The Four Elements and Their Characteristics according to the Schema in the Early Medieval Anonymous Fragment De Quattuor Elementis



elements, materia, Early Middle Ages, scientific diagram, Plato, Aristotle, Calcidius, Boethius, Isidore of Sevilla


The paper is an attempt to interpret a schema that is part of an early medieval fragment known as the Excerptum de quattuor elementis. In this schema, the individual elements (fire, air, water, earth) are presented as the elements which form the material world using several characterisations typical of the period: as the sum of their natural physical properties in accordance with the Platonic and Aristotelian traditions, as geometric shapes (to put it simply, using the so-called Platonic solids) and as numerical values connected by a 2:1 ratio. The aim of this paper is to propose a possible interpretation of the numerical values and connections found in this schema using contemporary texts and diagrams (especially Calcidius and Isidore of Seville, as well as other sources available at the time), which would include a consistent yet complex characterisation of the elements, their properties and their mutual interconnectedness, as found in the fragmentary text of the Excerptum de quattuor elementis and in the schema itself.


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How to Cite

Otisk, M. (2021). The Four Elements and Their Characteristics according to the Schema in the Early Medieval Anonymous Fragment De Quattuor Elementis. Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, 17(3), 462–500. Retrieved from