John of Salisbury Criticism - Essay

Clement C. J. Webb (essay date January 1911)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Webb, Clement C. J. “The Policraticus of John of Salisbury.” Church Quarterly Review 71, no. 142 (January 1911): 312-45.

[In the following essay, Webb presents an overview of each of the books of the Policraticus.]

The appearance of a new edition of the Policraticus of John of Salisbury [Ioannis Saresberiensis Episcopi Carnotensis Policratici sive de Nugis Curialium et Vestigiis Philosophorum Libri VIII., edited by Clemens C. I. Webb, 1909] may serve as the occasion of putting before readers of the Church Quarterly Review some account of the principal work of a great Englishman, ‘the central figure of English learning’ in his...

(The entire section is 12922 words.)

E. F. Jacob (lecture date 1923)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Jacob, E. F. “John of Salisbury and the Policraticus.” In The Social and Political Ideas of Some Great Mediaeval Thinkers: A Series of Lectures Delivered at King's College University of London, edited by F. J. C. Hearnshaw, pp. 53-84. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1967.

[In the following essay, first delivered as a lecture in 1923, Jacob summarizes John's political ideas in the Policraticus and details his use of metaphor in comparing the state to the body.]

It is an interesting fact, not always fully realised, that one of the most characteristic expressions of mediæval political theory came from an Englishman. His countrymen, while...

(The entire section is 10449 words.)

John Dickinson (essay date July 1926)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Dickinson, John. “The Mediaeval Conception of Kingship and Some of Its Limitations, as Developed in the Policraticus of John of Salisbury.” Speculum 1, no. 3 (July 1926): 308-37.

[In the following essay, Dickinson explores the sometimes contradictory ideas which constitute John's concept of the monarch.]

The Policraticus of John of Salisbury1 is the earliest elaborate mediaeval treatise on politics.2 Completed in 1159, the date of its composition makes it a landmark in the history of political speculation for two reasons. It is the only important political treatise written before western thought had once more become...

(The entire section is 12260 words.)

Roger Lloyd (essay date April-July 1929)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Lloyd, Roger. “John of Salisbury.” Church Quarterly Review 108 (April-July 1929): 19-38.

[In the following essay, Lloyd presents an overview of John's life and career.]


No student of twelfth century history can long remain unaware of John of Salisbury. The books abound in references to him, and when almost any of the great scholars cross their pages, one may be sure that John is not far away. When the writers are dealing with Church Councils, with the Popes and the Curia, with the diplomacy of kings, or political theory, John is still lurking round the corner. He touched the life of his time at so many points, and he travelled so...

(The entire section is 7080 words.)

W. Ullmann (essay date September 1944)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Ullmann, W. “The Influence of John of Salisbury on Medieval Italian Jurists.” English Historical Review 59, no. 235 (September 1944): 384-92.

[In the following essay, Ullmann discusses the influence of the Policraticus on fourteenth-century Neapolitan jurisprudence.]

The fastidious elegance of John of Salisbury's style, the comprehensiveness and logical consistency of the thoughts expressed in the Policraticus, his dispassionate approach to vexatious problems, the straightforward character of the solutions he proposed, the high moral sense which pervades them, and the preponderance of the ‘positive ethical element’1—all these...

(The entire section is 3824 words.)

Daniel D. McGarry (essay date October 1948)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: McGarry, Daniel D. “Educational Theory in the Metalogicon of John of Salisbury.” Speculum 23, no. 4 (October 1948): 659-73.

[In the following essay, McGarry discusses John's philosophy of education and how it translates practically into curricula and teaching methods.]

Periods of quickened intellectual activity in occidental history have stimulated the pulse of speculation concerning education. The ‘Golden Age’ of the Greeks gave birth to the educational philosophies of Plato and Aristotle; that of their intellectual tyros, the Romans, to the pedagogical theories of Cicero and Quintilian; while the Renaissance produced Vittorino and Erasmus. The...

(The entire section is 8354 words.)

Richard H. Rouse and Mary A. Rouse (essay date October 1967)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Rouse, Richard H., and Mary A. Rouse. “John of Salisbury and the Doctrine of Tyrannicide.” Speculum 42, no. 4 (October 1967): 693-709.

[In the following essay, the Rouses explore the context and details of John's views on political assassination.]

The doctrine of tyrannicide is a well-known element of John of Salisbury's Policraticus.1 Although John was not the first Western thinker to propose the legitimacy of tyrannicide, the fact that he was the first to expound the idea fully and explicitly entitles him to be called the “author” of the doctrine insofar as concerns twelfth-century Europe.2 At various times from the...

(The entire section is 9820 words.)

Brian Hendley (essay date July 1970)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Hendley, Brian. “John of Salisbury and the Problem of Universals.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 8, no. 3 (July 1970): 289-302.

[In the following essay, Hendley assesses John's contribution to solving the problem of universals and notes that his solution has much in common with that proposed by John Locke five centuries later.]

One of the most persistent and vexing philosophical problems in the Middle Ages was that of the nature of universals. Beginning with Boethius' second commentary on the Isagoge of Porphyry, the dispute centered on the question of the existence of genera and species. Are they mere concepts of the mind or can they also be...

(The entire section is 7746 words.)

J. J. N. McGurk (essay date January 1975)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: McGurk, J. J. N. “John of Salisbury.” History Today 25, no. 1 (January 1975): 40-47.

[In the following essay, McGurk offers a portrait of John's life and works, focusing on his humanism.]

In the 1140s an Englishman from Salisbury arrived at the Papal Court of Pope Eugenius III to seek employment and advancement. John of Salisbury, or Johannes Parvus, as he was known to the Middle Ages, did not merely become an ordinary Papal chancery clerk but the outstanding scholar of his age, memorable in his elegant writings for the light he threw on so many of the more important figures in church and state of the second half of the twelfth century. Popes,...

(The entire section is 4195 words.)

Cary J. Nederman (essay date 1987)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Nederman, Cary J. “Aristotelian Ethics and John of Salisbury's Letters.” Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies 18 (1987): 161-73.

[In the following essay, Nederman traces the influence of Aristotle's ideas in John's letters and suggests that their presence indicates a consistency in principle, in both practical and philosophical application.]

To philosophers and political theorists, John of Salisbury represents the pinnacle of twelfth-century learning, his Policraticus and Metalogicon reflecting the breadth and depth of medieval intellectual accomplishment.1 To political and ecclesiastical historians, John is primarily valuable...

(The entire section is 7613 words.)

Kate Langdon Forhan (essay date autumn 1990)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Forhan, Kate Langdon. “Salisburian Stakes: The Uses of ‘Tyranny’ in John of Salisbury's Policraticus.History of Political Thought 11, no. 3 (autumn 1990): 397-407.

[In the following essay, Forhan explores John's views on the relationship between tyranny, flattery, and ambition.]

For students of political thought, the theory of tyrannicide is perhaps the most-often recognized aspect of John of Salisbury's monumental Policraticus, which was presented in 1159 to Chancellor Thomas Becket, during the reign of Henry II of England. Considered by many to be John's most significant contribution to the history of statecraft, the theory was...

(The entire section is 5503 words.)

Cary J. Nederman and Arlene Feldwick (essay date spring 1991)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Nederman, Cary J., and Arlene Feldwick. “To the Court and back again: The Origins and Dating of the Entheticus de Dogmate Philosophorum of John of Salisbury.” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 21, no. 1 (spring 1991): 129-45.

[In the following essay, Nederman and Feldwick examine the circumstances of the creation of the Entheticus de Dogmate Philosophorum and propose a new date for its composition.]


John of Salisbury's 1852-line satirical and philosophical poem, the Entheticus de Dogmate Philosophorum (or Entheticus Maior) must surely rank among the most closely studied texts in recent...

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Cary J. Nederman and Catherine Campbell (essay date July 1991)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Nederman, Cary J., and Catherine Campbell. “Priests, Kings, and Tyrants: Spiritual and Temporal Power in John of Salisbury's Policraticus.Speculum 66, no. 3 (July 1991): 572-90.

[In the following essay, Nederman and Campbell examine John's views on the relationship between church and temporal government, focusing on why scholars have differed considerably in their readings of his position.]

As one might expect of an author of the complexity of John of Salisbury, there is little scholarly agreement regarding the proper interpretation of the major features of his social and political thought. The twelfth-century churchman has always been a...

(The entire section is 9698 words.)

Larry Scanlon (essay date 1994)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Scanlon, Larry. “The Public Exemplum.” In Narrative, Authority, and Power: The Medieval Exemplum and the Chaucerian Tradition, pp. 81-134. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

[In the following excerpt, Scanlon examines John's use of classical authorities—real and fictitious—to disagree with and instruct members of the royal court.]

There is no more telling instance than the Policraticus of the importance to medieval political thinking of rhetoric in general and the exemplum in particular. The most influential Fürstenspiegel of the later Middle Ages, it was also one of the period's most widely circulated exemplum collections. The...

(The entire section is 7794 words.)