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The Secret of Secrets. The title alone promises the revelation of the most treasured arcana and piques our interest. Add the names of Aristotle and Alexander the Great, and our curiosity is securely engaged. Readers reacted similarly during the Latin Middle Ages. The work alleges to be an extended letter of advice sent by Aristotle to his former pupil Alexander the Great while the latter was on a campaign in Persia. It stood at the top of the "best-seller" list for hundreds of years and was read by two different audiences: scholars and laypersons. Steven J. Williams focuses his study on its reception by European scholars, starting with its translation into Latin during the High Middle Ages and carrying the story through to the time when scholarly attention waned around 1550.
An important medieval text that also provides a window onto medieval intellectual life, Secret of Secrets played a modest though significant role in medieval scholarly life: "significant" in that it was used in a variety of scholarly contexts, had some part to play in the scholarly controversies of the day, and was so often read that an impressive number of manuscripts are still extant today; "modest" in that it was cited much less frequently than the major works of its day.
Steven J. Williams is Associate Professor in the Department of History, New Mexico Highlands University.
Copyright © 2003, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted May 2003.
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