Eggs and “Art”

Today, in to look at medieval manuscripts, I had a great group of 7th graders from a local school: enthusiastic kids, smart, engaging, who made the leap from the early materials they were looking at to their own education in a flash. They looked at a 13th century sale receipt for a slave and a papal bull of the same date; they read the opening words of a 15th century English primer, “Fadir owre that art in hevenes . . . “; they admired the alphabets in a 16th century calligraphy manual. In spite of the odd shape of medieval arabic numerals, they recognized a multiplication table in a copy of Boethius.They compared a bookmark image of the spheres of the heavens to the manuscript source of the image, and learned the lesson: the real thing is always the best. But what astonished me was their clear and favorite choice: an ordinary paper manuscript, Italian, 15th century, of word problems, meant for the children in the “abbaco” schools to study commercial arithmetic. Our 7th grade visitors recognized problems, read numbers, and sometimes gave answers! And the hokier the drawing, the more they exclaimed over the book. Top choice? See the picture; it’s about a father who has three sons, and to the oldest he gives 50 eggs, and to the middle son, 30 eggs, and the youngest receives 10 eggs; the sons go to market and sell most of each son’s eggs at the same price, with different pricing on some of their eggs; each son returns home with the same amount of money. What was the shared price of each egg? What was the price that each son put on his leftover eggs? And how much money did they bring home?

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