Averroes on the Metaphysics of Aristotle

One of the earliest volumes in the College Archives is the Registrum A (GOV 3 A1/1; the first Vice-Principal’s Register) which records meetings of Governing Body/Seniority 1539-1594. Whilst this volume reveals plenty about life within the College, and the comings and goings of the Fellows, it holds a further interest to researchers. This is because it contains three fragments as pastedowns at either end of the binding (dated to 1540), which are Metaphysics by Aristotle.

Fragments in GOV 3 A1-1 (front)

The fragments contained as pastedowns in Registrum A

Dr. Stefan Georges (Institut für Philosophie, University of Würzburg) recently sent us some very useful background information about the fragments:

Averroes’ commentary was translated into Latin approximately between 1220 and 1224 by Michael Scot and for the first time made accessible to a wider audience Aristotle’s Metaphysics, which is one of the key texts in the history of philosophy and had (and still has) a huge impact on western thinking. This impact is also reflected by the number of extant manuscripts which transmit the Latin translation of Averroes’ commentary fully or in parts. Beside the one contained in GOV 3 A1/1 there are 135 more of them. Scholars in the early 13th century must have been thrilled when this text came on the market (most probably in Paris, the centre of philosophical learning in those days), and everyone who could afford it must have acquired a copy. For Aristotle was deeply revered for his logical writings, a substantial amount of which was known in the early Middle Ages. Your specimen, being of French origin and annotated by early anglicana hands, was therefore most likely acquired in Paris by an Englishman and brought straight to Oxford (the second European hotspot in terms of philosophy). The Arabic-to-Latin translation, however, was some decades later superseded by the more reliable and more complete Greek-to-Latin translation of William of Moerbeke. And this new translation, as well as the text’s being available in print from the 15th century onwards, might have made the manuscript dispensable in the sixteenth century, so that it ended up being used as binding material. There is also the fact that Aristotle had by the 16th century for many scholars lost his position as the most revered philosopher.

The text in the fragments comes from book Delta of the Metaphysics, where Aristotle offers a kind of dictionary of the most important terms of his subject. The cut in the top fragment apparently results from someone’s plundering the manuscript. Where there is nowadays the cut, there must once have been a precious (probably gilded) representation of the letter I, the initial of the word Inicium, which is the first of the terms Aristotle explains in book Delta.

Dr. Stefan Georges is currently working on an edition of the Latin translation of the Long Commentary of Averroes on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, with Prof. Dr. Dag Nikolaus Hasse. Many thanks to Dr. Stefan Georges for allowing us to reproduce this information on the blog. It is always fascinating to discover such interesting items in the Archive and indicates that many of the volumes we have in our collections hold just as much interest for their bindings as well as their written content.

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