Silvester Ii., Pope

, a man of great talents and influence in the tenth century, was born in Aquitaine, of mean parentage, and was educated in a neighbouring convent. His original name was Gerbert. From his convent he passed into the family of a count of Barcelona, in which he prosecuted his studies under the care of a Spanish bishop, whom he accompanied from Spain to Rome. Here he was introduced to Otho the great, attached himself to Adalbaron, the archbishop of Rheims, whom he attended to his see, and returned with him about the year 972 into Italy. His progress in learning, which comprized geometry, | astronomy, the mathematics, mechanics, and every branch of subordinate science, is said to have been prodigious; and his residence in Spain, during which he visited Cordova and Seville, had enabled him to profit by the instruction of the Arabian doctors. With such acquirements, he was promoted by Otho to be abbot of the monastery of Bobbio in Lombardy, but, finding no satisfaction in this place, he again joined his friend the archbishop of Rheims. Here he had leisure to prosecute his favourite studies, while, as his letters shew, his abilities were usefully engaged in different political transactions: in addition to the superintendance of the public schools, he was intrusted with the education of Robert, son and successor of Hugh Capet. He also employed himself in collecting books from every quarter, in studying them, and in introducing a taste for them among his countrymen. It is said that the effects of this enlightened zeal were soon visible in Germany, Gaul, and Italy; and by his writings, as well as by his example and his exhortations, many were animated to emulate their master’s fame, and caught by the love of science, to abandon the barbarous prejudices of the age. In his epistles, Gerbert cites the names of various classical authors, whose works he possessed, though often incomplete: and it is plain, from the style of these epistles, that he expended his wealth in employing copyists, and exploring the repositories of ancient learning.

Though, if we may believe his encomiasts, the genius of Gerbert embraced all the branches of learning, its peculiar bent was to mathematical inquiries. In these, when the barbarism of the age is considered, he may be said to have advanced no inconsiderable way. What was the extent of his astronomical science, does not appear: but what chiefly deserves notice, is the facility with which he aided his own progress, and rendered discovery more palpable, by combining mechanism with theory. He constructed spheres, the arrangements of which he describes observed the stars through tubes invented a clock, which with some accuracy marked the hours, and was esteemed an able musician. He is said to have been as well skilled in the construction of musical instruments as in the use of them, particularly the hydraulic organ. William of Malmsbury speaks with wonder of the perfection to which he had brought this instrument, by means of blowing it with warm water. Dr. Burney thinks that the application of warm water may have | been the invention of Gerbert, though, in all probability, he had followed the principles of Vitruvius in constructing the instrument.

In the Rawlinson collection of Mss. at Oxford, there is a didactic poem, entitled “Ars Mu^ica,” which, though anonymous, contains internal evidence of having been written by Gerbert. It is composed in Latin monkish rhyme, except where such technical terms occurred, as could not possibly be reduced to metre. The last chapter of this work is a separate treatise, of a very few pages, under the title of “Rhythmomachia,” or the battle of numbers and figures, which is universally allowed to have been written by Gerbert. It was composed as a kind of game, soon after the arrival of the Arabian figures or ciphers in Europe, for which the author gives rules resembling those for chess. Hence some of his biographers say, that it is to Gerbert we are indebted for the Arabic numerals. Certainly such attainments were indications ofno common mind, and induced the vulgar to suspect that he was addicted to magic an absurd notion, which Platina had adopted, for he says that he obtained the papacy by ill arts, and that he left his monastery to follow the devil. He allows him, indeed, the merit of a sincere repentance; but mentions some prodigies at his death, which will claim little regard on the testimony of such a writer.

On his rise to the papacy we shall be brief. In 991, Hugh Capet promoted him to the archbishopric of Rheiins; but this elevation was a source of disquiet to him, and after much contention, he was obliged to resign the see to Arnulf, the natural son of Lothaire, king of France, who had been formerly deposed from it. This was in 997, and at the same time Otho III. conferred upon him the archbishopric of Ravenna; and on the death of pope Gregory V, in 999, he was elected to the papal dignity, when he assumed the name of Silvester. The acts of his pontificate were but few, and not at all important. In 1000 he is said to have conferred on Stephen I., king of Hungary, the royal title, with the famous crown, the palladium of that kingdom, and to have constituted him perpetual legate of the holy see, with power to dispose of all ecclesiastical benefices. It was also in this century that the plan of the holy war was formed; and towards the conclusion of it, the signal was given by our learned pontiff, in the first year of his pontificate, in aa epistle, written in the name of the church | of Jerusalem, to the church universal throughout the world, in which the European powers are solemnly exhorted to succour and deliver the Christians in Palestine. The pontiff’s exhortations, however, were only regarded by the inhabitants of Pisa.

Silvester died in 1003. His “Epistles,” of which 161 are still extant, contain many curious particulars respecting natural philosophy. They were published at Paris in 1611, 4to, and are also in the “Bibl. Patrum,” Duchesne’s collection, and the collection of the councils. 1


Dupin. Berington’s Lit. History of the Middle Ages. Barney’s Hist, of Music. Baron ii Annales. 'Bower’s Hist, of the Popes. —Saxii Onomast.