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Prof. Eric G. Forbes

Roger Bacon was a medieval English scholar whom many would regard as having been born 'out of his time' because his method of philosophising was so atypical of the thirteenth century A.D. (or 7th Hegira) in which he lived. Although there are only a few brief references to him in contemporary chronicles, it would appear that he received his early education in Oxford before teaching subjects like logic and grammar, natural philosophy, and metaphysics in the Faculty of Arts at Paris University. In later life, he became a Franciscan Friar. The main Sources of biographical information about him and his ideas are contained in his three major works, the Opus major, Opus minor, and Opus tertium all Composed during the later years of his life.

The Aristotelian Corpus was, as might be expected, a dominant formative influence Upon Bacon's philosophy in general, and Upon his natural philosophy in particular; but his world view is distinguishable from most contemporary and later Christian thinkers in the extent of its dependency upon indirect translations into Latin from Syria and Arabic Sources as opposed to direct translations from the Greek. The internalevidence of his writings reveals, for example, that his familiarity with Greek medical texts such as those constituting the Hippocratic Corpus was slight; whereas he quoted frequently and accurately from Johm of Damascus's Aphorisms and Haly ben Rodwan's astrological Commentary on Ptolemy of Alexandria's Tetrabiblos and famous exposition of Galen's Ars Medica. Half of his references to the Jewish physician Isaac ben Solomon Israeli stem from the works of the latter's Arab pupil Ahmed ben Al-Gezzar (alias Ametus). His chief guide in medicine was the Canon of Ibn Sina (Avicenna), whom he cites as frequently as all those other writers combined. In philosophy too, Ibn Sina's influence upon him was more immediate than either that of Aristotle or Ibn Rashd (Averroes).

The book which was destined to have the greatest impact Upon Bacon's mode of thinking and to mould it into a form unique among his western contemporaries, was the pseudo-Aristotelian Secretum Secretorum, or 'The Secret of Secrets', a Latin translation from Arabic by the French -speaking Philip, Bishop of Tripoli. This popular work purports to contain the secret doctrines of Aristotle, written expressly for his famous pupil Alexander the Great, Son of King Philip II of Macedon. Despite the fact that Greek ideas had been incorporated into it, the texture is oriental rather than western, and probably originates from the early 9th century A.D. (2nd Hegira) when there was a Considerable interaction between Persia and Syria.

No Syriac translation has, however, been discovered, and the particular edition which Bacon read in Paris is based Upon the so-called "eastern Arabic form" embodying a number of accretions or additions up to approximately 1220 A.D. (or 580 Hegira).

The author, whoever he may have been, is supposed to be giving Alexander advice on regimen and medicines; the choice of government, Court officials, and ambassadors; and the conduct of wars. Astrology is strongly recommended as a profitable method of anticipating future events; as is the bearing of a talisman or good-luck charm and a herb with healing properties. In the introduction to his own annotated edition of the text, prepared around the mid-13th century A.D., Bacon defends astrology on the ground that since the body is modified hour by hour through the action of the various constellations, it is disposed to act in a prescribed way. However, he is careful to point out that the anticipated course of events can be altered either by the exercise of human free will or by divine intervention. Elsewhere, he lists the neglect of astrology and alchemy together with that of natural philosophy, metaphysics, and sense-experience among the major weaknesses in the contemporary.