September 1, 2014

University Life - Paris, 13th century C.E.

It's that time of year again! The beginning of a new school year :)

As students start college, I'm reminded of my first semester at the University of San Diego. How overwhelmed and lost I felt, terrified of this new educational system I didn't know, of getting poor grades (many a tear was shed after computer science classes), and being forced to return to Belgium.

Thankfully, I had the help of some wonderful friends and even more wonderful professors, and thanks to them I learned to love learning.

So, for those of you wondering what's to happen to them on this new adventure of theirs, I thought this account of student life at the "model for northern European universities and the study of logic" might bring an interesting contrast (and perhaps some similarities?) to today's universities.

Almost all the students at Paris, foreigners and natives, did absolutely nothing except learn or hear something new. Some studied merely to acquire knowledge, which is curiosity; others to acquire fame, which is vanity; others still for the sake of gain, which is cupidity and the vice of simony. Very few studied for their own edification, or that of others. They wrangled and disputed not merely about the various sects or about some discussions, but the differences between the countries also caused dissensions, hatreds and virulent animosities among them, and they impudently uttered all kinds of affronts and insults against one another.

They affirmed that the English were drunkards and had tails; the sons of France proud, effeminate and carefully adorned like women.

They said that the Germans were furious and obscene at their feasts; the Normans, vain and boastful; the Poitevins, traitors and always adventurers.

The Burgundians they considered vulgar and stupid. 

The Bretons were reputed to be fickle and changeable, and were often reproached for the death of Arthur.

The Lombards were called avaricious, vicious and cowardly; the Romans, seditious, turbulent and slanderous; the Sicilians, tyrannical and cruel; the inhabitants of Brabant, men of blood, incendiaries, brigands, and ravishers; the Flemish, fickle, prodigal, gluttonous, yielding as butter, and slothful. 

After such insults form words they often came to blows.

I will not speak of those logicians before whose eyes flitted constantly 'the lice of Egypt,' that is to say, all the sophistical subtleties, so that no one could comprehend their eloquent discourses in which, as say Isaiah, 'there is no wisdom.' 
Don't both the teacher and students look so happy?!

As to the doctors of theology, 'seated in Moses' set,' they were swollen with learning, but their charity was not edifying. Teaching and not practicing, they have 'become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal,' or like a canal of stone, always dry, which ought to carry water to 'the bed of spices.'

They not only hated one another, but by their flatteries they enticed away the students of others; each one seeking his own glory, but caring not a whit about eh welfare of souls.

Have a wonderful school year and enjoy it all as much as possible (vacation time as well, if you can, trust me)!

The Heritage of World Civilizations: Combined Volume (9th Edition)
Text: Translations and reprints from the Original Sources of European History, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: Department of History, University of Pennsylvania, 1902)


  1. Very briefly, because classes begin soon and some of us have to finish writing the syllabi. Alas, stereotyping by national origin is alive and kicking today, and will go on forever, I am afraid. Most people need simplified templates to deal with the world's and life's complexity that exceeds their processing power.

    I checked Wikipedia (probably correct in this respect): University of Paris 1170, Jagiellonian University (Krakow, Poland) 1364, University of Leuven 1425, whereas University of San Diego 1949 :)

    1. Here's another great exemplification of such stereotyping (back when the EU only had 12 members):

      Yes, USD has a few years to catch up to :)

      Good luck with the syllabi!