Herman – an Unfinished Life, Life and Times of Herman De Carinthia (1110 – ca 1154 ad) – Part Three

Herman – an Unfinished Life, Life and Times of Herman De Carinthia (1110 – ca 1154 ad) – Part Three

Toulouse : France | Feb 26, 2013 at 1:46 AM PST
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Toulouse France


Author of several works, philosopher, astronomer, astrologer, mathematician, translator, Herman de Carinthia was one of the most distinguished scholars of his time. A man for whom borders did not exit. .




Most of Occitania is covered by forest or vineyards or flat land, suitable for agriculture. To the South of Occitania lie the Pyrenees.At the heart of the Midi region, Toulouse has always occupied an important place in Occitania. Two thousand years of history mirrors on its architecture of brick and tiles so typical of the cities, villages and farms of the Midi – Pyrenees region. Reflection of the sun light on the brick have earned Toulouse the name Ville Rose, it gives this city a particular warm and gentle atmosphere.

For Herman, life was different. It was the pleasure of science and the science of pleasure. He would settle down at his work table to write, calculate, drew-line and figures, write more. He was renowned and respected personage, but was doubtless feared by those who did not know of his profound aversion to violence and domination.

Herman started to write his original philosophical work De Essentiis, On Essence, during 1143 in Toulouse and completed it the same year in Beziers. After obtaining sufficient manuscripts, he would be working in Toulouse and in Beziers with frequent trips to Leone, Najera and Pamplona. It was in Beziers that Herman translated Claudius Ptolomeus' work “Planisphaerium” and revised Euclid's “Euclidis Geometrica Elementa”, Euclid's Geometrical Elements, translated by Adelard Bath, published in Toulouse 1143. The Arabic original is known as “Almag”.

De Essentiis is through to be Herman`s most original work, in which he introduced new scientific and philosophical concepts in the fields of astronomy and physics.

Toulouse is also focal point for trade between the Pyrenees, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. North is large plain suitable for agriculture. People would gather on the hills overlooking the river and named it Tolosa. The name is probably Aquitanian, related to an old Basque language but its meaning is not known. Tolosa would become one of the most important cities in Gaul. Known snce pre-Roman times as one of the wealthiest, it became incorporated into the Roman Province, as Provincia Romana. After the fall of Rome, Toulouse became capital of a rapidly expanding Gothic kingdom. By the end of the 5th century, the Visigoth kingdom of Toulouse extended from the Loire valley in the north to the Strait of Gibraltar in the south, and from the Rhone river in the east to the Atlantic ocean in the west.

At the beginning of the 8th century, armies of the expannding Arab Muslim Empire appeared in Occitania. Coming from Spain along the Mediterranean coast they captured Narbonne from the Visigoths in 719. The Battle of Toulouse was a crushing defeat for the Muslim armies. The Muslim armies would not attempt to conquer Europe north of the Pyrenees. But the proximity with Muslim Spain meant there was a strong flow of knowledge and culture coming from the schools and printing houses of Cordoba.

This rebirth was accompanied by a new demographic expansion; new techniques in agriculture were introduced. The suburbs of Saint-Michel and Saint Cyprien were built during this period. The Daurade Bridge connected in 1181 the Saint-Cyprien suburb to the gates of the city. Four centuries of cross-fertilization of classical, Islamic and Western thought, had helped Occitania, southern France, develop its own, unique civilization.

Some of the key elements of the culture of Andalus had been passed on, influencing the development in Occitania of concepts and doctrines that would spread far beyond the region. Western Europe would own a great deal to this enormously long and rich intellectual flow from Andalus across the Pyrenees into Occitania and Aquitaine. Montpellier's medical school still stands as a very real monument to the time when knowledge knew no frontiers.

Peopled by a host of colorful characters among which Herman de Carinthia, who played key role in these cultural transfers between the Islamic and Christian civilization.

For my part, everything of value that I have learned about live – has been revealed to me, thought Herman. My wisdom has flourished in Andalus and Occitania. My passion in Byzantium and Damscus. My anguish in Pamplona.

My innocence still flourishes in Carinthia.

Toulouse is likely also the site of Herman's unmarked final resting place


Learning is one of the most fascinating aspects of culture and civilization. There is, however, tendency to learn about our selves but not about others. For example anyone who was not a Greek was a barbarian. The Romans built the Hadrian ’s Wall to keep the so-called barbarians at bay. The Chinese built a wall for similar reasons. Yet the memorable civilizations have been precisely those which transcended these limitations. Aristotle became one of the greatest persons of all times because he commissioned his best student, Alexander the Great, to help him learn about Persia, India and wherever he went. The library at Alexandria tried to collect learning from all known cultures.

Religion manifests itself as the most profound of these spirits of culture. In the Middle Ages, religion produced great cathedrals and monasteries. All the major religious texts, share a belief in a power beyond, which gives higher purpose and a sense of security, both in this life and beyond. This quest for enduring security produced the pyramids, and great tombs and monuments throughout the ages. Fruitful combinations of the basic needs produced some of the highlights of civilization. Religious belief requires study. Great synagogues, cathedrals and mosques were also linked with schools. In the Middle Ages the rise of universities was closely linked with religious orders. Just as civilizations have a tendency to set themselves apart, almost all religious groups have their sacred texts, the learning of which sets persons apart from others. The major religions on the world have transcended this tendency.

One of the fundamental contributions of Christianity was to transform this model of learning as systematic process of learning about others. The initial motives were closely linked with self- defense. Evolving in the context of a Greco-Roman civilization, the early Christians had to explain how and why their approach was better. What began as an effort to keep it alive expanded gradually into a series of quests for its revival.

The year 1141 added a further dimension when Peter the Venerable commissioned Robert Retinensis and Hermann de Carinthia, translate the Quran, the Chronicle of the Saracens, Ptolemy's Planisphere and AlKindi's On the Judgement of the Stars from Arabic into Latin. What sparked the great spread of monasteries in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries was a new approach to universal learning. To achieve this required an extraordinary translation campaign and an enormous growth in interpretation. What had begun as isolated attempts in Sicily, Spain, and England, Italy and France, led within the next century and a half to a programmatic attempt to include knowledge, as whole.

The Benedictine order of monks at Cluny would become a very important link in the chain of cultural transmission from Andalus to France. Benedictine monasteries were the most important repositories of learning and literature in Europe. Gerbert of Aurillac - the French monk who became Pope Sylvester II - was also the first European scholar of importance to study Arabic sciences, spending three years in Catalunya as a young man absorbing mathematics and astronomy. He was responsible for sending many Benedictine study teams into Andalus during the highly formative 10th century and some of the greatest intellects of his time.

In the period up to 1500 an important or at least novel aspect of the Muslim-Christian encounter is seen in the development of a fresh perception of Islam among western European Christians closely linked to the Muslim presence in the Iberian Peninsula for nearly eight centuries. In his book Orientalism Edward Said, prominent Lebanese author says that one of his aims is «to show that European culture gained in strength and identity by setting itself off against the Orient” as a sort of surrogate and even underground self, something similar would seem to have been the case earlier.

A commitment to open learning in the truest sense lays a key to revival, a new Renaissance, a deepening of culture, a new global vision. If knowledge is power, then learning is the secret to “new kingdoms” of today. Everyone is talking about an information highway. We need also knowledge and a wisdom highway. We need to focus our spirit. This road may seem isolating at times, but ultimately it is only one we can find a greater freedom. Perhaps we need to know that learning is more important than knowing. In the Middle Ages a number of individuals, among them Herman de Carinthia, understood that important insight. In a sense the monasteries provided a first systematic network for knowledge.

As we are emerging from information highway, we need to make it a networked knowledge highway accessible to everyone. In this lies secret to a new flowering of culture, but which would have been unthinkable without a generation of excellent man and scholars such as Herman de Carinthia, who mastered Arabic, Greek and Latin and enriched European science with the works of Greek, and Muslim authors.

And if today, at the beginning of a new Millennium, the situation will go full circle, and the light of science and knowledge will travel from North to the now weak Muslim South, this would be the most fitting tribute to this great man: Herman de Carinthia, Herman Secundus, Herman Sclavus, Herman of Dalmatia.



This is the difference between us Romans and the Etruscans, Seneca wrote. We believe that lighting is caused by clouds colliding, whereas they believe that clouds collide in order to create lighting. Since they attribute everything to gods, they are led to believe not that events have a meaning because they have happened, but that they happen in order to express a meaning

History teaches us that such a fate is the universal outcome of dogmatic structures, whatever their name may be, or power, or background. The dogmatic set up effectively closes the door on the individual's innermost self by setting up a supreme authority over the individual that dictates ideological axioms and labels them as truth. On this platform, the door to infinity is kept closed. It prevents man's native drive for reaching out to infinity. Whatever rests on this platform become a structure of limitation. It acts most severely against the foundation of human value. Under the axioms of delimited value human life becomes cheap.

The history of the holy wars, by whoever they were fought, and under whatever pretext, or name, presents an example of an ideology in which human life is considered of little value. These axioms reign with deadly force, even though it was demonstrated in times of renaissance that mankind is unmistakably the tallest and most valuable manifest of life on the planet, with capabilities that no other species is able to approximate, so much so that man has recognized himself in such period as the expressed image and likeness of God.

Mankind's history has been one of unfolding ideas, of expanding knowledge, of applied understanding, of crossing the boundaries of limits in a near routine fashion whenever the imposed restraints allowed time and energies to be devoted to discoveries and creative application of the technologies of the mind. Mankind's history has also been pervaded with massive abuses of the human intellect. .

The article aims to encourage further enquiry and research into life and work of Herman de Carinthia.

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As we are emerging from information highway, we need to make it a networked knowledge highway accessible to everyone. In this lies secret to a new flowering of culture, but which would have been unthinkable without a generation of excellent man and scholars such as Herman de Carinthia, who mastered Arabic, Greek and Latin and enriched European science with the works of Greek, and Muslim authors.
Irena Knehtl is based in Sanā, Hadramaut, Yemen, and is a Reporter on Allvoices.
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