The German historian of medieval thought, Kurt Flasch claims in one of his books ("Das philosophische Denken im Mittelalter", my translation "philosophical thought in medieval times") the following:

"If there was any interest in natural history, in botany or mineralogy, for example, people looked for explanations in Pliny's Naturalis Historia."[^1]

I'm wondering if you can think of other works that were available and actually used by medieval natural historians/philosophers. Was aristotle (or at least his natural history) not available to people in the (european) middle ages?

[^1]: "Wenn überhaupt naturkundliche Tatsachen, z. B. der Botanik oder der Mineralogie, Interesse fanden, so suchte man die Erklärungen auf, die in Plinius’ Naturgeschichte gegeben waren."

2 Answers 2


There were some medical texts, like these: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_medical_textbooks#Pre-modern_texts

Of some of these, they traveled to Europe.

If you are asking, it was not until the Renaissance that Europe rediscovered Greeks and Roman texts, so no, Aristotle and most of the Greek Works was not widely available to Europe in the middle ages.

And of course, there were no Historians as we knew today in Medieval Europe, only chroniclers. People read chronicles, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_chronicles

And probably what you are looking for


Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Mercurii et Philologiae, introduced the division in seven liberal arts

Cassiodorus' Institutiones (full title: Institutiones Divinarum et Saecularium Litterarum), AD 560; first Christian encyclopedia

St. Isidore of Seville's Etymologiae, AD 636; Christian encyclopedia, most influential encyclopedia of the early Middle Ages

  • Thanks. I was talking about natural history, not about history in our modern sense. I am aware that philology, chronology and antiquarianism were the predecessors of our modern humanities. The list of the encyclopaedias was interesting. I'm still not sure, though which of those were available in medieval europe.
    – openmedi
    Feb 20, 2017 at 15:51
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_history#Medieval (I believe that that one book was it. It was a big book, and it was the dark ages.)
    – Lai Frank
    Feb 21, 2017 at 0:58

Yes. Depends which period of the Middle Ages you are talking about. And it depends on what you mean by "available". Let's take it to mean available in Latin translations (from Greek, possibly via Arabic or Syriac), widely enough distributed that people in universities or monasteries might well have had access to copies. Authors to consider: Dioscorides De Materia Medica, Aristotle's biological works De Animalibus and Parva Naturalia (both taught in medieval universities) and works attributed to Aristotle, but probably not Theoprastus until the mid 15th century. Galen and Hippocrates. The easiest place to get authoritative recent surveys is the Cambridge History of Science volume on Medieval science.

(All of this dictated by a historian of biology working from memory, humoring me.)

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