Chapter 1: Spain Before Islam Imagine a world in which one person could know everything worth knowing. And imagine a world in which everything worth knowing filled a mere few hundred pages. Archbishop Isidore of Seville was such a person, and seventh-century Europe such a world.Lest Isidore be accused of vanity unbecoming an archbishop, he himself never claimed to be the Man Who Knew Everything. Rather, it was his friend Bishop Braulio of Saragossa who gushed that Isidore's seventh-century encyclopedia comprised "well-nigh everything that ought to be known." Unfortunately, few of Isidore's contemporaries perused that encyclopedia. There were few Europeans to begin with, only a minute fraction of them literate, and books were rare treasures.Today's Spain enjoys a population of some 40 million. Isidore's Spain was a far lonelier place, with perhaps only a tenth as many people; imagine Utah's sparse population scattered across an expanse twice as large. The written word was an impenetrable mystery to the overwhelming majority of these 4 or 5 million Spaniards. Organized education was nonexistent, save for a few monastic or cathedral schools that labored to equip clerics with the rudimentary skills required for church rituals.Though Spain's (and Europe's) literate population was tiny, the medieval "publishing industry" struggled to service its few readers. A modern printing press effortlessly churns out many thousands of volumes each day; a medieval scribe would be lucky to turn out two in ayear.That was after he and his monastic brethren invested sweaty hours of soaking animal hide, scraping away fat, and stretching, curing, and drying the skin to produce serviceable vellum parchment. No wonder the few texts emerging from this labor-intensive process became precious items. Whereas bibliophiles today might scoop up a handful of used books for the cost of a hamburger, a ninth-century manuscript would have cost the equivalent of "fifteen pigs or four mature sheep."Spain's illiterate majority was deprived of Isidore's intellectual cornucopia, but they also were spared the depressing realization that they lived in a Dark Age. Perspective was hard to come by in an era when most Europeans knew little of the world beyond the next village and little of the past save what their parents recalled. No Spaniard knew that he lived in a country of some 4 or 5 million people, much less that Spain had sheltered many more before devastating plagues ravaged much of Europe's population. The plummeting population had plunged Spain's (and Europe's) economy into a depression that was exacerbated when barbarian hordes breached the Roman Empire's borders, disrupted trade, and strained the empire's resources to the breaking point.What was unknown to Spaniards made little practical difference to their daily lives. Peasants scratched out meager livelihoods; surviving the next winter was their major preoccupation. Their horizons were bound by their village and its environs, just as it had been for parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Surviving to a first birthday was no mean feat, and celebrating a fortieth a better than average achievement. The outside world seldom visited them, and they seldom visited the outside world. For all they knew, the world was proceeding as the world always had.Through the curse of literacy, Bishop Braulio knew better. The few books in his library made reference to classical scholars who had blazed a more enlightened path forward for humanity's earlier generations. But while Braulio knew names like Aristotle, Galen, and Ptolemy, he also knew that most of their works had long since vanished from circulation, presumably lost forever. Nor had Braulio's century spawned intellectual lights to replace those of ancient Greece and Rome. Most civilizations harbor at least the illusion of progress, that humanity is somehow struggling forward under their generation'sLowney, Christopher is the author of 'Vanished World Medieval Spain's Golden Age Of Enlightenment', published 2005 under ISBN 9780743243599 and ISBN 0743243595.