Cambridge and the advancement of humanism

Although Erasmus’ life was devoted to the study of classical literature and holy scripture, many of those in Cambridge who fell under his influence also promoted other areas of learning. We see this in the field of mathematics which at around the time of Erasmus’ presence in Cambridge achieved increased prominence as part of the revival of liberal arts then being promoted by Cambridge humanists. An instrumental role was played by Queens’ College where, under the humanist influence of John Fisher, Queens’ fellows were amongst the first to fill the university’s new professorial chair in mathematics (established in around 1500). These included Henry Bullock and Humphrey Walkden, both of whom were friends and correspondents of Erasmus, having studied Greek under him at Queens’.

Humanistic contributions to mathematics and science consisted, in part, in the recovery of Greek scientific literature and its dissemination in new printed editions. The fact that many such examples exist in Queens’ library and contain Latin and Greek annotations by 16th and 17th century readers bears witness to the application of humanistic practices that occurred in all branches of learning. Indeed, long after the new discoveries of Galileo and Columbus had disproved some of the ancient philosophy, the allure of Greek and Roman mathematics and sciences persisted.

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