In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Learned and Scientific Literature

  • Introduction

Medieval Studies Learned and Scientific Literature
Kirsten Wolf
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 July 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0324


The extant learned and scientific literature from medieval Scandinavia and Iceland is likely only a small portion of what once existed. It includes, but is not limited to, astronomical, encyclopedic, geographical, grammatical, and medical literature. With the exception of a number of the geographical works, some of the medical treatises, and the so-called Four Grammatical Treatises, this literature has received modest scholarly attention, probably because much of it is based on translations or adaptations of non-native works. Information about the literature is found primarily in encyclopedias and in introductions to editions of the various works.

Astronomical Literature

The earliest written East Norse sources about astronomy are short entries in Danish annals and calendars about solar and lunar eclipses. The first Danish astronomer of continental fame was the mathematician and natural scientist Petrus Philomena de Dacia, who was particularly active during the period 1291–1303. He composed around fifteen astronomical works now preserved in more than two hundred manuscripts scattered across Europe. Another known astronomist is a certain Johannes Simonis de Selandia, who in 1417 composed his Speculum planetarium, now preserved in twenty manuscripts. Finally, around 1456, the Dominican Nicolaus de Dacia wrote his extensive Libri tres anaglypharum, which is the largest astronomical work from the medieval North. It discusses not only theoretical astronomy, but also astrology and astrological medicine (Pedersen 1972). From medieval Iceland there is an extensive body of astronomical literature. The most prominent work is the so-called Rímbegla. Stjǫrnu-Oddi Helgason, who reportedly took regularly lunar and solar observations in the late 12th century, is here quoted and singled out as the most important astronomist in Iceland, but most of the information in Rímbegla is derived from the work of classical authors via, for example, Isidore, Bede, and Honorius.

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