Career Updates, Research and Activities

Output Report 2018

The annual output report for 2018 is ready. What a year! I have to say that I am quite happy with my report. And my move to Berlin will definitely be a game changer for so many things… Let’s see what 2019 will bring about.


Vedere nell’ombra. Studi su natura, spiritualità e scienze operative offerti a Michela Pereira.

Edited by Cecilia Panti and Nicola Polloni. Firenze: SISMEL (Micrologus’ Library 90), 2018. ISBN 978-88-8450-813-3. 430 pp.

The volume collects twenty-eight original essays by colleagues and friends of Michela Pereira offered on the occasion of her seventieth birthday. As a pioneer of the re-evaluation of fundamental areas of the Western philosophical and scientific tradition, starting with alchemy, Michela Pereira has dedicated important studies to Hildegard of Bingen, Roger Bacon, Ramon Llull, in addition to being one of the most authoritative interpreters of the feminist movement in the modern world. «Seeing in the shadow», the title of this volume, recalls a suggestive image coined by Hildegard to establish a connection between the work of creation, human nature and prophetic knowledge, three contexts around which the interests of Michela Pereira turn. The essays of the volume interpret these topics in many thought-provoking ways. Covering a wide temporal arc, from late Antiquity to Early Modern Times, and ranging from alchemy and medicine to spirituality, prophecy and myth, from the body-soul relation to performative arts, such as theatre and music, they also include brief editions of unedited medieval texts and an updated bibliography of Michela Pereira’s publications.


Nature, Souls, and Numbers: Remarks on a Medieval Gloss on Gundissalinus’s De processione mundi

In Causality and Resemblance. Medieval Approaches to the Explanation of Nature, ed. by M.J. Soto-Bruna (Hildesheim – Zürich – New York: OLMS, 2018), 75-87.

Gundissalinus’s De processione mundi expounds a detailed description of the institution of the universe based on a fascinating range of Latin and Arabic sources. Realising a synthesis between Avicenna’s and Avicebron’s metaphysical positions, the universe depicted by Gundissalinus is grounded upon a delicate and yet intrinsically coherent web of interpretations of divergent philosophical perspectives. A rather problematic point of De processione mundi is the use Gundissalinus makes of the ratio numerorum. In particular, his use of numerical series—twice in the text—to demonstrate the completeness of the created universe appears to entail striking contradictions with what Gundissalinus claims in his treatise. My contribution addresses this “consistency problem” pointing out that the meaning of the two numerological series can be clarified through a curious gloss on the text attested by the entire manuscript tradition of De processione mundi.


The Toledan Translation Movement and Dominicus Gundissalinus: Some Remarks on His Activity and Presence in Castile

In A Companion to Medieval Toledo. Reconsidering the Canons, ed. by Y. Beale-Rivaya and J. Busic (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2018), 263-280.

DOI: 10.1163/9789004380516_012

The origins of the Toledan translation movement can be traced back to the translation activities developed in Southern Italy and Northern Spain since the end of the eleventh century. In Italy, the translations were realized from Greek into Latin; whereas in Catalonia and the Ebro valley, translators as Plato of Tivoli, Robert of Ketton, and Hermann of Carinthia translated Arabic writings. Following different linguistic tracks, these first translations shared a common interest on scientific works, and particularly astronomy. The activity of these first translators was also directly connected to the main scientific milieux of the time, namely Salerno and Chartres, where the translated texts were read and used.


L’acqua che si trasforma in pietra. Gundissalinus e Avicenna sulla generazione dei metalli

In Vedere nell’ombra. Studi su natura, spiritualità e scienze operative offerti a Michela Pereira, ed. byC. Panti and N. Polloni (Firenze: SISMEL, 2018), 103-119. 

What are the sources of a curious example of generation mentioned by Gundissalinus, by which water becomes a stone? This contribution explores the theoretical aims of the example presented in De processione mundi, assessing the Avicennian doctrinal framework in which it is placed by Gundissalinus. The origin of the example itself, though, appears to be far more complicated. After examining possible Latin sources and the alchemical implications suggested by the example, the study focuses on a different hypothesis: that Gundissalinus had access to the Arabic version of Avicenna’s De generatione and corruptione


José Martínez Gázquez. The Attitude of the Medieval Latin Translators Towards the Arabic Sciences. Florence: SISMEL, 2016. ISBN: 9788884506948

Aestimatio 13 (2018): 141-144.



Knowing the Shadow. Prime Matter and its Knowability in the 13th Century

Conference: Matter, Mind, and More. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin (DE), 9 November 2018.

Matter, and especially prime matter, is a ubiquitous, somewhat shadowy, and yet central philosophical notion. A sort materia phantastica, as Francis Bacon famously observed stating that  its description is not but “a hard and perverse desire”, prime matter has been a philosophical conundrum for centuries. Medieval thinkers were aware of that, although their acknowledgement of these peculiarities has been gradual and, eventually, coincided with their detachment from this bizarre concept. A central moment of this process are the manifold and intricate discussions on matter in the thirteenth century—discussions that, as you might know, are also the subject of my research. The thirteenth century, though, is marked by what we could define as a doctrinal rupture that implied a gradual detachment from a Timaeus-based narrative and an Arabic-shaping of some new Aristotelian tendencies.

From Matter to Materiality: Premodern Quests for Knowing the Principle of Corporeality

2018 Meeting of the History of Science Society. Seattle (WA), 1-4 November 2018.

For a premodern scientist, matter is what made an apple this apple and also distinguished that apple from the mental idea. Matter was the carrier of three-dimensional extension and the bearer of forms, which in turn articulated the patterns of definition, shape, and intrinsic nature of this or any apple. Premodern knowing depended on form whence matter appears to inevitably escape it – as matter is, by definition, what is other than form.  How was the premodern understanding of corporeality shaped by the grounding and yet shadowy functions by matter? And how could premodern thinkers grasp what matter is – and subsequently how it can properly satisfy the physical conditions of dimensionality and corporeality – if matter cannot be known? This paper will examine two alternative strategies that were put in place to resolve this puzzle in the High Middle Ages: the denial that knowing matter is possible (Aquinas) and the assumption that it can be known albeit feebly and mediatedly (Scotus and Ockham). While both strategies meant to resolve this puzzle, they also contributed to stress the theoretical flaws which originated by the tension between the physical functions of matter and its (un)knowability. This crucial impasse would facilitate the identification of matter and materiality, as it required philosophers and scientists to provide new answers and narratives beyond the Aristotelian tradition and to drastically contribute to the final ousting of Aristotelian metaphysics from natural science.

Avicennian Cosmologies? Remarks on Grosseteste and “the Arabs”

Aquinas and the Arabs Annual Fall Meeting. Universidad Panamericana, Mexico City (MX), 23-25 August 2018.

It is usually acknowledged that Robert Grosseteste was one of the first thirteenth-century Latin philosopher to study, quote, and be influenced by ‘the Arabs,’ particularly Avicenna, Averroes, and Ibn Gabirol. At a closer look,  the situation appears to be rather different, as Grosseteste’s use of his sources – rarely mentioned by name – is very peculiar. This paper explores both presence and influence of Islamicate authors on Grosseteste’s early production, stressing the originality of his approach to the philosophy of ‘the Arabs.’

Expanding Matter: Cosmologies of Light in Artephius and Grosseteste

53rd International Congress on Medieval Studies. Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo (MI), 10-13 May 2018.

Light and Matter. My paper will examine the interaction between these two principles of existence in the intriguing cosmologies elaborated by two peculiar authors: ‘Artephius’ (Clavis sapientiae) and Robert Grosseteste (De luce). Examination of their cosmogonies and descriptions of the first moments of the universal institution will provide the ground to address the intricate question of how a mysterious Hermetical text and a well-known English philosopher shared the same approach to the never-ending problem of matter’s dimensionality.

Sources of Light: Remarks on the Grosseteste/Avicebron Connection

Conference Science Imagination and Wonder – Robert Grosseteste and His Legacy. University of Oxford, Oxford (UK), 3-6 April 2018.

Robert Grosseteste’s doctrine of light, with its metaphysical and physical implications, is one of the most intriguing and fascinating theories of the Latin Middle Ages. Identified with the first form joining matter in God’s creation of the universe, but also used to explain physical dynamics of movement and causality, lux and lumen, its ontical correlative, play a pivotal role in Grosseteste’s scientific and philosophical reflection. What sources Grosseteste used to ground his theory? Recent studies have pointed out the relevance of peculiar sources – such as Artephius’s Clavis sapientiae – for Grosseteste’s elaboration. Its main source, though, still appears to be a rather problematic work: Avicebron’s Font of Life – with the possible addition of the Latin translator of this text, the Iberian philosopher Dominicus Gundissalinus.  In my paper, I will re-assess the problem of the Grosseteste/Avicebron connection in relation to the doctrine of light. Problems of consistency within Grosseteste’s approach and reflection will be addressed in order to understand the reasons behind his acceptation of a redundant, but yet metaphorical and marginal point of Ibn Gabirol’s speculation, hopefully casting some light on whether the Font of Life actually is the main source of Grosseteste’s doctrine.

Nicholas of Cusa and Gundissalinus: A Prelude on Matter

Conference: East-Western Transmission of Knowledge. Universidad de Córdoba, Cordoba (ES), 3 April 2018.

Two hundred and fifty years and around a thousand miles separate the peculiar thinkers on which this talk is going to focus: Dominicus Gundissalinus and Nicholas of Cusa. While the latter is surely one of the most original and important thinkers of the Renaissance, Gundissalinus is a rather unstudied and often forgotten character of that ‘philosophical revolution’ taking place between the end of the twelfth- and the beginning of the thirteenth century. Living in different times and places, both Gundissalinus and Cusa are eminent witnesses of the exhaustion of shared philosophical traditions and the very construction of new frameworks and theoretical landscapes.

Arabic Philosophy in Latin Europe Before Michael Scot

Conference: Crossing Lands. Spreading knowledge in the Near East and the Mediterranean from Late Antiquity to Middle Ages. Universidad de Córdoba, Cordoba (ES), 14 March 2018.

Circulation, reception, and criticism of Arabic philosophy during the fifty years separating Gundissalinus and Michael Scot is yet a matter of hypothesis, if not a real mystery: few authors and texts are available, while the destination of the Toledan translations, and consequently their demand, is still unproven, In this paper, I will try to re-address the question of how these texts circulated throughout Europe by asking an additional question, that is, how successful was Gundissalinus’s peculiar attempt at merging Avicenna’s and Ibn Gabirol’s metaphysical accounts, a question which, in turn, corresponds to asking what is the history of the effects of Gundissalinus’s ontology in the first decades after its elaboration.

Chaos in Toledo: Gundissalinus, Daniel of Morley, and the Chartrean Tradition

Conference: Scire naturam: filosofia e ciências, da antiguidade ao início da modernidade. Universidade do Porto, Porto (PT), 26-28 February 2018.

My contribution focuses on a specific and fascinating historical moment of the course of the doctrine of primordial chaos – the end of the twelfth century – and on two peculiar authors, Dominicus Gundissalinus and Daniel of Morley. They are two important witnesses of how the Greek- and Arabic-into-Latin translation movements progressively reshaped the philosophical approach to the doctrine of primordial chaos and to Plato’s Timaeus in general. Both studying in Toledo in the second half of the century, Gundissalinus and Daniel supposedly had access to a wide range of new sources through which construct a different description of the cosmic institution beyond the traditional reference to Plato. Both authors combine Arabic sources with twelfth-century auctoritates: the outcomes of their reflections, though, are rather different in both scope and approach.

Domingo Gundisalvo y Daniel de Morley acerca del establecimiento y conservación de la causalidad del universo

Conference: Explicatio y ratio naturae. Comprensiones medievales sobre el origen del universo. Universidad de Navarra, Pamplona (ES), 16 January 2018.

Daniel of Morley’s Philosophia and Dominicus Gundissalinus’s De processione mundi are two very relevant synthesis of twelfth-century cosmology. Written in the same period, both works receive the new texts translated into Latin in Toledo, but with very different approaches: while Gundissalinus grounds his reflection on metaphysical sources, and Avicenna in particular, Daniel tends to use with more perspicacity the natural writings translated in the previous decades. My contribution will analyse the discussion on primary and secondary causality presented by these two authors, pointing out how a very same phenomenon, i.e., the Toledan translation movement, can be seen as the origin of two extremely different reflections, which nonetheless share the same purpose of contributing to the solution of the very same problems and questions on the derivation of the multiplicity from God.

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