BMCR 2012.02.45

Aristoteles Latinus XVII 1.III, De motu animalium. Fragmenta translationis anonymae

Pieter De Leemans, Aristoteles Latinus XVII 1.III, De motu animalium. Fragmenta translationis anonymae. Turnhout: Brepols, 2011. xcii, 69. ISBN 9782503540948 €70.00.

The latest installment of the Aristoteles Latinus series comprises two volumes which contain the Medieval Latin versions of Aristotle’s De motu animalium and De progressu animalium. Both volumes, which were edited by Pieter de Leemans, are part of tome XVII of the Aristoteles Latinus. The first volume contains the text of an anonymous translation which had to be reconstructed on the basis of one of the writings of Albert the Great. The second volume encompasses a critical edition that collates the existing manuscripts of William of Moerbeke’s translation of De progressu animalium and De motu animalium.

If the success of a text were to be measured by the number of citations alone, then it would seem that the two treatises are among the least popular Aristotelian writings in the Middle Ages. Not only is De motu animalium “cryptic and brief, occasionally obscure”1 (which, by the way, could be said of many Aristotelian writings), but it also lacked a broader academic interest, an indication of which is its dispersed and late introduction into the philosophical discussion in the 13th century. Hence only two major philosophical figures, Albert the Great (c. 1200-1280) and Peter of Auvergne (d. 1304), took those writings seriously enough to write treatises or commentaries. Yet, while Peter’s work includes one Sententia de motibus animalium, it seems that Albert had a deeper interest in natural philosophy and zoology. Among his works that reflect his concern for animal life and its underlying physical and metaphysical principles are the lengthy De animalibus 2 as well as the Quaestiones super de animalibus and De principiis motus processivi.3

This last work is of special importance for de Leemans’ edition of the fragments of an anonymous translation of De motu animalium, published as volume XVII 1.III of the Aristoteles Latinus series. It is, however, an edition that in many regards differs from ordinary critical editions, mainly because it does not contain a conspectus codicum, nor an analysis of the different families of manuscripts or a stemma. The reason for this absence is as simple as it is perplexing, for there is no extant manuscript of that particular translation. Yet an edition without a manuscript calls for a justification. In his introduction de Leemans sets out the methodological principles that would allow for the partial reconstruction of the missing manuscript.

The point of departure for this task is Albert the Great’s De principiis motus processivi. It is a paraphrase of sorts of De motu animalium with several digressions; this writing contains several explicit and tacit references to that lost manuscript. However, in the absence of a manuscript it seems necessary to establish the former existence of one. It is, in fact, Albert himself who claims to have obtained a manuscript during his stay in Italy in 1262 or 1263.4

Given that Albert’s De principiis motus processivi does not distinguish lemmata of the anonymous translation of De motu animalium, de Leemans had to look for a method that would render a text as accurate as possible. The most striking feature of his method consists in comparing Albert’s De principiis motus processivi with the Greek text of De motu animalium, thus highlighting the semantic equivalences that can be found in both works. The editor himself, however, does acknowledge the difficulties attached to this method: any given Latin word of the paraphrase could be equivalent to a Greek term of De motu animalium and yet not have any direct textual relationship with it. There is also the possibility for a Greek term to be translated in different ways into Latin. If it also is taken into account that Albert’s working method altered the original structure of De motu animalium, then the task of producing a tentative and hypothetical edition seems difficult to accomplish. Yet de Leemans gives a series of examples in order to show how the semantic equivalence might work. Thus, for instance, the anonymous translation consistently seems to render the Greek term πνεῦμα as spiritum sive flatum. Considering that in Albert’s text many terms are paired as synonyms, the equivalence is thus underscored.

The result of de Leemans’ reconstruction is a text that for the untrained eye is virtually undistinguishable from the relevant portions of Albert’s De principiis motus processivi as edited by Bernhard Geyer. It has to be noted, however, that the text of the Aristoteles Latinus omits the digressions the German master frequently inserts into his paraphrases. Apart from this obvious difference, the general similarity of both editions, de Leemans’ and Geyer’s, calls for a clarification. What makes de Leemans’ edition useful is his choice to mark words and expressions. Since he assumes that apparently incongruent readings of the text can be solved by identifying the correct position of parts of the anonymous translation and its choice of vocabulary, he opts to mark them typographically so that Albert’s own writing can be distinguished from what is considered part of the anonymous translation of De motu animalium. De Leemans does, therefore, set in bold characters those parts which are believed to be borrowed from the translation, whereas bold characters in italic are words which reflect the translation, but were changed by Albert. In addition, he marks words in italics to indicate their uncertain origin and also uses small caps for doublets. Those differentiating typographical items are doubtless useful, but they also make a smooth reading of the text impossible, although it might be objected that Aristotle rarely allows for a smooth reading.

In addition to the introduction and the edition of the anonymous translation, there is a comparative critical apparatus, which takes into account those Greek manuscripts that probably served as models for the Latin translation. Finally there is an index, including a useful index verborum of Latin-Greek equivalents. The most informative part is probably the introduction, in which de Leemans both traces accurately the broader context of the anonymous translation and establishes conjectures regarding its possible source .

In volume XVII 2. II-III it was possible to avoid the editorial conundrum of volume XVII 1.III to reconstruct the lost text of an anonymous Medieval Latin translation of De motu animalium.In it de Leemans has recourse to established methods in order to render a critical text of William of Moerbeke’s new translations of De motu animalium and De progressu animalium.

The introduction occupies almost two thirds of the volume. It contains a general approach, followed by chapter one in which the editor expounds the Latin manuscript tradition of both texts. In chapter two he shows which Greek manuscript tradition must be considered the model for Moerbeke’s translation. Chapter three establishes the editorial principles such as the choice of manuscripts, orthography and a Greek-Latin comparative apparatus. A bibliography gives way to the critical texts of De progressu animalium and De motu animalium. Curiously enough, de Leemans chose to invert the almost canonical order given by Bekker’s edition, putting De progressu animalium first. The volume ends with an appendix containing collations of the Greek manuscript ms. Firenze, Bibl. Laurenziana, 87, 4 and several indices, including a large Greek-Latin index verborum.

De Leemans’ final aim of course, is to establish the critical texts of William of Moerbeke’s Latin translations of De progressu animalium and De motu animalium. In comparison with the previous volume it is important to note that Moerbeke provides an entirely new translation of De motu animalium based on an established tradition of Greek manuscripts, which the editor proceeds to scrutinize in depth. The analysis of the Greek manuscript tradition leads, at least regarding De motu animalium, to a more thorough description than the one proposed by Nussbaum in her edition of the Greek text, the main problem being that she left out several manuscripts that had to be taken into account for a complete collation.

Probably because such a task is not within the scope of the Aristoteles Latinus series, de Leemans does not, in the end, provide a critical Greek text. He does, however, produce the definitive critical texts of two apparently minor Aristotelian writings in their Medieval Latin version and offers a series of very useful thoughts regarding their context and textual evidence.


1. Those are Martha Nussbaum’s words in her introduction of Aristotle’s De motu animalium. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978, p. XX.

2. Albertus Magnus, De animalibus libri XXVI, 2 vols., ed. H. Stadler. Münster: Aschendorff 1916/1920.

3. Albertus Magnus, De principiis motus processivi, in Opera Omnia tomus XII, ed. B. Geyer. Münster: Aschendorff 1955, pp. 47-76.

4. Ib., XXIV.