3 - The beginnings of higher education in the Arts and Medicine.

The existence of the school of "liberal arts" at Bologna in the XIth century is beyond doubt. Irnerius himself (c.1060- c.1130), before starting his law teaching career, had been a teacher of the arts (9).

The question to be asked at this point is in what period the old Trivium and Quadrivium studies grew into something "higher" and more advanced.

The fact that in 1136 two scholars, John of Salisbury and his companion Albericus, came from Paris to Bologna in search of knowledge would, if true, suggest an early date (10). Upon their arrival the two men, whose main interest was logic, were among the first foreigners to be able to admire the tower of Asinelli, built in 1110.

Apart from the law school, we know that the teaching of medicine also began quite early in Bologna. In the late XIIth century we find a physician in Bologna, Johannes de Bertinoro, awarded the title Magister (11). The medical school must have already been flourishing at the beginning of the XIIIth century as witness the bull of Honorius III which forbade the clergy undertaking this kind of study (12).

In the early days and probably for most of the XIIIth century, this school, perhaps in the tradition of the famous school of Salerno, was characterized by a markedly empirical approach to problems of health and the cure of disease, and was not greatly influenced by astrology.

Arabic astrology began to spread across Europe towards the end of the Xth century, an event usually connected with the legend of Gerbert d’Aurillac (c.950-1003). According to the legend - which dates from the XIth-XIIth centuries - Gerbert managed to become Pope through his art of necromancy, the demons having taught him the use of the astrolabe.

The legend has some basis on facts which actually occurred. In 984 Gerbert, an extremely erudite man who at that time was abbott at the monastery of San Colombano in Bobbio, requested the translation of a treatise on Arabic astrology from Spain and later wrote a treatise himself on the astrolabe. It should perhaps also be pointed out that in April 998, a year before becoming Pope under the name Sylvester II, Gerbert had reached Italy from France to take up the position of archbishop of Ravenna. It would appear however that the influence of Arab learning on Italian scholars was next to nothing until the beginning of the XIIIth century.

The introduction of Arabic astrology into Italy is associated with the name of Michael Scot (1175-1232) and that of the Emperor Frederick II, whose official astrologer he was. As far as Bologna is concerned, the connection was clear. In 1227 (13) the emperor sent a donation of some books on "Philosophy" to the "maestri ed agli scolari" of the University of Bologna. The accompanying letter, written by the "gran segretario" Pier delle Vigne, stated that the donation included "various compilations by Aristotle and other philosophers regarding philosophy and mathematics".

In prescribing the use of these treatises, Pier delle Vigne’s letter paints an interesting picture of what university life was like in those days and bears witness to how the Emperor viewed the University. It reads:

"It is then you, men, who wisely draw from the old wells new waters, which flowing and sweet as honey you offer unto dry lips, who gratefully accept, as gift from your friend Caesar, those books containing the ancient works of the philosophers who come to life again through your voice and whose flame you rekindle, as you wisely spread doctrines, as is fit, integrating them into your school, where authority bears forth the fruit of virtue, the defect of ignorance dissipated and the truth of a mysterious text revealed; you men who do all this at the behest of clients, convinced of the merits of the illustrious work that has been commissioned of you, will one day publish a eulogy for the students and for our fame." (14)

Unfortunately we do not have the list of works sent to Bologna and do not know if these included the astronomical and astrological treatises that Michael Scot had written, at the behest of the Emperor, for the "scolares novitij" (15).

We do know however that the orders and suggestions of the Emperor did not generally go unheeded. Around 1220 he ordered that three years of "logica" should precede medical studies and we find that, before taking orders in 1230, the Magister Moneta da Cremona (XII cen.-c.1260) read Aristotle to the "artisti", i.e. medical, students of Bologna (16).

We may therefore assume that already at the beginning of the 1200s the faculty of arts was well established.

  1. - M. Sarti e M. Fattorini: 1888, De Claris Archigymnasii Bononiensis Professoribus, I, 578, ed. Albicini e Malagola, Bologna.
  2. - M. Sarti e M. Fattorini: op. cit., I, p. 579.
  3. - M. Sarti e M. Fattorini: op. cit., I, p. 527.
  4. - M. Sarti e M. Fattorini: op. cit., I, p. 521.
  5. - G. de Vergottini: Studi e Memorie per la Storia dell'Università di Bologna, Nuova Serie, I, 521.
  6. - M. Sarti e M. Fattorini: op. cit., II, p. 239.
    "E dunque voi, uomini, che saggiamente dalle antiche cisterne estraete nuove acque, che poi fluenti e dolci come il miele offrite alle labbra assetate, accettate con gratitudine, come dono dell'amico Cesare, quei libri con le antiche opere dei filosofi, che rivivono mediante la vostra voce e dei quali alimentate la fama, mentre spargete saggiamente dottrine, come si conviene, accumunandovi a loro nella vostra scuola, nella quale l'autorità fa fruttificare la virtù, il difetto dell'ignoranza viene dissipato e la verità di uno scritto misterioso viene rivelata, tanto indotti dal favore dei committenti, quanto persuasi dai meriti della luminosa opera affidatavi, pubblicherete un elogio per la comune utilità degli studenti e l'evidente nostra fama."
  7. - L. Thorndike: op. cit., II, p. 309.
  8. - M. Sarti e M. Fattorini: op. cit., I, p. 579 e 590.