The Medieval Review 10.02.19

Syros, Vasileios. Die Rezeption der aristotelischen politischen Philosophie bei Marsilius von Padua: Eine Untersuchung zur ersten Diktion des Defensor pacis . Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions, 134. Leiden: Brill, 2007. Pp. x, 366. $148.00 978-90-04-16874-9. .

Reviewed by:

Thomas M. Izbicki
Rutgers University

Marsilius of Padua (d. ca. 1342) is often described as following Aristotle in the first part of the Defensor pacis, his trenchant critique of papal claims to temporal power. Albertus Pighius, in the sixteenth century, described the Paduan as "a man more an Aristotelian than a Christian." [1] Marsilius did more than just engage in polemics or follow Aristotle word for word. Dictio I of his work provided a grounding for social life and polity, even religion, based on reason and human experience. Moreover, as Vasileios Syos demonstrates in this book, Marsilius made use of a broad range of texts, not just the Philosopher's works, and the example of his own home city, with its own governing organs and a vital intellectual life, in constructing this vision of society.

Syros focuses his work on Dictio I, but he does not entirely ignore Dictio II or the later writings of Marsilius. He examines in detail how the text of the Defensor relates to the works of Aristotle and other texts the author employed. Among these are works written by contemporaries of Marsilius, including John of Jandun, the theologian frequently identified as the Paduan's collaborator. The scope is broad enough to include issues like slavery, not immediately relevant to the polemical focus of the Defensor. Syros maps out the context with a diagram on p. 6, placing Marsilius' own themes at the center of a set of concentric circles. The circles, moving outward, are Aristotle's texts, their commentators, the historical context, and other possible sources. All are treated in the book.

The Aristotelian texts Marsilius used were not limited to the Politics and the Nicomachean Ethics. He was versed in the works concerned with natural phenomena. All of these texts were known to the Paduan through Latin translations, particular by the Dominican friar William of Moerbeke. He also knew the broader tradition of commentary, including texts translated from the Arabic. Moreover, Marsilius had studied medicine; and he knew the works of authors like Peter of Abano. Among the authors Syros believes Marsilius knew was the Jewish intellectual Moses Maimonides, some of whose work was available in Latin when he studied at the University of Paris.

Syros has read Dictio I thoroughly, and he relates the text to what Aristotle wrote and how the Philosopher's thought was transmitted in translation. The text is most interesting exactly where the texts are read carefully and related, Greek to Latin to the Latin text of the Defensor. Syros also explores in depth the use of biological metaphors by Marsilius. This is relevant to the Paduan's medical training, and the bodily metaphor is documented thoroughly in an appendix quoting 9 passages from Dictio I or the more theological Dictio II. Syros places the legislator humanus, the larger political body, at the center of his work. This is particularly not Aristotelian in origin and inspiration. The Philosopher focused on the heroic lawgiver, like Lycurgus of Sparta; and commentators on the Politics reflected his bias. Marsilius was closer, in this context, to a whole tradition in medieval thought that had ties to Cicero's rhetoric. It focused on the body of individual heads of households coming together to form a polity, thus becoming citizens. (Cicero was particularly keen on the orator as the mover of this effort, but the larger political body was the decisive force.) The urban context of such thought is emphasized in another appendix to Syros' text. It quotes the statutes of Padua as they relate to relationship of the podestà and other judges to the great council of the commune. The judges were to observe all the statutes of Padua, not abusing their assigned powers. (It is ironic that the Carrara family came to power in Padua in 1318, within Marsilius' lifetime, when Jacopo da Carrara was chosen lord of the city in an effort to end civic strife.)

Valileios Syros has given us a detailed discussion of Dictio I of the Defensor and its sources. Additional work on the use of the Latin texts Marsilius employed might reveal even more precise evidence of the use of received works within the Paduan's polemics. Expansion of such detailed research into Dictio II might be very fruitful, helping us understand how Marsilius took the received ecclesiastical tradition and used it to attack the papacy's claims to temporal power, potentially replacing them with a polity based on the consent of the legislator humanus.



1. Hierarchiae ecclesiasticae assertio libris sex comprehensa (Cologne, 1672), p. 288.