Great Minds of the Medieval World
Dorsey Armstrong is a Professor of English and Medieval Literature at Purdue University, where she is also the head of the Department of English. She received her PhD in Medieval Literature from Duke University. She is the executive editor of the academic journal Arthuriana, which publishes cutting-edge research on the legend of King Arthur, from its medieval origins to its modern enactments. She is a recipient of the Charles B. Murphy Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award, Purdue’s top undergraduate teaching honor. Her other Great Courses include The Black Death: The World’s Most Devastating Plague and The Medieval World.
01: Augustine of Hippo
Begin the inquiry with Augustine, whose writings were a towering influence on the great medieval minds that followed. Trace Augustine's life, from his early experiences and restless spiritual inquiry to his conversion to Christianity and ministry. Study his core teachings on the nature of language, good and evil, and free will.
02: Ambrose, Jerome, and Gregory the Great
These three extraordinary figures, together with Augustine, are considered the fathers of the Christian church. Learn about Ambrose's contributions to aligning the ideals of the classical world with those of Christianity, Jerome's writings and his seminal Latin version of the Bible, and Gregory's influential "fourfold" model of reading scripture.
03: Boethius and the Consolation of Philosophy
The remarkable Anicius Boethius combined a top-level political career with noteworthy contributions to education and philosophy. Assess his huge influence in defining the parameters of medieval education; his work to heal schisms in the early church; and his masterwork, the Consolation of Philosophy, written as he awaited execution on false charges.
04: Isidore of Seville and the Etymologies
Isidore of Seville left another extraordinary legacy to education. Trace the arc of his career, from his early immersion in the Greek and Roman classics to his advocacy of cathedral schools and his creation of the Etymologies, a massive encyclopedia of human knowledge and one of the most influential books of the Middle Ages.
05: The Venerable Bede
The English monk Bede rose to become a revered and beloved teacher and a huge influence on future generations of scholars and educators. Following his seemingly miraculous survival of the plague, learn about his self-education and astonishing body of works, and study excerpts from his monumental Ecclesiastical History of the English People.
06: Alcuin, Charlemagne, and Alfred the Great
Now, investigate the remarkable partnership between the British scholar Alcuin of York and the Frankish emperor Charlemagne in creating a palace school and center of learning at Aachen. Grasp how both Charlemagne and Alfred the Great of England demonstrated a visionary commitment to learning by working to gather, preserve, and translate important texts.
07: Avicenna and the Golden Age of Islam
The Islamic scholar Avicenna was one of history's great polymaths. Learn about his remarkable youthful accomplishments, his impact on medieval medicine through two core texts, and the astounding range of his writings. Explore three key elements of his thought: his views on "essence" and "existence," the problem of evil, and the mind/body dualism.
08: Alhacen and the Scientific Method
This lecture discusses another of the great minds of Islam's Golden Age. Investigate Alhacen's seminal theories of optics and vision, which laid the foundation for later optical science. Grasp his contribution to resolving classic scientific conundrums, and his role in developing scientific methodology, based in rigorous empirical testing of his own theories.
09: Averroes and Aristotelian Philosophy
Averroes's extraordinary mind was shaped by the sophisticated society of medieval Muslim Spain. Follow his long scholarly service to the caliph of Marrakesh, which produced his hugely influential commentaries on Aristotle, reconciling Aristotle's philosophy with Islamic thought. Learn also about his illustrious legal career and contributions to medicine.
10: Maimonides and Jewish Law
The writings of Maimonides, the Jewish scholar, philosopher, and jurist, remain a key component of Jewish culture and have influenced legal philosophy down to the modern day. Here, explore his cornerstone work on Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah, his Guide for the Perplexed, which works to integrate Greek philosophy with Jewish theology, and his thought on the Via Negativa, or Negative Theology.
11: Rashi and Biblical Interpretation
Discover the remarkable commentaries on the Torah and Talmud by the French Jewish rabbi Rashi-works considered definitive within the faith-in which he sought to thoroughly explicate the texts to readers. Using textual excerpts, learn how later scholar-writers known as "tosafists" worked to further elaborate and extend Rashi's commentaries.
12: Saladin and the Defeat of the Crusaders
Here, encounter one of history's most unusual political leaders: a brilliant military commander who worked for peace, and also demonstrated a deep interest in learning and faith. Track his ingenious strategy against the Crusaders at the battle of Hattin, and follow the aftermath of the conflict, events that reveal Saladin's visionary acts of humanity and broadmindedness.
13: Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard, the medieval mystic and polymath, was recently recognized as both a saint and a Doctor of the Church. Follow her unique accomplishments as the only woman of her time to write officially sanctioned theological books and to preach openly. Investigate her remarkable visions and her achievements in music, medicine, and literature.
14: Bernard of Clairvaux
Like Pope Gregory the Great, Bernard of Clairvaux made a historic contribution through promoting and explicating important religious teachings. Learn about his seminal work in monastic reform, his great skill as an orator, his public role in resolving religious controversies of his time, and his influential writings on church doctrine.
15: Abelard and Heloise
This lecture highlights two of history's legendary intellects. Trace the career of Peter Abelard as a teacher and philosophical writer of vast impact, and the intellectual and religious life of his student, Héloïse, whose brilliance may have exceeded his own. Grasp how their tragic relationship ultimately served as a catalyst for their greatest intellectual achievements.
16: Peter Lombard and the Sentences
In the Sentences, Peter Lombard wrote the most important and commented-upon theological textbook of the Middle Ages. Study the book's key influences and Lombard's original thought on matters such as the Holy Spirit and the nature of Christ, and learn how the book offers a systematic framework for exploring important theological questions.
17: Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas's towering influence as a religious scholar extends from the Middle Ages to the present day. Investigate his magnum opus, the Summa Theologiae, focusing on his thought on Aristotelian philosophy and his famous arguments for God's existence. Learn also about his remarkable character and astounding powers of mind.
18: William of Ockham and John Duns Scotus
The work of two remarkable British scholars influenced both philosophical and political thought. Learn about Duns Scotus's provocative theories on the "univocity" of being and the notion of haecceity, or "thisness." Grasp how Ockham's thought anticipates modern ideas about knowledge, language, and the separation of church and state.
19: Geoffrey Chaucer and Dante Alighieri
This lecture explores interesting parallels in the work and thought of two literary geniuses. Contemplate the range of Dante and Chaucer's writings, highlighting Dante's Divine Comedy and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and observe how the two authors employed a literary strategy that allowed them to speak about every level and aspect of society.
20: Francesco Petrarch
The Italian poet Petrarch stood at the crossroads of the medieval and early modern worlds. Learn about his life and key works, and his role in a growing cultural shift that placed new emphasis on the individual, a valuing of art and history, and an intersection of the secular and religious worlds.
21: Lorenzo de' Medici
Known as Il Magnifico, Lorenzo de' Medici was a statesman and civic leader of extraordinary farsightedness. Trace his remarkable diplomatic accomplishments as de facto political leader of Florence, as well as his activity as a patron of literature and art, founder of a school for sculpture, and promoter of continuing education.
22: Christine de Pisan
The intellectually brilliant Christine de Pisan became Europe's first professional female writer. Learn about the extraordinary diversity of her work, her masterful love poetry, and her writings in response to the distorted representation of women in medieval literature, highlighting her allegorical text, The Book of the City of Ladies.
23: Sir Thomas Malory and Le Morte Darthur
Malory's massive retelling of Arthurian legend reflects deeply on the social order of his times. Grasp how this remarkable text elaborates an ideal code of knightly conduct, and then "tests" it throughout the narrative, comprising a stark commentary on medieval political realities while offering an inspiring vision of what might yet be.
24: William Caxton and the Birth of Printing
Conclude by assessing the remarkable contribution of England's first printer. Learn about the advent of movable type printing and Caxton's ingenious entrepreneurship in publishing, highlighting his role in shaping the tastes of the reading public, standardizing English, and making the works of the Middle Ages' great minds accessible.