Essential Reading for the Renaissance Gentleman

The library at Worcester Cathedral contains a large number of books on ‘Science and Mathematics’ from the sixteenth century onwards. The earlier ones are in Latin or Greek, the later ones in English.

There is no consistent theme, but the following areas crop up across the centuries: Mathematics, Astrology/Astronomy, Time Measurement (Dialing), Navigation, Trigonometry (both on the flat and on the surface of a sphere), Surveying and Range Finding. Such a wide range of subjects must have meant that they were aimed at the enquiring gentleman, who subsequently bequeathed them to the Cathedral.

  1. a) Mathematics covers everything from the basics to Accountancy and sections on the use of Logarithms.
Frontispiece SD5

Frontispiece of Euclid’s Works, trans. David Gregory (1703). Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK).

  1. b) Time management gives the reader the ability to construct numerous types of sundial, both vertical and horizontal. They cover both fundamental and decorative styles.
Sundiall PG13

A fold-out sundial diagram from ‘The Art of Shadowes’ by John Wells (1635). Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK).

  1. c) Astronomy/Astrology – this is one of the larger sections and begins from Ptolemy’s ideas of the basic form of the universe and its elements. Early books show how people believed how the star signs and planets influenced their lives. One book at least by Johannes de Sacro Bosco explains how to cast a horoscope.
Astronomy SD5

Zodiak diagram from Euclid’s Works, trans. David Gregory (1703). Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

d) Trigonometry – this crops up in a number of the books in the library from for example a complete work in Latin and Greek in parallel on the work of Euclid, to takes of trigonometrical functions. At least one of the books covers the teaching of this subject by a local schoolmaster.

Geometry PG8

Textbook on Arithmetic and Geometry by Petri Rami (1599). Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

e) Surveying and Range Finding covers the use of the above section along with the basic surveying instruments like the ‘cross staff’. These books are aimed at a target audience of Land Surveyors, Architects and Military Engineers. There is at least one occurrence in the architecture of military fortification.

DSC02833

Fold out page from ‘Arithmeticae et Geometricae’ by Adrian Meti Alemariano. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

f) Navigation – from the start of the sixteenth century and the Age of Exploration there were tremendous changes going on in the fields of Navigation and Map Making. A great deal of this would have come under “State Secrets”, but once voyages were taking place outside the Mediterranean where simple plancharts could be used methods had to change. Hence mapmakers and mariners needed new tools, both Trigonometrical and Astronomical. The surface could no longer be treated as flat – hence spherical trigonometry, and although Longitude was a problem at sea until Harrison’s Chronometer; on land the heavens could provide an answer.

DSC02835

Picture showing how ‘to find the inclination of any Plane’ from Gunter’s Works (1653). Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

The Library like others around the country allows us glimpses of a time of great change.

 

Keith Roe

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