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22.12.11 Pavlíček (ed.), Studying the Arts in Late Medieval Bohemia

22.12.11 Pavlíček (ed.), Studying the Arts in Late Medieval Bohemia

The late medieval Faculty of Arts of the Prague University (founded in 1348) is a crucial subject for medieval intellectual history, as well as for the history of science, manuscript transmission, or peregrinatio academica. The Faculty has been studied by a number of Czech scholars but only some of the results are available in English or German. The most important is František Šmahel’s The Charles University in the Middle Ages: Selected Studies (Leiden: Brill, 2007). Among the published sources, there is the indispensable Liber decanorum facultatis philosophicae Universitatis Pragensis (1363-1585, published in Prague in 1983), as well as the oldest book catalogues Catalogi librorum vetustissimi Universitatis Pragensis (eds. Z. Silagiová and F. Šmahel, CCCM 271, Turnhout: Brepols, 2015) but many others remain unedited.

The present volume promises to be first of several “volumes with similar titles” (13) that aim to remedy the situation but for the time being “does not claim a full coverage” (13). Ota Pavlíček gathered an impressive group of specialists and his collective volume presents a true advancement in the subject. A number of fields (e.g., grammar, logic, optics or metaphysics), particular texts, masters, and examples of the exchange of ideas are treated, and several shorter relevant Latin texts are edited. We get a glimpse of the actual teaching practices, quodlibets and discussions, manuscript production, and contacts. I appreciated especially the study of optics by Lukáš Lička (“Studying and Discussing Optics at the Prague Faculty of Arts: Optical Topics and Authorities in Prague Quodlibets and John of Borotín’s Quaestio on Extramission. Appendix I: Borotín’s Notes in MS Prague, NK ČR, X H 18. Appendix II: Critical Edition of John of Borotín’s Quaestio utrum sensationes fiunt per extramissiones virtutum ab organis sensitivis”, 251–303), as well as Monika Mansfeld’s Prolegomena to a Study of John of Münsterberg’s Commentary on the Metaphysics” (155-173).

Scholars will undoubtedly appreciate that the relevant Czech works of several scholars--Pavlína Cermanová’s work on the manuscript transmission of theSecretum secretorum in the Czech Lands (135-153), Barbora Kocánová’s on meteorology and weather forecasting (235-250), Petra Mutlová’s on the Dresden School at the Prague University (111-133), Alena Hadravová and Petr Hadrava’s on John Šindel’s eclipse instrument (305-340, which, I believe, will be as incomprehensible to many as it was to me), and Ota Pavlíček and Miroslav Hanke’s on the sophistical arguments (205--233)--are now available in English, often with useful additions.

Some of the studies fall out of the declared scope of the volume: while the contribution of Milan Žonca (“Menaḥem ben Jacob Shalem and the Study of Philosophy in Late Medieval Prague”, 27-47) offers a most welcome and intriguing comparison between the study of philosophy in the Christian and Jewish milieux of Prague, Hana Šedinová’s piece (“Ut dicit Aristoteles: The Enigmatic Names of Animals in Michael Scot, Thomas of Cantimpré and Claret”, 49-70) discusses several encyclopedias, none of which is directly linked to the university of Prague, and is thus less relevant here. Similarly, the otherwise novel and valuable study by Annemieke R. Verboon (“Why Animals Cannot Imagine Unseen Things? From the Prague Compendium Parvulus Philosophiae Naturalis to the Cologne Teachings of Lambertus de Monte”, 87-109), only takes Prague as a starting point before focusing on Cologne around 1490. More to the point is Krystyna Krauze-Błachowicz’s “A Prague Thread in the History of Speculative Grammar in late Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century Cracow?” (71-86) offering new information on the ties between Prague and Cracow.

In my opinion, the volume is insufficiently unified. The introductory essay by Ota Pavlíček (“Notes on the Prague Faculty of Arts in 1348–1419”, 13-26) is indeed aptly called “notes”. It mixes some brief general statements with a number of very particular observations. Many points, such as the explanation of the role of the Decree of Kutná Hora (Kuttenberg Decree) of 1409--an important event mentioned in many of the contributions--are discussed too succinctly to be grasped by non-experts. Other points, such as the problem of the dating of the quodlibet of Matthias of Legnica (17-19), are out of place here. The failure to provide an actual introduction to the exciting subject of the late medieval Faculty of Arts in Prague is more to be regretted since a coherent treatment is indeed missing.

Since more than half of the contributors have used their previously published Czech studies as a basis for the English versions presented here, they might have, in my opinion, adjusted the perspective of the new versions of their work so that they would be more in keeping with the volume’s aims as well as more accessible to an international audience. It would have been better if the editors of the five editions in the appendices had followed the same rules so that there were not five rationes edendi in a single volume. (Also, referring to Bohumil Ryba’s Czech editorial rules is not really helpful for international audience.) The decision to include manuscripts from non-extant medieval libraries (e.g., the Charles College Library in Prague) within the Index of Manuscripts is questionable since it may easily confuse readers.

I do not, however, wish these criticisms to overshadow the fact that this volume is a crucial step on the hard and slippery way to achieving the promise of its title. It is wonderful that we can look forward to further volumes on the subject.