Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.02.11

Elisa Rubino (ed.), Aristoteles Latinus (ALPE X, 1). Meteorologica. Liber quartus. Translatio Henrici Aristippi. Corpus philosophorum Medii Aevi.   Turnhout:  Brepols, 2010.  Pp. lxv, 75.  ISBN 9782503534725.  €60.00.  

Vuillemin-Diem Gudrun (ed.), Aristoteles Latinus (ALPE X, 2.1-2). Meteorologica. Translatio Guillelmi de Morbeka, Praefatio - Editio textus (2 vols.). Corpus philosophorum Medii Aevi.   Turnhout:  Brepols, 2008.  Pp. xviii, 436; 200.  ISBN 9782503530802.  €275.00.  

Reviewed by Reka Forrai, Central European University (

The Aristoteles Latinus project was launched in 1930 by the Union Académique Internationale. Its publications fall into two main groups: the catalogues of Medieval Latin Aristotle manuscripts (3 vv., 1939-62), and the editions of individual texts, an ongoing process, with 28 volumes completed at present. These volumes, in addition to providing us with fine critical editions of the various Latin versions of the medieval Aristotelian corpus, contain a wealth of information about many aspects of medieval intellectual history: about translators and their methodologies, the Greek originals they were using, the reception of the translations, and the philosophical terminology of the age. More recently, a considerable amount of the material has been made available on CD-ROM as well. During the more than seventy years of its existence, the Aristoteles Latinus, a project aiming to offer critical editions of all Latin translations of Aristotle’s works, has received nothing but praise from reviewers. The present review is no exception.

The two latest volumes of the Aristoteles Latinus series are two medieval Greek-Latin versions of Aristotle’s Meteorology . As is often the case with Greek texts, the Latin Middle Ages knew several renderings of Aristotle’s original. The first translation, the Translatio Vetus is a mixture of elements of different origins: Gerhard of Cremona (d. 1187) translated the first three books from the Arabic paraphrase of Ibn al-Bitriq; Henricus Aristippus (d. 1162) translated the fourth book from the Greek; the work concludes with a translation of the third chapter of Avicenna's Kitab al-Shifa, called De Mineralibus, made by Alfredus Anglicus in the twelfh century. This compendium was known in the Middle Ages as the Liber Metheorum, and was probably compiled by Alfredus Anglicus himself. This combination of Arabic and Greek materials was in use until William of Moerbeke prepared his own translation around 1260. His Translatio nova was based entirely on the Greek text. Moerbeke also accompanied his version with the Latin translation of the commentary of Alexander of Aphrosdisias.

The critical editions of the Aristoteles Latinus discussed in this review exhaustively cover the Greek-Latin variants of the Meteorology . Elisabeta Rubino’s edition prints Henricus Aristippus’ translation of the fourth book. Gudrun Vuillemin-Diem’s edition prints William of Moerbeke’s complete translation. Both editions provide, in addition to the critical edition of the text, an extensive introductory study (in German), an informative bibliography and a Greek-Latin and Latin-Greek glossary of the specific terminology.

Elisa Rubino's work grew out of her doctoral dissertation. She fully collated 15 manuscripts of the surviving 96. The translation of Henricus Aristippus does not have an independent textual tradition; the text circulated as part of the Translatio vetus, being the only Greek-Latin element in the Arabic-Latin compound. Elisa Rubino's introductory essay does justice to its complex history, and accounts for all important elements of the history of this text: not only the relationship of the Latin with the Greek manuscript tradition, but also the relationship of the fourth book with the other elements of the Translatio vetus and the circumstances of the compilation of the Liber Metheorum.

Gudrun Vuillemin-Diem, the editor of the Translatio Nova, has already contributed a substantial piece to the Aristoteles Latinus: the splendid edition of the Metaphysics. Her new Latin Meteorology is divided into two volumes, the first of which is entirely given over to Gudrun Vuillemin-Diem’s introductory study. Because Moerbeke’s translation is the first complete Greco-Latin version, the text is more extensive than the Vetus; moreover, it survives in almost twice as many manuscripts: 170 all together, of which the author fully collated 46.

The introduction is divided along the following lines: a historical sketch of the fate of the Aristotelian text in the Middle Ages, an introduction to William of Moerbeke, his methods and his career as a translator, the discussion of the textual tradition, of the Greek manuscripts, and of the successive phases of translation, and finally the presentation of the editorial principles. The author argues that Moerbeke, upon translating, did not revise the older translation, but translated the text anew. Also, contrasting the translation to Aristotelian lemmata in the Latin version of the commentary of Alexander of Aphrodisias, the author attempts a chronology of the various translations and redactions. She argues that the Aristotelian text preceded the translation of the commentary, but that the translation of the commentary resulted in later revisions to the Aristotelian text. She proves that Moerbeke improved upon his text in consecutive phases, drawing upon additional Greek manuscripts and commentaries—a process he followed in many of his translations.

The major part of the introduction is concerned with the textual tradition. The author sets out to clarify two complicated and interrelated issues: the question of the relationship among the different manuscript families (the Toledo manuscript, the Parisian manuscripts and the Italian groups), and the problem of the successive revisions of the text (editio pristine, recensio vulgata, recensio Toletana). The translator’s various interventions in his own translation make it very difficult to trace the manuscript families to any archetype. For those interested in Greek manuscripts in the medieval West, and the relationship between original and translation, the chapter on the Greek model would be of considerable interest: it discusses the Vienna manuscript which served as the original of Moerbeke’s several Aristotelian translations and also a lost Greek manuscript, which was basis for some of the later revisions. This part concludes with the discussion of the first commentaries on this new translation: those of Thomas Aquinas, of Matthieu le Vilain, and of Witelo. A substantial exposition of the editorial principles follows. The first volume concludes with a series of appendices including the stemma codicum, organizational principles of the Greek and Latin texts respectively, and the indices. The precision and clarity of Gudrun Vuillemin-Diem’s presentation allows the reader to look over the translator's shoulder and watch him at work, to see how he uses his Greek original, how he improves the text using his Greek resources, and finally, how commentators use his rendering.

The present reviewer is neither a paleographer, nor a codicologist; as an active user of critical editions, however, she can state that her experience with the Latin texts was pleasing and engaging: the texts are very clearly presented, with editorial choices well argued for. But what makes both editions above all highly recommendable is that they, as all great philological works, read like detective stories: through uncovering patterns of mistakes and errors committed by translators, compilers and scribes, and through sorting out the often extremely intricate web of textual traditions, they enable readers to distinguish profiles of medieval intellectuals at work and to grasp the vitality of medieval textual culture.

Various other parts of the Medieval Latin Meteorology corpus were already made available earlier: A. J. Smet edited the Latin version of the Alexander commentary (A. J. Smet. Alexandre d’Aphrodisias, Commentaire sûr les Météores d’Aristote. Traduction de Guillame Moerbeke. Corpus Latinum commentariorum in Aristotelem Graecorum 4. Louvain-Paris: Peeters, 1968) and P. L. Schoonheim published the Arabic-Latin version (P. L. Schoonheim. Aristotle’s Meteorology in the Arabico-Latin Tradition. Aristoteles Semitico-Latinus 12. Leiden-Boston-Köln: Brill, 2000).With the two new volumes reviewed here, the edition of the medieval Latin Aristotelian Meteorology is now complete, providing a rich and reliably presented body of texts for historians of medieval intellectual practices.

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