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liberal arts curriculum, seven arts, trivium, quadrivium


Most modern discussions of the liberal arts curriculum of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries focus their attention rather narrowly on the seven arts subsumed under the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy). This is not without some cause. After all, Thierry of Chartres, in the prologue to his Heptaatheucon, remarked:

For since these are the two principal tools of the philosopher, understanding (intellectus) and the expression (interpretatio) thereof—the quadrivium gives light to understanding and the trivium furnishes the elegant, rational, decorous expression thereof—it is evident that the heptatheucon [i.e., the seven liberal arts] is the sole and single instrument of all philosophy.

There is, however, evidence to suggest that the scholars of the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries studied more than these seven arts in their pursuit of philosophical wisdom. Indeed, the liberal arts curriculum of this age included, among other things, the study of ethics. Up until now, most medievalists have treated ethics only as an adjunct to the arts of the trivium. Certainly students at that time would have acquired a knowledge of many ethical precepts in their study of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Texts that were highly regarded for their moral value were used as the basis for instruction in these three arts. In this way, ethics did serve as an adjunct to the trivium. However, it appears that ethics also stood as a field of inquiry all its own.