I’m currently reading The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer.
Anyone who knows me even a bit will know it’s right up my street, and sure enough I’m finding it almost unputdownable! Fairly early on in the book there is a section on science and superstition. People in the fourteenth century clearly believed some pretty bizarre things, and obviously didn’t and couldn’t understand the world in the same way that we do – so the extract from a text by Roger Bacon he ends the chapter on that area on is absolutely fascinating.
He was speculating about the future, and came up with the following: Ships may be made to move without oars or rowers, so that large vessels might be driven on the sea or on a river by a single man, and more swiftly than if they were strongly manned. Chariots can be built which can move without any draught animal at incalculable speed… Flying machines might be made in the middle of which a man might sit, turning a certain mechanism whereby artfully built wings might beat the air, in the manner of a bird in flight. Another instrument could be made which, although small, will lift or lower weights of almost infinite greatness… Again, instruments might be made for walking in the sea, or in rivers, even to the very bottom, without bodily danger… And very many things of this sort might be made: bridges which cross rivers without pier or prop whatsoever, and unheard of machines and engines…
I only knew Roger Bacon by name, as some kind of philosopher, and possibly the inventor of certain pork products. But having read this I intend to delve into his writings and find out more about him. It’s not surprising to find, as Ian Mortimer tells us, that Bacon’s name appears in Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.