Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Albertus Magnus

Today is the Feast of St. Albert the Great (1206-1280), who, it is said, was so well respected in his time that he was often called 'Albert the Great' while he was still alive; and was called by one of his students "the wonder and miracle of our times" (nostri temporis stupor et miraculum). He was, famously, the teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas (whom he outlived). The tale goes that once some of Albert's other students were making fun of Thomas -- a big man from the beginning, and lost in his own world -- by calling him the 'dumb ox'; to which Albert replied, "This dumb ox will one day bellow so loudly that the sound of it will fill the world."

Also famously, Albert is the patron saint of scientists, and while he has some typical medieval limitations, his biography is filled with stories that show why. (As the saying goes, his defects were the defects of his age, his merits were his alone.) One of the most famous ones is when, having heard that ostriches eat iron, he went out and tried to feed iron to an ostrich (he wasn't able to get the ostrich to eat it). Here's another story in Albert's own words:

The formicaleon (the lish of Job 4:11) is called the ant-lion, which is also called murmicaleon. To begin with, this animal is not an ant as some say. For I have a great deal of experience of it and have shown my colleagues that this animal has very much the shape of the tick, and it hides itself in the sand, digging in it a hemispherical cup, at the bottom of which is the ant-lion's mouth; and when the ants, bent on gain, cross the pit, it seizes and devours them. This we have very often watched.

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