William H. York

title.none: De Leemans and Goyen, Aristotle's Problemata (William H. York)

identifier.other: baj9928.0809.010 08.09.10

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: William H. York, Portland State University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: De Leemans, Pieter and Michele Goyens. Aristotle's Problemata in Different Times and Tongues. Medievalia Loveaniensia, vol. 39. Leuven: Leuvan University Press, 2006. Pp. xvi, 325. ISBN: $67.5090-5867-524-6 90-5867-524-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.09.10

De Leemans, Pieter and Michele Goyens. Aristotle's Problemata in Different Times and Tongues. Medievalia Loveaniensia, vol. 39. Leuven: Leuvan University Press, 2006. Pp. xvi, 325. ISBN: $67.5090-5867-524-6 90-5867-524-6.

Reviewed by:

William H. York
Portland State University

Texts within the genre of problemata drew together materials from Aristotle, Plutarch and Alexander of Aphrodisias, among others, on a wide range of subjects relating to natural science (including medicine and natural history). The gathered information was arranged in a question and answer format aimed at addressing natural particulars with the aura of an authoritative philosophical perspective. The text known as the Problemata Aristotelis, or Aristotle's Problemata, is one such collection of questions that circulated widely in manuscripts and printed editions during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Based on Greek collections, the Problemata was introduced into Europe in Latin, but quickly became available in French, German and English translations. Despite this long-lived and complex history, Aristotle's Problemata has recently started to receive greater attention from scholars. The articles in the volume under consideration bring together a number of perspectives on the transmission and uses of this interesting text.

The twelve essays in this volume grew out of an interdisciplinary workshop at the Institute of Philosophy of the University of Leuven on 30-31 October 2003 which was organized in collaboration with the Aristoteles Latinus and the Department of Linguistics at Leuven. The workshop attendees sought to examine questions of the transmission of the Problemata in different languages and time periods from Antiquity to the Renaissance. Particular attention was given in many of these essays to questions around the mid-thirteenth century Latin translation of the Problemata by Bartholomew of Messina with the influential Latin commentary by Peter of Abano (published no earlier than 1310), and the Middle French translation and commentary completed in the late-fourteenth century by Evrart de Conty, personal physician to Charles V of France. Together, these essays provide welcome insight into the ways in which this text was read and used in different cultural contexts during this period.

Joan Cadden's essay, "Preliminary Observations on the Place of the Problemata in Medieval Learning," functions as an introduction for the volume by exploring the content and layout of the Problemata and by establishing the theme of how the text was used in different contexts. She explores the complexities caused by the diverse content and construction of the Problemata and how these concerns influenced the ways in which intellectuals situated it in the scheme of medieval learning. Foremost among the concerns raised by medieval scholars was the text's unsatisfactory claim to Aristotelian authenticity. Furthermore, she notes that the wide-range of subjects covered, the focus on particulars over universals, and the tendency to frame answers to the questions in the form of suggestions rather than arguments, made it difficult to know where to place the Problemata in the hierarchy of Aristotelian natural philosophical texts and how to fit it onto the medieval map of knowledge. However, Cadden shows that these same concerns provided a flexibility that allowed readers and authors to use the Problemata in different ways in a variety of intellectual contexts. As examples, she proceeds to explore the success of the Problemata with academic audiences in universities (where it was popular despite the fact that it did not find a place in the regular curriculum), among medical practitioners, and among aristocratic audiences at court.

The next two essays stand out among the others in this volume in that they extend the examination of the Problemata beyond its reception in Western Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The first, by Robert W. Sharples, "Pseudo-Alexander or Pseudo-Aristotle, Medical Puzzles and Physical Problems," considers the history of the genre of problemata in Greek Antiquity. Sharples examines the origin and transmission of parts of the Greek text variously attributed to Aristotle or Alexander of Aphrodisias. Lou S. Filius's essay, "The Genre Problemata in Arabic: Its Motions and Changes," turns to the origins and transmission of the Problemata genre in Arabic. By comparing Arabic translations of Problemata texts with the Greek texts from which there were derived, Filius traces the additions and adaptations made in the Arabic versions which show the inclusion of Galenic and other theories into the texts. He concludes that the question and answer form of this genre of texts makes the material covered especially amenable to adaptation on the basis of new knowledge.

The next three essays return the focus to the transmission of the Problemata and the ways in which it was used in the Latin West during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Graziella Federici Vescovini ("L'Expositio Succinta Problematum Aristotelis de Pierre d'Abano") and Maaike Van der Lugt ("Aristotle's Problems in the West: A Contribution to the Study of the Medieval Latin Tradition") explore the commentary tradition that developed around Bartholomew of Messina's translation of the Problemata. Vescovini examines Peter of Abano's Expositio Succinta Problematum Aristotelis, the earliest Latin commentary on the Problemata, to determine whether he had translated any of the Problemata attributed to Aristotle (a possibility suggested by certain remarks made in the prologue to the Expositio) and, secondly, to consider the influence of his commentary on the later interpretation of the Problemata. Although she finds that Peter did not translate any of the Problemata, she argues that his original reading of and response to the text was shaped by a variety of sources and established the means by which later scholars would approach the text. Van der Lugt's contribution supports this conclusion through her analysis of several lesser-known Latin commentaries on the Problemata. The widespread geographic distribution of the commentaries she examines (one composed and copied in Northern Italy, one in England and two in Germany and Eastern Europe) attest to the authoritative status of the Problemata even though it never became a central text in scholastic curricula. Furthermore, she finds that the style and focus of the commentaries reflect the variety of contexts in which the Problemata could be studied; although some of the commentaries were aimed at more specialized academic and medical communities, others reflect a wider audience of non-specialist monks and canons. Finally, Van der Lugt emphasizes that all of the commentaries reflect the influence of Peter of Abano's Expositio in shaping their interpretation of the Latin Problemata. The third essay in this group by Iolanda Ventura, "Aristoteles fuit causa efficiens huius libri: On the Reception of Pseudo-Aristotle's Problemata in Late Medieval Encyclopaedic Culture," turns from the commentary tradition to examine the place of the Problemata in the genre of the quaestiones literature and its influence on encyclopedias written in a question-answer format during the Late Middle Ages. She analyzes three traditions of encyclopedias in order to observe the ways in which they employed the Problemata as a source: "popular" encyclopedias on science and medicine, moralizing encyclopedias written by members of the Dominican order for the needs of preachers, and Giorgio Valla's humanistic, medical encyclopedia. Ventura argues that the complexity of the Problemata required greater sophistication and a deeper grounding in scientific culture in order to interpret and thus she finds that it is used more often by compilers who target their encyclopedias at an audience with a higher level of scientific culture whereas those encyclopedias aimed at an audience with less scientific background would use material from the less sophisticated Quaestiones salernitanae. Furthermore, she finds that the use of the Problemata within the encyclopedic culture shows the ways in which it could be adapted to reach different cultural contexts and to address different concerns. In the cases she examines, the pragmatic "human orientation" of the encyclopedias led them to emphasize the material from the Problemata that addressed issues of the human body and health.

Evrart de Conty's Middle French translation of and commentary on the Problemata is the focus of five essays in this volume. These essays focus on the techniques of translation and how they reflect Evrart's scholarly commitments and his desire to address the intellectual interests of a courtly audience. Françoise Guichard-Tesson's essay, "Évrart de Conty, poète, traducteur et commentateur," explores connections between Evrart's commentary that accompanied his Problemes, his poem, the Eschés amoureux, and the commentary in the Livre des eschez amoureux moralisés. She finds that Evrart made use of Peter of Abano's commentary (as did other commentators on the Problemata, as we have seen), but that he was not afraid to abridge, add to or modify material in order to adapt it to the demands of his audience and to fit it to his own pedagogical and moralizing goals. Ultimately, Guichard-Tesson argues that Evrart used similar techniques in his three major works to popularize knowledge for a courtly audience that increasingly viewed broad learning as a mark of cultivation. Caroline Boucher's contribution, "Des problèmes pour exercer l'entendement des lecteurs: Évrart de Conty, Nicole Oresme et la recherché de la nouveauté," examines the way in which Evrart portrays himself and the act of translation in his text and compares his efforts to Nicole Oresme's remarks in his translation of Aristotle's De caelo. In both cases she finds that the translators sought to emphasize the novelty of their work as translators and the way in which they designed the translations not merely to pass on authoritative knowledge, but to stimulate intellectual discourse within a courtly context. In this way, she argues, the process of vernacularization was not simply the transmission of authoritative knowledge from one context to another, but more importantly a process for encouraging the development of intellectual discourse within a different cultural context (from universities to courts).

Joëlle Ducos's essay, "Lectures et vulgarisation du savoir aristotélicien: les gloses d'Évrart de Conty (sections XXV-XXVI)," examines Evrart's choice of sources for use in his commentary on the Problemes and the way in which he organized his materials. Ducos argues that Evrart's use of a broader range of sources than might be found in Nicole Oresme's translations or than were used by Peter of Abano in his Expositio reflect his efforts to appropriate the Problemata to create his own original text and to address a different kind of audience. The final two essays in this group turn to examine Evrart's interests in medical and scientific subjects. Geneviève Dumas, "Évrart de Conty et Pierre d'Abano: commentateurs d'Aristote," compares the references to medical and scientific sources in Peter of Abano's commentary on the medical portions of the Problemata (Book 1), to those made by Evrart with his commentary on the Problemes. Although, they both come from the same educational milieu, albeit at different times, Dumas notes some important differences in their use of these sources. Dumas concludes that these differences reflect the fact that the authors were writing for different audiences and that Evrart was more concerned to provide introductory material for future students of medicine whereas Peter directed his comments to a learned audience. Annelies Bloem's article, "À la recherché de la subjectivité dans les Problèmes d'Évrart de Conty: un commentateur juché sur les épaules d'Aristote?" examines the extent to which Evrart was willing to criticize Aristotle in comparison to Peter of Abano in Book 1 of the Problemes which deals with medical problems that Evrart was likely familiar with as teacher in the faculty of medicine at the university of Paris. She notes that Evrart follows Peter in his criticism of Aristotle in most cases, but that his method of organizing and abbreviating certain material reflects his general interest in writing for students rather than specialists in medicine.

The final essay in the volume, John Monfasani's, "George of Trebizond's Critique of Theodore Gaza's Translation of the Aristotelian Problemata," is devoted to the reception of the Problemata in the Renaissance. Monfasani examines the Protectio Problematum Aristotelis by George of Trebizond, which provides a lengthy critique of Theodore of Gaza's translation of the Problemata and accuses Gaza of numerous translation errors and of perverting the Aristotelian text in order to shape the Philosopher as a humanistic orator. Monfasani supports many of Trebizond's criticisms and notes that Gaza's translation reflects his goal of removing what he saw as errors introduced into the Aristotelian corpus by scholastic "barbarians." Therefore, Gaza sought not merely to translate the Greek original, but "to recreate the Greek original as he believed it must have been before it was distorted by classical editors and later scribes" (294). Despite Trebizond's critique of Gaza's audacious efforts, the fact that Gaza's translation was printed in the 1470s, while Trebizond's Protectio and his translation of the Problemata were not, meant that Gaza's would become the standard translation of the text throughout the Renaissance.

Together these essays help to draw further scholarly attention to this important text. In aid of this goal, the well-organized, selected bibliography included at the end of the volume will be very helpful for those who might wish to follow up on any of the materials covered here. It includes references not only to the Problemata Physica, but also to other problemata and quaestiones collections. Furthermore, it provides sections that reflect the recent scholarship on the three authors central to the articles in this volume: Bartholomew of Messina, Peter of Abano and Evrart de Conty.

The essays in this volume reveal the extent to which the Problemata was a living document that was variously expanded, abridged or otherwise changed during the process of transmission from one context to another, so as to address the interests of a number of different audiences. As such, this volume will be valuable not only to those interested specifically in the Problemata, but also those who are concerned with scientific and medical history and medieval intellectual history more generally. Furthermore, these essays will be of interest to who examine the interaction between university and courtly cultures and the process of producing vernacular translations of Latin texts within the intellectual culture of aristocratic courts.