Alcuin of York


Alcuin of YorkAlcuin was a Latinist, astrologer, classicist, and teacher of rhetoric. He was an influential figure contributing to the restoration of scholarship in the Western world. He founded schools and a significant library in York, England. Because of his accomplishments, he was recruited by Charlemagne to head a school at Aachen, a city now in Western Germany. His impact for his work at that school was to elevate literacy and scholarship throughout the European continent. Later, Alcuin joined the Abbey of Saint-Martin-de Tours.

Alcuin's schools taught the trivium—grammar, rhetoric, and logic, a curriculum structure borrowed the ancient liberal arts tradition, especially from Cicero. This way of carrying out liberal arts education was to continue for centuries. In the 12th century this trivium was expended into seven subjects (the quadrivium) with the additional four being arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy. Alcuin's angle on the curriculum was ecclesiastical.

Alcuin wrote theological, dogmatic treatises, as well as treatises on grammar and rhetoric. His book on rhetoric, De Rhetorica, was devoted mostly to Cicero's concept of Invention—the process by which a speaker analyzes his subject and determines the subject matter of his speech. His manuals on grammar, rhetoric, and dialectics are written as dialogues, including ones between Charlemagne and Alcuin himself (Alcuin, 1965).

Alcuin's unique twist on traditional rhetoric such as that of Cicero, was to alter the purpose of virtues (prudence, justice, courage and temperance) from a means to improve rhetoric to a way to achieve moral ends.

Writings by Alcuin

Alcuin (1965). The rhetoric of Alcuin and Charlemagne. Trans. Wilbur Samuel Howell. NY: Russell and Russell.

Writings about Alcuin

Allott, Stephen (1974). Alcuin of York, c. 732-804. York: Wm Sessions

Duckett, Eleanor (1951). Alcuin, friend of Charlemagne: His world and his work. NY: Macmillan.

Wallach, L. (1959). Alcuin and Charlemagne: Studies in Carolingian history and literature. Cornell Studies in Classical Philology, #32. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.