The Medieval Review 11.04.06

Blythe, James M. The Worldview and Thought of Tolomeo Fiadoni (Ptolemy of Lucca). Disputatio, vol. 22. Turnhout: Brepols, 2009. Pp. 276. $85 978-2-503-52926-4. .

Blythe, James. M. The Life and Works of Tolomeo Fiadoni (Ptolomy of Lucca). Disputatio, vol. 16. Turnhout: Brepols, 2009. Pp. 275. $85 978-2-503-52923-3. .

Reviewed by:

Jon Robinson
University of Toronto

Ptolemy of Lucca is not a household name, even among medievalists. Yet as a particularly long-lived Dominican author (ca. 1236-1327), who saw his share of ups and downs, he deserves more than being dimly remembered for his continuation of the De regno ad regem Cypri of his erstwhile companion, Thomas Aquinas. With these two books, James Blythe hopes to provide a solid foundation for, as well as provoke, future studies of Tolomeo Fiadoni--which is, Blythe argues, Ptolemy's proper name. In the first goal he has surely succeeded, and it can only be hoped that he will also succeed in the second. Whether the "Ptolemy" will be so easily dispensed with is, as the titles of these two books attest, another matter entirely.

I am not convinced that two "companion" books were necessary. Taken together, the two books certainly belong to what must be a rapidly expanding line of titles in Brepols' series on the intellectual history and culture of Europe (Disputatio), for although they were both published in 2009, five other volumes intervene. In any event, the two books are more than complementary, and usually one will need to read both books. That is to say, while it is conceivable that someone interested in the biographical details of Tolomeo's life or the arguments surrounding the dating of a specific work of his might dip into Life and Works (L&W) without consulting Worldview and Thought (W&T), many of the arguments of W&T depend implicitly or explicitly on opinions expounded and defended in L&W. Since Blythe's Tolomeo in W&T is built upon the chronological foundations of L&W, anyone who reads the second volume first will end up needing to read the first one anyway. Thus, while it makes sense to have each text of Tolomeo's considered in its own chapter (here in L&W), since one can quickly find the details of the controversies surrounding the dating of each text, this could be as easily achieved in one volume as in two.

Following three brief introductory chapters in which Blythe introduces Tolomeo, gives a taste of some of the more interesting facets of his thought, and discusses the few previous biographical studies we possess, the bulk of the first book is devoted to an account of Tolomeo's life (L&W, 31-135), and an examination of his extant, lost, and possibly apocryphal works (L&W, 141-218). This volume is rounded out with three appendices: a "chronology of the life, times, and works" of Tolomeo, a few somewhat superfluous Latin documents concerning the last years of his life [1], and a short list of corrigenda in his earlier translation of Tolomeo's (then Ptolemy's) De regimine principum. [2]

The long biographical chapter would have benefited from some sectional divisions, for this would have facilitated connecting the events of Tolomeo's life with his writing projects, but it is still a patient and cautious reconstruction. In fact, it is more than that, for Blythe has integrated a history of Lucca into his account, starting before Tolomeo lived (as he himself did in his Annales), and providing details as they are relevant to the life of Tolomeo. Lucca emerges in this volume as only slightly less innovative, interesting, and worthy of study than Tolomeo himself. The ins and outs of Tolomeo's life, from the circumstances and dates of his birth to his final years as the senile bishop of Torcello (at the northern edge of the Venetian Lagoon), including a bout of excommunication near the end, are fraught with problems for the modern historian, and Blythe is always careful to signal the mistakes and inaccuracies of earlier studies (e.g., L&W, 121n350), while always confessing when his own conjectures are based on less than rock-solid foundations. The story is fleshed out by considering the relevant wider historical and political context in which Tolomeo lived.

The final section of the book, where Blythe considers each text in turn along with the scholarly debates about the circumstances and dates of its composition is more conducive to cherry-picking. While most people who come to Tolomeo are interested in his contributions to the history of political thought, others may be drawn to his historical works, the Annales and the Historia ecclesiastica nova, or his almost completely unknown hexameral work, the De operibus sex dierum. It is here where Blythe rehearses his arguments for a stage-by-stage reading of Tolomeo's political works. The key argument here is that the short De iurisdictione imperii et auctoritate summi pontificis was, pace Jrgen Miethke, written much earlier than the De regimine principum. Blythe suggests a date of around 1278 for the former, while the more famous continuation of Aquinas' work was not finished until about 1302-03 (i.e., before the brief De origine ac translatione et statu romani imperii and De iurisdictione ecclesiae super regnum Apuliae et Siciliae). The shade of Hans Baron continues to hover over all of this, whose career-long concern with the date of the emergence of civic humanism has allowed Blythe to be able to elicit Baron for support even while criticizing some of his cherished views. [3]

Blythe's handling of the De regimine principum is necessarily complex. Since, as most agree, the first part of the text (up to 2.8 in the Leonine edition; 2.4 in other editions) belongs to Aquinas, there really is no convenient way to cite the text. However, Blythe's method of including a third number for the paragraph (e.g., 2.4.7), which pertains only to his translation of the text, does not make it any easier unless one has his translation to hand. I for one found it frustrating to juggle one or both of these two books, his translation, and an edition of the Latin text just to check some detail of the argument--though perhaps providing the page number of only one of many available editions would not have aided matters much.

Most people will be drawn to the second volume, though, as I have said, one will really want to look at the relevant sections of L&W. In W&T, Blythe attempts a holistic picture of Tolomeo's thought that moves from the supernatural and superlunary to the mundane, and from the origins of human government to a discussion of the best regime-- with stops along the way to consider city life, domestic life, and the citizen. As the book progresses, the De regimine principum comes to the foreground, while the historical and theological works mostly disappear from view; the overall picture also gets more complex and engaging.

For Tolomeo, humans are naturally social animals, even in their prelapsarian state: he was as certain that humans needed a transcendental law as he was of the need for human government. Of all forms of government, Tolomeo came to favour a republican form of rule (though only for some people in some cases), which is all the more remarkable for having emerged from his continuation of Aquinas' treatise on kingship. This is his claim to fame, and it is what has attracted the most attention from scholars; it is also where Blythe critically engages the most historiography, staking out his position especially in contradistinction to C. T. Davis, Cary Nederman, J. G. A. Pocock, and Baron and Miethke. Yet he rightly stresses that this is but one feature of his thought, and that we must not forget that Tolomeo was always a staunch papal hierocrat, for whom politics and governments played a secondary role in the work of salvation. Blythe draws attention to Tolomeo's Aristotelianism while cautioning us not to make too much of it in a similar fashion. Much of Tolomeo's thought is in fact wholly conventional, which perhaps does not always emerge as clearly as it could since the focus remains almost entirely on Tolomeo himself except in the parts of the book that derive from earlier articles. Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas get their due, but most thirteenth and fourteenth century thinkers do not really enter the frame, especially if not from Italy.

Throughout these two books, Blythe makes his case by means of lengthy quotations of Tolomeo's works; he also includes an index locorum at the end of each book. The translations are fluid and readable, which means Blythe has taken more liberties with Tolomeo's scholastic Latin than some might like, but they are generally faithful to the spirit of what Tolomeo wrote. [4] Also, while the English text is almost completely error free, there are a number of small errors in the Latin quotations [5]. Finally, the bibliography for W&T seems much fuller than what is found in the notes (each volume has its own). However, medieval works are often omitted from the bibliographies, and cited in the notes only by their internal divisions. The reason for this is not explained, but he did justify the same choice in his translation of the De regimine principum (xi).

It is common for historians to become enamoured with their chosen object of study, and this is no less true here than elsewhere, but even if one does not share Blythe's conviction that Tolomeo was "the most interesting political theorist of his time" (W&T, 153), these two books demonstrate that Tolomeo deserves further study. This is true not only with respect to Tolomeo himself, but also with respect to his role in the transmission of ideas about the merits of republicanism and the different forms of rule to the later middle ages and beyond. Blythe is surely right to point out that the question of influence will likely prove to be a fruitful avenue of future research. In sum, whatever reason brings scholars to Tolomeo, and regardless of whether all end up agreeing with the finer details of Blythe's arguments, all will be thankful for the accessible and readable works he has given us. They are likely to remain the starting point for future studies of Tolomeo for some time to come.



1. It seems as though they were added late in the composition of the book. The first document is already given in full on L&W, 124n357, though with some orthographical variation. The inclusion of the second and third documents at the end of the book should have been mentioned on L&W, 127-31, where they are quoted at some length.

2. James M. Blythe, trans., On the Government of Rulers (De regimine principum), [by] Ptolemy of Lucca with Portions attributed to Thomas Aquinas (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997).

3. In this, Blythe is retreading ground he and his collaborator John La Salle have walked before: "Was Ptolemy of Lucca a Civic Humanist? Reflections on a Newly Discovered Manuscript of Hans Baron," History of Political Thought 26.2 (2005): 236-65, and "Did Tolomeo Fiadoni (Ptolemy of Lucca) Insert Civic Humanist Ideas into Thomas Aquinas's Treatise on Kingship? Reflections on a Newly Discovered Manuscript of Hans Baron," in Florence and Beyond: Culture, Society, and Politics in Renaissance Italy, ed. by David S. Peterson and Daniel E. Bornstein (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008), 93-106.

[4] The only minor corrections I would add on this score are the following. L&W: without great injury (sine magna lesione: 44n49-"sine" omitted in the translation); W&T: contrary to the intention (praeter intentionem: 44n35); his feet (pedibus eius: 78n13); built in the same place by the first lord of the city (hedificatum a primo domino Urbis ibidem: 103 n10-omitted in the translation); citizens (cives: 139n51); regal government (regale regimine: 144n58-"lordship" is confusing here because of the use of "dominium" elsewhere in the sentence); it is necessary to put limits to that very human nature so disposed, as it were, to its own flux (oportet ipsam naturam humanam sic dispositam quasi ad sui fluxum limitibus refraenare: 147n63); but if you should wish (quod si velis: 200n59).

[5] Here the original text is in parentheses. I have checked as many of the following as I could, although this was not possible in all cases. None of the errors is particularly egregious; I only note them in case a future (electronic?) edition of the books is made.

L&W: habebatur (habebetur: 49n74); nec (necessary: 61n126); se (? state: 66n143); episcopus (episcopis: 72n169); et (ed: 72n169); octobris (octubris: 82n202); per diversa loca (per diversa loco: 85n216); autem (audem: 85n217); eodem anno (eadem anno: 85n218); vir (viri: 86n219); concursus (concurius: 86n220); fui (sui: 86n220); excepit (excepti: 91n230); exorta est (exorta es: 92n237); fratrum (fratrem: 94n243); precedenti (precedentis: 98n264); precedenti (precede ti: 98n264); fratrem (frater: 100n274); eum (eam: 101n276); fratrem Transmundum (frater Transmundum: 102n279); et (ut: 105n287); fratri Prospero (frater Prosper: 111n312); dilecto (dilecte: 112n318); Lucae (Luca: 112n318); prosequitur (proseguitur: 113n318); appellatione (appellationem: 113n318); Romae (? Roma: 118n340); Sanctum (Sanctam: 118n341); nec (necessary: 118n341); salutem (? sale: 122n355); Torcellan. (Torcellan: 125n357); nullus (nullius: 124n357); illarum (illlarum: 125n357); alia (alla: 125n357); et (what: 125n357); dirigetur (dirifetur: 125n357); sicque (sique: 125n357); apostolico (aopstolico: 131n372); dominium (dominum 143n7?twice); Sed (ed: 143n7); ad bonum regimen (ad regimen: 162n13); a praelato (a praelatio: 162n75); in casu illo (in caso illo: 181n76?part of this note is reproduced (correctly) in n77); et or ac (at: 207n10); oculos (ocolos: 239) populi (poluli: 240); deffecisset [sic] (deffecisisset: 241); omni (omno: 241); irretitum (irretium: 241); aliis (allis: 241); presentaverat (presentataverat: 242); cujuscunque (cuiuseunque: 242); obedientia (pbedientia: 243); formam (forman: 244); maiori (miori: 244); ecclesie (ecc1esie: 245); discretioni (descretioni: 246); receptionem (reeptionem: 246); secularis (sccularis: 246); sede (sade: 246); mencionem (menicionem: 246); seu (? seyou: 246); beneplacitis (beneplaceitis: 246); instrumentum (intrumentum: 246); fideliter (fldeliter: 246).

W&T: sicque (sique: 14n38); differenter (differentur: 20n9); de Civitate Dei (de Civilizatio. Dei: 24n28); quanto (quonto: 44n35); multiplicati (multiplicari: 47n43); Et (Ex: 47n43); est (ext: 55n66); deformitas (deformita: 65); virgine (vergine: 78n13; a period is also missing after "Hebr. 2"); qui (que: 79n18); deinceps (deincips: 87n39); omnia (omni: 102n9); ab uno (about uno: 105n13); occidentalis (occedentalis: 112n32); utilitati (utilitate: 117n40-twice); expedire (expidire: 117n40-twice); Imperatorem (Imperiatorem: 117n40); Exodi (Exodo: 118n43); Proverbiorum (Proverbis: 118n43-twice); in (if: 122n52); fecerunt Romani (fecerunt. Romani: 135n32); libro (liber: 135n33); detestari. Hinc (detestari, Hinc: 139n50); Non (None: 139n51); natura (nature: 156n5); regimen (regimine: 191n32); Qui(dam) (Quaedam: 200n59); regale (Regalem: 233n18; the journal is Mediaeval Studies).