New Work: Alexander Neckam and the medieval encyclopedia

Zahora Nature VirtueCMRS Associate Tomas Zahora has recently published a fascinating new study of the medieval tradition of encylopedic knowledge. It is available from Brepols.

Nature, Virtue, and the Boundaries of Encyclopedic Knowledge: The Tropological Universe of Alexander Neckam (1157-1217)

Can – and should – an encyclopedia be a repository of all knowledge? Does the idea of total encyclopedic knowledge constitute a boon for readers, or is it a labyrinthine nightmare? This book explores the pleasures and paradoxes of encyclopedism, viewed through the interpretative lenses of the works of Alexander Neckam (1157-1217), an English Augustinian canon and scholar. Neckam wrote not just one but two encyclopedias: the prose De naturis rerum (‘On the natures of things’) and the verse Laus sapientie divine (‘Praise of divine wisdom’). Poised between the end of the ‘renaissance’ of the twelfth century and the scholasticism-inspired thirteenth century, Neckam invites us into an unfamiliar universe in which encyclopedias are intentionally incomplete, and in which warnings about the vanity of knowledge coexist with vivid descriptions of new technological inventions. This strange union is facilitated by the exegetical method of tropology or moral reading. Through analogy, vivid imagery, and constant recourse to ethics, Neckam’s encyclopedias aim to educate their readers until they leave the text behind and engage in a reading of the world in a quest for knowledge, experiencing not only its pleasure and beauty, but also its inherent power.

More details are available from the publisher by clicking here