Early Encyclopedias

Attempts at encompassing universal knowledge began with the brilliantly comprehensive works of Aristotle. Other classical writers tried to follow his example, and the Natural History of Pliny the Elder is sometimes called the first encyclopedia. Alexandrian scholars did some work of an encyclopedic nature in compiling their lengthy anthologies and summations of knowledge. The Asian encyclopedias, particularly the voluminous Chinese collections, were actually more in the nature of anthologies than reference works. In the Middle Ages various scholars drew up compendiums of knowledge; notable were the Etymologiae of Isidore of Seville, a curious mixture of fact and legend, and 13th-century works by Vincent of Beauvais, Roger Bacon, and Brunetto Latini.

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