Friday, 23 December 2022

Ne evagemur in verbis floridis

This term I’ve been running scholastic Latin reading classes at three difficulty levels, and at the highest level I offered to cover not only difficult authors but also “flowery prefaces”, i.e. passages in which authors stray beyond the confines of workaday scholastic prose. In the event, nobody was interested in flowery prefaces, so we stuck to ordinary material by Scotus and (since he is often called difficult) Wyclif. As if on cue, though, I’ve just noticed a good illustration of the way that scholastic authors can confuse historians of philosophy by adopting a higher literary register, and I’m writing it up here so I can point to it in future.

The passage in question is from Alberto Fantini’s 1499 edition of Buridan’s Consequentie, and specifically from Fantini’s dedicatory epistle to his brother Giustiniano, which begins:

Compulisti me assiduis vocibus … ut tibi non minus ac germano cuius consequentiis te familiariter accommodare debeas significarem.
You have driven me with persistent words … to indicate to you no less than to a brother whose Consequentie you should intimately devote yourself to.

Besides the unhelpful word order, which was presumably intended to be elegant, the difficulty here is ‛non minus ac germano’, which complicates the syntax of the ‛ut … significarem’ clause while also including an unusual use of ‛ac’ (OLD s.v. atque 15).

And now here’s what Stephen Read made of it in his 2015 translation of Buridan:

You have supported me with assiduous words … so that I would signify to you no less as a brother whose needs you are bound to meet as a kinsman.

I can’t see how ‛compulisti’ and ‛consequentiis’ came out as ‛supported’ and ‛needs’, but I’m sure the sentence would have fared better if Fantini had written it in a less fancy way, e.g. ‛… ut tibi significarem cuius consequentiis te familiariter accommodare debeas.

The moral of the story? Even if you’re only interested in texts with simple syntax, you will occasionally be confronted with more complex prose, so you need to be able to handle it. Historians of philosophy sometimes deal with this by quietly ignoring difficult passages – Michael Loux’s 1974 translation of Part I of the Summa logice gives the impression that Ockham omitted to write a preface altogether! – but this is evidently not the wisest policy.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

You are Ricardus Anglicus and I claim my five pounds

In 1897, a 26-year-old Prussian named Wilhelm Herkner received his doctorate in Medicine and Surgery from the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin, where his inaugural dissertation was duly published under the title Kosmetik und Toxicologie nach Wilhelm von Saliceto (13. Jahrh.). This slim octavo of 32 pages has long been hard to find – I know of one copy in France, one in Switzerland, and a handful each in Germany and the US – but it's now available online.

Herkner's focus was ostensibly on the northern Italian surgeon William of Saliceto's Summa conservationis et curationis (c1280), and in particular on Books III and IV, which deal with cosmetics, dermatology, and toxicology. Half of the dissertation, however, is taken up with an interpolation that Julius Pagel had found between these books in MS Erfurt Amplon. F. 240 (c1300). Herkner quoted this in full, saying that its identification would have to await further research – a challenge that has gone unanswered for 114 years.

In 1922, meanwhile, a 28-year-old ex-Prussian named Hermann Beusing received his doctorate in Medicine, Surgery and Obstetrics from the University of Leipzig, where his inaugural dissertation was duly published under the title Leben und Werke des Richardus Anglicus, samt einem erstmaligen Abdruck seiner Schrift “Signa”. A more substantial booklet of 48 pages, this survives in over 20 copies (including at least two in the UK) but has yet to be digitized.

Beusing's dissertation provides almost exactly what the title suggests: a biobibliography of the elusive 12th-century physician Ricardus Anglicus, followed by an edition – based on MSS Erfurt Amplon. F. 288 (c1300) and Leipzig Univ. 1179 (1472), and lacking an apparatus criticus – of most of the Signa prognostica or De signis, the fifth and final part of his medical compendium Micrologus (?1180s).

Almost exactly, because it claims to provide an editio princeps, an honour that actually belongs (at least for the first three-quarters of Beusing's text) to Herkner's dissertation. Compare these incipits:

Finis medicine laudabilis ita dumtaxat existit cum auctor in singulis rationibus [?] quid futurum sit perpendat, quamvis omnis [!] curare non possit. (Beusing) Finis medicinae ita dumtaxat laudabilis existit cum auctor in singulis valetudinibus quod futurum sit perpendit, quamvis curare omnes non possit. (Herkner)
And compare Herkner's ending with the relevant sentence in Beusing:
In alio autem ordine bonitatis et malicie vitae et mortis sunt signa, sed inter signa bonitatis primum. (Herkner) In alio autem ordine bonitatis et malitie, inter signa bonitatis primum est signum tussis non laboriosa … (Beusing)
Beusing's text continues for 2½ more pages, ending on a promissory note about ‘critical days’ (a topic he considered too familiar to need printing). But that still leaves 8 pages that can now be checked against a printing from a third (and comparatively early) manuscript. This should be a godsend for anyone using this text; and all thanks to Google – for who would have thought to look for such a thing in Kosmetik und Toxicologie nach Wilhelm von Saliceto (13. Jahrh.)?

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Traduttore traditore: a plea for intellectual history

Working on a medieval Latin dictionary confronts me with material for which my training in intellectual history is little help – financial accounts, legal charters, historical chronicles, etc.  Rest assured, though, that when I'm out of my depth I ask an expert.  This post amounts to a plea for strangers to intellectual history to do the same.

The prestigious Oxford Medieval Texts series of critical editions with facing-page translations mostly steers clear of intellectual history, but occasional contact is inevitable.  One such occasion is the appearance in Thomas Walsingham's Chronica majora of John Wyclif's Declarationes (1378), which contains the following sentence:
Sicut enim omne verum est necessarium [ex suppositione], sic omne falsum est impossibile ex suppositione, ut patet testimonio scripturae et sanctorum doctorum loquentium de necessitate futurorum.
This is more or less bread-and-butter stuff for anyone with the faintest acquaintance with scholastic philosophy:
For just as every truth is [hypothetically] necessary, so every falsehood is hypothetically impossible, as is clear from the testimony of scripture and of the holy doctors who speak of the necessity of the future.
But here's the OMT translation by Leslie Watkiss, praised by Antonia Gransden as ‘good’ and by Geoffrey Martin as of a ‘high standard’:
Just as all that is true is necessary, so all that is false is of its nature impossible, as is made clear by the testimony of Scripture and the learned saints when they speak of future sufferings.
Now, although scholastics are more interested in doctors than saints, ‘learned saints’ is a possible translation of ‘sanctorum doctorum’ (as if formed from the nonce-phrase ‘sancti docti’ rather than from the common phrase ‘sancti doctores’).  But the other two mistakes are howlers that make a nonsense of what Wyclif was trying to say.

Impossibility ex suppositione – that is, hypothetical or conditional impossibility – was often called per accidens precisely because it is not intrinsic.  It is not ‘of its nature’ impossible that Bush won the 2008 election; it is, however, impossible given the current facts.

And as for the surreal intrusion of ‘future sufferings’, one can only wonder how anyone could have missed the connection between the ‘necessitate’ here and the ‘necessarium’ in the first clause.

As it happens, these particular howlers (like so many others) could have been avoided by spending 5 minutes with Google.  Generally, though, the best way of spotting such mistakes would be to have the translation read by someone who does have the relevant background – ideally, in this case, a Wyclif expert, but certainly someone with a serious interest in medieval intellectual history – but apparently neither the editors of this OMT volume nor the general editors of the series saw fit to take this elementary precaution.  Thanks, guys.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Quis castigabit ipsum castigatorem?

In his handbook chapter on ‘Mathematics in Fourteenth-Century Theology’ (2009), which introduces historians of mathematics to the surprising relevance of Sentences commentaries, Mark Thakkar focusses on a stand-off between the positions of Thomas Bradwardine and Gregory of Rimini on infinite multitudes.  ‘Unfortunately,’ he writes, ‘[Bradwardine's] 'Sentences' commentary, which would have been written in around 1332, has not come down to us.’

Now, anyone familiar with the literature on Bradwardine will know that Jean-François Genest and Katherine Tachau claimed to have identified part of his Sentences commentary as long ago as 1990.  Still, in some contexts Thakkar's remark might have been seen as an excusable simplification.  What is embarrassing is the appearance in a collection that he himself cites of a chapter by Genest, ‘Les premiers écrits théologiques de Bradwardine: textes inédits et découvertes récentes’ (2002), that includes a 2½-page discussion of a question on infinity (c.1333) that is probably from Bradwardine's Sentences commentary and would have served his purposes admirably.

What he chooses to look at instead is De causa Dei, Bradwardine's ‘sprawling magnum opus’ of 1344.  Readers may be interested to learn that, almost four hundred years after Henry Savile's lavish editio princeps (1618), the Austrian Science Fund has approved a project led by Edit Anna Lukács to study the manuscript tradition in Vienna (home to 11 of the 50-odd extant MSS) and to establish a ‘reception-specific’ critical edition.  Hopefully this will pave the way for the full edition that John Marenbon recently highlighted as a desideratum for the British Academy's Auctores Britannici Medii Aevi series.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

[Quisquiliae] Supplementare: a ghost story

I've just started a job-related blog, Quisquiliae, whose remit will not always be separable from that of this blog.  As and when there is an overlap, I'll add a cross-reference (with appropriate tags) here.

The first such import involves a quotation from Michael Scot's translation of Aristotle's De generatione animalium (a1220) in John Pecham's Quaestiones de anima (1270s).  You can read the post here.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Peter Auriol and scholarly inertia

The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy (1982) has only two substantial discussions of Peter Auriol (a page each on future contingents and on intentions), though there is also a footnote on his “esse apparens”.  This fairly reflects the state of modern scholarship on Auriol when the CHLMP's chapters were written in the late 1970s.

But since the late 1980s, thanks to Katherine Tachau, historians of 14th-century philosophy have become increasingly aware that Auriol was just as important as his much more famous confrère William of Ockham, and the literature has proliferated accordingly.  Readers might therefore expect him to feature rather more prominently in the brand-new Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy (2010).

Alas, no.  Not only is he now mentioned on fewer occasions, but the most substantial discussion of him in any of the chapters reads in its entirety as follows:  “A fellow Franciscan, Peter Auriol, insisted that the infused virtue of charity plays a more important role in salvation.  In his view, infused charity is not simply the consequence of divine acceptance but necessary by its very nature in order to make the soul acceptable to God” (ch. 36, “Virtue theory”, by Bonnie Kent).

In Robert Pasnau's introductory chapter, Martin Stone confidently predicts that “Within twenty years Henry, Giles, Durand, and Auriol will become a part of the canon” (p. 5).  In your own time, folks.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Frustra fit per plura (V)

Here's yet another of Auriol's statements of ontological parsimony:

Constat enim quod omnis natura refugit superfluitatem – quanto magis divina?  Pluralitas quidem ponenda non est absque causa, quia frustra fit per plura quod fieri potest per pauciora.’  (S I.45.iii)

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Mediaeval Commentaries on the Sentences, vol. 2

I can't wait to get my hands on the second volume of Mediaeval Commentaries on the Sentences of Peter Lombard: Current Research, which so far seems to have only made it into the Warburg Institute library.  In the meantime, as Brill are being coy about it, here's the chapter list (with authors omitted for clarity's sake):

—  The Pseudo-Peter of Poitiers Gloss
—  Stephen Langton
—  The Glossa in IV libros Sententiarum by Alexander of Hales
—  The Sentences Commentary of Hugh of St.-Cher
—  Thomas Aquinas and his Lectura romana in primum Sententiarum Petri Lombardi
—  Robert Kilwardby's Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard
—  William de la Mare
—  Henry of Harclay and Aufredo Gonteri Brito
—  On the Limits of the Genre: Roger Roseth as a Reader of the Sentences
—  Richard Fitzralph's Lectura on the Sentences
—  Peter of Candia's Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard
—  Martin Luther
—  Conclusion: The Tradition of the Sentences

It seems some standardization of the titles wouldn't have gone amiss.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Fractio Aeris: A Cracking Tale of Two Villains

In his excellent book Theology at Paris (2000), Chris Schabel reports Michael of Massa (fl. c.1330–37) as having suggested that God could form a declarative sentence about the future "by the cracking of the sky".  This is a rather melodramatic translation; the Latin phrase ‘per aeris fractionem’ need only mean "by the cracking of air".  But the history of this phrase is the history of a more serious mistranslation.

In De anima II.8, Aristotle says that sound is the result of the collision of solid objects with each other and with the air (or other medium), which "happens when the air remains after being struck and is not dispersed; wherefore it makes a sound if it is struck quickly and violently, for the movement of the striker must come sooner than (φθασαι) the dispersal of the air".  He gives an analogy with a heap of sand: you must hit it quickly, or it will just part around your hand.

The first villain of the piece is James of Venice (fl. c.1125–50), who translated the last clause as  "Oportet enim pertingere motum rapientis fracturam aeris"  (for the movement of the violent snatcher must attain the breaking of the air), thus turning what the speed of the blow was meant to avoid into what it was meant to achieve.

Still, two commentaries from the mid-to-late 1240s gave generous glosses:  "pertingere, id est antecedere" (ed. Bazan 1998);  "pertingere, id est excedere, fracturam aeris, id est: oportet quod velocior sit motus percutientis quam possit esse [fracturam aeris] percussi" (ed. Gauthier 1985).  Even better, in 1267 William of Moerbeke corrected ‘pertingere’ to ‘preoccupare’ (anticipate), and Aquinas presented an accurate account in his De anima commentary the following year:  "oportet quod motus percutientis praeveniat divisionem aeris". 

Enter the second villain of the piece: the influential florilegium Parvi flores or Auctoritates Aristotelis (c.1297–98), which paraphrases the De anima passage as saying that sound is caused by the collision of bodies aerem violenter frangentium (violently breaking the air).

In 1316, Auriol discusses Balaam's talking ass as a challenge to his claim that any form impressible on matter can be impressed on it by a natural agent (S I.42.1.iii.3).  He points out that "similem sonum et fractionem aeris potest causare aliquod agens naturale" (a similar sound and breaking of the air can be caused by a natural agent); what is unnatural is just  "motionem ipsius linguae brutalis ex qua sequitur fractio aeris et sonus in aere" (the motion of the beastly tongue itself from which there follows the breaking of the air and the sound in the air).  This passage is surely sufficient to explain the Massa quotation.

My final exhibit is from the introduction to Jean de Meurs’ Musica speculativa secundum Boetium (1323):  "Ad generationem soni tria necessario requiruntur, scilicet percutiens, percussum et medium percutiendi.  Primum frangens aerem celeriter, secundum corpus sonabile naturaliter, tertium aer fractus violenter. … Est igitur sonus fractio aeris ab impulsu percutientis ad percussum."

This is a patchy story, but I think it will hold water.  Anyone wishing to flesh it out should no doubt seek out (as I have not) Wittmann, Vox atque sonus: Studien zur Rezeption der Aristotelischen Schrift "De anima" und ihre Bedeutung für die Musiktheorie, 2 vols (1987).

Monday, 27 April 2009

Kaye on Auriol on the Semantics of Prophecy

Sharon Kaye's article ‘Some Philosophical Reflections on the Coming of the Antichrist’ (2000) makes more depressing reading than its title might suggest. She erroneously ascribes to Auriol the thesis that what a prophet means in uttering a prophecy is contingent on what happens in the future – and the translation on which she bases this interpretation is the worst that I have ever seen in a learned journal.

Propositiones propheticae aliud significant ex institutione et ex natura propositionum, aliud vero dant intelligere ex intentione prophetae. … secundum autem intentionem prophetae, verae sunt, quia dant intelligere quod in divina notitia est quaedam veritas ineffabilis et quaedam determinatio illius materiae de qua formantur. (Auriol, Scriptum I.38.iii, 1166–71)

Roughly: ‘Prophetic statements signify one thing by convention and by the nature of statements, and give <us> to understand another by the intention of the prophet. … according to the intention of the prophet they are true, for they give <us> to understand that in the divine cognition there is a certain ineffable truth and a certain determination of the matter about which they are formed.’

Kaye's translation: ‘In one way, prophetic statements signify by convention and by the nature of the statement, but in another way, they express the intention of the prophet. … according to the intention of the prophet, they are true. For they express what is in the divine cognition, namely, a certain ineffable truth and a certain determination of the matter about which they are formed.’

This doubly misidentifies what is signified by prophetic utterances as (1) the prophet's intention and (2) something (or rather two things, one of which was supposed to be ineffable) in the divine cognition.

What is most striking here is how straightforward the Latin is. I can understand her immediately subsequent mistranslation of ‘quod a Deo praedicitur ut in pluribus evenit’ as ‘what is predicted by God happens in many ways’, because the correct translation (‘usually happens’) requires some knowledge of the subject-matter. But there is no such excuse for the flagrant errors identified above. O tempora!