Dating from the mid-thirteenth century, Albert the Great's monumental treatise on living things, their characteristics, and their place in the natural order stands as one of the most valuable contributions to the history of science, ranking in importance with the writings of Aristotle and Linnaeus. Yet until now--more than seven hundred years after his death--Albert's De Animalibus has never been completely translated from the original Latin.
Drawing on all available source materials, Kenneth F. Kitchell, Jr., and Irven Michael Resnick present the first complete, fully annotated English translation of this magisterial work. It is, as they explain, a summa in two senses of the word. First, it is a "summary,"a summation of all contemporary knowledge in a given field. Albert writes of human anatomy, reproductive theories, equine and canine veterinary medicine, folk remedies against household pests, cures for rabies and sterility, how to train a falcon, whether an ostrich will eat iron, and much, much more. At the same time, this work is a summa in that it is the epitome or highest expression of this sort of work. It represents the first passage to the Latin West of Aristotle's natural works. Yet it adds to the received text the vast knowledge Albert acquired in a lifetime of observing, testing, and recording. The result is unique, highly reflective of the period in which it was written, and remarkably forward looking.
The work is scholarly, to be sure, but it can also be highly entertaining, offering useful insights into medieval life not seen elsewhere. Whether Albert writes of his early experiences in falconry or relates what he learned in conversations with fisherman, soldiers, and craftsmen, we are drawn into a real, day-to-day world where the lure and lore of animals are of paramount importance. The subjects range from castrated, philandering priests who nonetheless manage to produce children to medical marvels and physiognomic trails. Do bats have legs and birds bladders? Can partridges really become impregnated via the wind? Why do children's teeth grow back, but those of adults do not? How do people pretend to wiggle their ears? Why are people occasionally produced with too many fingers, and what causes what today are called Siamese twins? Albert's interest in the world around him was truly universal and in this way, too, he is the Doctor Universalis.
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Kenneth F. Kitchell, Jr., is associate professor of classics at Louisiana State University. Irven Michael Resnick holds the Chair of Excellence in Judaic Studies at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.Language Notes:
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Latin
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