Adelard Of Bath

Adelard of Bath was a prominent 12th century natural philosopher and translator. He is remembered as much for translating Greek and Arabic scientific works in Latin as he is for his original work.

Adelard was especially interested in astronomy, astrology, philosophy and mathematics. He translated Euclid’s Elements from Arabic into Latin. This particular textbook of geometry was subsequently used for over eight centuries in Europe.

Adelard Of Bath

Early Life: Adelard, as his name suggests was born in the Roman English city of Bath in the late 11th century. Much of his early life is not well documented and the identity of his parents is also not certain.

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However, historical records obtained from the city of Bath mention him as the son of a man named Fastard. Some records from the early 12th century indicate that he was a steward in the household of Bishop of Bath. The veracity of these details is however, open to interpretation. Adelard has mentioned in his works that he studied in Tour, France.

This is where he was influenced by the traditional learning of French schools. His interest in astronomy developed during his stay in France. He also briefly taught in Laon, France. Later in his life, Adelard travelled extensively. He visited Spain, Greece, west Asia, and Sicily and according to some sources Palestine as well. He is also remembered for introducing Hindu-Arabic Numerical system to Europe.

Body of Work: Adelard met many Arab scholars and scientists during his travels. This provided him and opportunity to be acquainted with the Arab science and mathematics. His travels spanned over seven years during which he exposed himself to the Arab science. He is best known for translating Euclid’s Elements in Latin and Al-Khwarizmi’s astronomical tables. His translation of Elements was particularly well received and was used for many hundred years in west as the standard textbook of geometry.

Apart from his translation work, some of his original work also gained recognition. Particularly well received were his trios of dialogues or correspondence with his nephew. These include De eodem et diverso (On the same and the Different), De Avibus Tractatus (Treatise on Birds) and ‘Quaestiones naturals (Questions on Natural Science).

In ‘Quaestiones naturals’ he sets and answers seventy six questions about subjects like meteorology and natural science. The book was perhaps the most popular of the three and was extensively used for teaching in schools, even after 13th century. De avibus Tractatus was a collection of medical text and described human body’s ailments. It was widely read and was referred to in many subsequent works.

Later Life: Adelard greatly influenced the western way of thinking about science. He is credited for introducing western world to the Arab science and translating important scholarly works from Arabic into Latin for the consumption in Europe. Unfortunately, the appallingly low public literacy and absence of printing press in those early days hindered his works from being widely distributed.

However, his works were printed and consumed after the invention of printing press in 15th century. Adelard returned to his hometown, Bath after his travels and stayed there till his death in 1152 at the age of 72.