The Seven Liberal Arts


C4th CE: Martianus Capella’s Satyricon established a set of seven liberal arts and they became common in the curriculums of pagan schools.[1, pp.97-98]

C6th CE: Parts of the Christian world began studying the seven liberal arts. The key figure in introducing the seven liberal arts to the Christian world was Cassiodorus. He wrote a work called Institutiones in which he advocated for seven liberal arts.[1, p.98]

“He did not mention Capella in his treatise, but his approval and promotion of the seven liberal arts gave the Satyricon of his pagan predecessor a tremendous boost and made it the standard textbook of the monasteries and therefore of the Middle Ages.”
W. H. Cowley (1978)[1, p.98]

C9th CE: The Trivium and Quadrivium gained significant traction because of Charlemagne’s educational advisor, Alcuin.[1, p.98]

C12th CE: The seven liberal arts fell out of the core curriculum and got replaced by the Three Philosophies (Natural, Moral, and Metaphysical/Mental).[1, p.98]

Google Ngram Viewer

I searched “seven liberal arts” on Google Ngram Viewer (GNV). I set it to give results from 1500-1900 in English (2019), case-insensitive.[2]

There was a single 16th century example but I think it was really a 19th century example placed in the 16th century by mistake, which does happen sometimes given that GNV is not a perfect tool.

There were four seventeenth century examples included in the results:
1 – (1656) Edward Leigh, “A Treatise of Religion and Learning, and of Religious and Learned Men, etc.
2 – (1659) John Rider, “Riders Dictionary: Volumes 1-2
3 – (1677) John Newton, “The English Academy: Or a Brief Introduction to the Seven Liberal Arts”
4 – (1691) Anthonya Wood, “Athenae Oxonienses. An Exact History of All the Writers and Bishops, who Have Had Their Education in the … University of Oxford from the Year 1500 to the End of the Year 1690. (etc.)”

Publications became more common in the 18th century and have increased since then.

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[1] – Cowley, W. H. “The Seven Liberal Arts Hoax.” Improving College and University Teaching, vol. 26, no. 1, 1978, pp. 97–99. JSTOR, Accessed 9 Jan. 2021.

[2] – Google Ngram Viewer, “seven liberal arts”. Accessed 9 Jan. 2021.

[3] – Andrew Fleming West, “The Seven Liberal Arts” (1912). Accessed 12 Jan. 2021.

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