The series B Irish five pound note had a portrait of Johannes Scotus Eriugena (literally “John the Irishman, from Ireland”), a philosopher, neoplatonist, translator, and theologian of the ninth century AD. The descriptive names “Scotus” and “Eriugena” were applied to him at different periods of history – the Latin “Scottus” meant Irish in the Middle Ages, and “Eriugena” is a title he applied to himself at least once (was highly proficient in Greek).

According to William of Malmesbury, King Charles the Bald of France (his enthusiastic patron while abbot) asked at table:

Quid distat inter sottum et Scottum? “What separates a drunk from an Irishman?”

To which Eriugena replied: 

Mensa tantum – “Only a table.”

According to the philosopher Bertrand Russell, Eriugena was later stabbed to death by his monks with their quills, as revenge for forcing them to think.


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