This book provides a series of studies concerning unique medieval texts that can be defined as ‘books of knowledge’, such as medieval chronicles, bestiaries, or catechetic handbooks. Thus far, scholarship of intellectual history has focused on concepts of knowledge to describe a specific community, or to delimit intellectuals in society. However, the specific textual tool for the transmission of knowledge has been missing. Besides oral tradition, books and other written texts were the only sources of knowledge, and they were thus invaluable in efforts to receive or transfer knowledge. That is one reason why texts that proclaim to introduce a specific field of expertise or promise to present a summary of wisdom were so popular. These texts discussed cosmology, theology, philosophy, the natural sciences, history, and other fields. They often did so in an accessible way to maintain the potential to also attract a non-specialised public. The basic form was usually a narrative, chronologically or thematically structured, and clearly ordered to appeal to readers. Books of this kind could be disseminated in dozens or even hundreds of copies, and were often available (by translation or adaptation) in various languages, including the vernacular.
In exploring these widely-disseminated and highly popular texts that offered a precise segment of knowledge that could be accessed by readers outside the intellectual and social elite, this volume intends to introduce books of knowledge as a new category within the study of medieval literacy.