here Aristotle is thinking about wolves and dogs. He knew their offspring were fertile, but without mentioning this he turns directly to mules, whose sterility was more important to his larger theories about sperm. Here Aristotle states that mules are completely sterile, and he goes on to summarize the arguments of Democritus and Empedocles for this result.49 Aristotle believed their arguments were wrong. His own long theory raises several interesting points.50 First, a horse and an ass can have progeny and any theory of reproduction must explain how this occurs. What Aristotle probably means here is that the difference in size between donkeys and mares can be considerable. This assumption seems likely because his next point concerns again the fertility of cubs produced by a wolf and a dog, and any theory has to explain this as well. Without getting bogged down in the details, we note that Aristotle reverts to his temperature-of-sperm theory; the many proofs that a donkey is a cold animal result in its cold sperm, whereas the horse is hot – tempered for sure. These opposites allow conception but guarantee that the offspring – the mule – will be sterile. (The dog and the wolf are similar in their heat and hence give birth to fertile offspring.) Aristotle concludes this analysis by introducing his sense of what reproduction contrary to Nature entails, which in this case means sterile offspring and nothing more with respect to any moral 46

47 48 49 50

It is worth pointing out here the other tradition surviving from antiquity, the existence of male and female sperm, and how it might more coherently explain how mixtures of these sperms could account for how children resemble their parents. Isidore of Seville explains all this in his Etymologiarum 11.1, so this information was available to medieval readers, but we follow one tradition here from Aristotle to Albertus Magnus as the predominant one. J. Cadden, Meanings of Sex Difference, pp. 22–6. Aristotle, De animalibus, 756a–b for this and what follows, “natura est propinqua”. Ibid. 747a–b for this and what follows. Ibid. 748a–b.

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judgments.51 He has observed a few facts about Nature that his intellectual honesty forces him to record even if they make his theory less believable to us, but not to him. He has seen big female mules and he explains this result by claiming that the retained menstrual blood in the mother causes the size. He knows in fact that female mules can become pregnant, but only rarely, and they cannot carry the fetus to term and it will not be born. A male mule can impregnate – what he means here is not clear but he must have in mind a female mule and not a horse or donkey. Mules, as we have seen, were an excellent occasion for addressing some problems about inheritability, but Aristotle was certainly more interested in another type of animal – humans. He wanted to be sure that his hot and cold sperm theories made sense of certain outcomes concerning human reproduction. He knew that some women and men could not have children with one another but could with other people.52 Here he concedes that temperature of sperm was not the only factor affecting reproduction, and he mentions water (as influencing temperature), the disposition of the body, air, even food as it might induce cold. The main issue, once fertility prevailed, was again why some children resembled their parents and some did not. Even more complexities were possible; sometimes a daughter resembled the mother, or a child took after a grandparent, or in fact a child appeared completely different from everyone. Then Aristotle points out that some children do not even seem human; they are marvelous, remarkable.53 What he has in mind must be types of birth defects or prodigies; he is clearly, according to Michael Scot’s Latin, not referring here to monstrous births or entirely strange types of people.54 Instead, Aristotle is concerned to show that whatever causes these strange births – and it may

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Ibid, and a bit of Michael Scot’s Latin is worth noting here – “et si acciderit ei accidens contra naturam tunc non generabunt ex coitu ad invicem nisi difficile, et quod generabitur ex eis dignum est esse sterile, quoniam generatur contra naturam; non ergo aliquo faciente ipsum sterile, sed necessario erit sterile.” Ibid. 767a–b. Ibid. “Et quidam filii non habent formam hominis, sed formam mirabilem, quoniam filius qui non assimilatur patribus aliquo modo est mirabilis, quoniam natura est in illis extranea a genere.” It is worth noting that some later medieval readers would find monstrous births exactly the issue here in William of Moerbeke’s translation – see Aristotle, De Generatione Animalium, ed. H. J. Drossaart Lulofs, Aristoteles Latinus 17 n. 2 (Bruges, 1966) 767b5: “hec autem neque homini secundum speciem, sed iam monstro.” Otherwise, the sense of the translations is close.

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have something to do with the age of the parents or other factors – the outcomes do not contradict his general theory about the quality of male sperm – which applies to humans as well as animals – for those that reproduce this way, meaning sexually. He ties this neatly back to the major way children ordinarily resemble a parent, in their own sex, which in turn is determined by the quality of sperm provided by the father. This is the same mechanism that explains why and how children resemble their parents, or grandparents, or not, with respect to their other characteristics. Robert Grosseteste (c. 1170–1253), bishop of Lincoln, was a distinguished English theologian and scholar, and was among the first generation with excellent Greek to read Aristotle, Basil, and other primary texts.55 He was also senior enough to remain interested in older exegetical traditions, and in the 1230s he wrote a Hexameron that relied on Basil and Ambrose while at the same time revealing a wide reading in Augustine, Pliny the Elder, and Aristotle.56 Grosseteste had a scientific mind shaped by Aristotle and the Franciscans in the direction of physics, light, motion, and the soul. Although he was engaged enough in the story of creation to write a long book on the subject, this did not mean that he was really concerned about animals, or the problems of inheritability or the mechanisms by which like produced like. His example is an important reminder that many, probably most, thinkers did not care deeply or at all about these questions, and there is no reason why they should. In fact Grosseteste provides a clear reason for this point of view. Concerning the properties of animals that preserved the order of utility in the universe, Grosseteste was satisfied that Basil and Ambrose had written well enough on this topic, and so he added nothing to it.57 Nevertheless, he perceived a fundamental truth about inheritability; 55

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Any reader of this original and talented English thinker is indebted to Richard W. Southern, Robert Grosseteste: The Growth of an English Mind in Medieval Europe (Oxford, 1986), who, among many things, shows that Grosseteste certainly knew Michael Scot’s translation of Aristotle on animals, p. 112. Robert Grosseteste: Hexa¨emeron. Edited by Richard C. Dales and Servus Gieben (London, 1982). They date this work 1228–35, p. xii. This edition of the Latin text has a fine introduction, and the work benefits from an excellent English translation, Robert Grosseteste: On the Six Days of Creation. Translated by C. F. J. Martin (Oxford, 1996). Robert Grosseteste: Hexa¨emeron 7.12.4, p. 207: “ . . . De eorum [animals] igitur proprietatibus quibus in universitate servant utilitatis ordinem . . . Basilius et Ambrosius super hunc locum pro magna parte diligentissime descripserunt.” Proof of his satisfaction comes from the fact that Grosseteste, who cited Basil and Ambrose at length, ignored the long passages discussed earlier. “Utilitas” is a technical word, so “utility” in its medieval (not modern economic) sense, perhaps better “usefulness.”

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the part interesting to him was order. How baffling and inconsequential Nature would have been if creatures did not generate new beings like themselves. Albertus Magnus (1193–1280) used Scot’s translation of Aristotle for the basis of his own magisterial De animalibus, rightly called by its modern translators a Summa Zoologica.58 As the editors explain, this long work is much more than a commentary and a gloss on Aristotle. Albert follows Aristotle’s subject order with the first ten books on the History of Animals, the next four on the parts of animals, for our purposes the most significant the next five books on the reproduction of animals. Books 20 and 21 offer Albert’s own observations about the animal kingdom, and his final five books comprise a dictionary of animals, loosely based on the earlier work by his own former student, Thomas of Cantimpr´e. For the most part we want to take a close look at Book 18:4, which we have just analyzed from Aristotle, where Albert greatly expands and partly reconceives what he has read about why animals sometimes resemble their parents and sometimes not. Albert has a lot more to say than Aristotle, but much of it does not directly concern our focus on inheritability, so we must concentrate on ten main points.59 The first point picks up directly from Aristotle the idea that the complexion of the male sperm is the most important factor in determining the sex of the offspring. Already we see that the most salient issues surrounding inheritability remain sex differences and male sperm theories. Second, a male child will ordinarily resemble the father because the latter’s sperm is the formative power. Third, the son is male like the father, but he might not look like him, hence he is male because of the father’s sperm, but his looks derive from something Albert calls genealogy.60 Fourth, Albert requires a way to explain how a male child can resemble his mother, and he knows this happens, so it 58

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Scholars are fortunate to have a fine translation of this text, Albertus Magnus on Animals: A Medieval Summa Zoologica. Translated by Kenneth F. Mitchell Jr. and Irven Michael Resnick. 2 vols. (Baltimore, 1999) pp. 1–42 for background on the text. For the crucial Book 18 I cite the Latin edition by Hermann Stadler, Albertus Magnus De Animalibus Libri XXVI nach der C¨olner ¨ Urschrift in Beitrage 1921). ¨ zur Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters, vols 15 and 16 (Munster, Stadler’s edition is from an autograph manuscript, and the Latin is sometimes necessary here because it enables us to see where Albert follows Scot, Moerbeke, or his own insights. Also, close attention to language use cannot depend on even the best English translation, and this one is peerless. For what follows Albertus Magnus on Animals pp. 1295–1301 for the English and Stadler’s Latin text vol. 16 pp. 1205–11. H. Stadler Latin 18:4. 32 “ . . . sed habet similitudinem ad genealogiam et secundum hunc modum quidam sunt similes parentibus propinquis et quidam remotis.” Albert clearly

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must have a cause – in this case, the maternal menses predominate in lesser members (those grossly affecting appearance), not in his sex (male) or heart (no doubt masculine).61 Fifth, a quality Albert calls “the power of the ancestors” is present in male sperm and hence may end up in the offspring.62 It is important to observe here a possible connection to the earlier issue concerning the transferability of original sin. Here something just as real also continues on in family lines, but this power of the ancestors is some force that continues to shape (until it becomes diluted?) ways in which members of families resemble one another. How a grandfather’s trait might reappear in a grandson was an issue requiring an explanation, inevitably genealogical. Sixth, Albert follows Aristotle into this subtle issue, using Socrates as an example. A general thesis concerning similarity of the offspring is that the offspring of humans are like humans. A specific argument concerning one person, Socrates, must consider his similarities. It is possible, for example, that though a male like his father, he does not look like his father or indeed his ancestors. Seventh, Albert believes that usually male children resemble their fathers and girls their mothers, a theme he expands on at length. (Given that Albert knows nothing of human eggs and, like Aristotle, rejects pangenesis, he is intrigued about the process of passing similarity down a female line, but even more puzzling are the boys who resemble their mothers.) He knows about resemblances in the female line and he comes up with a female Greek name – Cleopatra – not appearing in Aristotle, as a way to discuss this phenomenon. Why he chose this name is unrecoverable, but it is certainly a famous Greek name, perhaps of dubious moral worth (though no discussion here of incest in this family line), but most of the others coming to mind were perhaps pagan deities! Albert suggests that there can be a resemblance up the female family line but he does not think it extends beyond the fourth generation; his term for the most remote is “the old mothers.”63

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understands that there are family lines across deep time, and maternal influences on appearance. Ibid. “ . . . et tunc erit partus in corde et sexu similes patri et in membris aliis similes erit matri.” This is how a male ends up looking like his mother but remaining fundamentally masculine; the reverse was of course possible. Ibid. 18.4.33 explicitly “Virtus enim avorum”; translators explain and I agree that Albert is using the literal word for grandparents as referring to lineage going back deeper in time. Ibid. 18.4.37 at end, “antiquae matres” perhaps great-grandmother but still a nice phrase, as “antiquarum matrum” coming directly from Michael Scot’s translation of Aristotle at 768b3. Both authors know proava but perhaps not as real people, so better, old mothers.

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Eighth, “for everything is generally a human which is in some way related to his generation.”64 Birth, the observable reality of motherhood, was the most direct means to demonstrate a biological relationship. Albert follows Aristotle in naming Socrates’ mother as Phronesis, an apt Greek word for Prudence. Ninth, Albert has a more expansive list of those qualities apart from sperm and menses that might affect diversity in appearance of the offspring. Concerning food, Albert has a lot more to say about diet. People leading a strenuous life or hard at work need to eat more or else they will end up stunted. Albert is making an original occupational argument and provides two examples not in Aristotle. Fullers, treading on cloth, develop big legs (he must mean muscular), and smiths have strong arms and hands.65 Yet these work-related traits in adult men do not surface in their sperm, because their children are not born like this, with big arms or legs. (No Lamarckian theory positing the inheritance of acquired traits!) This is of course another good argument against pangenesis, and it shows Albert astutely observing the natural world around him. Tenth, finally, Albert follows Aristotle in thinking that this stage of the analysis is a good place to consider the disease satyriasis, a sexual dysfunction that explains why – defective sperm – the numerous progeny of its sufferers do not resemble their always erect fathers. Albert provides a judicious summary of these points on resemblance and will follow Aristotle into deeper arguments about the errors of Empedocles and Democritus in their defenses of pangenesis. The thread for us to follow here is sterility, how it becomes (or not) an aspect of inheritability, and arguments about mules again become relevant to the circumstances of people. Aristotle inspires Albert but the latter has a lot more to say about these matters.66 Albert enters the argument by postulating the classic case of the female horse and the male donkey, and takes the opportunity to introduce a great deal of material about the mating habits of horses. The donkey is a cold animal, so it will not be born or thrive in cold areas; the idea comes from Aristotle, but the example Albert provides – Sweden – is his own. The basic point, where they entirely agree, is that the different temperaments and humors of the horse and donkey explain why their offspring, the mule, is sterile. Albert too is aware of the fact 64

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This is the Mitchell and Resnick translation, p. 1299 for “Est enim universaliter homo omne quod aliquo modo se habet ad generationem huius,” end 184.38 Stadler Latin. Stadler Latin 18.1.4.40, fullones, fabri, not in Aristotle, and alas these poor fullers have no fulling mill to spare their legs. For what follows see Albertus Magnus on Animals, 16.10.140–4.

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that sometimes female mules conceive, but he goes beyond Aristotle to remark that “the she mule might conceive in certain lands. This is rare, however, and happened during times gone by. But it has also happened recently during our own times.”67 Albert reveals here two aspects of his thinking – a taste for adding his own observations to received truths, and a clear sense of the vast amount of time separating his age from Aristotle’s. Albert also notes that a male mule can impregnate a female but a flawed animal results – the same here as Aristotle. But again Albert goes on to compare this result to dwarves, who are born flawed with short bodies.68 He does not consider the problem of sterility and dwarfism, but concludes his analysis of sterility by raising two issues. First, he cannot forget that sometimes – and here the example is the dog and the fox – a mating across species produces fertile offspring. But he sees, even more clearly than Aristotle, how this relates to the issue of grafting in plants – “It is just this way with grafting, for a graft of a like thing onto a like thing is most likely to prosper and it is the same way for the same sort of mixture in animals.”69 Albert has seen to the heart of the problem of like producing like, in both the plant and animal kingdoms. It is also important to note again that he has taken a fresh path by interrogating Aristotle’s authority, and he does this without a single reference here to scripture or to any theologian. Of course Albert knew his predecessors and the Bible as well as he understood Aristotle, and he wrote many works in both areas of learning. But he has surely begun the process of separating theology from natural history in a way that would have been inconceivable, for example, to the authors of the Hexameron considered earlier.

THE JEWS AND INHERITABILITY The Jews are a useful touchstone for measuring the quality of various medieval explanations for inheritability. In the vast literature surrounding antisemitism and racism, there are a few perennial questions concerning the definition of the Jews as a group allegedly possessing certain qualities passed down in 67

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Ibid. 16.10.143. The Stadler Latin is “ . . . ut mula in quibusdam terris concipiat: sed hoc est rarum et accidit in praeterito tempore: et etiam temporibus nostris accidit hoc nuper . . . ” and he goes on to observe with Aristotle that this fetus ends up aborted. For both 16.10.144 – the nani are born with a figura corrupta. Ibid. “sicut enim est in insitionibus, quod insitio similes in simile vel conveniens sibi magis proficit, ita est enim in tali animalium mixtura.”

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their blood. Because these questions raise some terrible consequences deriving from medieval and modern thinking about the Jews, the entire subject seems tainted and perhaps best consigned to the fascist rubbish heap. Yet the majority community discourses about Jews are often very revealing about the pressures on and inconsistencies in ways of explaining ordinary and even supernatural events in this world. For example, a number of libels circulated about Jews in the Middle Ages – that they had a characteristic odor, that their men menstruated as a penalty for collective guilt about the death of Jesus, that they had distinctive faces, among others.70 These antisemitic canards reflect a style of stereotypic thinking certainly applied to a wide array of ethnic and racial groups. This is not the place to recapitulate this well-studied topic, except to observe that the mechanism for explaining how Jews passed down these alleged traits is curiously lacking. In other words, the desire for this type of derogatory slanders against Others did not result in any good arguments about the general problem of inheritability, or even rely on the established thinkers like Aristotle and his successors in useful ways. David Nirenberg has pointed out how Jews often figured in genealogical models or discourses, both their own and from Christian perspectives, that provided convenient ways for everyone to discuss the consequences of inheritability.71 Given that our interest in following this topic came at first from the concept of inheriting sin, there is no particular point in following the paths of invective surrounding beliefs about the nature of Jewishness, or whether or not there was something about being a Jew that was inherited, or possibly changed through conversion. As Nirenberg and others have pointed out, the official line since St. Paul (at least) was that the new religion claimed to be universal and joining it meant becoming part of a new people.72 Also, the medieval emphasis on lineage was prominent in many aspects of society, 70

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These ideas are mentioned in a very useful survey of the problem by Peter Biller, “Protoracial thought in medieval science,” in The Origins of Racism in the West, pp. 157–80 at 177. David Nirenberg, “Mass conversion and Genealogical mentalities: Jews and Christians in fifteenth-century Spain,” Past and Present 174 (2002) pp. 3–41, a theme throughout the essay. Nirenberg finds little systematic evidence for a concept of hereditary Jewishness before 1391, and his sources do not appear to take up the problem of explaining any mechanisms for a genealogical or philogenetic turn. Denise Kimber Buell makes this point well in her “Early Christian universalism and modern forms of racism,” in The Origins of Racism in the West, pp. 109–31; her term is “ethnic reasoning,” another stance on what we can call the genealogical turn.

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especially the nobility and its increasing zest for ancestry.73 But again, the exact nature of noble blood, and why it was better than a peasant’s, was not a problem as yet benefiting from scientific explanations. Those arguing for their own superiority over others, for whatever ethnic or religious reasons, seem to me to be overwhelmingly concerned with arguing the supposed facts of differences, not theories about their causes. Once again, it may profit us to consider a special case that engages the issues of inheritability, Jews, sin, as well as practical and theoretical approaches to them. And it would be best to find a way to do this that implicated learned discourse as well as what people commonly believed. Obviously, Jesus is the Jew whose experience as a living person inevitably raised questions about sin, inheritability, and, as we will see, even more topics. Fortunately, there is an excellent recent study that addresses the issue of “extraordinary procreation” in the Middle Ages.74 Jesus’ nativity is one example, admittedly the most profound, of these special cases. His special and supernatural qualities guaranteed that, ordinarily, explaining this birth and its consequences demanded theories unique to the events. For example, it was important that Joseph was of the lineage of King David, but explaining how Jesus was also in the line required theories of inheritability not relevant to our concerns here, and certainly completely removed from the inheritability of sin, something Jesus did not experience. Let us turn to a standard account and a familiar author from a known context, the story of the nativity in the Golden Legend of Jacopo da Varagine.75 As usual Varagine has repackaged and freshly conceptualized the best traditions he could find, in this case ranging from the gospels to standard authorities like Eusebius, Augustine, Jerome, Bernard of Clairvaux, and many others. He knows he is exploring a unique case, where a woman had a child without a man. We can pick up the thread of the well-known story as Varagine ponders whether or not Joseph brought his own ox and donkey from Nazareth to the

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On this topic, see Charles de Miramon, “Aux origins de la noblesse et des princes du sang: France et Angleterre au XIVe si`ecle, in L’h´er´edit´e, pp. 157–210. See Maaike van der Lugt, Le ver, le d´emon, et la Vi`erge: Les th´eories m´edi´evales de la g´en´eneration extraordinaire (Paris, 2004), which considers demons impregnating women, Mary’s conception, and the limits on natural procreation, in this case mainly theories of spontaneous generation. For Jesus, see especially pp. 365–8 for the beginning of a long discussion on his unique birth. For what follows, see Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, pp. 63–74.

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manger or the local peasants in Bethlehem brought their own animals to the spot, understood by our urban author as an alley between two buildings.76 Our Genoese Dominican seems content to relate all this Christmas cr`eche material with no notice of St. Francis or his manger. His practical Genoese nature seems driven to observe that Joseph brought the ox along to sell to pay his taxes and the donkey for Mary to ride. When Jesus was born, he was placed in the manger on hay, which the animals prudently abstained from eating and which was later brought to Rome by St. Helena.77 All this detail provides the context for us to make sense of two points, the second apparently original to Varagine (at least in its emphasis), about the birth. The first point concerns the relevance of this birth to all types and levels of life. Some beings exist only as a body, material substance (we might as well think of a stone). Others simply live, like plants. The next level exists, lives, and feels, like animals. The next exists, lives, feels, and thinks, and is human. Finally, there are beings that exist, live, feel, think, and understand – the angels.78 This durable, hierarchical image of a great chain of being connected the lowest form of material existence to angels, with humanity in its unique position above the other animals. (This commonplace existed in Plato’s time, if not before.) These abilities to exist, live, feel, think, and understand all inhered in their objects, and in those capable of reproducing, were passed down by the plants, animals, and human beings. (Inheritability did not concern angels or stones.) The mechanism for this inheritance did not engage Varagine here, but the inherited traits defined the species. In the case of people, thinking, alas, included knowing (if not always understanding) the difference between good and evil, their unique capacity for sin – an inherited marker shared with no other creatures. The second point concerns an amazing comment Varagine makes about the evening of the nativity, not visualized in this book as the birth of a Jew. He claims that all the sodomites in the world were destroyed that night, as Jerome commented on the passage “the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light,” meaning that all those laboring under that vice have been

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Ibid. p. 65 line 26, line 28ff. for details on the hay. We have previously noted the miraculous qualities of hay, see p. 38. Legenda Aurea, p. 68 lines 68–74, the editor credits a sermon of Pope Innocent III as the likely source. The pope’s three Christmas sermons, PL 217. cols 451–66 are not the source for the comments on gays later in the chapter.

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destroyed.79 Traditional Christian exegesis on this passage usually applies it to the Hebrews, so it is very odd for Varagine to replace them with gays. Where Varagine came upon this historical detail is not clear, but he credits Jerome, and this is plausible.80 Varagine also cites Augustine as a confirming authority, that God, seeing this vice against nature in human nature, nearly desisted from the Incarnation!81 (How anyone could possibly know this is another matter.) What matters here is that regardless of the patristic sources, Varagine put this material in the most popular collection of saints’ lives in the Middle Ages, and guaranteed the slur an extended lease on life. Many learned about the destruction of gay people in the context of the Nativity and sin – a troubling mixture, especially when mixed together with Nature, for or against. The connection between the Nativity and Sodom also raises some interesting questions about inheritability and sin. Varagine’s telling of the story in this context suggested to Christian readers and their listeners that salvation nearly did not take place because of gay people. Varagine put the reason in the context of Nature; in effect, why would God want to enter Nature when people so contrary to Nature were there? Hence these gays had been completely destroyed once, presumably making the Incarnation possible. Yet they reappeared (soon?) and continued to live many centuries later in their world. Why they came back is a mystery (of course not addressed here), but how would be even more perplexing. As far as medieval society was concerned gay people did not reproduce, so it was hard to argue that the behavior was inheritable. 79

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Ibid. p. 72 line 127, worth citing “Sic etiam manifesta est per sodomitas qui omnes in toto mundo in illa nocte extincti sunt, sicut dicit Ieronimus super illud ‘Lux orta est eis tanta,’scilicet quod omnes laborantes illo vitio extinxit.” The passage from Isaiah 9.1 is cited here at length, and the parallel appears in Matthew 4.16, as noted by the editor Maggioni. Ibid. Maggioni cites Jerome’s commentary on Isaiah. But a search of Commentaires de Jerome sur le prophete Isaie. Edited by Roger Grayson et al. (Freiburg, 1993) leads to a series of dead ends. First a direct reference to Sodom in Isaiah 3.9 leads Jerome to explain (2:13 pp. 237–8) what the sin of Sodom was, but he says nothing about exterminating sodomites, or their extinction. Directly on Isaiah 9.1–2 Jerome remarks (p. 388) that the first people Jesus preached to were all in the darkness of sin, and nothing about Sodom. (Jerome’s commentary on Matthew 4:16 also has nothing on this theme.) On p. 392 he notes that the nativity will result in the devil being destroyed, but nothing is being killed or removed in order for the child to be born. So this commentary is not Varagine’s source. Legenda Aurea, p. 72 line 129, “Nam, ut dicit Augustinus, uidens deus uitium contra naturam in humana natura fieri, fere desiit incarnari.” Maggioni did not locate the source from Augustine.

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The sin explanation argued for individual decisions causing some people to choose this path, and would have rejected any notion that being gay was somehow an innate human characteristic, like original sin. No one could fathom how being gay was passed down (not even by visual stimulation because there were for a historical moment no gay people to observe), so there was no room in the medieval thinking about the mechanisms of heredity to understand how gay people, eliminated at the Nativity, reappeared in human history. Whatever the particular sin of Sodom was, it could not be inheritable.82

OTHER THEORIES OF INHERITABILITY Thus far we have followed sin as the red thread through the topic of inheritability. Parental influence, as Joseph Ziegler has observed, was only one way for like to produce like.83 This chapter has focused on how one trait, sin, ended up inherited in a living creature, a human being. How sin entered Nature was of course mainly a theological question. Once nature became Nature, not only the power or process by which God worked His will in this world, but a kind of independent figure, capable of becoming an allegory, we can interrogate this Nature about inheritability. Sin remained the ineluctable feature of this world and would continue to dominate whatever happened here. But an interest in Nature and her (always her) habits can take us on a different path to understanding how like produced like. There is no reason to assume that every person thinking about Nature bothered to consider this issue, or that the few who did represent what everyone believed. As van der Lugt and Miramon have concluded for their long period of studying heredity before modern science (1300–1800), the concept of biological heredity was rarely discussed and the doctrine of like producing like did not receive profound analysis.84 If we 82

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John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago, 1980) discusses nonprocreative sexuality at many points but naturally not in the context of inheritability. Joseph Ziegler, “H´er´edit´e et physiognomie,” in L’h´er´edit´e, pp. 245–72, at 264. Environmental and even astrological influences on human temperaments and appearances, partly studied in the ancient and medieval science of physiognomy, take up the non-biological subjects not considered here. See their introduction to L’h´er´edit´e, pp. 3–37, p. 6 on the lack of discussion and p. 17 on likeness, all in the context of theoretical discourses and not practice, or the topic of sin considered here. Their focus is on the longue dur´ee, with no break in 1492, and learned sources and problems.

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take the Roman of the Rose, by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun – one of the most popular literary works of the Middle Ages, roughly contemporary to Albert, but in French and accessible to a wide audience – we find different images and answers. As we saw when considering Nature and its discovery, by the thirteenth century, Nature, like so many other allegories of abstract principles like Fortune and Justice, had become personified and could do things. Right at the beginning of his section of the poem, de Meun introduced Nature as the force guaranteeing that mortal humans would continue to reproduce themselves in succession, so that generation would not fail, so that humanity would not end.85 The point here is the truism that life continues because of sex, but the form of this existence is a deeper issue. In this later part of the Roman written by de Meun, we find Nature, at her forge, working to make individual types (pieces) that continue the species.86 People make babies but they also produce other things. Blacksmiths and minters also worked at a forge, both turning out identical items like nails or coins. But in this case the image seems to be money, because the word “piece” evokes coins. Stamping out on metal blanks the familiar images on thirteenth-century coins is a nice and vivid allegory of reproduction, in this case making from the die more or less exact copies to perpetuate the species, in this case the money supply. Everyone understood this was not how people made children and why they resembled their parents, but it is not the business of allegory to be exact – the image suffices. The poet is not as interested in the copies as he is their number, for his main point for some time is actually about Death, introduced on line 15870. This Death (also female) is in a kind of demographic war with Nature, busily destroying the individuals Nature is hammering out. But in this century, before the Big Death in the next, Nature has the upper hand and the population is increasing in pieces no matter how hard Death tries. This is an accurate observation about the general increase in population, that Death cannot stop our species from thriving (15972–5). If all this has a Malthusian ring, it is because the poet sees the external check of mortality as not yet equaling the number of births. 85

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Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose. Edited by F´elix Lecoy. Vol. 1 (Paris, 1965) lines 4378–84. The point here was not to explain inheritability but to posit that the reproduction of humans must be pleasurable in order for people to engage in it. Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose. Edited by F´elix Lecoy. Vol. 2 (Paris, 1973) here lines 15, 863–68, and for the rest cited by line in French edition. I have found useful the translation by Frances Horgan (Oxford, 1994).

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Nature, whom de Meun describes as sweet and taking pity on humans, is working hard at her forge to counteract the wiles of Death and Corruption. At this point the poet returns to the image of Nature hammering out coins, steadily renewing them by a new generation, probably in the sense of an act of creation, or in this case manufacture.87 He is about to engage Art with Nature in this problem about Death, and this will take us away from the theme of inheritability. But there is one last image to consider about Nature at the forge, for the poet does not want us to forget that that there are different types of money with different letters stamped or cut into them (15983–8). Of course with real coins it is human skill, or Art, that introduces this variety. So the parallel between producing coins and reproducing people has broken down at this point, and de Meun is prepared to leave it there, with Art clearly and rightly inferior to Nature when it comes to making good copies. At this level, inheritability is mystery. Another way to investigate this mystery is to look beyond animal and human bodies to explore how people might inherit outside their own bodies other things beside sin, including wealth in the form of coins, and even parts of Nature itself. “Like Produces Like” will prove to be the concept linking plant, animal, and human reproduction to the larger contexts of Nature explored in the next two chapters. Creation demanded answers to many puzzling questions about how and why qualities ranging from sin to physical appearance moved or transferred from parents to offspring. Apparent changelessness over time in theory ran up against real problems like explaining the Incarnation, or worms, or animals never seen before, or the apparently spontaneous reproduction of certain creatures, and family traits that seemed to skip generations. Beyond our bodies and the plants and animals that served humanity, lessons about inheritability and death, Nature and its disasters, presented other conceptual problems for which the model of “Like Produces Like” provided some cogent answers. Having explored how Nature shaped and affected human bodies, we now turn to how the agency of Nature influenced how people lived together in groups, their culture and society.

87

Ibid. 15, 980–1: “ . . . dedans sa forge/ tourjorz ses pieces renovele/ par generacion novele.”

4 THE NATURE OF PROPERTY

T

HIS CHAPTER CONCERNS THINGS IN THE CONTEXT OF NATURE.

People knew that their bodies, as well as the plants and animals sustaining them, were part of Nature. How people understood these natural processes, their ability to manipulate Nature to their advantage, and their understanding of how like produced like in their own material bodies and even their sins and souls have already been explored. Here our topic is: what do we possess in Nature beside our own bodies, if we are lucky enough to own them? Here our focus is on things in the biosphere, like land, not living things anymore, except the always problematic bodies of slaves. How did medieval people define property, what was personal or communal, what could be passed on to heirs and what could not, what was sterile or productive about property? The most articulate medieval people – theologians, lawyers, and philosophers – necessarily command the most attention because they predominantly shape the surviving records. If we could learn more about what farmers, merchants, and even the few proto-biologists thought about defining and possessing Nature, a fuller picture would emerge. All these themes connect medieval people to what they saw as their own, what they owned. In turn, what moral lessons from Nature, if any, helped guide people in their effort to seize parts of Nature for themselves and pass them down through time to descendants and heirs, making like produce like in property as well as bodies? Revealed religion and legal systems had strong ideas about the meaning of property. Nature, containing all the property there was, had other lessons. At the risk of fostering rather than removing confusion, I need to be clear about the limits of this investigation. Vast literatures exist on topics like private property, the testamentary law of succession, the use of money to produce more money (usury), and slavery, among other issues. The purpose here is to use the 113

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findings of this research to illuminate a facet of social and economic history not usually implicated as part of Nature. The subject is not the economics of transforming Nature into property and profiting from the process. Rather, what did medieval people think they learned from Nature that helped them shape the process to their own interests by defining the boundaries of the permissible? In other words, were there any moral lessons in Nature about how to exploit Nature for one’s own sake? Our focus here is on Nature as teacher; in the next chapter we will take up the question of Nature as agency.1 And then, what was to be done with the fruits of this exploitation? Piling the treasure on the funeral pyre (like Beowulf) or burying it with the dead to take to the supernatural world were solutions medieval people increasingly abandoned in favor of more lucrative approaches to the transmission of wealth. The subject here is not so much the economy of Nature as it is how the economy should be like Nature. This question is a useful corrective to the contemporary uncritical approach to the workings of a market economy as somehow always right, natural, and for the best – the caricature of the Smithian invisible hand at its utilitarian work, or even Divine Providence ratifying market outcomes as just. In this superficial view, the results of a market economy are as natural and predictable as the workings of photosynthesis. Maybe parts of the economy ended up resembling Nature because people designed them that way. Others would see the hand of the Great Designer. Others would see human greed and the devil and his minions at work. Let us propose from the beginning that there would be two sets of answers (at least) to these questions about how and why the world and its property were distributed. One school of thought saw a primitive or golden age, an original stance, a beginning of the game, an uncorrupted Nature with hopeful and beneficial lessons to humanity, provided it was capable of grasping them. Another camp saw natural/secular lessons from the fallen world as corrupting and sinful, tempting people into acquisitions and attitudes toward Nature that harmed both people and the Earth. In between these ideologies the great mass of humanity worked in the world and wrested from it their livelihoods and accumulated wealth that was in some sense theirs, according to the precepts of the rule and boundary makers. 1

See Bruce M. S. Campbell, “Nature as Historical Protagonist: Environment and Society In Pre-Industrial England,” Economic History Review 63 (2010) pp. 281–314 at p. 283 for this important distinction. Whether or not medieval people recognized the agency of Nature is the question deferred to the next chapter.

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Let us begin with the most intensively studied themes, private property and the rules of succession, to start looking in Nature for lessons about how to own and inherit it.

PRIVATE PROPERTY An excellent recent study by Peter Garnsey traces the history of ideas about property from the ancient Greeks to the Enlightenment.2 Garnsey’s main argument, entirely convincing, is that the idea of a right to property is ancient and has been the dominant opinion about property, possibly from its beginning. (More recent is the opinion that everyone has a human right to property, although certainly some medieval people were among the first to hold this view.) His approach considers the development of two sets of ideas, about rights and about property, and how they affected one another. Strong on ancient and early modern thinkers, his book implies that medieval writers, excluding the omnipresent Thomas Aquinas and the canon and civil lawyers, contributed little of lasting significance to the debates. Yet those who knew their Aristotle, especially our companion in this book, Albertus Magnus, accepted a general defense of private property that also rested on its valuable social benefits of promoting peace and efficiency.3 One reason the medieval period may seem unoriginal about private property is the pervasive authority of the commandment: do not steal.4 No doubt much of the vast amount of surviving legal records and other sources testify to an enduring medieval interest in property and rules about it. The narrower theme about the legitimacy of private property is our connection to Nature. General attitudes about theft at every level of society make clear that there was a kernel of mine – my property. Hemmed in as this notion may have been with familial and communal ideas about who beyond the individual had rights over using and alienating property, nonetheless the savage

2

3

4

Peter Garnsey, Thinking about Property: From Antiquity to the Age of Revolution (Cambridge, 2007). I am greatly indebted to this book for my own thoughts on the topic. Noted by Odd Langholm, Economics in the Medieval Schools (Leiden, 1992) p. 172. Langholm shows that subsequent scholastic attention to private property depended far more on Aristotle than the bible, and was hence derivative. For this reason, Garnsey’s point remains valid. Ibid. pp. 41–2 where Langholm makes clear that Robert de Courc¸on (d. 1219) defended an absolute right to private property and emphasized in argument one of the Ten Commandments.

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punishment of theft presumes strong individual (or corporate or communal) rights to property. Land seems to be the form of property engaging the attention of the rule and boundary makers. Real estate was, for the vast majority of the rural population, the link to Nature providing them with food, clothing, and shelter. Thieving moveable goods was child’s play compared to stealing land. In the absence of being able to move the land, stealing it required an ability to fiddle with the records or the witnesses, or to dispossess the owners of title to their land or indeed their life. Rules about real estate are the touchstone of attitudes about property. Rules about slaves are the place where the rules about people and property are in the starkest conflict and most hypocritical context. The monotheistic traditions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – are often uncomfortable with ideas about rights because they more typically rely on codes and commandments to help sinners distinguish right from wrong and, in the narrow sense here, what was theirs and what was not. All these religions had a small but special place for those who renounced private property and held it in common or tried to live without it. As much as these rare and holy people were respected, the great mass of believers worked in a world with the bedrock concept that private property was legitimate, necessary, and not inherently sinful. Extremes posed the usual moral challenges as it appeared that some people had too much property and others too little. Almost no one believed that the just solution to these disparities was to abolish or delegitimate private property. By the Enlightenment it became commonplace that private property was necessary to the civilizing process.5 This secular assumption of progress and the values of civilization did not mesh comfortably with those monotheistic values questioning the meaning of progress. Hence medieval thinkers may have occasionally seen some social benefits to private property, but they would not have based their arguments for its existence on this to their thinking illusory outcome alone. Another problem about property concerned the Golden Age, the state of Nature, Eden, the era of the Rawlsian “veil of ignorance” or whatever one called that period in remote antiquity when humanity had not yet parceled out the goods of this world as private property. Opinions differed about whether or not a right to private property existed in this deep past. Perhaps in the original 5

Observed about David Hume and Adam Smith in Nicholas Phillipson, Adam Smith (New Haven, 2010) p. 108.

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state of Nature all things were held in common or maybe even then people took some part of creation and declared it theirs. What one believed about how the property of this world ended up in the hands it was in did not necessarily affect the right to property. Certainly some medieval people believed that the distribution of property in their world was unjust, resulting from violence and sin. This somber fact did not deprecate the right to private property, but it did raise questions about inheritance. Medieval people turned to authorities for answers to these perplexing questions about rights over property. Let us begin with Roman law, which offered a sophisticated range of answers to questions about property. The first place to look is the Institutes of Justinian, that sixth-century primer on law that remained influential and commented on throughout the Middle Ages and beyond.6 For our purposes, the main issue is defining natural law, because ideas about property and rights to it inevitably flow from some understanding of the state of Nature. The Institutes clearly stated that “The law of nature is the law instilled by nature in all creatures. It is not merely for mankind but for all creatures of the sky, earth, and sea.” (I.2) Examples of this natural law concerned how male and female mated, reproduced, and reared their young.7 The lawyers saw a common experience here across the animal kingdom in a way we have seen that St. Francis would have clearly understood. The monotheists always added their own gloss to this chain of being in Nature and they privileged humans, as no doubt the Roman lawyers did too, as having dominion over our fellow creatures. But we shared with them a system of law, and this will turn out to be fundamental to understanding what happened to apparently ownerless things, be they lands, humans, or wild beasts. When the Institutes turned to the issue of the laws concerning things, it built on this basic sense of natural law. Imbedded in the law was the idea that some 6

7

Used here is the standard Latin edition and now English translation, Justinian’s Institutes, Translated and edited by Peter Birks and Grant McLeod, from the Latin text established by Paul Krueger (Ithaca, 1987) cited by book and title. A Companion to Justinian’s Institutes. Edited by Ernest Metzger (Ithaca, 1998) contains essays that are an invaluable guide to the text. The standard edition is Corpus Iuris Civilis, vol. 1, containing the Latin Institutes and Digesta the first edited by Paul Krueger and the second by Theodore Mommsen and P. Krueger (Berlin, 1963). Dig. 1.1. citing Ulpian makes the same points in more detail, but it makes clear that because animals act according to natural law, the must know it – no assumption here about any instinctual behavior but rather conduct resulting from understanding. This is the passage producing the classical tag “quod natura omnia animalia docuit.”

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things belonged to all – air, flowing water, the sea, the sea shore (II.1) No one could take these things and own them – though they were not enough to sustain life. Yet all other things in Nature belonged to an individual human being, the state, a corporation, or nobody. Clearly rights to private property were indeed very old, as Garnsey contended, and it is already obvious to the Roman lawyers that most things worth having had already been taken into private ownership. The law implies that what belongs to all is owned by no one. How did this happen? Also, nobody owns sacred things, a principle congenial to all systems of religion. At this delicate point the lawyers faced the critical intersection of natural law and the law of peoples – the rules humans made or legislated for how to live together in this world. Roman lawyers stipulated that the law of nature was the same everywhere, whereas the law of nations varied according to the different ways peoples applied reason to regulating their affairs.8 Perceiving a basic unity to the way Nature worked reinforced the assumption that there was a deeper, fundamental tie (but not kinship) between people and animals. (If, as some later philosophers believed, morality was also the same everywhere, then the moral lessons from Nature might claim equal universality.) Other features plausibly attributed to natural law suggested that it lasted forever, or in a Christian context that God sanctioned the natural law in force in this world till the End.9 Legal systems constructed by people passed away with their states, but Roman law remained powerful and prestigious because of its compelling clarity of thought, even when no emperor enforced it and no empire existed. As Peter Stein has pointed out, the similarities in the laws of different peoples sometimes suggested that a substratum of natural reason had brought about these convergences.10 Here the two systems of law parted company as human agents applied their minds to the task of legislating, while in Nature its laws carried on into a medieval context the plans of the Designer. As the Digest 8

9

10

See Geoffrey MacCormack, “Sources,” in E. Metzger, A Companion, p. 3 for more on this point, an opinion perhaps deriving from Gaius. Ibid. p. 11. MacCormack also believed that another possible feature of natural law was that it was “observed uniformly by all peoples,” and this might be true with respect to something like the prohibition of incest (however defined). Yet given that the lawyers also posited that human reason applied by different peoples resulted in different laws on the same topics, I do not want to set down here a conclusion that areas of common understanding in the law derive from natural law concepts while the differences are from the law of nations. Peter Stein, Roman Law in European History (Cambridge, 1999) p. 13.

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explained, natural law was the first way people acquired things (II.1.11) But then their own law regulated what rights people had over these acquired things, and then how they transferred these things among themselves or to future generations. A great insight of Roman lawyers was that possession of something did not necessarily imply ownership, in their word “dominium,” the fundamental right to a thing.11 A general principle guided students through this difficult matter, and we would be wise to follow the thread of an example. The principle is: “Where something has no owner, it is reasonable that the person who takes it should have it” (II.1.12). The context for understanding this principle was the human right to wild animals, who were ownerless and there for the taking. This example confirms our suspicion that the common law we share with animals embodies a clear hierarchy and subordination, given that animals or swarms of bees do not take us. Things captured from an enemy by natural law also fall to the possession of the taker, and the clear example here was the slave, who will be acquired by natural law but the institution of slavery will function according to the law of peoples who live with it. This is the point to observe that the teaching of natural law on the subject of slavery was that humans had every right to take an enemy into slavery (or indeed kill it). In fact the decision to spare the captive was a possible moral lesson natural law offered the prospective slave owner. In practice, natural law presented to the taker of a captive a moral choice: kill the prisoner with impunity or keep it alive as a slave. Nature did not privilege one choice over the other, and the Romans did not need Hobbes to tell them that Nature was brutal. Nor had any close student of Nature yet observed one species of insect enslaving another. So no moral rules came from Nature on slaying or sparing captives. Choices on these matters were contingent, depending on whim or specific circumstances and a stark cost/benefit analysis. Reason or decency might prompt rules in the law of peoples about treatment of captured or abandoned children but law and custom turn a cold eye to the men. The point is not that natural law was amoral, but that it had from the beginning opened up challenging and disturbing moral choices. But the condition of being a slave, the slave as thing, was not a state natural law supervised; this was left to the law of peoples. Hence humans were legally 11

Or as D. L. Carey Miller puts it, dominium “established ultimate right”; see his essay on property in E. Metzger, A Companion p. 45 for this point and pp. 45–9 for a close look at how Roman lawyers considered the problem of how one obtained ownership over a thing.

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adrift when it came to finding moral ways to live with slaves, at least in the sense that Nature had no lessons for them. (Scripture of course did.) For example, the law conceded to a father the right to sell a child into slavery; such was the power of a male head of the family in Roman law. Necessity had forced the ancient Hebrews under harsh Persian rule to sell some of their children into slavery to pay debts (Nehemiah 5:4). Yet where in Nature could humans find a model for such behavior? That was one of the problems with slavery – being unnatural, it was set apart from the rules we share with our fellow creatures. But the necessity of the good life for some overwhelmed any proposal to emulate the animals and abandon the practice of slavery.12 Or, as Aristotle saw it, the good life for some meant misery for others. As Bernard Williams astutely observed, “if there is something worse than accepting slavery, it consists in defending it.”13 So strong was Aristotle’s belief that the social life he valued required slavery to exist that he awkwardly tried to root the institution in natural laws and not simply a result of the self-interested power codified in the law of nations. The Romans solved this problem by defining a slave as a thing and settling the problem of licit ownership.14 As usual even the captive spared and transformed into a slave was a peculiar and not exemplary type of property or thing. Hence the Roman lawyers had to ease their students into thinking about property not in slaves but in land. Sometimes land was the most important thing in Nature that might not be owned.15 First the lawyers cleaned up some special issues like new land appearing in a river or treasure found on land, distractions that nevertheless prepare the way for a proper understanding of what was the right to landed property and the things found under it or planted on it (II.1.17). Land is in fact the first and main example of a corporeal thing (II.2). The land law of any people is a rich and tangled subject, and we must not become lost in its niceties. Our purpose is to ask what natural law and the law of peoples taught, according to the Romans, about the original state of landed property, when it was presumably ownerless. According to the way Romans defined natural 12

13

14

15

I have discussed these points at length in Speaking of Slavery: Color, Ethnicity, and Human Bondage in Italy (Ithaca, 2001). Stein also saw this as a paradox in the overlap between the law of nations and the law of Nature; P. Stein, Roman Law, p. 13. Bernard Williams, Shame and Necessity (Berkeley, 1993) p. 111 for this quotation and pp. 109–11 for what follows on Aristotle’s effort to defend slavery by appealing to natural law. How they did this is a major theme in Peter Garnsey, Ideas of slavery from Aristotle to Augustine (Cambridge, 1996). It makes sense that in Europe, no system of law would base its discussion on property rights on slaves rather than land.

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law, land was never one of the things common to all. And this is the heart of the problem. At any moment in time, from when Roman law prevailed in its courts to when it was a kind of premodern thought experiment in the schools, all the land in this world apparently belonged to a state, a corporate body (which now included sacred things), or a person. The curious hole in the law concerned land owned by no one because as a legal category it was something the lawyers preferred to avoid. If the Romans instead of medieval Scandinavians had found Iceland, with no people on it, they may have applied their rule that ownerless things revert to the state (II.6.9). Hence they did not have to confront or define a process by which individual people might take ownerless land and declare it their own property. There was no ownerless land inside the Roman Empire – it all belonged to individuals, a corporate body, or the state. Outside the empire, everything belonged to alien peoples (who had their own laws and rights) or enemies, and we know what could happen to their persons and things. Other later peoples of course faced similar circumstances, and the Romans gave them a good legal reason for title if they could claim that land was taken from an enemy. But that is another matter. Here we want to know what Roman law taught about the problem of rightful title to landed property. Who has title to land is of course another vexed subject in the law, but again all we really want to know now is what moral lessons, if any, Nature might contribute to this issue. The territoriality of animals did not encourage any legal thinker known to me to generalize rules of human conduct from their example. Why they failed to discuss this ancient and well-known animal trait is unknowable, but the omission suggests that the commonality with our fellow creatures was perhaps a legal fiction, easily abandoned. If so, it suggests a sharp focus on actual circumstances of people rather than general principles. As far as the laws were concerned, as far as I can tell, no one wanted to look beyond the individual or the state ownership of land as held in good faith at the present time. In a sense, natural law taught all not to pry into the “original state” with the purpose of dispossessing anyone or entity of what they owned now. In other words, proving title now did require a proper historical chain of legitimate transactions, but the first taking was preferably too remote to enter into this proof of current title.16 16

Dig. 41.1 is a more extensive analysis of the ownership of things, and at 41.1.3 there is an interesting notice of first taker of a thing as applied to a wild animal, a more common problem than land.

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If we stay on land as the most important thing, the Romans emphasized what they called possession for a long time, technically usucapion (II.2.6–7). Possessing land for ten years in good faith meant that one had a right to it with respect to one’s neighbors, and the term was for twenty years if the claimants were apart, presumably not neighbors. It was wrong to take land from someone who was away, which is the closest the law gets to considering the possibility that some land might appear abandoned and available for the taking. Such land belonged to someone not there, or the state. Of course there is another problem here, a big one concerning what good faith might be, who defined it, and how it worked. We will leave for later whatever influences natural law might have on these questions and accept for the moment, as the Romans did, the ordinary presumption that people treat with one another in good faith and without its opposite – fraud. However, we are entitled to doubt that the animals taught many instances of good faith in contracts, whatever other admirable character traits like loyalty old stories about dogs, for example, might reveal. Like the presumption of innocence, this belief about good faith was something the monotheists will later have some trouble accepting, as they often had an entirely different stance about assuming the good nature or faith of people defined as sinful or fallen. Yet our fellow creatures, being without sin, might have some lessons to teach about behavior in the natural state. Roman law retained its prestige and authority throughout the Middle Ages, but it was not self-explanatory and its vocabulary, original context, and assumptions seemed increasingly arcane over the centuries. Like the Bible, it could be studied by directly experiencing it, or one could also read it with the help of experts, for our purposes glossators, who glossed or explained, even interpreted the subtleties of Roman law for later audiences. These medieval glosses, often originating in the great law schools at the University of Bologna, take us a step closer to how subsequent practical concerns shaped attitudes about Nature and its laws. The earlier standard collection of glosses is associated with the great scholar Azzo (d. c. 1230), in which he collected his own contributions as well as the best insights from previous commentators. A new set of glosses, credited to Accursius (1182–c. 1260) and his school, survive in many manuscripts and influenced the teaching of Roman law across Europe for the rest of the Middle Ages. Let us begin with Azzo, and keep in mind the purpose of the glosses, ideally to explain the inscrutable and not to belabor the obvious. The glosses on the

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law of nature were careful to point out its antiquity and to make clear that its rules were only understood because they had been found by people.17 More important, Azzo made clear that Nature was God, as simple as that, perhaps not made as explicit as possible by Justinian’s lawyers but by the thirteenth century an obvious fact of life.18 The glosses on the second book of the Institutes took a closer look at exactly what was public or common to all in Roman law, and made clear that in Nature these were the same things.19 An emperor no longer stood for the state to thirteenth-century Italian lawyers, and a sense of public ownership currently at least partly inhered in the people. But on this point another gloss made clear that in natural law there was an important difference between humans and animals with respect to property: animals did not hold or use things in common, but people did.20 This view implies territorial behaviors in animals, but the lawyers missed the opportunity to pursue the analogy to people. In another gloss credited to Azzo, this point about a divergence between natural law and the law of nations received closer scrutiny. The problem with the law of nature is that it had to teach its lessons, and here the object of the lesson, the understanding of animals, was incommunicable. Only humans, through reason and industry/hard work, were from the beginning capable of learning what natural law had to teach.21 Hence whatever the older Roman lawyers believed about natural law applying to both human beings and animals, this was a distinction only people understood. Without any true comprehension of the laws of nature, beasts could not be expected to fathom them, or, I assume, to teach them to people. Any supposed lessons here would merely be what people projected onto these animals from their own understanding. If so, what morality could be found in Nature except for what people put there? This is a major issue to explore. 17

18 19

20

21

See Glosse preaccursiane alle Istituzioni: Strato azzoniano Libro Primo. Edited by Severino Caprioli et al. FSI 107 (Rome, 1984) here gloss n. 54 p. 47 on age of the law and gloss n. 55 p. 47 on its connection to human perceptions of it. Ibid. in appendix gloss to Inst. 1.2 (n. 33 p. 283) “natura Idest Deus.” Glosse preaccursiane alle Istituzioni: Strato azzoniano Libro Secondo. Edited by Severino Caprioli et al. Now FSI Antiquitates 14 (Rome, 2004) n. 8 p. 20 and n. 11 p. 22. Ibid. on Inst. 2.1.1 (n. 12 p. 22) “communia: Nullum enim animal est, quod non habeat uel habere non posit aliquem usum in his.” Ibid. gloss on Inst. 2.1.11 (n. 46 p. 83) “iure naturali Non primeuo: non quod ipsa rerum natura docuit omnia animalia; set naturali, quod ab ipsa industria hominem naturali ratione est inductum. Az.” What seems clear here is that animals did not have lawyers; even in the original state they would have been useful.

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The glosses of Accursius offer a more vivid and longer explanation of natural law.22 Natural law is that law taught to all animals by Nature, clearly identified here as God. Everything about it resulted from this fact. The glossator insists on “all animals” – because natural law did not only concern human beings. The common assumption here is that both human beings and animals are capable of understanding these lessons taught by Nature. We know this about people because we share a common language, but the mechanisms by which animals learn and teach are unfathomable to us except as we observe their behavior and interpret it. The absence of our understanding exactly how animals perceive natural law is not therefore evidence of an absence of their understanding. This is precisely why Francis was not wasting his time when he preached to the birds. Among the unique attributes of human beings was their belief that they had been given dominion, as we have seen the Roman legal word for ownership, over the natural world. While they shared this place with animals and plants, only they owned anything, so only they might have a right to pass it down to heirs and successors. Hence Nature taught no lessons at all about inheritance. Without any natural law or prescriptions to rely on, past peoples inevitably turned to revealed truths or their own laws for answers to the problem of inheritance. And yet, it would be very troubling if these legal findings contradicted in any way Nature’s rules – for they were God’s as well.

MAKING A WILL Inheriting property presumes the death of its owner, and surely the inevitability of death was one of the oldest and most meaningful of Nature’s lessons. Christian Europe had two distinct traditions to draw on when it came to dividing up the things of a person now dead. Just as the right to property had two sources of justifying it – the Bible and Roman law – bequeathing one’s 22

Accursius Institutionum. . . . Vol. 4 (Paris 1559) col. 13 on Inst. I.2 the beginning of the problem: “Ius naturale est quoddam ius, quo iure omnia animalia sunt instructa et perita a natura.i. a Deo. Vel ius naturale est quoddam ius quo iure natura .i. dues omnia animalia instruxit et docuit. et in idem per omnia recidit haec positio casus cum prima. Bene dico omnia animalia: quia non solum habet locum in hominibus, sed in omnibus animalibus: sive in coelo . . . ” then off to explain the dwelling places of animals. The gloss, credited to Franciscus de Aretio (da Arezzo), takes the form or legal fiction of a case, a question a certain scholar asked Justinian and this is his response, of course with the authority of the emperor who could make law from his own mouth.

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possessions also followed different traditions.23 Having a right to property was well established in both systems, but this coincidence did not mean that it was intuitively obvious that people had the right to pass on property to heirs. Possessions might revert to a common pool, or to kin in agreed-on ways, or be buried with the deceased, or destroyed on a pyre. Why should a person have the right, exercised as the dead hand from the past, to affect this world after death by distributing property? (After all, the animals, our fellow creatures, did not have this right, and nor did slaves.) And even if such a right existed, to what extent did divine or human laws circumscribe this right in the name of some more general value? These are of course vast questions with immense scholarly literatures devoted to every subtlety of inheritance. Our interest is limited to the possibility that Nature and its laws offered people some guidance on these matters. Given that people found various ways to locate a right to property in Nature and to condemn theft, it might be possible to turn the question around and ask: why should this right and the crime against it end just because a person happened to die? Let us first distinguish the traditions about what happened to property. As one of the first systematic students of inheritance, Gustave Boissonade, observed, it needed a firm sense of private property to sustain a right to bequeath it.24 One important influence on medieval practices came from what scholars generically call Germanic tradition, which did not need many rules because the impulse was to view property as familial rather than personal. Hence the customs of the people or tribe determined inheritance.25 Then all we need to do is find these customs, but that is no easy task because conversion to Christianity profoundly changed some of these customs, especially those surrounding death and burial. Michael Sheehan emphasized church teaching on the deathbed as an appropriate last chance to distribute alms, and these gifts for the soul were not

23

24

25

Tribal peoples had their own pre-biblical and Roman rules on inheritance, but these would have a hard time surviving the encounter with these powerful traditions. See Gustave Boissonade, Histoire de la reserve h´er´editaire et de son influence morale et e´conomique (Paris, 1873) pp. 370–1 for this and what follows. This book treats the entire subject of inheritance law from its origins to the Third Republic, and places Europe in a comparative context, including India, but it takes no interest in the lessons of Nature. In his view, property rights derived from human labor, not Nature. Yet he cites the Latin tag definition of natural law, “Quod natura omnia animalia docuit,” without reference to Ulpian or Institutes I.2, probably because it was a commonplace, but he does not pursue the thought. This is the view of Michael M. Sheehan, The Will in Medieval England (Toronto, 1963) p. 5.

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customary and hence opened up a scope for personal choice, by will.26 What becomes pervasive as a result of the fusing of Christian and Roman traditions is the right to make a will. Who challenges this right, and on what basis, and might those grounds include an appeal to Nature? Again, testamentary practice in general is not the issue here. Yet as usual, odd exceptions are revealing. For example, no tradition granted to a slave the right to make a will. This makes sense, as the slave was for this purpose clearly a thing with no personhood. So a free person could bequeath a slave as property, and sometimes even leave a legacy to a slave, but the thing had no such rights. Sometimes a member of the clergy, especially a monk or nun who had renounced property and was already dead to the world, had no right therefore to make a will. An insane person could make a will, but madness would be a legitimate basis for successfully challenging such a will after the testator’s death. Insanity was a natural condition found in people and beasts, and its patent signs were an inability to recognize and live by the rules of Nature and its morality, like the simple ability to know right from wrong. In fact, bizarre impulses appearing in wills, like an unjustified desire to disinherit one’s own children, appear in the Institutes as evidence of insanity (Inst. II.12 and III.19.8). Finally, intestacy raised many complicated questions, some of which might find an answer in Nature. A person might die without making a will, and Germanic, biblical, and Roman thought covered this contingency in different ways. Roman law had the most complicated rules about succession by will or without one. One of its basic principles was to distinguish between two types of heirs: the beneficiaries of the main estate after the legacies and other charges were paid. One’s closest and direct heirs – children or their heirs – were one’s own (suus), whereas a more distant relative was extraneus, literally an outsider (Dig. 28: 5–6). In Roman law, to become one’s direct heir meant taking up all the rights, possessions, and obligations of the deceased not bequeathed as a legacy. In classical Roman law, one’s own heir had no right to refuse to be one, and of course in some cases this meant a heavy burden of debts that could even lead to bankruptcy. To inherit the legal personality of the deceased included the good and the bad, the assets and the debts. The right to name an heir was testator’s; he or she had the right to place on the shoulders of an heir something that could not be repudiated. As Thomas Kuehn shows, in the later Middle Ages, just as a person had a right to make a will, 26

Ibid. p. 6.

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an heir might have a right as well to refuse or to repudiate the inheritance. In place of the Roman obligation to take up one’s lot, whatever the consequences, some lawyers and city law codes provided a person the right to evade an unwanted inheritance.27 In Florence, the vast majority of repudiators were sons who wanted to escape the debts of their fathers.28 In the commercially sophisticated context of a city like Florence, it seems that the people making the rules tipped the balance against creditors, at least allowing an innocent heir to avoid a duty others saw as sacred: to be a true heir meant paying the debts of one’s father, for example. This problem might appear to take us far from the lessons of Nature. But to use debt as an example and generalize the problem, we can see the claims of natural law on both sides. A person had the right to institute a principal heir, whose first duty was to honor the debts of the deceased, because one of the worries of the deathbed was keeping one’s word and paying one’s debts, even beyond the grave. In this sense the testator’s obligations and hopes reached out to the heir and “like produced like,” or at least tried. Reputation was equally important to an heir, who in a direct sense bore the family name and the commitments of the testator as well as his or her goods. These issues arose from the laws of peoples, who had debts and anticipated death, two aspects of life we do not share with animals in the law of nature. We must wait to see what God’s law had to say on these topics. From a modern perspective, the durable issues about inheritance are: the degree of testamentary freedom, any legal rights of a testator’s relatives, the legitimacy of entails – long-lasting conditions on an inheritance – and the political and social questions about taxing inheritances.29 (Of course a person is free not to make a will and then the rules about intestacy determine what happens to an estate.30 ) Some of Jens Beckert’s findings about modern inheritance practices in the United States, Germany, and France can help us ask some questions about the deeper past in Europe and about Nature. Most important, all our interest in the first or original conditions of people and their property come 27

28 29

30

This issue is the subject of Thomas Kuehn, Heirs, Kin, and Creditors in Renaissance Florence (Cambridge, 2008) pp. 22–6 for some remarks on Roman law and succession and pp. 26– 34 for the medieval origins of the right and growing practice of repudiating inheritances in some places, well documented by Kuehn for fifteenth-century Florence. Ibid. see table pp. 121–2. These points taken from Jens Beckert, Inherited Wealth. Translated by Thomas Dunlap (Princeton, 2008) p. 1. T. Kuehn Heirs, Kin, and Creditors, p. 91 points out that Cosimo de Medici, the richest Florentine, died intestate, presumably as a choice, and not an accident.

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up concerning inheritance, because its rules principally concern the wealthiest members of any society.31 In practice this means that most medieval people of humble means had little or no reason to make a will, apart from special legacies to friends, provision for burial, or gifts to charity for their souls. Beckert argues that the freer a testator is to choose his or her heirs, the more inequality in wealth will rise over time.32 Beckert found that German traditions were durable and that their societies viewed property as belonging more to the group than the individual, so appeals about shares for all children, for example, could be marshaled to defend the German family.33 What Beckert calls “absolute testamentary freedom” ended up prevailing in England and then America, along with strong notions of individual rights to property and the general value “that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living” – oddly meaning their absolute right to dispose of their property by will.34 Finally, one strand of the French tradition saw inheritance law as positive, civil, in Roman terms the law of peoples and not part of natural law.35 These points serve as reminders to look for regional variations in opinions about Nature and property in medieval Europe, and to remember that all traditions have a stance toward the competing virtues of equality and inequality. Now we must turn to the weighty messages contained in God’s law about property and succession. Hebrew Scripture introduces the question about inheritance in a classic context – surviving daughters of a deceased male with no sons asked Moses for their share of an estate (Num 27). What they felt they were entitled to had been set forth as a general principle by God in the previous chapter (Num 26:52–56). The lands promised to the tribes were to be assigned by name among the children of Israel (now numbered at 601,730) by tribe and by lot – according to this divine principle – “To many shall be given the 31

32

33 34

35

J. Beckert, Inherited Wealth, p. 16 thinks in the modern context only the top 2% in terms of wealth are really concerned about inheritance laws, and probably the majority do not care at all – unless they see a real chance of joining the 2%. Ibid. p. 30 for the summary view, and it is important to note that this result does not rely on any estate taxes to limit the freedom of inheritance by will. Inequality will increase because testators will follow primogeniture or some other rule favoring some children over others, for whatever reason. Ibid. pp. 9, 50–2. Ibid. p. 72 for summary; this Anglo-American view of property and inheritance meant the speedy end of primogeniture and the slower death of entail. Ibid. pp. 21–30 for opinions leading up to the high-water mark of this view, the decision of the French National Assembly in 1793 to abolish testamentary freedom altogether, in the name of equality.

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more inheritance, and to few thou shalt give the less inheritance: to every one shall his inheritance be given according to those that were numbered of him” (Num 26:54). This plan is a remarkable type of original possession for the people, who were to receive by random assignment pieces of land not equal in size or value – most would get a big share and the others a smaller one – apparently by chance. No force or violence determined this unequal original dominion, which then over time would pass down as shares from the original possessor’s inheritance. This is one way to begin apportioning Nature and it produces a random inequality that could account for and ratify inequalities existing after Moses. The petitioning daughters seem to have been denied the right to be heirs, and Moses puts their problem to God. For most of Numbers 27, God sets forth the rules for succession to property and His first point is that the brotherless daughters have every right to what we call here their father’s estate. Then the Bible lays out clear and simple rules of inheritance: first the son, but if none, then the daughter; if no children, his brothers; if no brothers, his father’s brothers; if his father has no brothers, then to the nearest kinsman (presumably a son of the oldest uncle) (Num 27:7–11). (The Roman lawyers would have noticed the absence of the state as heir of the last resort.) Because believers in the literal inerrancy of Hebrew scripture have here God’s own words and decisions, this simple plan of succession would have vast influence over the monotheistic traditions. Revealed religion, and not Nature, is teaching men that property always passes to them unless there are no men – then women may inherit. A reasonable presumption is that men were expected to care for their widowed mothers and sisters from what they inherited, but this is also a duty they would not learn from observing it performed in the natural world. Those widows and orphans without male kin were the classic recipients of charity as men defined the deserving poor, and they would be a reasonable charge on the entire male community. Biblical traditions of leaving corners of fields unharvested, or gleanings for the poor to gather, or tithing also show this community obligation. These rules for the ancient Hebrews became for Christians simply a model of testamentary justice, but not one they were obligated to follow. In the New Testament, Luke 12:13–21 tells about a person who asked Jesus to resolve what appears to be a disputed inheritance, the thorny question of how to divide an estate. Instead of laying down rules on this matter, Jesus used the question as an occasion for preaching against covetousness in the parable of the rich fool.

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The lesson was that earthly treasure distracted people from what was important to salvation. This basic truth, that natural man was covetous and headed for Hell, was a stance toward property taking the idea of “like produces like” in a spiritual sense to mean original sin resulted in a fallen humanity. How people argued about dividing the wages of sin was just another type of spiritual death. Islam found a middle ground between the details of Hebrew scripture and the indifference of the New Testament to testamentary succession. In the Quran (Sura 2:180, 4:7–9), the message was equity, shares for all heirs, and a generous attention to charity.36 Roman legal minds envisioned a far more complicated set of rules about issues surrounding inheritance. The Hebrew biblical injunctions spared the testator the problem of choice; indeed, he or she really did not need a written last will and testament. Later Christian and Muslim teaching valued a will as the final chance for a dying person to perform acts of charity that could improve this world as well as his or her soul’s prospects of salvation in the next. Roman law approached the question of inheritance from an entirely different, secular perspective. It allowed some scope for a testator to bequeath a part of his or her property in any manner the will maker wished, but there were other rules requiring bequests to kin. By allowing some scope for choice, the law also opened up the potential for unsound choices – like the property dispositions of an insane person, which clearly should have no legal force. Deny testators choice, and they hardly need wills at all. Open up to the whim of a dying testator a way to shape the future by putting property in some hands and not others, even according to burdensome conditions or stipulations made by will, and we have the potential for a rich jurisprudence on inheritance, which is precisely what we get in the medieval Roman, canon, and common law traditions. This wealth of sources cannot lure us away from the single thread through testamentary practices we want to follow: what, if anything, does Nature have to teach about what we might as well call the ethics of possessing Nature? Animals did not make wills and the Bible granted humans dominion over them, not the other way around. Human ingenuity probably knows no limit to its ability to make inheritance law more complex. Was there no lesson from the natural world to make all these technicalities go away? Leaving aside the possible lesson that we are to covet and possess nothing in Nature and hence have nothing to bequeath, and the somber spiritual thought that we enter and leave this world 36

Here and elsewhere I use Al-Qur’an, ¯ translated by Ahmed Ali (Princeton, 1994).

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naked, without any possessions, we can look to Nature for a simple lesson. If we ever have more of anything than we started with, be it land, other property, or money, how did we acquire it? Looking to Nature as the possible source of these gains leads to another question: what natural processes foster moral acquisitions, and where does natural sterility limit what people might gain or take? One of the greatest medieval debates concerned these questions, but the matter is hidden in a repellent topic – usury. USURY Let us simply define usury as what the lender might gain from a loan beyond the return of the original principal. There were other ways to profit without physical labor, but for the moment we will focus on credit, the natural home of usury. Because the ethics of lending and borrowing intrigued medieval theologians as a wonderful subject on which they could exercise all their powers of argument, the amount of commentary on this topic is truly staggering. If usury was a sin and an obstacle to salvation, then it deserved all the scrutiny theologians lavished on other prime topics like blasphemy, adultery, and many other crimes major and minor. As has been frequently observed, the analysis of usury occurred in a theological discourse that did not make its practitioners into proto-economists. Instead, they were religious thinkers looking into one of their main concerns – sin. This circumstance makes our task in exploring this venerable subject happily easier than the wealth of evidence might suggest. We need not concern ourselves, except briefly, with the vast array of moral and legal arguments raised against the practice of usury. Instead, only a single strand of this complex argument is worth our time: what did Nature or natural law reveal or teach, about usury in general, and in detail about the sterility of money? Even this approach stretches back to antiquity. In the late fourth century, Basil of Caesarea repeated the old observation that hares produced so prolifically that they became pregnant while still rearing their young.37 This point led Basil to think about the fertility of money, and how interest over time is a type of ceaseless conception to be deprecated. Not every medieval scholastic or legal mind was attracted to this type of appeal to Nature. A source that has been of value throughout this book, Giovanni Balbi’s great Latin dictionary, the Catholicon, completed in 37

See Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen, “Basil and Gregory’s Sermons on Usury: Credit Where Credit Is Due,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 16 (2008) pp. 403–30, p. 419 for this and what follows.

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1286, gave a learned definition of usury that avoided all discussion of Nature and sterility.38 And yet, we are primed to wonder what money had in common with the mule. Of course we will need to clear away some other matters in order to investigate what the word “sterility” means in the context of Nature, and why we should limit our attention to one type of property – money. First and foremost in the minds of the scholastics who produced the most sophisticated analysis of usury, God’s direct divine law proscribed usury. This basic fact made it possible to analyze usury without any reference to Nature and its lessons. The standard texts were well known and for Christians the stark injunction from Jesus, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again . . . ” (Luke 6:35),39 left no apparent room for debate. In Hebrew scripture, both Exodus 22:25 and Leviticus 25:37 prohibited any usury on loans to the poor. Psalm 15:5, inquiring about who would be fortunate to dwell with the Lord, found a place for “He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent.” For Muslims, the Quran seemed equally explicit that God prohibited usury and those who take it go to Hell forever (Sura 2:75–81). The subsequent labors of theologians of all stripes to find cracks and exceptions in these apparently clear injunctions are not our subject here because they concern subtle debates about the meaning of divine law or the ownership of time, and not the lessons of Nature. Well-known ideas like opportunity costs and risk premiums eventually undermined ostensibly clear medieval scholastic thought about prohibiting usury in all cases.40 These possible exceptions to condemning all gains from loans did not arise from a close study of Nature and its laws, or the fruits of plants. Practical people in commerce and crafts needed credit and found ways to invent ways to make it legally available in the markets. They did not see anything in Nature that helped these endeavors, not even the habits of bees. What the law of people or nations taught about usury will be more relevant to our concerns. The policy aspects of usury law may 38

39

40

Giovanni Balbi, Catholicon (Mainz, 1460) at usura, who relies on Huguccio here, seems focused on usury in farming, notes the issue of work, and mentions only one authority, John Chrysostom. The precise Latin from Jerome’s Vulgate Bible is “verumtamen diligite inimicos vestros et benefacite et mutuum date nihil desperantes . . . ” literally; give a loan hoping for nothing in return. This same injunction occurs in Matthew 5:42. A good survey of these late medieval developments redefining usury is in Lawrin Armstrong, Usury and the Public Debt in Early Renaissance Florence: Lorenzo Ridolfi on the Monte Commune (Toronto, 2003).

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have at times been intended to accomplish some political or even economic goal of encouraging investment or prosperity by lowering the rate of interest.41 Whatever motives prompted these policies, it was not a close attention to the lessons of Nature.42 To attend to sterility and Nature as the ways to enter the debates about usury, let us begin by looking at how current scholarship explains the matter.43 This chain of reasoning makes the argument, and as we will see it is a very old one, going back to Aristotle, if not before. As John Maynard Keynes observed long ago, money is a connection between the present and the future.44 Money is also a store of value, exactly because it makes it possible to postpone choices. Money also serves as a means of exchange, improving barter by making it more efficient. Money could accomplish these purposes without being real; it could be a fiction, ghost money, a money of account, simply a method of keeping score. But our distant ancestors made a second assumption about money; they wanted to store value in something real, hard, and metallic, and they preferred silver and gold where possible. (Some people preferred colorful seashells or anything uncommon but appealing.) Durable money was so often something bright and shiny, something one could feel and bite. As it sat there, glittering before one’s eyes, it did not reproduce, or as the old proverb had it, “usury made gold breed gold.” The moral of the proverb was that this result was 41

42

43

44

See for some thoughts on this point Robert Skidelsky, John Maynard Keynes: The Economist as Savior 1920–1937 (New York, 1994) p. 465. Modern economists like Keynes were intrigued by the vast literature on usury, and given the medieval assumption that the supply of money was fixed in value or supply by the stocks of gold and silver, it was possible to ignore divine law and see usury prohibitions or limits as potentially sensible policies. But they had nothing to do with Nature. We must also exclude a type of modern economic analysis, as for example in Elaine Tan, “Origins and Evolution of the Medieval Church’s Usury Laws: Economic Self-Interest or Systematic Theology?” The Journal of European Economic History 34 (2005) pp. 263–81, which reifies the church and finds it to be a self-interested economic institution. See Diana Wood, Medieval Economic Thought (Cambridge, 2002) pp. 84–7. For a wider context, John T. Noonan, Jr. The Scholastic Analysis of Usury (Cambridge, MA, 1957) and O. Langholm, Economics in the Medieval Schools remain fundamental. These two works are the tip of an iceberg of a literature in English and other languages, which expands constantly; see, for example, the recent collection, Credito e usura fra teologia, diritto, e amministrazione: Linguaggi a confronto (sec. XII-XVI). Edited by Diego Qualioni, Giacomo Todeschini, and Gian Maria Varanni (Rome, 2005). Yet what seems to be slighted in these works is economic history as understood by economists and Nature as seen by biologists, although this is understandable as there were no medieval economists and precious few biologists. R. Skidelsky, John Maynard Keynes, p. 546.

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wrong, hence so was usury. People connected to the future by having children. Money linked people’s present to the future by symbolizing and occasionally deferring their hopes and values, not by breeding more money. Aristotle, whose curiosity mastered so many subjects and who certainly explored the natural world as well as human customs, became a pillar of this sterility-of-money argument. In his Politics, Aristotle explored the honorable ways to increase wealth, which was necessary for the free man to have the time to be a citizen. We shall leave the question of honor for later, except to observe here that Nature too will play a big role in distinguishing good and bad ways to make money. But Aristotle claimed: The most hated sort [of wealth-getting], and with the greatest reason, is usury, which makes a gain out of money itself, and not from the natural object of it. For money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest. And this term interest, which means the birth of money from money, is applied to the breeding of money because the offspring resembles the parent. This is why of all modes of getting wealth it is the most unnatural.45

As we have also followed Aristotle through the natural world, we are well prepared for his concerns about breeding money and whether or how offspring resemble their parents. So it was quite obvious that this sterile object, money, could not honorably reproduce, as land and livestock yielded through useful human labor crops and offspring. Usurious gains, in the form of money, resembled the parent – another pile of money – so unnatural reproduction could indeed happen, but only by human greed. Getting wealth was necessary so that some could enjoy the good life, and money could indeed increase by itself, but only though through an unnatural manipulation of it by humans. Keynes observed, more than two thousand years later, that “it is a recognized characteristic of money as a store of wealth that it is barren; whereas practically every other form of storing wealth yields some interest or profit.”46 Aristotle concentrated on ways to make wealth and did not see money as also a store of value. Nor did he have the category of thought, sin, to label this misuse of money, but medieval scholastics certainly did. For a long time one had to read Greek to know Aristotle’s precise words, but much of his thought percolated through Latin writers. Medieval thinkers had 45

46

Aristotle, The Politics and The Constitution of Athens. Edited by Stephen Everson (Cambridge, 1996) Book 1:10, here p. 25 – the standard English school text. Quoted by Robert Skidelsky, Keynes: The Return of the Master (New York, 2009) p. 95.

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a Latin text of the Politics from the time of William of Moerbeke (c. 1215–86), and this is not the place to worry about the stages of quality of the earliest translations. Possibly the first draft by William left in Greek Aristotle’s technical vocabulary; for wealth-getting we have crimatistica – accomplished in two ways by honorable management of a household, yconomica, or through retail trade, kapelica.47 The Greek word for usury, tokos, evokes the idea of offspring and is used here for the gain that money unnaturally makes from itself. According to Nature, by this analysis, money ought to be sterile, without natural offspring. The standard text by William makes the crucial change of translating kapelica into Latin as campsoria, money changing, and this will have a long sequel, fairly or not, in focusing problems about usury on the money changers and the bankers. This text also makes clear that tokos is usura.48 The Roman lawyers had their own way of explaining usury, which in the context of loans was simply the rate of interest, the unexceptionable price of borrowing money (Dig. 22.1 and 7.5 in the context of usufruct).49 The ancient secular legal tradition seems to have left to markets the problem of setting the rate of interest. People had an intuition that at times the demand for excessive interest was immoral (but not illegal), but it was the borrower who should be wary. The Roman lawyers appear uninterested in the sterility of money and indeed even the topic of usury.50 Their tradition would be vulnerable to subsequent arguments putting interest in a natural or moral context. Medieval lawyers and theologians for their own complicated reasons also addressed the issues surrounding usury, sterility, Nature, and limiting the rate of interest by law. For example, Pope Innocent IV (1243–54), a leading canon lawyer before his pontificate, and as a member of the prominent noble Fieschi family from Liguria, well aware of economic realities, understood the concept 47

48

49

50

For this text and what follows see Aristoteles Latinus, XXIX, I, Politica (Libri I-II.11). Edited by Pierre Michaud-Quantin (Bruges, 1961) for Book I.10; the key phrase for tokos is “Translationis enim gratia factum est, tokos autem seipsum facit amplius, unde et nomen istud accepit. Similia enim parta generantibus ipsa sunt, tokos autem fit numisma numismatis; itaque et maxime preter naturam ista pecuniarum acquisitio est.” This translation may be found, as all others, in the Aristoteles Latinus Database for Politica Book I.10 1258a, accessed November 2, 2010. The title of this book begins “de usuris et fructibus . . . ” and throughout usura refers to the rate of interest, whatever it is. Usufruct, the broad context of the right to use or benefit from things, included money. It is perhaps revealing that The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World. Edited by Walter Scheidel, Ian Morris, and Richard Saller (Cambridge, 2007) contains no notice of usury or even interest in the index.

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of sterility as it related to money.51 Innocent also worried about a historical question as it related to the law of nature. Was usury introduced into the world as a result of natural law? In other words, was it an instinct of Nature for people to lend for a profit? (This certainly may have seemed the case in a thriving mercantile city like Genoa.) Raising the issue of natural instinct was part of the scholastic method of asking questions, even if in this case Innocent concluded that it did not matter if it was an instinct because usury was prohibited in the Old and New Testaments.52 Charity and piety, perhaps instinctive in the better sort of people, also stood against usury, in his view always illicit profit. Innocent was not engaged in looking to Nature for lessons about usury because he already had abundant theological and legal grounds for rejecting it. Sterility had become a commonplace attitude about money, even as language about it enabled Nature to teach implicitly by analogy or example even in contexts where an author made no explicit appeal to it. Even those theologians, like Thomas Aquinas, who agreed with Aristotle about the sterility of money, did not need this argument to discuss its sinfulness, which, as we have seen, had ample biblical support. Some modern scholars have also preferred to get past the sterility arguments as quickly as possible – one standard text uses the words “ludicrous” and “ridiculous” to judge them.53 This is not unfair to Aristotle, but it will not help us understand why for so long an interest in the sterility argument continued, even if it did not convince many people. Perhaps the prestige of the theorist carried the argument forward, but maybe the analogy to natural processes also mattered. Another medieval concern about Nature and usury merits a brief notice here, because some modern scholars have followed the theme of time rather than sterility as a means to investigate usury. For example, Jacques LeGoff, not engaging the arguments from law or sterility, picks up and emphasizes the idea that the sin of the usurer is really the theft of time, which belongs to God. This makes usury a heavy sin indeed: stealing, a crime against God, and altogether a violation of justice.54 In brief, however it happened that 51

52 53 54

See Innocent IV, Super libros quinque decretalium (Frankfurt, 1570) for his great commentary on canon law, here p. 394v for his simple definition of sterility, “Sterilitas dicitur si semen receptum non sit” – again a clear analogy to the seed in Nature that did not produce fruit. Ibid. p. 516r. D. Wood, Medieval Economic Thought, pp. 84–7. Jacques LeGoff, Your Money or Your Life: Economy and Religion in the Middle Ages. Translated by Patricia Ranum (New York, 1988) especially pp. 33–45. The medieval understanding

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money produced more money, this process had duration and hence occurred in time. Given that the money did not reproduce biologically, the passage of time was somehow being sold by people, usurers, who did not own it – hence the crime and the sin. (Why this reasoning is more sensible than the sterility argument may be a matter of taste.) There must be a connection between time and Nature, but it seems to have no relevant lessons about time, except perhaps that it should be common and free to all. LeGoff’s connection of usury to Nature takes the path of finding in medieval literature ways in which some preachers and writers compared usurers to animals. There is always something to be learned about medieval and modern mentalities from this exercise. LeGoff noted that the usurer was sometimes compared to the ox because of its ceaseless labor, the lion as also tireless and a robber, the spider in the way he ensnares debtors, the fox because his tail is bigger than he needs, and above all the wolf as preying on the weak.55 But similes are not an argument, and no one believed that people learned these tricks by emulating the appropriate animals. Thomas Aquinas had much to say about usury, and his follower Gilles of Lessines (c. 1230/40–c. 1304) wrote a short book on usury that for a long time circulated as a purported work of his master. As has been frequently observed, Aquinas had many arguments against usury but mainly depended on a theory of money that claimed it did not deteriorate in its use, but was fixed in value and cannot be destroyed or sold.56 These arguments, beside the ones from divine law, were enough to condemn usury without any direct appeal to Nature. Instead, Aquinas used an old and ugly word, “fungible,” to categorize money as something consumed, in this case spent, in use by someone who now owned the money and spent it. Since other extra money would have to be repaid to the lender, to charge the borrower is to ask for payment for nothing and is also a sin against justice as well as divine and why not natural law as well.57 This idea, that some things like bread or money deteriorate in use whereas others do

55 56

57

of time is a central interest of LeGoff’s, so it is not surprising that he gave this theme the most attention. Ibid. pp. 52–4. J. T. Noonan, The Scholastic Analysis of Usury, pp. 51–5 is especially clear on this, but Aquinas is a commonplace in the literature on usury. For a recent, comprehensive summary, see Joel Kaye, “Changing definitions of money, nature, and equality c. 1140–1270, reflected in Thomas Aquinas’ questions on usury,” in Credito e usura, pp. 25–55. D. Wood, Medieval Economic Thought, pp. 75–6 succinctly explains Aquinas’ reasoning.

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not, seems to rely on the natural world for support in two ways. The argument makes an analogy to eating; the food or money more than deteriorates – it disappears in use. Second, this consumption occurs in time; now you see it (the thing to eat), now you don’t. These physical laws, if they are that, reflect the divine ordering of the universe and not any common lessons or experiences we share or could learn from animals. Gilles of Lessines leans heavily on the idea that money is fungible, but we are entitled to ask how exactly this has anything to do with either Nature in general or the alleged sterility of money in particular. Lessines’s book is not a natural history of money or a set of financial regulations. Instead, he is struggling hard to reconcile the Politics of Aristotle and the now-standard scriptural passages from Deuteronomy, Psalms, Proverbs, Ezekiel, Matthew, and Luke, condemning usury.58 He understands from Aristotle the two social uses of money, broadly buying and exchange, and that money from money is against its nature and therefore wrong.59 Of course usury is also a sin against Nature, in Lessines’s view an injustice, a sin against charity or generosity (liberalitas). Where Lessines breaks new ground is in the way he looks at other forms of contracts for signs of the same usurious impulses. First he considers how heirs inherit by succession (in a form of contract known here as the last will), a transfer of wealth occurring by necessity of Nature, over time because of death.60 Lessines views this process as a law of nature (ius naturae), the way things come from a father or relatives to sons or heirs. These beneficiaries are not gaining anything by usury but by the generosity of the testator. Most of Lessines’s tract recapitulates the standard arguments from Aquinas and others about usury as theft of time, something belonging to God originally and now the common property of humanity. As a good scholastic theologian, he worries about whether there are any legitimate exceptions to the rules against usury. Lessines, like others, has seen in Nature unobjectionable increases in crops, forests, and animals.61 (He is not factoring in human effort in these increases resulting from agricultural work or distinguishing trees growing naturally in a forest versus those cultivated in an orchard. So no theory of labor here, but at least open eyes.) Operating in a mental framework that views the 58

59 60 61

This work, De usuris in communi et de usurarium in contractibus, appears in St. Thomas Aquinas, Opera Omnia vol 17 (New York, 1948, reprint of Parma, 1852–73) pp. 413–36. Ibid. p. 416. Ibid. p. 417. Ibid. p. 421.

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market price as the just price, Lessines accepts the seasonal fluctuations in the price of wheat as natural and hence the gains to those selling it not usurious, provided of course that these sales take place in a context of good faith and no fraud.62 (These were distinctly human qualities, not found in Nature except by analogy in certain trustworthy and fraudulent creatures.) This stance on price movements is as close as Lessines comes to asking Nature any questions about why things in the world work the way they do. Given that he was not trained to ask the Bible or Aristotle why they taught certain lessons, this approach to Nature is not surprising. Peter Olivi (1248–98) was a Franciscan theologian who suffered posthumous condemnation and hence his works were rare and his opinions surfaced, usually unattributed, in more acceptable books by later authors like San Bernardino of Siena. His short book De usuris is the final piece of the puzzle of medieval attitudes toward usury.63 In good scholastic tradition, Olivi raises some arguments only to refute them, and one directly concerns Nature. If usury is unjust according to Nature and hence no one should commit it, yet Deutoronomy 23 allows usury against a stranger (alieno), then usury cannot in fact be against Nature or natural law.64 The assumption here is that divine law in the Bible is unerring and perfectly conforms to natural law, except where God makes an explicit exception, as here about the foreigners. Olivi makes a further analogy to the complex teachings surrounding the theology of the just war, and because this idea also cannot be against Nature, the same conclusion must apply to usury. Olivi does not intend to let this argument stand and his points against it constitute a remarkable appeal to Nature in its historical context.65 Deut. 23 in his view must be understood in the context of what God allowed 62

63

64 65

Ibid. p. 425. Many of the essays in the collection by Thelma Fenster and Daniel Lord Smail, Fama: The Politics of Talk & Reputation in Medieval Europe (Ithaca, 2003) take up questions of good faith as an aspect of general reputation or fama. Olivi was an original thinker on economic matters and hence has attracted a number of scholars; for a brief introduction, see O. Langholm, Economics in the Medieval Schools, pp. 349–73. The discussion of usury appears in a longer tract edited by Giacomo Todeschini, Un trattato di economia politica francescana: il ‘De emptionibus et venditionibus, de usuris, de restitutionibus’ di Pietro di Giovanni Olivi (Rome, 1980). All references are to this edition. There is an Italian paraphrase in Pietro di Giovanni Olivi, Usure, compere, e vendite: La scienza economica del XIII secolo. Edited and translated by Amleto Spicciani, Paolo Vian, and Giancarlo Andenna (Milan, 1990); the translation is sketchy but the introduction by Spicciani contains many valuable insights. G. Todeschini, Un trattato, p. 67. Ibid. p. 76 for this and what follows.

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the ancient Hebrews to do in the lands he gave them. God gave the Jews the right to conquer, pillage, and massacre (expugnare et depauperare et exterminare) these people; usury was just another type of oppression allowed in these specific circumstances. The logic of Olivi’s case suggests that none of this should apply in late-thirteenth-century Europe and no one should be allowed to collect usury now. Olivi returns to this problem, inevitably in the context of the Jews, who according to him claim that Deuteronomy gives them the right to take interest from strangers – here, of course, everyone knew this meant Christians or Muslims.66 Olivi wants to ratify the view that usury is contrary to both natural and divine law, so this claim cannot be valid. His third argument against usury is that a natural closeness and brotherhood applies to all men, created by a common rule in the divine image and one species of humans and, by the law of propagation from the first father Adam and according to the teaching of Christ in the parable of the Samaritan, one common humanity. On this remarkable and patriarchal basis, Olivi makes a historical appeal to a monogenesis theory of human origins based on some notion of human equality. It is clearly always wrong for anyone now to take or to receive usury. This reasoning seems to me to rest on a profound understanding of how people exist in time and Nature, nevertheless guided by divine and natural laws. Olivi’s other original argument against usury takes up the traditional theme of how the usurer wants gain without risk or labor, with a new twist. This point concerns Olivi’s justly famous understanding of more than the usual received opinions about risk, work, and even the loss of probable profit a lender might face. Instead, Olivi sees something deeper in money in the form of a loan (in this case) – capital.67 What we commonly call capital, according to Olivi, contains within it a seed embodying a value beyond the sum in question. He clearly recognizes, in the manner if not the words of Keynes, that money or capital is a connection between the present and the future, just as in Nature a seed performs the same function, over time. Merchants had thought about seed capital for a long time, in concrete terms as wealth, in the form of coins or commodities, containing within them the prospect for gain and admittedly loss. Nature taught many lessons about seeds. One in particular, ratified in a parable 66 67

Ibid. p. 69 for this and what follows. Ibid. p. 85 – the key phrase is “sed ultra hoc quamdam seminalem rationem lucrosi quam communiter capitale vocamus, et ideo non solum habet reddi simpliciter valor ipsius sed etiam valor superadiunctus.”

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of Jesus, seems relevant here. Just as some seeds fell on fertile ground and thrived, others failed and produced nothing (Matt. 13:3–9). Nature’s bounty, profit or salvation, required effort as well as favoring circumstances to bring potential into reality. Olivi does not rest his case on the Aristotelian idea that money is sterile.68 This analogy to Nature did not advance an understanding of the moral place of money and wealth in a Christian context. Money was not at all like a mule, which had no connection to the future. As a convenient summary to the narrow focus on usury, we can turn to Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), who saw the intersection of theology and philosophy in the context of the natural world. Dante is a reliable index of how learned discourses in the hands of a supreme artist reflect an understanding, in this case, of Nature’s lessons. Dante placed usurers at the edge of the seventh ring of Hell, where sinners violent against art and Nature found their just reward. Dante was careful to explain to readers, through the reliable Virgil, what he meant (Inf. 11:100–11). The usurer sins against Nature by not following God’s design, as revealed in Genesis, to earn a living through labor. Instead, The usurer, who takes another path, scorns nature in herself and in her followers, and elsewhere sets his hopes69 In this case the lessons of the Bible and Nature were identical – work – and by not following in the footsteps of art (craft or skill), the usurer commits a sin, violence against Nature and God. The question remains: where then has the usurer reposed his hopes? Given that the other path he takes means he does not work, then his hopes must rest on taking advantage of the labors of others. This taking Dante knows to be violent. Its motive – avarice – becomes for Dante in Purgatory 20:10–12 the evil of the wolf, a bottomless hunger. This appetite or greed for gain was something Dante loathed, and knew well from studying the daily lives of many of his fellow Florentines. The wolf was no model for Christian conduct. The usurer, the human wolf, has learned from Nature the morals of a predator: perhaps, above all, a creature that does not work. This idea about work prompts us to move to the last moral lesson from Nature: what are the fruits of Nature, and who has a right to them? 68 69

A point noticed by A. Spicciani in his introduction, Usure, compere, e vendite, p. 65. I use here Dante, Inferno. Edited and translated by Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander (New York, 2000), and see p. 197 for their comments on this passage, but they do not identify “elsewhere” and they are not alone in avoiding this puzzle.

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REASONS NOT TO WORK In Eden, or some version of Stone Age economics, humans supposedly enjoyed a life in Nature with little or no effort or labor required from them.70 The fruits of Nature, as it were, fell from the tree and gathering them was an idyllic pastime taking up only a few hours of the day. Even in Paradise before the Fall, people were obligated to tend the garden that fed them, although we are entitled to presume that their labors were not so onerous as they later became after expulsion from Eden (Genesis 2:16). This idyllic vision of existence had a lesson for humans very close to what Jesus told them about the birds or the lilies of the field (Matt. 6:26–29). God took care of His creatures and they should give no thought or worry beyond satisfying their immediate needs in a bounteous Nature, and they really should want for nothing more. This is the familiar economic world of St. Francis – a maximum of happiness with a minimum of consumption. At some remote time for most people, this model of existence no longer applied. For complex reasons that need not detain us at the moment, people now needed to work to extract from Nature what they required to live. Oddly, the good life still seemed to be one of leisure, and this meant that others must work more so that some need not. So the fruits of Nature acquired by simply being in the world by the Middle Ages were distilled down to a right to breathe air and drink water freely. All other things belonged to someone else and/or required work to obtain them directly or to get the money needed to buy them. Hence work in Nature is our focus – and we ask: what rights do humans have to take from Nature, what rights do some humans have to take from the work of others; must some not work at all? “Like produces like” becomes “work produces what we need” – therefore, some people need to work; in theory, some others do not. It is the last question that provides a shortcut through the vast subject of the history of work. Modern attitudes about work – take, for example, the phrase “the right to work” in an American context – obscure older ones. Whether it is Candide’s eighteenth-century belief that work is a reliable antidote to idle speculation, or Uncle Vanya’s nineteenth-century return to the desolate work of his estate accounts, or the horrible twentieth-century irony of Auschwitz that work could make one free, or the twenty-first-century emergence of 70

There is of course a more complicated argument here, but for more on the comparative leisure in the state of Nature, see Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics (New York, 1972) especially pp. 1–39.

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“application” as a shortcut rather than a stance toward work, later events and art have shaped subsequent feelings and thoughts about work and Nature. Peeling back these later layers of meaning to find medieval assumptions about Nature and work requires again a kind of archeology of knowledge that looks closely at language used to explain work. Reasons not to work ranged from ideas about a day of rest, or Sabbath, to proper conduct on holy days and work fit for some people and not others. Most teaching on these matters rested on the bedrock of divine commandments that did not need to be ratified by similarities or lessons in Nature. In fact, its patterns seemed to evoke the ceaseless labor of bees with no respite for holiness or even rest. (Hibernation was an interesting phenomenon, with no apparent meaning for people.) God Himself was the archetypical worker and Satan the one who thrived by human idleness. Yet people existed in Nature and were as much a part of it as any other creature, from the sleeping bears to the busy ants. Humans, however, by enslaving some of their own kind, found a unique way to appropriate from Nature Aristotle’s talking tool, a skilled slave whose labors belonged to the master. This most basic reason not to work, because one owned a substitute to do it, posed important challenges to slavery. Was it natural? Was it moral? Before considering these issues, we should briefly explore some ideas on the context of work in general before finding its place in Nature. Medieval theologians had enough biblical materials to ponder without looking to Nature for ideas on work.71 St. Bonaventure is a good example of a theorist concerned about work and its context. He helped expand on the idea that there were seven mechanical arts or types of work that paralleled the seven academic liberal arts. Agriculture received the top spot, and this would be no surprise in any view of human work in an economy remaining overwhelmingly rural and agrarian throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Next came work in cloth, the building trades, food preparation and sale, medicine and potions, trade and shipping, and entertainments. All of these endeavors were distinctly human and most required tools. Maybe only the third mechanical art, practiced by bees in constructing their hives or birds their nests, found any echo in Nature meaningful to people. Thomas Aquinas explored the truism that because God had rested, he therefore had worked. This model of behavior found its classic parallel in the Latin 71

What follows is a brief summary of some themes I explored in Wage Labor and Guilds in Medieval Europe (Chapel Hill, 1991) pp. 172–90 with references to specific works.

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language, with otium as desirable rest or leisure and its negation negotium for the busyness of life – business. Aquinas also inquired into the intentions or plans behind work and he saw a process: purpose – satisfaction of desire – rest. This sequence occurred in time and hence brought Aquinas back to one of his big themes on the proper use of time and the meaning of its passage. The time it took to work might be common to all but the labors of a slave, for example, depended on orders and goals from others. More general themes about work and Nature related to thoughts about human nature itself and whether or not people were averse to work. Because idleness was akin to sloth and one of the mortal or worst sins, the assumption that people were planted in this world to work (or own or employ someone who did) found wide assent. Finally, a reasonable lesson from Nature was again a venerable set of assumptions about the naturalness of a division of labor in society. Emile Durkheim made the first theoretical analysis of a division of labor specifically tailored to human work in modern society, but the concept was old and again had been observed in the habits of animals and insects. The lesson was that specialization was a good thing, the bedrock of comparative advantage. Appropriating the fruits of Nature from one’s own labor or hiring others to do the job tied the legitimacy of work and any division of labor to the natural world. Self-motivation or the bargaining between employer or employee were human conventions that were honorable, in the sense that they preserved the dignity of human beings and their place in a social world of exchange. This exchange included Nature, because most of what people wanted – their food, clothing, and shelter – came from human efforts applied to natural resources like the land and its crops and what was under it. Abstractions about possessing Nature in these ways have one connection to a literal ownership of Nature beyond developing ideas about private property and inheritance. Slavery allowed a person to possess another human being – not a supernatural creature or even a reified talking tool, but what everyone knew was actually a real human being. This reality had many manifestations, the most natural of which was that the owner could have sex with slaves and make more people. This power of the owner, in practice male, had a corresponding reality to the female slave, who reproduced. The issue arising from the perspective of this book is the crucial one: what exactly did the slave produce? A child, but what was the status of this child? In other words, is this another case of like producing like? The problem is immediately obvious to all concerned, because the mixing of slave and master could in theory produce a half-free hybrid, but in practice Western societies

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did not chose to recognize this result. Instead, on a basic level, like indeed had to produce like, but which way – would the child follow the condition of a slave mother or a free father? Which status or seed prevailed? This is the point at which our question – what are the lessons of Nature? – intersects another vast literature – the history of slavery. Apparently no medieval people found among the ants or any place in Nature rules for conducting a society with slaves. Nature supplied, along with revealed religion, plenty of reasons for believing that slavery was a natural and unexceptional part of human society.72 People became slaves in various ways, but a reliable and apparently cheap way was to entice the slaves to reproduce themselves. A free man, however, could breed his own from his female slaves if he could live with the idea that flesh from his own flesh would be property and not free. Some could not accept this outcome and freed their own children, but others did not – it was a matter of choice, one ordinarily denied to the female slaves, who, in dreadful practice as well as law, could be raped.73 The great weight of ancient tradition, especially Roman law, fell on the side of declaring that the status of the child followed the condition of the mother.74 Whatever rationalizations sustained this judgment – and they surely range from revealed truth to convenience – the observable natural process of birth guaranteed the fact of maternity. It remains a commonplace, before the modern age of DNA and blood tests, that paternity (or conception) remained at base a matter of hope and conjecture and could not be proved or seen in the way that an umbilical cord making the connection between mother and child. It seemed reasonable to see this lesson from Nature as the solid basis for establishing the status of the child with respect to slavery. A slave woman produced a slave child: the starkest human reality of like producing like. Sally McKee has looked closely at an exception to this general pattern – slavery as practiced in the fourteenth century on Venetian Crete, a colony with a rich mixture of people and statuses. To make a long story short, McKee argues 72

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For more background on these issues, see my Speaking of Slavery pp. 139–49 for ancient and medieval defenses of slavery, some based on arguments from Nature. I would now place greater emphasis on Nature than I did in that book. I have looked at this question in Ibid. pp. 99–100 on rape, elsewhere on freeing children. There is of course a vast literature on this topic as well, but see Sally McKee, “Inherited Status and Slavery in Late Medieval Italy and Venetian Crete,” Past and Present 182 (2004) pp. 31–53, at p. 34 for a discussion and a major exception relevant to themes explored later.

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that on Crete some free Latin men wanted to pass on their privileged status to their children, whatever the status (Greek or Latin) or condition (slave or free) of the mother.75 In general, the higher the status of the male, the more important it may have been to believe for practical reasons that his status should prevail over, and legally and perhaps even morally overwhelm, the slave status of the mother. Some Venetian men occasionally prevailed in claiming their children were naturally free without having to go through the bother of manumitting them, with that legal process’s inevitable conclusion that the person freed was a freedman or -woman, an ex-slave. This result encourages us to inquire about the arguments used to secure this favorable result for the children. McKee seems to suggest a triumph for patriarchy here, that the paternal gift of free status mattered very much to some men, as did a general social anxiety about status in the later Middle Ages. This is a sensible hypothesis to explain what is in some respects a temporary and local aberration in the long history of slavery, where the slavery of the mother’s body, eventually down to the last drop of her blood, determined the fate of her children. Social, economic, and legal necessities seem to be the main drivers of these outcomes. Yet, if there is anything to the arguments raised here about the inheritability of property, what we learn from the diverse outcomes is that Nature did not speak with one voice here either. And so humans had to make choices and find their morality in some other place. Property in Nature rested on some natural processes and analogies. What happened to seeds provided new ways to think about money and usury. Above all, presuming that markets were natural meant that their results – prices, wages, bargaining, even slavery – became good just because they were normal outcomes in God’s plan, or bad when they were unnatural, enticing people into materialism and fraud. Anything that could be called unnatural was a sin against God as well as the market. This view opened up to people a range of moral choices to make about owning land, slaves, and other forms of property, and how to use this wealth in honorable ways to live in this world. “Like produces like” remained a powerful lesson for premodern people seeking to prosper by choosing wisely and working hard. Sinful choices led to bad outcomes in this world as well as the next. As the workings of the economy increasingly seemed natural, they became much harder to challenge on moral grounds. In an area 75

Ibid. p. 43, but this is the major theme of the entire essay.

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of the economy like inheritance, Nature had no lessons, so people were left to rely on scripture and man-made laws. Premodern peoples came to terms with death, private property, usury, and work as facts of life in Nature. These features of existence, along with other factors, over time accounted for how and why people came to possess their natural shares of this world. This grand historical process – and indeed it was understood as occurring in time – was hard to see as fair, or as a testimony to human progress. The key moral lesson from Nature is that there are no moral lessons in Nature. No feature of Nature promised or guaranteed optimism or morality. If Nature did not always teach morality with a clear message, was it possible that Nature could simply make people better, or even better people? In a broader sense, what was the agency of Nature, how did it directly affect people without relying solely on its rules? The clearest example of this influence is when life afflicts people with disasters. In human responses to these events we will find a final set of things people found in Nature.

5 THE NATURE OF DISASTER

T

HUS FAR WE HAVE EXPLORED THE WAYS MEDIEVAL PEOPLE

looked to Nature for lessons, moral and otherwise, about how to live in this world, Nature as they discovered it. The major points of this book have been that our subjects were inclined to see Nature as under God (not the other way around); they could manipulate Nature to their benefit and were indeed commanded to do so; they had physically inherited sin from their first parents, with attendant consequences; free people had the right to inherit property, and misfortunes happened all the time. These observations are the major lessons of Nature, even though we have seen that each of these points contains a set of subsidiary subjects ranging from mules and plants to Jews and work. Some of these matters, like sin, were recent discoveries of the Christian Middle Ages; others, like inheritance, were very old. Our understanding of these issues has depended, and continues to depend, on a patient analysis of the languages medieval people used to explain their connections to Nature. Now it is time to turn around the discovery of Nature and ask: how does it directly teach people; or, in more modern jargon, what is the agency of Nature in premodern history?1 The argument of this chapter is that whatever the supernatural or natural causes of events in this world, people were responsible for their responses to calamities. Also, a close study of nature could help prudent people avoid the consequences of certain types of disasters, especially at sea. That Nature teaches humanity is an old commonplace, and so our focus must 1

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See Bruce M. S. Campbell, “Nature as historical protagonist,” Economic History Review 63 (2010) pp. 281–314 for an excellent recent effort to define a premodern environmental history where Nature is an actor, not simply the background. The emphasis in this chapter is on Nature as a teacher of stern lessons.

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be on the big lessons, cases of extraordinary agency, in order for Nature to stand out from the background of all the other teachers of lessons. Agency, of course, is a vast subject. If we continue to identify it, like Nature, with God, then we are left to conclude that its role in human affairs was pervasive and explained everything from the greatest events to the fall of a feather from a sparrow’s wing. Big changes in Nature are more likely to illuminate how they shaped the contexts in which people lived. Richard Hoffmann has been among the many historians encouraging us to explore what he calls “co-adaptation,” where Nature and human culture affect one another.2 Plainly we cannot make any progress with such a vast context, and so it is best, once again, to follow one thread through this tangled web of agency. Rather than cataloging the messages or rules of revealed religion through the endless miracles and saints of the medieval period, let us focus on disaster or calamity as ways to understand how premodern people responded to and explained the devastating consequences of natural events ranging from pandemics to the death of a specific person. In our context, disaster also has something to do with “like produces like,” because it is an occasionally calamitous nature that produces disasters. All cultures confronted the task of explaining catastrophes personal or collective, and our subjects drew on a store of classical opinions and biblical revelations that suffused the surviving texts, whether or not anyone was still reading them. But Christians (as well as Muslims and Jews) would not join classical authorities in explaining the perils of life by positing the existence of goddesses like Fortune or Nemesis presiding over good and bad personal or collective outcomes. Nor were the medieval monotheists likely to make Nature a goddess.3 All the arguments of this book point toward the conclusion that medieval people officially accepted that these natural afflictions were just results, morally commensurate with their sins, if often incomprehensible to human minds. The inevitability of natural death was, of course, one of life’s somber lessons, but it will not count here as a disaster. 2

3

See Richard C. Hoffmann, “Homo et Natura, Homo in Natura: Ecological Perspectives on the European Middle Ages,” in Engaging with Nature: Essays on the Natural World in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Edited by Barbara A. Hanawalt and Lisa J. Kiser (Notre Dame, 2008) pp. 11–38 at p. 13 for this point. C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (Cambridge, 1964) follows this theme in poetry (alas not prose and not in Pliny) to contrast ancient and medieval conceptions of Nature, pp. 36–9.

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For a preliminary example of disaster and its interpretation, let us begin with a small story from the Annals of Tacitus. This classical source survived the Middle Ages in a single, neglected copy and hence did not apparently influence anyone before the fifteenth century. The details and the purpose of the historian in recording the events are not germane here. Rather, there are some old ideas about the agency of Nature that deserve notice because they reveal basic assumptions and premodern habits of mind about disaster and Nature. The Tiber flooded in 15 CE, resulting in loss of life and destruction in Rome.4 Two senior statesmen were instructed to do something about the problem, and later that year the senate heard deputations from affected towns and debated the matter. Diverting the tributaries of the Tiber at first seemed the best way to solve Rome’s flooding. Yet the problem was too much water, and moving it might shift the flood from one place to another. (Apparently no one sought a supernatural cause for or cure of flooding.) The Florentines objected to diverting the Chiana River from the Tiber to the Arno for precisely this reason – it made it more likely to flood their town. (This option would be debated for many centuries to come.) Another plan at Interamna sounds like creating a flood plain there by making lots of small channels off the Nera River; this would end up ruining some fine agricultural land. At Reate, the people did not want the Veline Lake to be dammed because this would presumably make the lake bigger and flood their property. These three strategies were classic engineering solutions to floods: diversion, flood plain, and dam. According to Tacitus, the people of Reate also argued that Nature had done the best for people by allotting to each river its appropriate course. Also, rivers received religious rites and worship, and people were entitled to have their pious sensibilities respected.5 In other words, we are hearing the faint echo of an important ancient opinion about Nature, that for whatever reason, the way it existed was for the best. Embedded in this opinion was a religious attitude toward Nature attributing to it some purposeful design structured the way it should be. Humans should approach Nature with a respectful awe and leave it alone. Tacitus probably told the story for this reason, because he agreed, and he wraps up the event by writing that because of the arguments of the towns, engineering problems, or 4 5

For what follows, see Tacitus, Annals 1.79. I am consulting here on the English translation by Michael Grant, old Penguin, and the Latin in the Teubner edition – “optume rebus mortalium consuluisse naturam.” Part of the final argument made the claim that the Tiber also deserved respect and should not be diminished by being deprived of its tributaries.

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superstition, the senate agreed to the motion to do nothing.6 Resignation in the face of Nature’s agency was a response probably as old as humanity itself, but most people would not be content to drown or see it as their religious duty to submit to every natural disaster with insouciance. Also, modernist assumptions about the processes of evolution are oddly congruent with this ancient opinion that what was natural now was for the best. Whether or not these assumptions merit belief is another matter. Medieval people also discovered in Nature ample reasons to fear it as occasionally the agent of divine wrath. Pliny the Elder, who has already appeared in this book as the great collector of facts about natural history, had a lot to record about disasters. For example, he believed that comets were always portents, for good or ill, and earthquakes too were ominous events, usually meaning something important was about to happen.7 (His near-contemporary, St. John the Evangelist, certainly made the same point in his book of Revelation.) Earthquakes prompted in Pliny these remarkable thoughts about the agency of Nature.8 It was a consolation to the imperfect nature of humanity that God himself was not able to do everything, for he was not able to inflict on himself his own death, if he wished, yet this ability was the best thing he gave to people among the many burdens of life. Nor could God give eternal life to mortals or bring the dead back to life or make someone who had lived never have lived, or obtain honors (official positions) he had never achieved. Nor could God have any power over the past except to 6

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Certainly Tacitus was not interested in the agency of Nature; more likely the careers and characters of the senior ex-consuls involved. Ronald Syme, Tacitus (Oxford, 1958) has many comments on the people involved, but does not discuss this event from 15 AD. Another notice of flooding that year (Annals 1.76) records a suggestion to consult the prophetic Sybilline books for the flood’s meaning. Pliny the Elder, Naturalis historia, Book 2 on what we would call astronomy contains the observations because Pliny had extraterrestrial theories about the causes of natural disasters on earth. Pliny was skeptical that these signs in any way caused the subsequent events. Here citing and paraphrasing the Teubner edition Latin of Book 2.7: “inperfectae vero in homine naturae praecipua solatia, ne deum quidem posse omnia – namque nec sibi potest mortem consciscere, si velit, quod homini dedit optimum in tantis vitae poenis, nec mortales aeternitate donare aut revocare defunctos nec facere ut qui vixit non vixerit, qui honores gessit non gesserit – nullumque habere in praeterita ius praeterquam oblivionis atque (ut facetis quoque argumentis societas haec cum deo copuletur) ut bis dena viginti non sint aut multa similiter efficere non posse. per quae declaratur haut dubie naturae potentia idque esse quod deum vocemus. in haec divertisse non fuerit alienum vulgata iam propter adsiduam quaestionem de deo.” I have cited all this Latin because the views are incredibly important and those who can read it may wish to consult the original immediately! The last sentence is an excuse for the digression, in the midst of his main topic – God.

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forget, and (to connect by some facetious arguments the relationship we have with God) nor can he make twice ten not equal twenty nor can he do many similar things. From all this it is clear beyond any doubt that what we call the power of Nature is God. In a pantheist context, this power is circumscribed; Pliny’s God is bound by the laws of Nature and physical reality; He is not the author of them. Trevor Murphy has seen in this passage a sign of how Pliny valued personal freedom.9 Subsequent medieval readers were not likely to value this type of secular human agency, or the limits on divine power. Mary Beagon has rightly emphasized that for Pliny, Nature was everything, or as he simply defined it, Nature was life.10 This expansive view made his Natural History a great compendium in which the author’s curiosity and wide reading could justify including everything. Hence it is interesting to see the limits Pliny perceived in God because they would be, if true, among Nature’s greatest lessons. For this reason the points he raises in 2.7 deserve close scrutiny.11 That God could not commit suicide, and that people could and were hence better off in this sense than the divinity, would have struck medieval Christian readers as appalling ideas.12 Beagon is correct to note that this type of pagan Stoicism was typical

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11

12

Trevor Murphy, Pliny the Elder’s Natural History: The Empire in the Encyclopedia (Oxford, 2004) pp. 121–2. He also notices the theme of suicide in Pliny, p. 120 on the Hyperboreans, who committed suicide when weary of life – Nat. Hist. 2.27. Mary Beagon, Roman Nature: The Thought of Pliny the Elder (Oxford, 1992) summary on p. 26. Beagon stresses throughout that Pliny is best read rather than excerpted, even though he himself was, as she fairly observes, an absorber rather than an innovator (p. v). Pliny defines Nature as life, “rerum natura, hoc est vita,” at Pref. 13. A search of the Brepols Library of Latin Literature databases (accessed January 22, 2011) reveals that this phrase is his alone, and it would not strike medieval readers as accurate or quotable. Ibid. p. 29 note 7 for Beagon’s astute analysis. Val´erie Naas, Le projet encyclop´edique de Pline L’Ancien (Rome, 2002) p. 92 attaches little significance to this passage and discusses it only in the context of Pliny’s moral thought. Aude Doody, Pliny’s Encyclopedia: The Reception of the Natural History (Cambridge, 2010) does not look in detail at the reception of Pliny before Francis Bacon. In fact, the Brepols databases of Latin Literature (accessed January 22, 2011) reveal how rare the word “consciscere” remained and again no subsequent authors were eager to pick up this amazing theme. Thus far in his great work, Alexander Murray, Suicide in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1998, 2000) has not considered this passage from Pliny, the verb consciscere, or the one medieval author in the Brepols databases who is most prominent in using it – Saxo Grammaticus, seven times in his Deeds of the Danes, written between 1185 and 1220, with seven appearances of conscisceret. Perhaps the word became associated with mass suicides, a subject Murray omitted for good reasons.

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of Pliny. Whatever kind of personal or collective disaster suicide may have inflicted on the victim’s circle, it was hard to see what lesson Nature could be teaching through its availability or occurrence. Christians believed that God could resurrect the dead, and they might have detected in this passage a direct attack on them. What Pliny meant by “honors” would be narrowly defined as the posts occupied by a man or more generally perhaps his accomplishments. This is in keeping with the strong role Pliny gives to human agency. Finally, Pliny’s God was as bound as people were to the mathematical rules of Nature. No one could change these rules, which did not signify to Pliny that they were arbitrary conventions. Hence the greatest ancient student of Nature conveyed to his growing list of medieval readers some unacceptable (unbiblical) opinions about Nature and its powers that at best seemed to be a kind of vapid pantheism and at its worst pagan nonsense. As we read the medieval sources, we will have to edit out ancient vestiges of the divinity or autonomy of Nature. Pliny’s idea that Nature existed to serve people would be congenial to the creationist values of the monotheistic faiths, but our interest will remain on catastrophes, the exceptions to this benign sovereignty.13 Medieval writers, with their scriptural authorities, were not likely to follow Pliny in his pantheistic view of Nature or in valuing the benefits of suicide. A close study of Pliny’s reception by late ancient and medieval readers and writers has found a growing interest in Pliny as a source for arcane knowledge, but not for an understanding of Nature.14 Isidore of Seville set the tone by deriving natura from the verb “to be born,” and he certainly saw God as the creator above his creation and not part of it.15 Thomas of Cantimpr´e in his Liber de natura rerum contains nothing like Pliny’s introduction to Nature, and Vincent of Beauvais’s great Speculum naturale (which used Thomas and Pliny as sources) followed Christian authorities like Augustine in an orthodox introduction again stressing Creation as the beginning of Nature.16 This emphasis on creation for 13

14

15 16

M. Beagon, Roman Nature, p. 95 also stresses that nature is there to serve people, especially to counteract fear and superstition. Arno Borst, Das Buch den Naturgeschichte: Plinius und seine Leser im Zeitalter des Pergaments (Heidelberg, 1994), for example p. 93 on Isidore and notes Pliny 2.27 but nothing beyond the concept of Nature. Isidore of Seville, Etymologiarum Book 11.1.1 “Natura dicta ab eo quod nasci aliquid faciat.” Thomas of Cantimpr´e Liber de natura rerum. Edited by H. Boese (Berlin, 1973) begins, after a short poem, with the human body rather than introducing Nature, and Vincent of Beauvais Speculum naturale (?, 1481?) does not mention Pliny in his introduction to book 2.1; he mentions Hermes Trismegistus and Asclepius among standard authorities like

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a long time has stalled the efforts to see Nature as anything other than God’s creation, and hence its disasters as His supernatural agency. In our search for what medieval people found in Nature we must also forget about the Enlightenment. A vast scholarly literature exists to demonstrate that some eighteenth-century intellectuals caused a general shift from interpreting disasters as divine scourges to viewing them as natural occurrences with scientifically demonstrable causes.17 Of course some Europeans, for a while perhaps most, continued to see the hand of Providence in natural events. (Someone like David Hume and his skepticism remained exceptional.) In our context, Providence was the default explanation for everything. But medieval people did wonder and ask: what was the meaning of calamity, and what were they supposed to learn from it? In other words, in our terms, what was the agency of Nature? Or indeed its purpose? Without providing a potted version of the history of medieval science, we must still take note of a few basic assumptions concerning Nature that permeate the language of disaster we will be exploring. These old ideas would reflect a familiar consensus to anyone pondering the world around them. First, this world was not very old in human life spans. A short (in our terms) chronology existed from Creation to whatever date before 1500 we mention. Second, everything in this world was created and had remained the same. For our purposes, living creatures were stable and fixed in their species, despite the small modifications breeders were able to make in some domestic animals and plants. This opinion justified thinking that Nature’s lessons or rules had also remained unaltered by time. Third, this world has a beginning and an end (it was not eternal as Aristotle supposed); hence time flies like an arrow from start to finish, in one direction. Fourth, Nature, in the form of our Earth, was at the center of everything, the cosmos. Fifth, this Earth does not move, it is a still point. Every one of these “facts” could be qualified in some way, but for the moment let us take them as they stand. Yet even in one case – the second, concerning the fixity of

17

Augustine, Basil, Isidore, and others. A. Borst, Das Buch, pp. 276–85 for Vincent’s use of Pliny. See, for example, the essays in L’invention de la catastrophe au XVIIIe si`ecle: Du chatiment divin au ˆ d´esastre naturel. Edited by Anne-Marie Mercier Favre and Chantal Thomas (Geneva, 2008). The title is a pr´ecis of arguments concerning famous calamities like the earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 and the plague in Marseilles in 1720. For a study that picks up the story in the eighteenth century, see Donald Worster, Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas (Cambridge, 1994) especially pp. 2–25.

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species – some medieval people had observed what we call fossils and even recognized that some forms and sizes of plants and animals no longer existed.18 So strong was their explanatory framework that the Flood or some past biblical giants could explain the disappearance or size of these entities, hence there were no important exceptions to the rule. If we can use our historical imagination to keep these five old assumptions in mind, they will help us temporarily put aside two other modern ideas shaping so much of our own conception of Nature that they are difficult to overcome. First, climate change dominates our thinking about Nature and human destiny in it. Medieval people knew about the weather and its variability, and they certainly experienced, as we will shortly see, disasters resulting from sharp and immediate storms or longer-term stretches of bad weather. Climate changes, however, these longer-term circumstances in weather measured in centuries, millennia, or ages, escaped their notice and they collected no data. Second, given that the species were created and fixed in their form, even if some had disappeared, none had changed or evolved. It is for this reason that Paul Sheldon Davies considers the “creationist mind” to be indifferent to history and an obstacle to a historical imagination.19 Some medieval people were intensely engaged, for a number of reasons, in the history of their group or place, however defined, but this view of creation certainly stifled interest in what we and indeed Pliny have called natural history. We must try to forget about Darwin and his insights about change over vast amounts of time, but not the lessons of the breeders, and those inescapable mules. Medieval people knew about unnatural selection and its consequences. Ever since Darwin, observers have wondered why the breeders never conceived of how the processes of small and successful changes over time could do to species in Nature what they much more speedily accomplished in their dovecotes and hothouses.20 Habits of mind, especially the comparative brevity of human history and cultural assumptions about God and Nature, constrain in every age how people think about problems of agency.

18

19

20

Adrienne Mayor has amply demonstrated these conclusions for two societies: The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (Princeton, 2000) and Fossil Legends of the First Americans (Princeton, 2005). People in both cultures saw and explained lots of fossils. There could be more work on medieval notices and explanations of fossils. Paul Sheldon Davies. Subjects of the World: Darwin’s Rhetoric and the Study of Agency in Nature (Chicago, 2009) pp. 9–10. Ibid. p. 8 for Sheldon’s notice of how Darwin keenly appreciated the strengths of weaknesses of the breeders’ imaginations.

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Our task is to use historical imagination to recover an old way of thinking about Nature in a medieval European context. This new thinking built on the classical inheritance from writers like Pliny and the biblical traditions in books like Job or Revelation. Some medieval people looked deeper into Nature and old texts and came to some original insights about calamity and risk. Finally, this focus on the agency of Nature as revealed in disaster must place some limits on the topic of disaster, which in turn must be understood in context. Our search will be for articulate understanding of natural calamities, so in theory it could encompass everything from an analysis of the biblical Flood to a personal tragedy like the death of a child.21 There is much to learn from extreme natural events, as one well-known case, the plague of 1348, reveals. We have excluded man-made disasters (notably war) from consideration, but there is one deadly occurrence that prompted reflection on a new theme – innocence. For example, Jacopo da Varagine, in his great collection of saints’ lives, included a brief discussion of Herod’s massacre of the innocents.22 This tragic story required some accounting of the victims, for the entire point was that their fate was undeserved. These small children had done nothing wrong, were innocent of sin, and yet were martyrs. Herod inflicted this injustice; Varagine pointed out that God, the most righteous judge, punished him for it. The disaster for the children of Bethlehem resulted from the sin of an evil man and not an impartial and always fair Nature. Sympathy for these victims, however natural, did not distract medieval authorities like Jacopo from stressing the cause, sin, and the necessity of certain tragedies. Hence we must recognize that this atrocity provided a way for medieval people to collectively fathom a calamity within an explanatory model that retained an assumption of inevitable justice for all. Historians of medieval and early modern Italy have mined the diary or personal journal of the Florentine Giovanni di Pagolo Morelli (1371–1444) for astute and amazing observations on everything from political events to the

21

22

See Margaret L. King, The Death of the Child Valerio Marcello (Chicago, 1994) for a close look at grief and its consequences in the 1460s, but not in the context of the types of disasters and responses considered here. For what follows, see Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea. Edited by Giovanni Paolo Maggioni (Florence, 1998) pp. 97–102, especially p. 97. This work did not provide Jacopo with any reason to analyze the Flood or any other biblical disaster, although on p. 1225 he mentions Noah as suffering from poverty, presumably after he and his family left the Ark with nothing.

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plague and even his own emotions.23 In some of the most heartfelt passages surviving from this period, Morelli records in excruciating detail the course of his young son Alberto’s illness and death in the spring of 1406.24 Morelli emphasizes the prayers offered to God and the Virgin for his son, and the family’s immense grief at the death, which he attributed directly to God’s will. Nothing about this experience or the many other personal and collective calamities he witnessed over a long life apparently shook his faith. Morelli believed his son was in heaven, and this hope certainly consoled many survivors of the disasters we will consider in this chapter. Seldom will we have the level of detail necessary to consider private grief and its consequences. Given that the focus is on collective experience and the agency of disaster rather than its consequences, this is not a problem. The context for understanding medieval disasters and the agency of Nature is complicated by the fact that the witnesses accepted God’s sovereignty over everything occurring in Nature, so closely as to identify Him with it. Every calamity could be seen as evidence for Divine Providence and its desire to chastise and teach people lessons. This type of natural lesson had been clear since biblical times. Deut. 11:13–17 taught people that if they obeyed God’s commandments, they would receive enough rain for their crops and cattle. But if they served other gods, there would be drought and they would perish – a disaster they had brought upon themselves.25 The litany of Job’s travails also reminded people about how God or Satan intervened in the natural world to cause prosperity or disasters. For example, Job 9:6 mentions earthquakes and suggests a mechanism – the idea that the surface of the planet rests on pillars below that can be caused to tremble and hence move the earth. The best-known and standard commentary on this book of the Bible, Pope Gregory the Great’s Moral Commentary on Job, explained this passage in a purely allegorical way by equating the pillars with the priests and Pharisees of the ancient Hebrews.26

23

24 25

26

See Giovanni di Pagolo Morelli, Ricordi. Edited by Vittore Branca (Florence, 1969). This edition, well introduced but not indexed, runs to more than 500 pages. Its appearance in the bibliographies of Italian and especially Florentine historians is a useful clue to their goals and methods. Ibid. pp. 455–9. For the sentence “Idio volle avesse fine la sua vita!” p. 456. See Gary A. Anderson, Sin: A History (New Haven, 2009) pp. 181–5 for a discussion of this passage and a few other ancient antidotes to drought. Opere di Gregorio Magno: Commento morale a Giobbe/2. Edited by Paolo Siniscalco (Rome, 1994) pp. 24–5.

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Gregory’s vast and influential commentary on this book did not invite subsequent readers to ponder natural history. Notices of floods and thunder in Job 38:25 gave Gregory the occasion to discuss the persecutions preachers faced, not natural disasters.27 To take a later biblical commentary, Thomas Aquinas wrote a long work in which he considered Job 9:6 in its literal sense to evoke how the columns of buildings shook and fell during an earthquake.28 From as earthquake-prone part of Italy, Aquinas was no doubt familiar with the effects of earthquakes, but he did not take up this or other opportunities to look deeper into the problem of natural disasters. Exegesis on Job turns out to be a false trail, because the story was so clearly about God’s agency that commentators moved directly from disaster to moral message, skipping over any intervening natural events. Implicit in the commentators’ accepting God’s sovereignty was that this belief was not a delusion. Nor, in modern terms, could faith be some type of instinctive behavior that humans adopted to survive in general and survive disasters in particular. Some contemporary arguments propose a belief instinct (or will to believe) arising from a desire to survive the inexplicable by attributing such mysteries to God.29 If we believe things (especially disasters) happen for a reason, but we cannot determine the reason, then by this thesis humans evolved a belief instinct to remain reasonable and sane. Medieval people, not having Darwinian evolutionary theory as a tool for explaining their faith, might still have wondered why this belief instinct was a more rational response to catastrophe than an incurious fatalism or indeed suicide. In other words, facing the vicissitudes of life and choosing how to make sense of them, they would not concede that they had placed their hopes on an illusion. They would have recognized despair and its promoters very well. A set of admittedly debatable assumptions will help us limit the scope of this inquiry. If Providence was always inscrutable, then people could learn nothing from natural catastrophes except to be patient and resigned, and to repent. They may not have been sure exactly what they had done wrong, and this uncertainty provoked fear and anxiety. Hence we must follow medieval people as they scrutinize not only God’s unfathomable will or anger, but also events 27

28 29

Ibid. vol. 4 pp. 118–9. Where Job describes how God controls the rains (28:26, 37:6), Gregory wrote nothing about floods here. Thomas Aquinas, Expositio super Iob ad litteram in Opere Omnia vol. 26 (Rome, 1965) pp. 59–60. See most recently Jesse Bering, The Belief Instinct (New York, 2011) – the basic premise of the book.

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and their meaning. Responses to collective rather than private catastrophes will point us toward collective rather than personal response, although we must not forget that every recorded opinion about agency represents someone’s idea of how to summarize the process by which many single reactions can coalesce into a common attitude. Group behavior in response to disaster is no sure sign of individual motives, but at least it takes us beyond elite opinions. Also, we should not assume an equivalency to all disasters. Arno Borst has astutely noted the connections contemporaries saw between the great earthquake centered in Carinthia on January 25, 1348, and the subsequent outbreak of plague later in the year.30 He reminds us that the earthquake was a complete disaster whereas the plague killed people and left property undisturbed, and suggests that massacres of Jews and others occurred in this same region during the plague, but were not characteristic responses to earthquakes.31 Even if people accepted that the chastisement of disasters resulted from their own moral failings, they still drew different conclusions from the nature of the catastrophe. The rest of Europe had no portentous earthquake to presage the arrival of the plague. Because we follow the thread of Nature, leaving aside man-made disasters seems best, and this means we omit, for example, war and poverty. The three calamitous horsemen of the Apocalypse – war, famine, and death – are tribulations to be endured (Rev. 6:1–8). These calamities occur in Nature. Even though many respectable medieval observers saw in war manifest signs of God’s judgments, the mechanism and lessons in this case were sadly familiar to people. Medieval people understood the wellsprings of organized violence in the characters and ambitions of their rulers far better than they could explain the physical process of an epidemic or earthquake. Poverty and famine often resulted from natural disasters, as well as many other known factors like bad luck, illness, war, and all the rest. Being poor was certainly viewed by people as a misfortune, provided it was involuntary (and not like St. Francis). And certainly part of the agency of Nature was to afflict some people with poverty or starvation and not others. The proverbial widows and orphans, the deserving poor, merited charity because they suffered misfortune. The undeserving poor were sinners whose plight deserved scorn rather than compassion. Job was of course 30

31

Arno Borst, Il terremoto del 1348 (1988), an expanded version of his 1981 article in Historische ¨ Zeitschrift on the same subject. This quake, felt as far north as Lubeck and south into central Italy, killed around 10,000 people in the epicenter and another 10,000 in Friuli, p. 25. Ibid. p. 28 distinguishing types of disasters and p. 27 for some interesting comments on blaming “outsiders” for certain disasters and not others – a theme worth exploring.

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the biblical person whose tribulations were most likely to evoke vivid images of disaster. Job’s numerous sufferings provoked from him the cry that “Destruction from God was a terror to me” ( Job 31:23) – a line Varagine quoted in the context of explaining a sensible fear of a future, last judgment.32 Anticipating natural disasters provoked a range of responses from fear to buying insurance. The focus here on disaster must remain tightly on collective experience, not individual consequences. For a general disaster like the famous plague of 1348, we could collect across a continent a vast range of explanations, from the pope and the universities down to the local chroniclers and diarists. Even this event unfolded across Europe over time from 1346 to 1353, and depending on where we look, we could find evidence as articulate as the introduction to Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron for the course of the plague through Florence, to entire regions like Poland where the silence of the sources prevails. Even for problems of lesser scope, like famines, common lists for these events across Europe frequently disagree about the dates, or must be localized to a specific city or region. A comet or an eclipse could be seen over a wide area, but the timing and scope of an earthquake or famine were harder to pin down. This problem as well as issues of local chronology and language use argue for a close look at disaster and natural agency in one place with good sources – Genoa. This local example does not have the universality of a text like Job or the authority of Aquinas across Europe. If we knew every place as well as this one – and gaps in the evidence make it impossible to know some at all – we would understand the typicality of the Genoese example. Until then it will have to suffice.

A NATURAL DISASTER MODEL Figure 1 summarizes in a flowchart one way of looking at how some medieval people interpreted natural disasters in their Christian moral framework.33 This model builds on and extends conclusions from the previous chapters. The limits of trying to visualize this process are apparent in the way three “actors” must 32 33

J. da Varagine, Legenda Aurea, p. 127 in the context of the feast of the Circumcision. This figure is adapted from the one appearing in Monica Juneja and Franz Mauelshagen, “Disasters and Pre-industrial Societies: Historiographic Trends and Comparative Perspectives,” The Medieval History Journal 10 (2007) pp. 1–31 figure at p. 19. The explanatory models used by Muslims and Jews to explain their calamities are sufficiently different to merit special treatment, and this model should not be presumed to apply to them.

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1. A Medieval Disaster Model. Source: See footnote 33 to this chapter.

be separated when it is possible to think of them as overlapping. God has His own box in Figure 1, as do human society and Nature. For the moment we must disentangle these three concepts, even though we have repeatedly seen a close identification of God with Nature, and we know that people are just as much a part of Nature as anything else. A false dichotomy between Nature and human culture is not a medieval idea and gives us another good reason for ignoring it. But the Nature in Figure 1 is for this purpose without people, and without God, a created biosphere without Adam and Eve. Their children, human society in the lower-left box, are rightly fearful of being punished by disaster, which they provoke through sin and try to avert through prayer and repentance. (It is important to understand that in this model, prayer does not always accomplish its desired aim and people know this fact all too well. Also, the model works as well for a person and his or her unique sins as it does for society as a whole.) God’s wrath, an altogether righteous anger and judgment, applied to or working through the Natural World, changes it by unknown mechanisms and causes unnatural extreme events, like terrible movements of the earth, or no rain, or too much of it. These alterations in Nature result in the familiar litany of natural disasters: earthquakes, famine, disease, et cetera. Flooding in particular remained an unpredictable and devastating event.34 These catastrophes result in terrible losses of people and their animals, wealth, and whatever they value, 34

See Paolo Squatriti, “The Floods of 589 and Climate Change at the Beginning of the Middle Ages: An Italian Microhistory,” Speculum 85 (2010) pp. 799–826 for an excellent study of a specific local event in the context of broader climatic issues. Gregory the Great

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even peace of mind. The divine intention of these calamities is typically to scourge a sinful mankind, and as disasters punish or threaten them, they begin the cycle again by praying and repenting, or sinning, or both. (Animals and plants also suffered destruction, but the medieval sources seldom notice their fates.) For a person, this cycle ends in death, and we might follow Dante’s imagination to contemplate an individual’s just and permanent reward in heaven or the ultimate catastrophe of eternal damnation. In this living world the cycle endures, although it would be wrong to omit the happy prospect of worthy prayers resulting in a favoring Nature occasionally free of perilous extreme events. These prayers helped no one escape the disaster of Dante’s Hell, but could assist the penitent in Purgatory to obtain their release. This model concerning the efficiency of prayer in the next world must have affected how medieval people understood its agency in this one. No one in this world expected a Golden Age to last for long, so we should expect to see prayer and other activities mobilized to prevent or to stop disasters as well as to cope with their immediate consequences. Readers may select any point of the cycle to begin their progress through it, and it is perhaps natural for us to start at human society. Yet any box (except God’s) provides a useful human perspective from which to peruse the model. For our purposes, because the subject is disaster, it might be best to look back to the unnatural event causing it, and the style of the punishment as containing some hints as to its meaning or lesson. Also, anything recoverable about the actual experience of the disaster will be useful in recreating the experience and immediate observations by contemporaries about its causes and consequences. Three observations will guide our inquiry. First, what do people learn, if anything, from being punished by Nature? Second, the premedieval and engaging theme of Nature as Mother raises many questions; the one relevant here is the commonplace about fooling Mother Nature. Given that this outcome seems especially unlikely in cultures that closely identify God and Nature, the subtle theme of trickery will surface elsewhere. In other words, perhaps Figure 1 should include the possibility that some evil power like Satan works through Nature to harm people and also delude them into false reactions and a loss of faith. This conclusion is far from the dominant mode of explanation,

experienced this flood and Squatriti exploits another of his works on this issue (p. 803), but apparently the pope was not interested in natural history on this topic either.

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but we must be alert to signs of it. It is certainly also possible that people will misunderstand the lessons of catastrophe or be misinformed, intentionally or otherwise, about them by the authorities or powers that be. Illusions of all kinds are possible. Lastly, the language in which commentators expressed their opinions about disasters and Nature occurred in a linguistic context of implicit and explicit meanings that repays close attention. “Disaster” – not a classical word and hence a late medieval coinage – puts together two Latin or possibly Italian words for “bad” and “star” and in the early modern period commonly evoked ill omens like comets as well as directly harmful events. Giovanni Balbi’s great Latin dictionary derives “calamity” from calamus, the word for reed (and of course the pen), and notes the word is now associated with hunger and misery.35 This fanciful etymology at least focuses attention on the responses to disaster. In another example, Jacques Berlioz has also looked closely at the roots of the word “calamity” and reminds us that at base it evokes the scourge or flail that beats the harvest – a vivid image for a suffering humanity.36 Even as the word “calamity” became a synonym for catastrophe, its other image lingered in the minds of writers and readers as a vivid metaphor of punishment. The hand wielding the flail separated the kernels from the straw, the grain from the chaff. When people saw themselves as wheat, they were not forgetting the experience of pain, the main consequence of disaster. This image led Berlioz to consider famines, but we will not follow these steps. Instead, we will look closely at a specific disaster and its interpreters, and then a long series of such events in one particular place, Genoa, a context familiar enough to look closely at the use of language in the home town of Giovanni Balbi and Jacopo da Varagine, the authors of the greatest Latin dictionary and collection of saints’ lives from medieval Europe.

35

36

The Latin dictionary by Giovanni Balbi, Catholicon (Mainz, 1460) at calamitas, infers that reeds are broken to make flails. We need not agree with his philology. A calamity resulted in “fames et miseria,” hunger and misery. “Disaster” is not in this dictionary; the word’s first appearance is at least two centuries away. No word like “catastrophe” appears either. Of course he did this for “calamit´e”; among the many scholars who have made this point but an eloquent example, see Jacques Berlioz, “Catastrophes naturelles et calamit´es au Moyen Age,” in a volume of essays of the same title, Micrologus 1 (Florence, 1998) pp. 7–31 at p. 13.

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A TEST CASE IN SAVOY Berlioz also investigated accounts of an obscure disaster, a great landslide from Mount Granier in 1248 that wiped out a priory and many villages, killing thousands of people.37 He collected nine accounts (none eyewitnesses) with some depending on a main text, and these include famous medieval writers: Salimbene (1221–c.1290), Matthew Paris (c1200–1259), and Stephen of Bourbon (died c. 1261). This essay is a skilled analysis of how medieval sources differ among themselves and what their strengths and weaknesses are, as well a close search for contemporary understanding of the causes of a natural calamity like a landslide. Once again, our interest is on the question of lessons, as they may be understood in the causes and consequences of the landslide. First, a few points. A landslide is a sudden calamity, leaving no room for planning or flight. It is precisely that kind of immediate occurrence that causes people to marvel at the event and its meaning – we have in English the marvelous frame of Thornton Wilder’s classic novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey to evoke the kind of search for meaning a similar event can provoke. Just as Wilder’s friar did not seek out structural engineers for explanations of the collapse of an old bridge, it should not surprise us that only one writer thought, however fleetingly, of a natural explanation for the landslide (more on that later).38 Even this point begs the question, for the following reason. Berlioz found a thirteenth-century contemporary, none other than our Vincent of Beauvais, who in his encyclopedic works recovered the old opinion from Aristotle that pockets of air or wind underground somehow shifted and/or caused earthquakes – and a reasonable inference was that such an event resulted in the landslide.39 Needless to say, the witnesses, in common with medieval thinking (and the generalization is valid here), would latch onto the “somehow” and 37

38

39

What follows is a summary of “L’effondrement du Mont Granier en Savoie (1248)” in his Catastrophes naturelles, pp. 57–139, an exemplary analysis of a particular event. J. Bering, The Belief Instinct, pp. 131–64, in a chapter entitled “When God throws people off bridges,” uses this type of disaster to emphasize his point that that the instinct rests on an illusion, and later, p. 205, that we do not need this adaptive instinctive belief in a fictitious God and should move beyond it. No medieval source claimed to see God cause this landslide, or any disaster known to me. J. Berlioz, Catastrophes, p. 100. Berlioz is good on the local geography and the likely physical causes of the landslide as modern geologists explain it, looking to water rather than air as the cause. For a closer look at medieval theories of earthquakes, see Gerrit J. Schenk, “Dis-astri: Modelli interpretativi delle calamit`a naturali dal Medioevo al Rinascimento,”

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see Providence behind the cause, timing, and scope of the disaster. This local, historical event was a mere prequel to the general disaster to come, the Apocalypse. This Judeo-Christian endgame was the appropriate model and context for explaining the intermediate catastrophes.40 Aristotle, Lady Fortune, and Nemesis were too secular and pagan authorities to count for much when it came to fathoming the spiritual lessons of catastrophe. Not surprisingly, because the authors were all churchmen, in general they offered moral and theological explanations that fit well into the disaster model in Figure 1. In the beginning was the deed – someone’s sin. Matthew Paris observed a collective guilt that merited divine justice on all of the victims, individually sinful or not. Yet this author was the only one to suggest the plausible natural scenario that an earthquake caused the landslide. But this additional step in the process did not distract him from emphasizing what we might call the supernatural causes. He singles out the low reputation of the Savoyards and Lombards (practically synonyms for usurers) as reason enough to explain what happened.41 From our perspective, this is an ominous conclusion because it could be used to explain anything and as usual did not discriminate between the good and the evil people swept away by the earth. Stephen of Bourbon emphasized the role of one evil man, a prior, whose misdeeds provoked the calamity. It certainly struck contemporaries that a monastery was destroyed (in addition to much else), and Stephen’s habitual search for an edifying story to drive home the point of a moral argument encouraged him to reduce a great event down to a level ordinary people could identify with and understand. Salimbene’s characteristic Franciscan view of the world saw the landslide as part of an overall divine plan to punish people by killing many and ruining others. What is also revealing is his use of biblical quotations, apt ones from Job (14 and 9) that have an event (falling rocks), an effect (prosperous people afflicted), and the deeper reason behind the event (divine justice).42 The Bible

40

41 42

in Le calamita` ambientali nel tardo medioevo europeo: realta, ` percezioni, reazioni. Edited by Michael Matheus et al. (Florence, 2010) pp. 23–75 at 35–8. For an excellent essay that takes this approach to some of the same issues considered here, see Laura A. Smoller, “Of Earthquakes, Hail, Frogs, and Geography: Plague and the Investigation of the Apocalypse in the Later Middle Ages,” in Last Things: Death and the Apocalypse in the Middle Ages. Edited by Caroline Walker Bynum and Paul Freedman (Philadelphia, 2000) pp. 156–87. For this and what follows, see J. Berlioz, Catastrophes, pp. 104–15. Ibid. 114–15 and p. 134 for Salimbene’s Latin text.

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certainly contained many examples, from the Flood onward, of natural disasters as agents of divine justice. None of these accounts explains why people so far from the scene would be interested in reading about the landslide. So we must presume a general human interest (if not Schadenfreude) in catastrophes afflicting others. If we turn to local disasters recorded right at the site, we can get a different perspective on the agency of nature.

GENOESE DISASTERS Collectively the Stella brothers, Giorgio and Giovanni (for the years between 1311 and 1405), and later Giovanni alone (from possibly 1405 and certainly 1420–35), were responsible for continuing the great Genoese chronicle tradition that stretched back to the last years of the eleventh century.43 Like all their local predecessors, and models for writing history in an annalistic (year by year) format stretching back to the Roman historian Livy, history noted catastrophes, either written close to the events, as most annalists did, or the fruits of subsequent reflection. These prodigies of Nature, whether cataclysmic events like floods or fires or strange births and portents, had attracted human notice because they foretold troubles for the survivors and perhaps even worse events to come. Medieval Christian historians no longer took seriously the agency of Apollo, but they had no trouble imitating their classical exemplars in seeing the hand of Providence signaling or punishing humans for their sins. Pagan peoples provoked the anger of their gods; Hebrew scripture was a litany of crimes and punishments, and beginning with the birth of Jesus and the new star, Christianity accommodated itself to a belief that these extreme natural events meant something. All these ideas provide the context in which these humble annalists tried to explain the changes occurring in their Genoese environment. Let us begin with the history of the Stellas because they had centuries of good written sources from which to draw up, at the beginning of their history, an innovative list of what they called “penuries (famines), pestibus (plagues), and pressuris (pressures/disasters).”44 Some of the written sources the Stellas used 43

44

See my Genoa and the Genoese 958–1528 (Chapel Hill, 1996) p. 250 and elsewhere for background on the Stellas and history writing in Genoa. For the list, see Giorgio and Giovanni Stella, Annales Genuenses. Edited by Giovanna Petti Balbi, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores. New Series 17 part 2 (Bologna, 1975) pp. 53–5. New Year’s Day in Genoa fell on December 25, so the years here will be as the sources provide them.

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overlap their own memories (from the 1370s) and older contemporary documents survive, so later we will have the chance to see how they edited the past and conceptualized the problem of writing a history of disasters. For now it is enough to notice they thought the topic was important enough to rank with other special themes like religion and domestic life necessary to introduce their account of Genoese history. Even their “original” history, which begins in 1299, contains notices of disasters not included in this preliminary list for some reasons to be explored below. Here is the list: 1158 1171 1181 1222 1245 1272 1276/7 1278 1374

From May to the following March, terrible drought Grain shortage Epidemic Christmas Earthquake December 16, great storm High grain prices Famine, epidemic, starvation October 8, terrible rains and floods Bad grain shortage

And then comes a special list of epidemics: 1297, 1361, 1372, 1384, 1392, 1397, 1398, 1405, 1406 – clearly the prologue was written before the continuation after 1405, for the later text contains more troubles, discussed later. There are a few things to note at once about this list. The absence of “The Plague of 1348” from the list of epidemics is of course astonishing. The event is noted in its proper place in the body of the chronicle, and hence the problem here is that we are looking at a process of selecting and sifting events many decades later. What would be especially useful here is this first, overall appraisal of disaster, one that the brothers themselves experienced. What the Stellas left out or accounted for in other ways merit and will receive scrutiny later when we look at a plague in 1406, an event they survived. Still, the annalists have separated out disease from all other types of natural disasters and this shows they lived in the changed world after 1348, and particularly the terrible years of their own adult experiences in the years around 1400. Only for 1181 and 1297 did they note some type of lethal epidemic before the arrival of the new killer, whatever it was. Thus far, as the Stellas read their predecessors and remembered, they privileged as natural disasters earthquakes, bad weather, and the famines and grain shortages that resulted. Before turning to how they understood the responses

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to these occurrences, let us set down the more extensive list the Stellas did not explicitly provide, the litany of troubles culled from their yearly accounts: * on special list above 1303 1329 1348 *1361 1365 *1372 1374 1375 1377 1383 *1384 1391 *1392 *1397 *1398 1400 *1406

July 23, Sea level dropped dramatically in two hours in the port Famine, high grain prices Great plague throughout the world Terrible Epidemic, many dead Plague of locusts at time olives ripe From April for the rest of the year, great plague and mortality From May, great famine Famine continues November 2 Earthquake August Epidemic and death March Plague December 13, great storm in the harbor Epidemic, but not that intense June, galley returning from east brought plague Plague from July to December, thirty dying a day Around spring, dysentery, many but not a great number died January 9, big storm in harbor July 29 Plague 1407 October 31, great flood caused by days of rain 1408 Terribly cold winter, worst in 40 years 1411 From July 1, epidemic but not bad, 74 die a week 1412 From February grain shortage in Italy 1414 February–March a cold sickness, children and adults ill, old die October 17 great storm and rain in harbor 1417 February very cold, killed citrus 1420 November/December bad stormy weather 1422 Plague, but not so bad, worse in 1420 when Giorgio Stella died (!not listed here) *1429 Good times and peace, shares in San Giorgio at ten year high August Plague 1430 September Plague 1431/3 High grain prices, hard on the poor Nothing more till 1435, end of chronicle

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The year 1429 was listed as a plague year, but the notice of good times merits a place on this list because it was really the only such occurrence in this long chronicle. (San Giorgio was the funded public debt and its share price was a common “misery” index for the general state of the economy.) Why did they omit only 1348, the greatest disaster of them all, from the special list, and yet capture in the list every other plague year? Even if it was too remote from their own lives, surely Genoa still contained a few survivors to tell the tale, and why not assume things were at least as bad as in Boccaccio’s Florence? It may simply be a case of more recent troubles overwhelming the memory of more obscure earlier ones. Or, historians do make mistakes. The brothers experienced and remembered disasters (generally bad things that happened), often placing them at the end of the year’s account as a way of summing up, and reveal a more expansive notion of calamity. Given that the purpose of this test case is to evaluate the localness of disaster, we should observe that the Stellas are sensitive to the sea, as we would expect from any Genoese. Storms in the harbor were a catastrophe raising the prospect of death and economic ruin. These vital sea connections to the rest of the world also brought the possibility of contagion, which the Genoese understood often arrived in their city by galley. We should not count every epidemic as bubonic plague, especially because one was blamed on dysentery and another on what appears to be influenza, but surely most were, especially when we note the seasonality of the killer.45 The great cold winter of 1408, and what must have been an unusual February freeze in 1417, would probably strike climate scientists and historians today as early warnings and signs of what was to become the Little Ice Age of Early Modern Europe beginning around 1450. The Stellas provide the news but did not draw this conclusion – perhaps more evidence for a lack of historical imagination or data, or they were simply not intellectually prepared to expect natural change. Earthquakes and one plague of locusts round out the usual type of natural disaster, and we are left with the most common experience – bad weather and attendant famine. To spare the reader a long excursus on Genoese economic history, let us simply note that the Genoa of the Stellas needed to import food, principally wheat, and so the bad weather could occur elsewhere in Italy or beyond and still trouble them. But bad weather in Liguria 45

The most recent research identifies the bacterium Yersinia pestis as the culprit and the plague as bubonic – see Kirsten I. Bos et al., A draft genome of Yersinia pestis from victims of the Black Death,” Nature (2011) doi: 10.1038/nature 10549, accessed October 26, 2011.

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harmed the local crops – grapes, olives, and market gardening of vegetables, and even some grains and livestock. Markets were sufficiently integrated in the Mediterranean world, blessed with microclimates and microregions, to more or less guarantee that this region would be spared the kind of mass bad weather, famine, and death occurring for example in northern Europe between 1315 and 1322. What the Stellas see during a famine is high grain prices and they do not mention deaths. They knew that the markets, charity, or emergency purchases by the commune could prevent massive starvation, but they also understood that these high prices were hard on the poor, and perhaps some of them died offstage as far as the Stellas were concerned. Conversely, low grain prices, noted only once for 1424, were a blessing. The next list concerns various types of natural disasters appearing in the Genoese chronicle tradition from the period before the Stella evidence. These sources were available to later historians like them but have a wider range of events to explore.46 The final historians in this series, Jacopo Doria and the distinguished archbishop and hagiographer Jacopo da Varagine, do not seem interested in preserving the “prodigy” (astonishing event) tradition of the annalistic format, so there is a gap in our sources between the 1280s and the beginnings of the Stella work to revive an interest in calamities.47 (Or we might conclude that the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries were blissfully free of local disasters.) Given that these sources reflect the interests of disparate eyewitnesses and authors over the course of two centuries, we should not be surprised at this great variety. 1122 The church of San Ambrogio burned down 1141 A big fire in the city 1158 Great drought 1174 A big fire in the city 46

47

The city chronicle, sometimes in the hands of one famous writer like Caffaro or Jacopo Doria, were often entrusted to teams responsible for recording the “official” version of the city’s history in an annalistic format with little effort to exercise hindsight or forethought. The volumes appear in the series Fonti per la storia d’Italia and are in order: Annales Ianuenses, Vol. 1, FSI 11 (Genoa, 1890) covers 1099–1173; Vol. 2, FSI 12 (Genoa, 1901) covers 1174–1224; Vol. 3, FSI 13 (Rome, 1923) covers 1225–1250; Vol. 4, FSI 14 (Rome, 1926) covers 1251–1279; Vol. 14bis (Rome, 1929) covers 1280–1293. See Jacopo da Varagine, Cronaca di Genova in FSI Vol. 85 (Rome, 1941); searched with no results, although he does mention some past events, including two he witnessed; see later in the chapter.

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1175 1181 1182 1193 1194 1204 1205 1207 1213 1214 1218 1222

A great fire in the city Great disease and mortality, and a great fire in the city A great earthquake Big fire in the harbor Big fire in the market of San Giorgio October 16, a great storm in the harbor January, great fire Great storm at Nervi, just east of city September, great fire in harbor January, fire in city January earthquake, small fire in city December 25, big earthquake, a second one feast of Circumcision, all of Italy 1239 June 3, great eclipse, many people terrified 1240 September, great fire 1243 December 4, big earthquake 1245 December 16, great storm in the harbor 1247 October 12, sky became red and dark; December 13 lunar eclipse 1258 November 12 lunar eclipse 1264 Great comet 1276/77 General famine, starvation, bad air and pestilence 1278 October 7/8 Great rain and flood The first thing to notice is that the Stellas have greatly shortened the accounts of previous years and so they highlighted some disasters for preservation and omitted many others. They seem indifferent to the many fires. From their history we would have to assume some great advance in fire prevention (unlikely), building materials (possible), or simply a change in emphasis; they perhaps accepted fire as a normal risk, not ranking as a true disaster or calamity. The eight big calamities they recorded include one not in the city chronicles, the high grain prices of 1272, and are a curious selection from the twenty-five events in our sample from the chronicles, presumably their main sources.48

48

The Stellas also have a lot more information on the flood of 1278, so they had access to sources no longer extant.

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Our interest is in the responses to disaster rather than the events themselves, so we should not get bogged down in the specific details of these events. Yet a benefit to a specific context in Genoa is a broader understanding of what happens during a disaster, and so a few comments are warranted before we look for signs of responses. How the Genoese put out fires is unknown, and without good pumps their problems compounded, but the locations of these fires are interesting. In theory, reasonable precautions could limit the damage from fires, but most natural disasters, like earthquakes, simply happened and even the most prudent people could do nothing to predict or prevent them. (Some calamities, like fire, required people to rush toward them if the plan was to counteract their effects; others, like plague, sometimes prompted flight.) What threatened the Genoese most were disasters in the harbor, their lifeline to the rest of the world and the basis for the city’s power and prosperity.49 This is why storms as well as fires in the port were particularly worthy of notice. A big and important church like San Ambrogio burning down was a notable event, the first recorded disaster in local history, but a fire in the major urban market along the harbor at San Giorgio was an economic disaster beyond the destruction of a building. And as we will see, perhaps plague in a way took the place of fires as periodic calamities meriting notice. A solar eclipse was hardly a catastrophe except that we learn that as late as 1239 this predictable event was capable of terrifying the Genoese, a fearful experience that counts as a response. Other celestial events like lunar eclipses and the comet are not disasters and simply serve as chronological benchmarks, and more importantly were not held to presage any particular great events.50 One partial exception to this generalization was the great comet of 1264, for which Jacopo da Varagine included many more details than the earlier contemporary city chronicle.51 Varagine remembered this comet from his youth, and he recalled that it appeared on August 1, had a great tail, and lasted for forty days. As a Dominican archbishop he passed on the opinion that the comet was important because by such portents God revealed significant future events. 49

50

51

Of course Genoa was not the only port; see Elisabeth Crouzet-Pavan, “‘Une histoire de risque: Venise et les p´erils de mer,” in M. Matheus, Le calamita, ` pp. 127–57, more focused on the regular problems the sea posed to sea-level Venice. Whatever the comet of 1264 was, it was not Halley’s, famously occurring in 1066, and other medieval appearances on 1145, 1222, 1301, and 1378 – none apparently recorded in a Genoese source. For this and what follows, see Varagine, Cronaca di Genova, pp. 390–1.

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This view reasonably fused classical and biblical traditions about signs in the heavens. The problem was that the historian did not point to anything that happened this year as the thing the comet foretold.52 Our interest is in not what these events predicted but how contemporaries responded to them, because these reactions help us understand how they conceived the agency of Nature and/or God in their lives. The city chronicles are the extended account of how the Genoese reacted to everything in their world, mainly external threats and internal factionalism. They had a set of responses for everything, so we should expect to see their methods of behaving in the face of disaster as having a lot in common, where appropriate, with how they managed their collective lives. These considerations become clearer when we look at a typical disaster – an earthquake. On December 25, 1222, as Genoa was celebrating the Nativity and sitting down to dinner, an enormous quake struck the city.53 The people went to their cathedral, the church of San Lorenzo, to take up relics and most importantly those of St. John the Baptist. (The Genoese had obtained these bones at the time of the First Crusade and they had been in the city since 1098.54 ) These relics were carried through the city in a procession to seek God’s mercy, a venerable tradition deployed at times of peril.55 Modern analysis places the epicenter of this powerful quake, which affected all of northern Italy, around Brescia.56 On the feast of the Circumcision, January 1, a second earthquake struck and this time, according to the chronicle, everyone wanted to leave the 52

53 54

55

56

As Giovanni Monleone, the editor of this text, noted, the city chronicle for this year recorded the death of Pope Urban IV, but Varagine, whose history is a rapid summary by archiepiscopal reign, does not. The other event Varagine remembered was the eclipse of 1239, which happened when he was a boy, puer, in 1239, Ibid. p. 378. Annales Ianuenses, vol. 2, p. 187. See S. Epstein, Genoa and the Genoese, p. 29 for context. Shortly afterward, the Genoese had also obtained a large piece of green glass shaped like a platter, which they called the Holy Grail or Bowl and believed was the dish once holding the head of the Baptist. When they took out his relics, we can assume it was the bones rather than the dish. An erudite author like Jacopo da Voragine knew that it was better to refer to these remains of the Baptist as relics, since some traditions held that the bones had been burned and reduced to ashes. See his Legenda Aurea, p. 878. Annales Ianuenses, vol. 1 p. 216 records in detail the role of the relics in the archbishop’s efforts to restore civic peace in 1169. Enzo Boschi et al., Catalogo dei forti terremoti in Italia dal 461 a. C. al 1980 (Rome, 1995) pp. 197– 99 for notice of this quake, which the team reckons reached Genoa at 11 AM. They also eliminate a supposed quake in April 1104, which erroneously slipped into the literature, p. 186. This authoritative catalog does not list the earthquakes of 1182, 1218, 1243, or

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city because they did not know where they would be safe and the countryside probably seemed the best refuge. On this occasion the archbishop and the clergy walked with the relics around the entire city and after that no more quakes happened. Before interpreting the response, let us look at three more characteristic types of processions in reaction to natural disasters. On December 16, 1245, a great storm in the harbor sank many ships. The relics of the Baptist and the true cross of San Lorenzo were carried in procession, and the storm abated.57 On December 13, 1391, a bad storm in the harbor at night flooded much of the city.58 In the middle of the night, the clergy of San Lorenzo took their cross to the mole, a great natural and artificial causeway that protected the harbor, where five ships had already been lost. The mole, the site of a small church dedicated to San Marco, became the place where the Genoese confronted the troubles and perils of the sea. At dawn, another group of clergy from San Lorenzo and the laity brought the relics of St. John the Baptist to the mole, and the storm ended. Finally, in the early evening of October 17, 1414, when the sun was setting in the west, around the third hour of the night (occurring earlier at this time of year), a big storm hit the harbor and four great ships, three of them Genoese, sunk.59 The next morning, when the sun had been up for three hours, the storm returned, and bells rang in the city, presumably to warn its inhabitants. Around noon (some three hours later), the archbishop and clergy brought the bones of the Baptist to the mole, and the storm stopped. Storms in the harbor were one of the greatest threats to a maritime city and its fleet. These storms appear more likely to occur in autumn, and they were one of Nature’s most frequent and dangerous attacks on the city. None of the many city annalists who recorded these events attributed any cause, meteorological or theological, to the storms. In this medieval context, it is important to note that the Genoese did not blame their sins for bad weather. But supernatural help was the only apparent remedy and, as far as they knew,

57

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1377, possibly too local, and the next major event affecting Genoa occurred on August 10, 1536, pp. 248–9. Annales Ianuenses, vol. 3 p. 165. This relic of the True Cross had been captured at sea in the aftermath of their conquest of Constantinople in 1204. Housed in the cathedral, the reliquary containing the fragment became another important force to deploy against catastrophes. G. and G. Stella, Annales Genuenses, p. 198 – they were likely witnesses to these events. Ibid. p. 318.

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it worked. The most powerful ally the Genoese had was the Baptist, not their patron saints George or Lawrence, perhaps because his obvious connection to water suggested an expertise or special power the saint could wield over it. They also had his bones, more than they had for any other prominent saint. Genoa’s patron saints did not specialize in averting particular types of disasters; they protected the city and its region.60 The great medieval hymn Dies irae, attributed to the Franciscan Thomas of Celano, probably accompanied these processions. A “liturgy of fear” aptly describes their tone and atmosphere. The cross, as we have seen, was also a powerful aid, but the bones were the most important source of spiritual power in Genoa. The church controlled the relics, but the laity seems to be an increasingly key part of this spiritual response to natural peril. Calmly yet fearfully processing in the city seemed a better choice than panicky flight into the hills, where no doubt the consequences of storms were also bad. Another local voice, the Anonymous poet of Genoa, has a few points to offer, in the difficult Genoese dialect, about Nature and one disaster. He seems to have been active and writing from about 1290 to 1311, perhaps not times of natural calamities but certainly ones of civic strife. He has left behind at least 146 poems.61 An ordinary and mediocre poet is perhaps the best witness to some common opinions shared by his readers. For example, in one long poem on the Ten Commandments, he treats fraud in commerce as being against Nature – surely an echo of educated views on usury but also mercantile culture’s values.62 In another poem he rightly observes that Nature did not grant Genoa a big port so the Genoese improved Nature by working to build the mole in the harbor.63 This local example of how people could improve Nature, like the terracing of the Ligurian hillsides, is testimony to similar examples of human agency in Nature across Europe. The Latin title of one poem recalls that it is now twenty years since the bad winter lasting from October to March when people could not work.64 60

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Anna Benvenuti, “Riti propiziatori e di espiazione,” in M. Matheus, Le calamita, ` pp. 77–86 suggests (p. 83) that before the plague, saints did not specialize – Saints Sebastian and Rock certainly did afterward. This article considers the “liturgy of fear” discussed later. S. Epstein, Genoa and the Genoese, pp. 166–71 for some observations about this poet, by no means the Dante of Genoa. Anonimo Genovese, Poesie. Edited by Luciana Cocito (Rome, 1970) poem N. 14, line 497, p. 170. Ibid. poem N. 138, lines 89–95, p. 561. Ibid. poem N. 101 pp. 459–61, a poem of fifty-two rhymester lines summarized here.

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As the previous lists showed, the historians do not note any harsh winter in the years around 1280, so the poet is, I think, an eyewitness to an experience the Genoese endured. First he sets the scene of three months of bad weather – the sun did not shine, stormy winds and lightening accompanied rain, and then presumably came ice and snow. As ever a practical Genoese, he points out that the hatters and clog makers did well out of this, especially because people needed clogs with studs. The Libeccio did not help. (This predictable wind from the southwest should have warmed the city), but in this case it pleased God that the Tramontano from the northeast predominated and strongly blew, in his artful image, turning back the pages of a cartulary (book). As we would expect from this pious author, he writes about God and not Nature, and he tells us something important about the response to calamity. Throughout this cruel experience the Genoese did not murmur against God and were not vexed with Him because they understood their Father knew what he was doing. Because of their sins He was striking and battering the Genoese in order to make them better. Several times the poet also acutely observes that the emotional response to the idleness imposed on the city by this bad weather took a toll on the Genoese and in effect made them crazy.65 Twice the poet compares God to a doctor, presumably healing the Genoese from their sins through adversity. But the poet has his own advice, perhaps drawn from memories of the experience, that this idleness caused a kind of emotional draining that was sorrowful and sounds a lot like cabin fever. He urges people to escape this mortal suffering by being pleased by what God does, because He controls the heavens and the earth, and will clothe us, entering naked and without anything into His Kingdom. In other words, be happy and relax even if troubles kill us. If we can extract from this poet a contemporary voice on responding to calamity, he seems to suggest an almost psychological remedy not favored in the other sources. In this case the disaster prompted idleness rather than flight or processions, so we are to imagine the Genoese, huddled cold and miserable in their houses, beset by gloomy thoughts. This poet believes two important things: a characteristic innocuous medieval view that God knows best and there is always a good reason for the trouble; and an insightful thought that people are in control of their own responses to a disaster. They can escape suffering 65

Ibid., my sense of line 37; the Genoese would not be at sea in the winter months anyway, so this was a quiet season, but the poet is recalling forced idleness.

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by being pleased by what God does. In other words, they do not control the weather, but they do control their response to it. They should not brood, but get to work, perhaps making studded clogs! This advice is just as much God’s lesson and agency through Nature as anything else.

PLAGUE The most deadly natural disaster of the later Middle Ages was the outbreak of the bubonic plague in Europe beginning in 1346.66 This well-known and pervasive disaster merits an extended study from numerous perspectives, including the neglected topic considered here: what the plague reveals about contemporary understandings of the agency of Nature.67 Sudden mortality on such a grand scale defined a mysterious natural calamity that spared the physical wealth of Europe, its buildings, ships, and possessions, but destroyed a third of its people and remained a recurrent deadly peril for centuries. Hence in grim economic terms, this disease reallocated vast resources from the dead to the living. Explaining and responding to this catastrophe placed new demands on contemporary witnesses, religion, science, and especially medicine. Commonly noted direct causes included bad air poisoned by volcanoes or some other event, a conjunction of bad stars in the heavens beaming down maleficent influences, and rumors that the Jews or lepers had poisoned the world, with devastating consequences for the falsely accused minorities.68 Some physicians attempted to explain illness with the venerable tools of Galenic medicine and its theory about imbalances in the four bodily humors as the source of illness. The voice of authority, the pope, inevitably located the source of the calamity in human sin, to be fought with the usual tools of prayer and penitence. This general set of explanations draws on evidence from across Christian Europe, and the lack of direct testimony from Genoa in 1348 invites historians to guess that most or all of these ideas were present. Yet local circumstances mattered. In the area suffering from the earthquake in January 1348, some 66

67

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For the best recent introduction to the problem, see Samuel K. Cohn, Jr., The Black Death Transformed: Disease and Culture in Early Renaissance Europe (London, 2002). Among recent local studies, see Shona Kelly Wray, Communities in Crisis: Bologna during the Black Death (Leiden, 2009), whose basic theme is the resilience of society in the face catastrophic death rates. For a sophisticated argument linking astrology to subsequent efforts to find a “natural” cause of plague, see L. A. Smoller, “Of Earthquakes,” especially p. 166, and pp. 172–82.

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contemporaries connected the later outbreak of the plague to this event, which was supposed to release some poisonous vapors from the earth.69 For most places across Europe we lack any contemporary evidence connecting cause and effect. Let us listen to the Stellas offer one detailed but characteristic account of crisis and response. For the Stellas, the big change in the list of disasters was that plagues after 1348 absolutely dominated their litany of catastrophes, possibly driving out an older emphasis on fires. Their chronicle’s most extensive account of the plague occurs in the entry for 1406.70 Around July 1, the newly appointed French official in charge of the city had to deal with an outbreak of the plague. Taking advice from a Genoese council, he ordered that the bones of St. John the Baptist and the true cross of Jesus be carried through the city; on the feast of Mary Magdalene on July 22, the people did so, also carrying lights (candles). (This traditional response to calamity had been used before for the plague, and by now was the official response to the deadly peril of high summer in times of the plague.) On Thursday, July 29 (so exactly noted), the plague was obviously still severe because this time the Franciscans processed with the laity, carrying many relics of the saints through urban neighborhoods. By coincidence, at this time, the famous Catalan Dominican preacher Vincent of Ferrer was in Genoa; he was invited to preach as the plague raged through the city. Before holding a public mass, he preached and shed bitter tears – people thought he was holy, a saint. He prayed and implored the help of God against the plague and scattered drops of holy water on many throats (guttis) while blessing the crowd. These throats are a clue to the killer’s identity. (Holy water is a new detail in the information about processions, and the absence of Pileo de Marini, archbishop since his arrival in 1401, from this account is notable.71 It is worth observing at this point that Marini was in Genoa on January 9, when he participated in

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A. Borst, Il terremoto del 1348, p. 29. He also notes a local historical explanation, the bad behavior of rulers, p. 30. Borst notes the massacres of Jews in the region, and so the theoretical understanding of a possible connection between disasters did not deter a search for scapegoats. E. Boschi, Catalogo, pp. 212–14 for scientific details on this strong quake, and pp. 214–17 for the even more devastating quake of September 9, 1349 in central Italy. G. and G. Stella, Annales Genuenses, pp. 278–9 for what follows. Ibid. pp. 249–50 for notice of this person, and the editor Giovanna Petti Balbi’s view that the Stellas knew and liked him. The archbishop was in the city in March of 1407, along with Vincent of Ferrer, Ibid. p. 280.

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a great procession that successfully ended a big storm in the harbor.72 ) The Stellas leave the impression that, like the French rulers, this Catalan preacher was not the proper antidote to the problem. On Sunday, August 8, Ferrer celebrated mass in San Lorenzo and with the clergy, other Dominicans, and many men, women, and children, with candles walked through the city, carrying the host, fixing people with his eyes, and again blessing them with holy water.73 The Stellas observed that after this the plague became worse rather than diminished! God did not lift from the Genoese the burden (and hence the just punishment) of their sins, for as Isaiah wrote, “And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers I will not hear.” (Isaiah 1:15, leaving out the last phrase about how their hands are full of blood – perhaps evil deeds and too much for the Stellas to acknowledge in this context.) Where they got this passage is unclear (not likely Vincent’s sermon!), although they offer the view that despite prayers heard, the causes of God’s justice can remain hidden.74 This orthodox explanation makes sense of the observable fact that these prayers did not help achieve the desired result. (The Genoese did not like the Catalans and the failure of this “foreign” preacher was a fact the Stellas recorded without comment. Local popular attitudes gave a slight edge to the Franciscans over the Dominicans in Genoa, but even their best efforts had accomplished nothing.) The chronicle next recorded the somber detail that at this time about 215 people were dying in the city and suburbs every day of the week, a precise and likely accurate number that indicates severe mortality in the region.75 Not surprisingly, many Genoese with their families fled the city at this time, and most of those who left did not return until November (when they, those wealthy enough to afford flight and having a place to go – perhaps including the Stellas – could be sure the plague season was well over.) This detail concludes what the Stellas wrote about the plague of 1406. It also evokes the reality that 72

73

74

75

Ibid. p. 278, by now a standard response to calamity; in this case the Franciscans and Dominicans are noted as present, along with the bones and the cross. Ibid. p. 279, the Stellas call the church the “templum maior, presumably San Lorenzo, and the key following sentence is “verum post hec aucta potius epidemia quam minuta fuit.” Once again this elegant Latin deserves notice: “quandoque obaudit rationem Dominus altera causa minime nota genti, sed occulto Dei locata iuditio.” No one knows the population of the city in 1406, let alone what the Stellas meant by the suburbs – how far along the rivieras to the east and west and north up the nearby valleys? But I would guess these numbers add up to a mortality rate of 1% per week, for whatever amount of time the worst phase of the plague lasted.

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sometimes people who had the means fled from a disaster like an epidemic. Flight and prayer were not necessarily contradictory responses to the fact of contagion. It was possible that neither course would result in the desired outcome. Any Genoese who prayed understood something about answers to prayers, and perhaps many were familiar with Isaiah’s somber prediction that their prayers might fall on deaf ears. The Stellas provided in a city chronicle an astute biblical quotation explaining that human agency was not always in control, but again, why should this reality stop either praying or fleeing? Perhaps if we shift the context of disaster just a bit, and keep a tight focus on Genoese responses, we can make more progress in identifying how medieval people comprehended the troubles of life and what, if anything, could be done about them.

PERIL AND RISK IN NATURE Let us listen to the voice of a Genoese woman, who has to enter the documented past in the Latin words of a notary. On August 16, 1201, Giulia, the wife of Guglielmo Balbo, made a will, primarily in order to sort out the claims of children from her two marriages.76 At the end of the testament, the notary has her expressing (in the third person) this view: “This is her last will which she made while in health because of the various and sudden perils that always stand in the way of human life.” Most people in Genoa at this time made their wills when ill or facing death, so the notary seems to be explaining why a healthy woman would do so. Ironically, Giulia in fact had a long life and survived to make on July 27, 1237 what was presumably her last will.77 What concerns us is the one word – “peril” – and how in this context the ordinary understanding of the word presumes that life consists of perils, always there, but to which a prudent woman could respond by making wise provision for the future. Death was of course an inevitable peril of life, for a young person in this context of the sudden variety, a private peril. An earthquake, also sudden, was a disaster, 76

77

For this will, see Margaret W. Hall-Cole, Hilmar C. Krueger, Ruth G. Renert, and Robert L. Reynolds, Giovanni di Guiberto (Turin, 1939) N. 390 and for the statement “Hec est sua ultima voluntas quam fecit in sua sanitate propter varia et instancia pericula que semper obstant humanae vitae” – partly formulaic, and in part unique. Archivio di Stato di Genova, Cartolari notarili, Cartolare N. 20 parte 1, 53 r. Bonovassallo de Maiori notary. This is most certainly the same woman, identified as wife of the late Guglielmo Balbo, twice married, now with many grandchildren.

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but the possibility of one did not send the Genoese running to their notaries to make wills. In the terrible plague months of 1348, however, this is exactly what they did as the disaster unfolded.78 This will invites us to consider how people conceived of what is in our terms the agency of Nature by anticipating it, which is of course another type of reaction. By good fortune, Benjamin Z. Kedar has studied the use of the words “risk” and “fortune,” among others, in a Genoese context.79 As we ordinarily use these words today, “risk” means a potential peril for which the odds are calculable, and “fortune” or “luck” are uncertain perils or opportunities whose chances cannot be mathematically estimated. In brief Kedar found that before the plague of 1348, fortune usually meant something good and risk implied an opportunity; it could be good and did not automatically mean peril. He also mined our Anonymous poet of Genoa for examples of how adversities resulted from sin, and as we would expect, the opposite of trouble was a tranquil wind and sea.80 After 1348, the Genoese expressed more misgivings about risk and fortune and tended to emphasize their negative connotations. Finally, for Kedar, the period from 1370 to 1400 was the great age for the rise of the insurance contract, for him a search for security against risk, a sign that Genoese merchants were literally putting a premium on the value of safety, insuring not lives but goods.81 What is important here about marine insurance is that it became a human antidote to risks both natural and man-made. The idea of insurance rests on the prospect and fear of disaster, and the intention is to anticipate what cannot be prevented, even after the most prudent steps are taken. After all, a prudent man always plans for a spectrum of troubles ranging from minor reverses to disaster by putting something away, in effect self-insuring. At some time, perhaps in the thirteenth century, Italians began experimenting with ways to loan or to sell this risk to third parties, At a time when commodifying things was common, and usury laws encouraged merchants to think “outside the box” about using time and money, what was more natural than to spread risk by allowing others to share in small pieces of it? Any profits in this activity would surely appear 78 79

80

81

Benjamin Z. Kedar and I plan a study of the Genoese wills of 1348. Benjamin Z. Kedar, Merchants in Crisis: Genoese and Venetian Men of Affairs and the FourteenthCentury Depression (New Haven, 1976), here pp. 85–8 for what follows; translated into Italian with a few minor changes in 1981. Ibid. p. 203 for his references to three poems, the second, N. 85, is a poem dated to 1311, p. 408, and suggests that in Genoa the sea and weather are Nature. Ibid. p. 124.

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licit because they rested on uncertain outcomes. Also, money was not making money. Medieval merchants without ancient or biblical precedents invented the business of insurance. Given the eventual scope of insurance – life, fire, casualty, and all the rest – it is remarkable that the first type of event in Nature the merchants confronted was maritime disaster. The innovators selected a type of disaster having human as well as natural causes, one that was supposed to be relatively rare but common enough to accumulate the experience needed to calculate the risks. Oddly enough, shipwreck was a type of disaster the third parties would not directly experience, like an earthquake, but instead learn about from a letter, a survivor, or the stark disappearance of whatever they had insured. In the beginning of routine contractual insurance, some time in the early fourteenth century, potential disaster arose from “every risk, peril, and fortune of God, the sea, and [hostile] people.”82 Neither the insurers nor those buying insurance as yet distinguished acts of Nature or Providence from piracy or war. At this point the risk to be insured is comprehensive maritime risk. Although this is not the place for a detailed history of insurance, the standard terms reveal the parameters of risk. If we limit the scope to maritime insurance, it is clear that shipowners would want to insure their vessels, and those shipping the goods their cargoes, on the reasonable assumption that these two parties would look to a third party to lay off their risks. In the case of a merchant insuring cargo, the contract stipulated the names of the parties, the value and nature of the merchandise (even sometimes slaves, the first lives insured!), the itinerary of the ship, the time (in effect the distance of the journey as exact sailing times remained very subject to weather), the type of risk, here simply from the sea or people, the premium, and the terms of payment.83 Everything was a matter of fact, including the value of the merchandise, except for the premium, which must in the early days have been more of a wager than a finely calculated estimate of risk. The premium was a measure of the probability of disaster, 82

83

The words come from a standard contract in the collection of documents by Robert S. Lopez and Irving W. Raymond, Medieval Trade in the Mediterranean World (New York, 1955) p. 260 and see a fine introduction to the rise of maritime insurance pp. 253–65. The “people” are presumed by the editors to be hostile, and not incompetents. Marcello Berti conveniently summarizes the standard terms in early-fourteenth-century Pisa in his essay, “Economia marittima e assicurazione a Pisa nella prima met`a del Trecento,” in his collected essays Nel Mediterraneo ed oltre (Pisa, 2000) pp. 71–81 here at p. 75. By later in the century, as he notes, the contracts might also refer to relevant law, not yet devised before the plague.

The Nature of Disaster 183

based on accumulating experience, which, as the abundant commercial correspondence of the fourteenth century reveals, depended on an intense sharing of information about all the perils and the news at sea. By the fifteenth century, the terms of insurance clearly specified the day on which the assumption of risk began.84 It is well understood that eighteenth-century experiments in life insurance required developing reliable actuarial tables on human life expectancies. The evidence on which medieval insurers calculated their premiums remains quite mysterious, and may account for their small wagers and the fact that many people engaged in this business as a profitable sideline (or not), but no one for a long time was rash enough to commit his entire capital to maritime insurance by forming a company dedicated exclusively to insurance. A recent study has reexamined the insurance contract for the purpose of understanding the social structures that, along with economic factors, fostered the rise of insurance in Genoa and elsewhere.85 This work emphasizes the social benefits to transferring uncertainty to others and the bonds formed among networks of merchants insuring one another’s risks. One interesting finding is that there is no evidence that the premiums accurately calculated risk.86 Hence no one made a great deal of money for long out of the disasters of others, and medieval people probably thought this was a proper outcome. They had learned from studying the natural occurrences of maritime losses and perhaps the repeated outbreaks of the plague as well, that in the long run it was the survival of the group that mattered, whatever misfortunes individuals suffered along the way. Perhaps the main lesson medieval people derived from their collective experience of disasters is that they were responsible. In the first place they were sinners who deserved what Job got, and worse. Of some consolation was the fact that they were also responsible for their own responses to disasters, and this experience taught them to see in Nature some duties and behaviors they owed to it. These obligations extended beyond a vague stewardship over this world to the prudence that might avert problems in it. Nature was a protagonist 84

85

86

See Jacques Heers, Le Livre de Comptes de Giovanni Piccamiglio homme d’affaires G´enois 1456–1459 (Paris, 1959) pp. 339–43 for some sample agreements. Heers notes that by this time, insurance contracts did not need to be formally sworn before a notary, but were binding when recorded in the merchant’s account book, with a note for the insured. For this and what follows, see Quentin Van Doosselaere, Commercial Agreements and Social Dynamics in Medieval Genoa (Cambridge, 2009) pp. 182–94. Ibid. p. 192.

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in human life. Although sometimes people could improve upon it by taming a river, draining a swamp, or widening a port, they were not arrogant enough to believe that they rather than Providence were in control. These practical activities did not lead to a secular viewpoint seeing natural disasters as emergencies to manage. Another important lesson, that some natural risks were calculable, encouraged late medieval merchants to invent the insurance contract. Someone buying insurance was in effect looking to replace a lost cargo or ship with its equivalent value, a clear instance of like producing like. Making a person whole by replacing his property resulted from paying a premium in advance. So, buying insurance became an instance where a small but measurable part of the whole could reproduce all of it if calamity struck. Nothing like insurance could be discovered in Nature (not even its agent!), but prudently assessing risk was a natural skill. Supernatural risks required different methods of averting the worst consequences. Seeing the difference between naturalistic and supernatural events was perhaps Nature’s main lesson.

CONCLUSION

T

HIS CONCLUSION IS NOT THE PLACE TO MAKE ARGUMENTS

through repetition by restating everything about what premodern people found in and learned from Nature. This book weaves together analyses of scientific subjects like grafting, inheritability, and breeding mules with moral and legal arguments about sin and the propriety of possessing Nature. In five chapters I have investigated from different perspectives some lessons or tools Nature offered to people needing to make a place for themselves in it. At the beginning, the discovery of Nature led us to look closely at grafting in order to see how people could exercise some natural agency over plants. Grafting was a very ancient skill practiced by many people across Europe (and beyond). Whether or not grafting was discovered in Nature, people refined its techniques and scope far beyond accidental hybrids. The science of grafting encouraged some to see applications for the techniques in surgery on humans, and theologians continued to ponder the connections between a new graft and old roots. The word “graft” in Latin and other languages became a metonymy standing for any thing attached to another, however incongruously. Everyone practicing grafting understood that human ingenuity could improve Nature, no matter what some books said about Creation or the fixity of species. Across Europe people saw the fruits of centuries of backbreaking efforts to extend arable lands, carve terraces from hillsides, drain wetlands, and breed better animals and plants. By the later Middle Ages, Europeans had transformed large tracts of Nature, although parts of it reverted to forest and waste after the Big Death. People had nevertheless learned that they could change Nature for the better, or for the worse. St. Francis provides an example of a type of person unlikely to survive for long in the ancient world where his style of living in Nature would not have 185

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found approval. He also exemplifies a type of natural happiness set in the context of Christian belief and Nature. Seeing him as a proto-environmentalist misses the spiritual context of the ways he appreciated Nature. His concerns for all creatures from lambs to worms showed contemporaries and many followers a stance toward Nature that was hardly anthropocentric. Like many of our subjects, Francis probably did not perceive a sharp break between the natural and the supernatural in his environment. Hence it would be hard or impossible for him to distinguish the agency of Nature from the hand of Providence. Some thirteenth-century students of Nature like Albertus Magnus were beginning to see a method to analyze natural history in non-scriptural ways. Farmers knew the stories of their fields, orchards, and vineyards. Praying could result in favorable weather and improving yields, but so could new skills in grafting and seed selection. Making mules proved to people that they could create something new and indeed improve upon the donkey and the horse. Sterility in mules prompted reflections about what was unnatural even in Nature. Speculations about the hybrid and its parents encouraged further thoughts on breeding and procreation, suicide, the Jews, and other subjects seemingly unconnected yet sharing some link to the humble mule. Hence these animals became the occasion for learned writers to discuss themes like the Ark’s passenger list or inherited traits outside the morally charged context of humanity. Plants and animals appearing in dictionaries and encyclopedic works over time justified a close look at these sources as useful tools for the meaning of traditions as well as words. “Like produces Like” is the central theme of Chapter 3, where it led us to consider the problem of human inheritability from Creation to the subtleties of family resemblances, from original sin to similarity in coins. In unexpected ways the received truth about original sin prompted observers from ancient times forward to inquire about exactly how this burdensome condition was inherited over the generations from the first parents – Adam and Eve. The story of wily Jacob and his sheep was one of the few places where the Bible offered a coherent, if perplexing, theory of inheritance. Even as people were capable of rapidly changing fruit trees, vines, and even animals, they were struck by the normal sameness of reproduction in Nature and wondered not so much why this was so, but, more intriguingly, how the Creator had set in motion a Nature that so faithfully reproduced its inhabitants, with some notable exceptions. Creation would unwind or decay if it did not contain within it something guaranteeing that species could produce faithful copies of

Conclusion 187

themselves. Whether some ancestral power or more likely divine will was the guarantor, the resulting copies could be studied and appraised. In this sense of similarity the doctrine of “Like Produces Like” was not harmonious with the idea that Nature was improving or declining. Biblical and secular teachings held that across the ages the world was unraveling into a more decayed, sinful, and senescent place closer to its end than the beginning. Even over the course of a human lifespan a person might perceive these changes in his or her own life, or in the wider society. This attention to changes in Nature over time encouraged rediscovering natural history and eventually rewriting it. Inheriting parts of Nature, an admittedly anthropocentric perspective, took us into issues surrounding private property, slaves, and morality. Possessing pieces of Nature seemed necessary to an orderly society benefiting from divine precepts about rightful shares of inheritances and commandments against theft. Yet the line between the private and what was common to all raised questions about how to survive in a natural world filled with perils. One could have too much of this world, or too little, and the former imperiled salvation and the latter life itself. Turning some people into property as slaves remained both “natural” and “necessary,” a constant thread through the ancient and medieval conceptions of Nature. Medieval people would not join Spinoza in seeing Nature as God. Instead, they perceived Him as outside and above His Creation. He may have implanted rules in Nature teaching that what was unnatural was wrong. Nature’s positive moral lesson for people was that it contained no moral lessons that were not already manifest in scripture. Finally, the agency of Nature became apparent in a close look at disasters but also in human efforts to interpret them and to manage risk. Official Christian doctrine taught victims of the plague and earthquakes to find in their own debts and sins, personal and collective, ample justification for divine punishments. Yet these chastisements took the form of disasters that, as secondary events, might have mechanisms of their own to study and to understand. Too much rain may come from God, who might be moved by prayer to stop it. How all the water, once it was here, affected people and how they coped with it were problems men and women might see as natural, as pertaining to them. Averting most disasters was beyond human capability and expectations. Yet these same people literally calculated ways to turn uncertainty into measurable and indeed insurable risk. Insurance was a practical tool, a fresh approach to risk not inherited from antiquity, making life for some more secure and comfortable, and even reproducing like as paying a premium, if disaster struck, could make

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one whole again. Medieval merchants did not discover insurance in Nature, but they learned from its mathematics the difference between risk and peril. It turns out that premodern people discovered many things in Nature, partly of course because the monotheists believed that God had created Nature for them – the original and best argument for anthropocentrism in this world. It is also apparent that Nature did not supersede religion as a teacher of morality. Its lessons were never as concise and lucid as the commandments of Providence. Perhaps the moral lessons people thought they found in Nature were the ones they, and not God, had placed there. Even the apparent natural and biblical truism of “Like Produces Like” turned out not to be free of ambiguities and exceptions. These conclusions derive from premodern Europe, the image discarded and increasingly forgotten in the wake of modern science. Human genetics of course operated in the medieval world that lacked the basic vocabulary and intellectual framework for comprehending its processes. Yet the language people used to explain what they thought was inherited reveals a sophisticated approach to breeding and other matters that may surprise us more in the twenty-first century than it would have Darwin nearly two centuries ago. Thinking about color symbolism and slaves, or the Jews and inheritability, transformed the ways people fathomed innate and acquired traits. Pliny the Elder, Albertus Magnus, and Darwin anchor a long tradition of learned inquirers seeking information from practical men and women working in Nature. The students of Nature, of whatever status, employed techniques like grafting as well as fresh habits of mind and behavior to explain the changing world they lived in. This book’s epigraphs point to four ways of evaluating the significance of “Like Produces Like.” Pliny the Elder, the Roman natural historian whose work repeatedly cropped up in this study, saw Nature as life from a secular and pagan perspective. An anthropocentric, living Nature was all that Pliny recognized in this world. Dante’s Nature was free from error because even in its fallen state it revealed the hand of Providence. Five centuries later, the Scot Adam Smith shared many of Pliny’s (not Dante’s) attitudes, yet analyzed Nature not solely for its story, but to find a basis for moral sentiments and an economy. Smith could not endure a purposeless Nature, but he could not find in it any useful path to the supernatural, so he privileged happiness in this world. This standard increasingly became the way many modern people conceived of themselves as rational maximizers of self-interest, fostering the greatest good for the greatest number, augmenting the calculable sum of human happiness.

Conclusion 189

The American William James perceptively investigated the varieties of religious experience. He was also one of the first to worry that Nature’s lessons might include unhappy gifts – perhaps humanity’s sinful, fallen state, or a knowledge of its own mortality in a world of decay and death. Nevertheless, the religious experiences apparent in these pages were not entirely depressing or fearful. Existence in Nature was a gift for all. A few themes run through the chapters and merit some final thoughts. A close attention to language use in context must also note the interactions between its implicit and explicit meanings.1 A master narrative about the medieval discovery of Nature will appear some day. This book is simply a necessary preliminary to that vast undertaking. Telling the story about Nature must bring to life the many ways in which some premodern observers made choices about how to find and explain in words a typical or standard view of Nature. These writers had a stance toward the authority of the past, whether in scripture, Pliny, or both, as well as a faith that Nature meant something. A subject like original sin proved to have both explicit and implicit meanings. Analyzing the depraved character of humanity required a use of language that also explained how sin endured across time measured in generations. A pagan framework lacking any concept of sin was reconceived by Christians who chose to use a biblical vocabulary to make natural history an authority they could accept. For many of our authors, natural history became a sustaining ideology, deriving its authority from the choices writers and readers made to harmonize their discoveries there with the ones they found in scripture. Unapologetic anthropocentrism defined the predominant medieval view of humanity’s place in Nature. Few would join St. Francis in his sense of kinship with the bugs and rocks. Even from the point of view of the worm St. Francis picked up and moved from the road, the way people behaved in Nature seems to be mostly all about them. Their practical tools for transforming Nature were far less potentially disastrous than our own, even as the agency of Nature to inflict catastrophes on people seems unabated and, in the case of the plague of 1348, entirely unprecedented. Our careful attention to the use of language in context suggests that a language of fear permeated medieval opinions about Nature. There was simply a lot to be afraid of out there, not just the unpredictable and unavoidable perils, risks, and disasters collective and private, but also the 1

I rely here on the recent synthesis by Jef Verschueren, Ideology in Language Use: Pragmatic Guidelines for Empirical Research (Cambridge, 2012).

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ever-present and totally righteous wrath of God. Whatever things (or people) could be labeled “unnatural” frightened “natural” people, however defined. Even death, perhaps the first lesson of Nature, was also the original penalty or wage of the first sin. Observing life taught people about aging, change over time fraught with meaning for anything that could be conceived of as having a mortal body and an immortal soul. Ancient diffidence about suicide, and the monotheistic deprecation of it, both testify to the view that people (and even animals!) could have their reasons for wanting to expedite their exit from this Nature. Yet the paradox here is that very few took this route. In fact, for most people, their efforts to live in Nature and benefit from the experience seem to have fostered the belief that happiness, like misery, was possible in this natural world as well as the next. It is not the purpose of this book to contribute to the ever-growing number of studies of human happiness. Most of them have little or nothing to say about the Middle Ages, an apparently grim era when human happiness seems to have been in abeyance, or perhaps hibernating, awaiting the many benefits of modernity.2 The sometimes-cheerful medieval thinkers, like Francis, Aquinas, and Dante, discovered in Nature an imperfect happiness worth experiencing as a prequel to the perfect joys of Heaven. If irony is really the difference between what we expect and what we get, then there is something ironical about medieval expectations of a secular world at best in apparent stasis, without meaningful progress. Myriads of small changes and fresh habits of mind made ordinary life more comfortable and presumably happier for most people over the long millennium separating Augustine from Tagliacozzi. The irony, in other words, is that people not expecting the world to improve found that, after all, it did.3 This expectation of a lack of progress or simply comprehension of Nature and everything else, especially in spiritual issues, oddly resulted in some disappointment that things did not turn out quite as badly as people anticipated. Despite repetitive predictions and even 2

3

A partial exception to the tendency to skip over the medieval period is Darrin M. McMahon, Happiness: A History (New York, 2006), who has some good insights on Dante and Aquinas, pp. 124–33; also there the idea of perfect and imperfect happiness, otherworldly and natural in the perspective of this book. See also Sissela Bok, Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science (New Haven, 2010) p. 71 for a notice of Aquinas in a general context where Nature teaches nothing about empathy and only a little about human resilience. This idea derives from the contrary experience described by Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (New York, 2005) p. 2: “I assumed, I was educated to believe, that I would live my life in a civilization of expanding comprehension.” The tenor of her subsequent comments suggests that these expectations were not met.

Conclusion 191

some hopes to the contrary, the world did not end. This outcome can certainly account for ancient and medieval resilience in the face of disasters. The people whose views of the world are the subject of this book have been spared modern efforts to quantify their happiness, and their self-reporting of moods would be unreliable even if it were not so very rare. At all levels of life, creatures reproduced something enough like them to guarantee that the physical type, if not the individual, would endure. Perhaps this is a main lesson of “Like Produces Like.” Yet their own souls, and those ageless angels, reminded people that even as the phenotypes carried on, some particle of them also endured. What they discovered in Nature, in other words, was a kind of eternity.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

ARCHIVAL SOURCES

Archivio di Stato di Genova, Cartolari notarili Cart. N. 20 parte 1, Bonovassallo de Maiori notary Cart. N. 293, Benvenuto de Bracelli notary

PRIMARY SOURCES IN PRINT

Accursius, Institutionum, Paris, 1559. Albertus Magnus, De animalibus Libri XXVI, ed. Hermann Stadler, Munster, 1920. , De vegetalibus libri vii, ed. Ernest Mayer, Berlin, 1867. , Albertus Magnus on Animals: A Medieval Summa Zoologica, trans. K. F. Kitchell Jr and I. M. Resnick, Baltimore, 1999. , Al-Qur’an: ¯ A Contemporary Translation, trans. Ahmed Ali, Princeton, 2001. Ambrose, Hexameron, ed. Karl Schenkl, Prague, 1897. Anonimo Genovese, Poesie, ed. L. Cocito, Rome, 1970. Aristotle, Politica, ed. P. Michaud-Quantin, Bruges, 1961. , De Generatione Animalium, ed. H. J. Drossaart Lulofs, Bruges, 1966. , De generatione et corruptione, ed. Joanna Judycka, Leiden, 1986. , De animalibus, ed. A.M. I. Van Oppenraaij, Leiden, 1992. Augustine, The City of God against the Pagans, ed. and trans. R. W. Dyson, Cambridge, 1998. , Contra Julianum, PL 44, Paris, 1865. , De Genesi ad litteram, ed. J. Zycha, Vienna, 1894. ¨ Vienna, 1902. , Retractationum, ed. Pius Knoll, Bacon, Roger, De multiplicatione specierum, ed. and trans. by David C. Lindberg, Oxford, 1983.

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INDEX

Accursius, 124 Adam and Eve, 10, 52, 86, 94–5 agency, 75n5, 114n1, 155, 175, 180, 189 agriculture, 23, 26, 34, 143; manuals, 26, 29, 41 Albertus Magnus, 20–4, 31, 32, 33, 62–3, 102–5 Alexander Neckham, 63 Ambrose of Milan, 83–4 angels, 49, 80, 108, 191 anger, 74 animals, 32, 42, 47, 73, 84, 95, 101, 102, 117, 123; mental life, 40 Anonymous poet of Genoa, 175–6 Anthony of Padua, 43 anthropocentrism, 77, 186–9 antisemitism, 105–6 apes, 47 Apocalypse, 165 apricot trees, 32 Apuleius, 51 Arabic, 45, 95 Aristotle, 30, 31, 33, 59, 63, 95–6, 97, 98, 100, 103, 105, 120, 134, 154, 164, 165 Art, 112 ass. See donkey astrology, 14, 177n68 Auerbach, Eric, 85 Augustine of Hippo, 50–2, 65, 66–8, 84–5, 87–9, 93 avarice, 141 Avicenna (Ibn Sina), 30, 32, 64, 65 Azzo, 122–3 Babylonian Talmud, 49 Bacon, Roger, 78

Balaam’s ass, 51 Balbi, Giovanni, 11, 12, 64, 71–6, 131, 163 Bartholomaeus Anglicus, 58–9 Basil of Caesarea, 72–4, 81–2, 131 Beagon, Mary, 152 beans, 23 Beckert, Jens, 127 bees, 37, 50 Benedetti, Alessandro, 35n64 Berlioz, Jacques, 163 bestiaries, 48 Bethlehem, 108 Bible, 49, 54, 60, 92, 105, 128, 136, 138, 141; Books: Colossians, 94n38; Daniel, 36; Deuteronomy, 139, 140; Ecclesiastes, 43n12; Ephesians, 92, 94; Exodus, 132; Genesis, 11–2, 47n22, 54, 68, 69, 85, 89, 92, 97, 141, 142; Isaiah, 73, 109n79, 179; Jeremiah, 61, 92; Job, 157–8, 160, 165; Leviticus, 132; Luke, 37, 129, 132; Matthew, 37, 61, 109n79, 142; Nehemiah, 120; Numbers, 92, 128–9; Psalms, 37, 53, 132; Revelation, 151, 159; Romans, 26, 86, 87n22, 88, 92; Samuel, 53, 72 bigener, 46, 48 Biller, Peter, 5 birds, 36–7, 39, 81n9 blackness, 69, 89, 98 blindness, 91, 97–8 Boccaccio, Giovanni, 160 Boissonade, Gustave, 125 Bologna, university, 122 Bonaventure, 36, 39, 86n20, 143 Borst, Arno, 159 botany, 7, 8, 30

203

204

Index

breeders, breeding, 47, 57, 59, 67, 68, 75, 76, 90, 134 bricolage, xii bridle, 53–4 Brown, Peter, 5–6, 11n16 burdo, 48n24, 66 caballus, 75 Cadden, Joan, 6, 96–7, 99 Caelius Aurelianus, 67 calamity, 163 camels, 74–5 capital, 140 Carinthia, 159 catastrophe, 163 Catholicon, 11, 64, 131–2 Cato the Elder, 28, 42 cats, 23 cattle, 20, 49 cauliflower, 28 charity, 125, 128, 130, 136, 138 Chenu, M.-D., 9, 15, 16, 18, 21 children, 41, 65–6, 98, 100, 102–3, 111, 144, 156 Christianity, 50, 125, 166, 186, 187 Christmas cr`eche, 38, 39, 73, 74, 108 cicada, 38, 39 climate, 14, 155 co-adaptation, 149 Codex Cumanicus, 71 coins, 111–2 coldness, 59, 60, 168, 169 color, 88–9, 98 Columella, 28, 29, 31, 42 comets, 151, 160, 171, 172, 173; Halley’s 172n50 conception, 47, 54, 57, 59, 62, 64, 65, 145 consumption, 138, 142 contracts, 138; insurance, 181–4 Creation, 79–84, 86, 153–4 credit, 132 de Crescenzi, Piero, 29–32 Crete, 145–6 Curtius, E. R., 8 cuttings, 31 Dante, xi, 141, 162, 188 Darwin, Charles, 5, 12, 155 Davies, Paul Sheldon, 155 death, 111–2, 157, 162, 180

debts, 89, 95 demography, 5, 111 demons, 6, 51, 107n74 despair, 158, 176 Devil, (Satan), 94, 143, 157, 162 dictionaries, 43–5, 55, 64, 71 dies irae, 175 Dioscorides, 64 Disasters, 148–84; Genoese, 166–76; model, 160–63; plague, 177–80; Savoy, 164–6 “Discovery of Nature,” 8–9 diversity, 14, 22 dogs, 22, 76, 99, 105 dominium, 119 donkey, 24, 25, 43, 44, 46, 48, 51, 56, 58, 60–1, 62–3, 70–6, 99 Doria, Jacopo, 170 doves, 57, 65 drought, 157, 167, 170 Durkheim, Emile, 75n100, 144 dwarfism, 105 earthquakes, 151, 157, 160, 164, 168, 169, 171, 173 eclipses, 160, 172 ecology, 12, 16, 17 economy, 9, 114, 142, 177 Eden, 15, 116, 142 eggs, human, 103 elm bark, 31 Emo, abbot, 10n12 encyclopedias, 45, 46, 53, 58, 63 England, 71, 128 entails, 127, 128n34 epidemics, 167 equality, 128n35 Ethiopians, 69, 89, 93, 98 ethnicity, 14, 69n81, 98 etymology, 53, 55–6 eugenics, 6, 90 evolution, 83, 85, 158 exegesis, 61, 72, 92–3, 109 faces, 34, 75, 106 falconry, 21–2 famines, 159, 167, 168 farmers, farming, 19, 20, 23, 26, 42 fear, 175 Festus, Sextus Pompeius, 45 fig trees, 28

Index 205

fire, 78, 170, 171, 172 fishes, 81–2 flies, 50 flooding, floods, 150, 158n27, 161, 167, 168, 171n48 Florence, 70, 157, 160 foals, 46, 68 flowers, 37 forge, 111–2 fortune, 14, 149, 165, 181 fossils, 155 foxes, 105 France, 127, 128 Francis of Assisi, 35–9, 124 Franciscus da Arezzo, 124n22 French, 111–2 fullers, 104 fungibles, 137–8 Garnsey, Peter, 115, 118 gay people, 109–10 geese, 21, 22 genealogy, 102–3, 106 genetics, 7, 91 Genoa, Genoese, 61, 70, 166–76; harbor, 172, 174 genotype, 84 Germany, 127 Gilles of Lessines, 137–9 Glacken, Clarence, 16n24 goats, 52n40, 90 God, 51–2, 86, 114, 129, 140, 142, 146, 151n8, 153, 157, 158, 161, 187, 188, 190 gold, 133 The Golden Legend, 38, 94, 107 good faith, 122, 139 Gould, Stephen Jay, 85 grafting, 24, 25–9, 30, 93, 99, 105, 185 “Great Chain of Being,” 108, 117 greed, 14 Greek, 47, 55, 65, 95, 103, 135 Gregory the Great, pope, 157–8, 161n34 Grosseteste, Robert, 101–2 happiness, 2, 188, 190–1 hares, 131 hay, 38, 108 Hebrew, 45, 55 hereditary diseases, 7, 17, 91n29

heredity, 7, 40, 51, 86 heresy, 43 Hexameron, 60, 80, 83, 101 hibernation, 143 Hildegard of Bingen, 10, 48 hinny, 24, 25, 44 history, 16, 18, 166, 170n46 Hoffmann, Richard, 149 holy water, 178–9 horses, 22, 25, 44, 54, 58, 68, 70–6, 99 humanism, 9, 15 Hume, David, 154 humors, 52, 104 hunters, 21 hybridity, hybrids, 8, 18, 27, 42, 44, 46, 56, 66, 76, 94, 144 Hyperboreans, 85, 152n9 Iceland, 121 Incarnation, 109 incest, 74–6, 103 inequality, 128n32 inheritability, xi, 2, 3, 6, 8–9, 17, 18, 24, 27, 29, 41, 67, 74, 77, 78, 80, 82, 87, 94–112, 146, 186 inheritance, 125, 127–8; repudiation, 127 Innocent III, pope, 108n78 Innocent IV, pope, 135–6 inoculatio, 29 insanity, 126 insitio, 29 insurance, 181–4, 187 interest, 131, 134–5 intermarriage, 49, 68 intestacy, 126 irony, 190 Isidore of Seville, 46, 48, 53, 99n46, 153 Jacob, 47, 54, 65, 69, 89–91 Jacopo da Varagine (Varazze), 38–9, 94, 107–8, 156, 170, 172 James, William, 189 jenny, 24 Jerome, 65, 68–9, 90, 109–10 Jesus, 6, 37, 38, 60, 61, 94, 107–9, 129, 132, 140 Jews, 7, 26, 47, 48, 53, 56, 105–9, 140, 159, 178n69 Job, 157, 159–60 John the Baptist, relics, 173–5, 178

206

Index

Joseph, 107–8 Julian of Eclanum, 65, 87–9 Kedar, Benjamin Z., 61, 181 Keynes, John Maynard, 133, 134, 140 Kingsbury, Noel, 26–7 Kuehn, Thomas, 126 Laban, 47, 69, 90–1 labor, 138, 140, 144 Lamarckian theory, 104 lambs, 37, 38 land, 116, 120, 122, 128–9 landraces, 26, 27 landslides, 164–5 language, 3, 16, 17, 81, 144, 163, 166, 189 Latin, 17, 45, 47, 57, 91, 98 law, 123, 126; divine, 124, 137; glosses, 122–4; nations, 118–20; natural, 116–21, 127, 137–9; Roman, 116–21, 130, 135, 145 lawyers, 123 LeGoff, Jacques, 136–7 Lewis, C. S., 10n12 lepers, 41 Liber Kyrannidarum, 61 light, 79 “Like Produces Like,” 3, 5, 11, 17, 19, 25, 33, 51, 78–112 passim, 126, 142, 144, 146, 149, 184, 186, 191 lineage, 106–7 lions, 137 locusts, 168 van der Lugt, M., 6 lust, 87 Mary, 107n74, 108 Malthus, Thomas, 5, 111 Manuel Palaiologos, 40, 76 markets, 146, 170 Matthew Paris, 164, 165 McKee, Sally, 145–6 medicine, 19, 49, 52, 59, 63–4, 97, 177 Mendel, Gregor, 91 metonymy, 53, 185 mice, 62 Michael Scot, 58, 95–6, 100n51, 103n63 Milgrom, Jacob, 49 milling, 47, 56, 57, 65 miracles, 43 money, 8, 111–2, 133–4, 137, 141 monkeys, 57, 67

monogenesis, 140 monsters, 51–2 morality, 1, 76, 114, 118–9, 121, 147, 160–1, 188 Morelli, Giovanni, 156–7 Moses, 93, 128–9 Mount Granier, 164 mules, 20, 24, 25, 42–67, 70–6, 82, 100, 105 muleteers, 70–1, 76 multiplication, 5, 11, 79 Murphy, Trevor, 152 Murray, Alexander, 23 mutes, 41, 62n65, 73 natural selection, 27 Nature, xi, 1–2, 3, 8, 12, 35, 36, 39, 49, 82, 110, 111–2, 113–4, 129, 133, 139, 143, 146–7, 149, 152, 184, 185, 191; “against nature,” “contrary to Nature,” 47, 53, 57, 59, 60, 93, 99, 109–10, 134, 175, 190; agency, 149–9, 151, 154, 173; mother, 162 Nazareth, 107 Nicolaus of Damascus, 30 Nirenberg, David, 106 Noah, 50–1, 156n22 olive trees, 26, 33 Olivi, Peter, 139–40 onagers, 46, 48n26 Ordinary Gloss, 92 Osbern of Gloucester, 57 oxen, 74, 108, 137 paganism, 9, 14, 153, 189 Palladius, 28–9, 31, 42, 63 pangenesis, 97–9, 103 pantheism, 153 Papias, 55 paradise, 13, 84, 85 Paul the Deacon, 45 peach trees, 24, 29, 31 pear trees, 28, 32 peasants, 21 peril, 180, 181 Peter Comestor, 79–80 phantasm, 68 philology, 9, 16, 17, 19 Physiologus, 48, 63 physiognomy, 7, 34, 110n83 pigeons, 47 pigs, 61

Index 207

piracy, 182 plague, 159, 169, 172, 177–80; 1348, 167, 181 plants, 11, 12, 26, 32 plenitude, 12 Pliny the Elder, 2, 46, 62n66, 63, 151–3, 188 plum trees, 24, 25 Poland, 160 poulain, 68 poverty, 39, 129, 159 praesepe, 73 pragmatics, 3n1, 17, 18, 69 prayer, 161–2, 179, 180 preaching, 178–9 premium, 182–3, 184 prices, 70, 139, 170 primogeniture, 128n34 processions, 173–4, 178–9 prodigy, 170 property, 113–147; loaned, 131–41; private, 116, 118, 144; Roman, 117–24; testamentary, 124–31 Prose Salernitan Questions, 52, 97–8 purity, 49 Quintilian, 68n80, 69, 98n45 Quran, 130, 132 Rabanus Maurus, 52–4 race, racism, 18, 51, 88n23, 89, 105 Razi, 64 repentance, 161 reproduction, 5, 6, 80, 82, 96, 99–100, 134 risk, 140, 181–2, 183 Robert de Courc¸on, 115n4 Roman of the Rose, 111–2 Rome, 150 rootstock, 25, 28, 33 sabbath, 143 Sacchetti, Franco, 61 Salerno, 52, 98n43 Salimbene, 164, 165 San Giorgio, bank, 168, 169 San Lorenzo, church, 173 satyriasis, 104 Savoy, 164–5 Sch¨afer, Peter, 49 science, 154–5, 188 scion, 25, 28, 33 Scotland, 60 sea, 169, 181n80

seeds, 23, 26, 28, 29, 33; seed capital, 140 selection, 155 sheep, 47, 76, 79, 81 Sheehan, Michael, 125 shipwreck, 182 similitude, 5 sin, 13, 15, 17, 84, 86, 87–8, 89, 94–5, 97, 108, 110, 114, 130, 134, 144, 146, 149, 156, 161, 165 skin color, 69, 89 slavery, slaves, 34, 70, 119–20, 126, 143–6, 182 Smith, Adam, 114, 188 Snowden, Frank, 68 sodomites, 108, 109n80 Soranus, 65, 66–8 Southern, R.W., 15, 19 sovereignty of God, 86, 158, 176 species, 11n17, 22, 32, 39, 44, 51, 79, 81, 83, 105, 111, 154, 186 speech act, 81, 84 sperm, 59, 96–7, 98–99, 100, 102–3, 104 spiders, 137 Stella, Giorgio and Giovanni, 166–71, 178–80 Stephen of Bourbon, 164, 165 sterility, 44, 50, 52, 64, 99, 131–2, 133, 141 stoicism, 152 storks, 21 suicide, 75, 151, 152–3 supernatural, 10, 27, 81, 188; agency, 154; events, 161, 184 surgery, 33–4 swallows, 37 Sweden, 104 sympathy, 18 Tacitus, 150–1 Tagliacozzi, Gaspare, 33–5 tears, 61 teeth, 82 temperaments, 104 terebinth, 32 territoriality, 121 theft, 115–6, 136 Thomas Aquinas, 60, 79, 136, 137, 143–4, 158, 190n2 Thomas of Cantimpr´e, 20, 41, 60–1, 63, 102, 153 Thomas of Celano, 36, 37, 39, 175 time, 138, 140, 144, 154–5, 181 tityrus, 52n40

208

Index

Toulouse, 43 trees, 36 trickery, 90, 162 True Cross, 174n57, 178 Turmeda, Anselme, 43 Uguccione of Pisa, 57 uncertainty, 180 United States, 127, 128 usucapion, 122 usufruct, 135 usury, 131–41, 165, 181 utility, 101n57 Varro, 28, 42 “veil of ignorance,” 116 Venice, Venetians, 61, 172n49 Vincent of Beauvais, 63–4, 153, 164 Vincent of Ferrer, 178–9

wagers, 183 Walter of Henley, 29 war, 139, 159, 182 weather, 168, 169, 170, 171, 174, 176, 181n80 whaling, 22 wheat, 23, 24, 27 William of Conches, 10, 21 William of Moerbeke, 95–6, 100n54, 135 Williams, Bernard, 120 wills, 124–31, 180 wine, 26 wolves, 36, 79, 99, 137, 141; Gubbio, 36n67 work, 141, 142–5, 175–6 worms, 6 Worster, Donald, 16n24 yield, 27 Ziegler, Joseph, 110