The encyclopedia is a reference work that collects informative or critical items "according to a logical and organic system, or even in the form of individual items distributed in alphabetical order", concerning the entire field of human knowledge or a specific area of it. The Latin Renaissance term encyclopædia derives from the Greek expression of Pliny the Elder ἐγκύκλιος παιδεία (enkyklios paideia), literally "circular education", ie complete, capable of including all disciplines. This expression was later taken up in Latin by Quintilian in the Institutio oratoria and appears in the modern sense of the term for the first time in Johann Heinrich Alsted's Encyclopaedia Cursus Philosophici septem tomis distincta (1630). which has been handed down, the Naturalis historia, was written in the first century by Pliny the Elder. The modern encyclopedia evolved from dictionaries around the 17th century. The best known and most important of the first encyclopedias in history is the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d'Alembert, published in Paris in the second half of the 18th century.
Historically, some encyclopedias were contained in a single volume, but some became huge works in numerous volumes, such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica or the more voluminous, the European-American Encyclopedia universal ilustrada. Some modern encyclopedias, such as Wikipedia, which is the most voluminous. widespread, are digital and freely available.
First encyclopedic works
The human being has carried out encyclopedic activity, understood as an effort to systematically give shape to his knowledge, for most of his history, at least since rational and scientific thought has established itself to the detriment of epic and religious descriptions. This passage is generally found in ancient Greece.
Aristotle is often referred to as the first encyclopedist, since he, in addition to philosophically founding all branches of knowledge, also accumulated a lot of information, especially of a naturalistic nature, but also social, such as the description of the constitutions of Greek cities. He did not limit himself to a merely notional and descriptive-contemplative work, but to a comparison of law, uses, customs and traditions, drawing historical theories and value judgments from them, to establish a social order of the human kingdom in complete conformity with the (divine e) natural of the other existing kingdoms.
Certainly the work of Aristotle was the most complete of classical Greece, however the structuring of all branches of knowledge was the goal to which almost all the other ancient philosophers tended.
Among the other versatile authors of the Greek world, at least Eraclide Pontico must be mentioned.
In the Roman context, the first encyclopedic work is considered to be the Libri ad Marcum filium by Cato the Censor. The Roman scholar par excellence was Marco Terenzio Varrone, whose works had an encyclopedic character, the Antiquitates and especially the Disciplinarum libri IX, a lost work of which only fragments remain: however these works have been lost and only fragments cited by other ancient authors. Therefore, among the Roman encyclopedists the most important is in fact Pliny the Elder (1st century), who wrote the Naturalis historia (lit. "natural history", but also "Observation of nature"), a description in thirty-seven volumes of the world of a nature that remained extremely popular in Western Europe for much of the Middle Ages and was the basis of many subsequent encyclopedias. Other Roman compilers were Aulus Cornelio Celso and Gaius Giulio Solino.
In the medieval period it was particularly appreciated to organize notions: typical collections, summae, trésors. In the ancient and medieval age, reality was typically conceived as a finite whole and therefore entirely describable. It is only in the modern era that one begins to