Eyeglasses and Dante

I think I wasn’t clear enough in my Tuesday post.

Jean Gimpel, author of The Medieval Machine, discussed eyeglasses on page 149 in that book. He quoted from a sermon given in Florence, in 1306, praising the invention of eyeglasses some twenty years earlier. (He obtained this reference from another author listed in his notes.) Gimpel’s point was that new inventions were constantly being made in the 1200’s and beginning 1300’s.

My point is that this is relevant to the honor given Saint Lucy, patron of eyes and eyesight, by Dante!

Credit for the invention of eyeglasses is often given to an Italian named Salvino d’Armati with a date around 1285, when Dante would have been 20 years old. Salvino’s eyeglasses were perhaps made of quartz, and they had to be held up rather than sitting independently on one’s face. BUT they allowed people to see who had been unable to do so. The above mentioned sermon giver thought this invention was one of the best ever. He also makes clear that people knew and cared about eyeglasses.

One of my Catholic scientists from slightly earlier, Robert Grossteste, had a tremendous interest in optics. He also studied magnification. After all anyone who has looked at a raindrop on a surface can see that what is under the raindrop has been magnified.

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