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Encyclopedias Collection

History Archive - Encyclopedias Collection

ENCYCLOPAEDIA. The Greeks seem to have understood by encyclopaedia (??????????????, or ????????? ???????) instruction in the whole circle (?? ?????) or complete system of learning—education in arts and sciences. Thus Pliny, in the preface to his Natural History, says that his book treated of all the subjects of the encyclopaedia of the Greeks, “Jam omnia attingenda quae Graeci ??? ??????????????? vocant.”

Quintilian (Inst. Orat. i. 10) directs that before boys are placed under the rhetorician they should be instructed in the other arts, “ut efficiatur orbis ille doctrinae quam Graeci ??????????????? vocant.” Galen (De victus ratione in morbis acutis, c. 11) speaks of those who are not educated ?? ?? ??????????????. In these passages of Pliny and Quintilian, however, from one or both of which the modern use of the word seems to have been taken, ????????? ??????? is now read, and this seems to have been the usual expression. Vitruvius (lib. vi. praef.) calls the encyclios or ????????? ??????? of the Greeks “doctrinarum omnium disciplina,” instruction in all branches of learning.

Strabo (lib. iv. cap. 10) speaks of philosophy ??? ??? ????? ???????? ?????????. Tzetzes (Chiliades, xi. 527), quoting from Porphyry’s Lives of the Philosophers, says that ???????? ???????? was the circle of grammar, rhetoric, philosophy and the four arts under it, arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy. Zonaras explains it as grammar, poetry, rhetoric, philosophy, mathematics and simply every art and science (????? ???? ????? ??? ????????), because sophists go through them as through a circle.

The idea seems to be a complete course of instruction in all parts of knowledge. An epic poem was called cyclic when it contained the whole mythology; and among physicians ????? ??????????, cyclo curare (Vegetius, De arte veterinaria, ii. 5, 6), meant a cure effected by a regular and prescribed course of diet and medicine (see Wower, De polymathia, c. 24, § 14).

The word encyclopaedia was probably first used in English by Sir Thomas Elyot. “In an oratour is required to be a heape of all maner of lernyng: whiche of some is called the worlde of science, of other the circle of doctrine, whiche is in one worde of greke Encyclopedia” (The Governour, bk. i. chap. xiii.). In his Latin dictionary, 1538, he explains “Encyclios et Encyclia, the cykle or course of all doctrines,” and “Encyclopedia, that lernynge whiche comprehendeth all lyberall science and studies.” The term does not seem to have been used as the title of a book by the ancients or in the middle ages.

The edition of the works of Joachimus Fortius Ringelbergius, printed at Basel in 1541, is called on the title-page Lucubrationes vel potius absolutissima ????????????. Paulus Scalichius de Lika, an Hungarian count, wrote Encyclopaediae seu orbis disciplinarum epistemon (Basileae, 1599, 4to). Alsted published in 1608 Encyclopaedia cursus philosophici, and afterwards expanded this into his great work, noticed below, calling it without any limitation Encyclopaedia, because it treats of everything that can be learned by man in this life. This is now the most usual sense in which the word encyclopaedia is used—a book treating of all the various kinds of knowledge.

The form “cyclopaedia” is not merely without any appearance of classical authority, but is etymologically less definite, complete and correct. For as Cyropaedia means “the instruction of Cyrus,” so cyclopaedia may mean “instruction of a circle.” Vossius says, “Cyclopaedia is sometimes found, but the best writers say encyclopaedia” (De vitiis sermonis, 1645, p. 402). Gesner says, “?????? est circulus, quae figura est simplicissima et perfectissima simul: nam incipi potest ubicunque in illa et ubicunque cohaeret. Cyclopaedia itaque significat omnem doctrinarum scientiam inter se cohaerere; Encyclopaedia est institutio in illo circulo.” (Isagoge, 1774, i. 40).


1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 9 pp. 369-382.

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