The Abacus and the Cross, by Nancy Marie Brown
image via booku.com
Nonfiction is still very much in vogue, and this book proves there’s no end in sight to the wealth of research to be done, stories to be told of historical characters. This book’s subtitle, “The Story of the Pope Who Brought the Light of Science to the Dark Ages,” virtually tells the tale here, but stories are all the better wrapped in a human personality.
The personality here is a French peasant-monk, who had the good fortune to go to Spain in the mid-900s, where over some 3-4 years he immersed himself in the learning of Arabic Spain. The monk, Gerbert, would eventually become Pope Sylvester II, one half of a spiritual-political duo, along with Otto III, the last of Germany’s Ottonian dynasty. But that high-altitude relationship was almost a postscript to Gerbert’s life.
Following his return to France, Gerbert established a school in Reims, where he taught the long-lost trivium and quadrivium of the classicists to most of the soon-to-be influential young minds of Europe. This was his legacy to both the church and to Europe in general, but his forays into the politics of the time were almost his undoing. I’ll leave it there – no need for a spoiler alert.
Brown tells us first of Gerbert’s mathematics, his astronomy, his approach to learning that even included music and the creation of some of Europe’s earliest pipe organs. Then her attention in this deeply researched book tells in details I’ve seen nowhere else of his political career. She writes with great emotion in places, sardonically and cynically in others, but there’s no escaping the story she has at her fingertips. For anyone who thinks the “Dark Ages” were really dark – read Brown’s book.
My rating 16 of 20 stars