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Physiology: The Language of Life and Nature

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George Rick Welch

This book paints a flowing picture of the relationship beween life and nature, through the evolution of a word – physiology. Today, it denotes a scientific discipline at the intersection of biology and medicine, signifying the «study of life». Yet, physiology manifests a split personality in the course of history. It came down to us from the ancient Greeks, where it represented the «study of nature», or «natural philosophy» – the precursor of modern-day «science». Physiology originates from an older Greek root, physis – meaning «nature» itself – that stretches far back to the birth of Greek thought. How did this word generate two such disparate meanings? What does this word tell us, historically, about humankind’s grasp of the essence of nature and the essence of life – and the interrelationship between the two? The author follows an etymological path into the distant past, in writing the biography of the word «physiology». The book delves into linguistic pre-history, in search of the primordially interwoven views of life and nature – and the words that symbolized those views. It tracks the evolving meaning of those words in Western civilization across time, space, language, and culture.
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Chapter 5: Physica-cum-Medicina in the Middle Ages

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Chapter 5Physica-cum-Medicina in the Middle Ages

          If we must have dates, then the Middle Ages may be taken to cover the period from the end of Roman civilization in the Latin West (500 is a good round number) to 1450, when the artistic and literary revival commonly known as the Renaissance was unmistakably under way.

– David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science (2007)

The term “Middle Ages” (or medieval period) stands for an expansive timeframe that, despite its popular usage today, resists a neat and tidy historiographic definition. It is rather apt that “age” is pluralized here. For, as the Lindberg (2007) says, “medieval culture (whatever exactly we take it to be) appeared and disappeared gradually, and at different times in different regions.” Along the way, there was, in fact, more than one “renaissance” (or “revolution”) of note. In the eighth-ninth century, for example, we see the “Carolingian renaissance” (sometimes called a renovatio – a “renewal”), linked to the dynasty of Charlemagne (Charles the Great). This was an era when Western Europe was being transformed, from the turmoil following the fall of the Roman Empire, into “a new and vigorous civilization” (Grant, 2007), characterized by centralized government, increasing urbanization, economic stability, and educational reform. There was a rise of state-supported cathedral schools, extending beyond the monastery system. Notably, one sees a heightened interest in the classical texts of old, attended by an increase in scribal activity and a proliferation of manuscript copies. “Philosophical learning...

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