restricted access The ordering of time: from the ancient computus to the modern computer (review)
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140 Reviews comments upon the wide-ranging meanings of medieval political vocabulary. Certainly this is important, but packing a bewildering array of Latin terms into a few pages, especially at the beginning, confuses and bores students. Footnotes are sporadic and incomplete. There seems to be no pattern to what Black chooses to identify and what he cites without reference. The bibliography, which is divided into many thematic groups, is hard to use, and the index is inadequate. All in all, this book has limited usefulness as a textbook. Tiemey's book is more successful, more compelling, and more coherent. Although its scope is somewhat narrower and it does not treat all important forms or influences of political expression, it covers the more intelligible period 1150-1650. In sum, while Black's book contains a wealth of information and a thoughtful analysis of medieval political thought, the definitive work has yet to be written. James M . Blythe Department of History University of Memphis, T N Borst, Arno, The ordering of time: from the ancient computus to the modern computer, trans. A. Winnard, Cambridge and Oxford, Polity Press and Basil Blackwell, 1993; paper; pp. x, 168; 25 illustrations; R.R.P. AUS$37.95 [distributed in Australia by Allen & Unwin]. 'And, as it works, th' industrious Bee/Computes its time as well as we'. W e are pleased to encounter Marvell's enumerative insect, and our pleasure is enhanced by the realization that the poet is toying with, and conflating, three distinct theories of time. The great art historians of the Warburg Institute have taught us much about the iconography of time in medieval and Renaissance art and literature, and the rediscovery of Biblical typology as a critical and analytical tool has identified elegance and symmetry in the anachronisms and anatopisms of the medieval mystery play and in much seventeenth-century religious verse. Indeed, any encounter with the word 'time', in however trivial a form, alerts nervous readers to the possibility that they may be guilty of perpetrating a betise unless they reflect carefully on the convention which is implicitly being employed. As historians of ideas, w e struggle to identify time conventions which are not our own, whilst accepting uncritically the inevitable presence of our own temporal Reviews 141 paradigms. So I sit, writing this review, not in the year 2,748 ab urbe condita, nor in 7,503 anni mundi, but in the year 1995 A.D., and I have the Venerable Bede to thank for it. That it is now the thirty-ninth minute of the hour locates m e outside a time scheme which regarded any time unit of less than an hour as of no importance, and hence not worth devising. Since I have abandoned the concept that the cosmos was created in seven days, I do not regard myself as living along a parallel paradigmatic track wherein I am in thefifthof m y seven allotted decades, nor do I regard myself as one who is on a journey from the centre of a concentric seven-layered spherical system to its outer periphery, m y life governed at this point by the sphere of the planet Mars, whose influence dictates that m y health, or lack of it, is exclusively determined by the state of m y gall bladder. Arno Borst's lucid and learned book consists offifteenterse chapters, each of approximately six or eight pages. H e is concerned with the faltering steps by which our own time conventions have evolved as, like Arthur Koestler's sleepwalker, Western Europe has straggled to reify and subtilize its concept of time. Borst sets himself five tasks. H e wishes to determine the extent to which medieval people differentiated between objective natural time and subjective human time, and whether both concepts derived from the same theory of divine creation. Again, debating the viewpoint that modern chronometry was created by the late medieval demand for more accurate timekeeping as commerce and skilled manual work assumed greater significance, Borst addresses himself to determining whether we are justified in locating a sharp epistemological shift from an archaicreligiousworld view to a modern and economic one. Yet again, how valid is it to assume uncritically...


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