In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Bernardus Silvestris

  • Introduction
  • Life
  • Bibliographies and Journals
  • Intellectual and Cultural Background
  • Fortunae

Medieval Studies Bernardus Silvestris
Winthrop Wetherbee
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 February 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 February 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0223


Bernard of Tours, better known as Bernardus Silvestris, was clearly in close touch with major developments in the Platonizing science and theology of the mid-12th century. His major work, the Cosmographia, an allegorical account of the creation of the universe and humankind, is dedicated to the philosopher-theologian Thierry of Chartres, who was probably his teacher. But all of Bernard’s known works are poems, and he seems to have made his living primarily as a teacher of grammar and rhetoric. His career perhaps reflects the fragmentation of the liberal arts curriculum in his day, and the segregation of literary studies from the increasingly specialized pursuit of the sciences.


Little is known about the life of Bernardus Silvestris beyond his attachment to Tours. The city is recalled affectionately in the Cosmographia; Bernard is praised by his pupil Matthew of Vendome, as “the glory of Tours”; and a nephew inherited his house in the city, according to Vernet 1938. The Cosmographia contains a fulsome compliment to Pope Eugenius III, and a manuscript gloss reports that the work was read before him, probably in 1147, when Eugenius came to France for the trial of Gilbert of Poitiers. A manuscript of Bernardus’s Mathematicus has been dated 1145–1153, and a brief epitaphium Bernardi Silvestris is tentatively dated around 1160. Westra 1982 and Wetherbee 2000 provide basic information. Fuller accounts appear in Vernet 1938, Kauntze 2014 (cited under the Cosmographia: General), and Wetherbee 2000. The epitaph is edited and discussed in Wollin 2003.

  • Vernet, André. “Bernardus Silvestris: Recherches sur l’auteur suivies d’une édition critique de la ‘Cosmographia.’” PhD diss., Paris: École Nationale des Chartes, Paris, 1938.

    Includes a long, well-documented introduction on Bernardus’s life, works, and intellectual milieu.

  • Westra, H. J. “Bernard Silvester.” In Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Vol. 2. By H. J. Westra, 194–195. New York: Scribner, 1982.

    Reviews the scant evidence regarding Bernardus’s life and gives brief descriptions of the works attributed to him.

  • Wetherbee, Winthrop. “Bernard of Tours.” (Bernardus Silvestris). In Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Vol. 1. By Winthop Wetherbee, 755–756. New York: Routledge, 2000.

    Further reviews evidence regarding Bernardus’s life, including brief descriptions of the works attributed to him.

  • Wollin, Carsten. “Das Epitaphium Bernardi Silvestris in der Handschrift Angers B.M. 303.” Sacris Erudiri 42 (2003): 369–402.

    DOI: 10.1484/J.SE.2.300310

    A thorough contextualization of the epitaph. Concludes that it is genuine.

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