Encyclopedia

Engelbert of Admont

Biography

Englebert (birth name Engelbert Poetsch) was born to noble parents in Styria in the middle of the 13th century (probably about 1250) and entered the Benedictine abbey of Admont around 1267, when he was a teeager. Most of what is known of of his life is found in an autobiographical letter written to his friend Ulric of Vienna. In 1271 he was sent to Prague to study grammar and logic at the cathedral school. Political troubles caused by the election of Rudolph I for Roman king in October 1273, forced him to leave Prague. After a short stay at Admont he left for Paua to complete his education, studying the liberal arts for five years followed by four more years studying theology. He then returned to Admont before being elected abbot of St. Peter in Salzbourg, the mother abbey of Admont. In 1297, the abbot of Admont, Henri II, was murdered and Engelbert was chosen to replace him. He ruled the abbey for 30 years until 1327, when he resigned and retired to spend the remainder of his life in prayer and study. He died in 1331.

Works

Englebert was a prolific writer, producing perhaps as many as 34 works. He was best known for the De ortu, progressu et fine Romani imperii (Of the rise, progress, and end of the Roman empire), in which he set out his political principles: a ruler must be a learned man; his sole aim must be the welfare of his subjects; an unjust ruler may be justly deposed; emperor and pope are, each in his sphere, independent rulers; the Holy Roman Empire is a Christian continuation of the pagan empire of ancient Rome; there should be only one supreme temporal ruler, the emperor, to whom all other temporal rulers should be subject. Englebert was one of the most learned men of his time, and contributed important works on many topics, including natural history, theology, politics, philosophy, and music.

Tractatus de naturis animalium

The Tractatus de naturis animalium is based on the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. The animals mentioned and their order in the manuscript closely matches Book 12 of the Etymologies, but Engelbert also drew on other ancient sources such as Aristotle, Pliny the Elder, Gaius Julius Solinus, Saint Ambrose and the Physiologus. He added from these sources some animals not found in the Etymologies, but also left out some of Isidore's accounts.

Engelbert's treatise is in two parts, the first on the nature of humans and the monstrous human races, and the second on animals. The Tractus is divided into several sections, as follows [adapted from Schmitz, page 179; folio numbers are those in Stiftsbibliothek Admont, Codex Admontensis 119]:

  1. Prologue [folio 29r]
  2. Of human nature [folio 29r-30v, 21 chapters]
    • Monstrous human races [folio 30v-31r]
    • Kinds of monsters [folio 31r-31v]
  3. Nature of animals [folio 31v]
    • Definition of animal
    • Two questions and responses
    • Kinds of animals
  4. Animals that walk on land [folio 32r-38v, 72 chapters]
  5. Serpents [folio 38v-40r, 28 chapters]
  6. Worms [folio 40r-40v, 11 chapters]
  7. Fish [folio 40v-42v, 53 chapters]
  8. Birds [folio 43r-46v, 68 chapters
  9. Small flying animals [folio 46v-47r, 18 chapters]

Manuscripts

The Tractus only appears in only three manuscripts. There are two manuscripts at the Stiftsbibliothek Admont (the library of Benedictine monastery where Engelbert was abbot); one in the Narodna in Univerzitetna Knjiznica in Ljubljana, Slovakia. The texts in Stiftsbibliothek Admont, Codex Admontensis 119 and Narodna in Univerzitetna Knjiznica, Ms 23 are said to be the earliest and to have the bext textual quality, with Stiftsbibliothek Admont, Codex Admontensis 547 being a direct copy of Codex Admontensis 119 (Schmitz, page 178), though there are some differences between the two manuscripts.