Potestas Essendi

A Virtual Space for Thoughts on the Middle Ages, by Nicola Polloni

Articles & Chapters

Published Papers

2017 – ‘Toledan Ontologies: Gundissalinus, Ibn Daud, and the Problems of Gabirolian Hylomorphism’, in A. Fidora and N. Polloni (eds.), Appropriation, Interpretation and Criticism: Philosophical and Theological Exchanges Between the Arabic, Hebrew and Latin Intellectual Traditions, FIDEM, Barcelona – Roma, pp. 19-49.

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 17.40.36This contribution focuses on a particular branch of Gundissalinus’s production, namely ontology, and a peculiar feature of his reflection: the progressive problematization of his doctrine of hylomorphism. I will analyze the sources that influenced Gundissalinus’s mature discussion of ontological composition, underscoring the changes introduced by the Toledan philosopher to his previous doctrinal positions regarding the status of hylomorphic components and their cosmogonic causation. In order to do so, I will briefly examine the opposing theories elaborated by Ibn Gabirol and Ibn Sīnā, doctrines merged together by Gundissalinus in his final metaphysical reflection. Eventually, I will put forward a hypothesis about a possible medium of both Gundissalinus’s change of position and his doctrinal synthesis – i.e., Ibn Daud’s philosophical influence on Gundissalinus.


2016 – ‘Aristotle in Toledo: Gundissalinus, the Arabs, and Gerard of Cremona’s Translations’, in Ch. Burnett and P. Mantas (eds.), ‘Ex Oriente Lux’. Translating Words, Scripts and Styles in the Medieval Mediterranean World (Arabica Veritas, IV), CNERU – The Warburg Institute, Córdoba, pp. 147-185.

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 18.42.41.pngAt least since the first decade of the thirteenth century, therefore, the Aristotelian texts translated by Gerard of Cremona were studied, used, and quoted in the Île-de-France and England. Nonetheless, these texts had been available since at least 1187, the year in which Gerard of Cremona died in Toledo, and probably beforehand. The period of time between the composition and completion of the translations and the first attested receptions of Aristotle in England and France indicates a chronological gap with respect to the use of these sources and texts. A possible contribution to help clarify this thorny question may be suggested, namely, to examine the influence of Aristotle’s texts translated by Gerard before their spread throughout the continent. That is to say, to consider their reception in the Castilian capital, Toledo, where, during the second half of the twelfth century, at least three philosophers, Abraham ibn Daud, Dominicus Gundissalinus, and Daniel of Morley, are known to have lived and worked.

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2016 – ‘Gundissalinus on Necessary Being: Textual and Doctrinal Alterations in the Exposition of Avicenna’s Metaphysics’, Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 26/1, 129-160.

arabic_sciences-and-philosophyThis article examines the textual alteration strategy carried out by Dominicus Gundissalinus in his original works. One of the most striking examples of this approach can be detected in the large quotation of Ibn Sīnā’s Metaphysica I, 6–7 in Gundissalinus’ cosmological treatise De processione mundi, in which the Spanish philosopher variously modifies the text he translated a few years before. After a short presentation of Gundissalinus’ double role as translator and philosopher, the study moves on to the analysis of Ibn Sīnā’s doctrine of necessary and possible being, and the five demonstrations of the unrelated uniqueness of necessary being offered by Ibn Sīnā. These arguments are directly quoted by Gundissalinus: nevertheless, the author modifies the text in many passages, here examined through the analysis of some representative excerpts. The results of this enquiry suggest that Gundissalinus is following an effective alteration strategy, envisaging at least two main purposes: the clarification of Ibn Sīnā’s line of reasoning, and the doctrinal assimilation of Metaphysica’s theories in his original philosophical system. In appendix to this article the whole text of the two versions of Metaphysica I, 6–7 is presented.

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2016 – ‘Gundissalinus’s Application of al-Fārābi’s Metaphysical Programme. A Case of Epistemological Transfer’, Mediterranea. International Journal on the Transfer of Knowledge 1, 69-106.

homepageimage_en_usThis study deals with Dominicus Gundissalinus’s discussion on metaphysics as philosophical discipline. Gundissalinus’s translation and re-elaboration of al-Fārābī’s Iḥṣā’ al-ʿulūm furnish him, in the De scientiis, a specific and detailed procedure for metaphysical analysis articulated in two different stages, an ascending and a descending one. This very same procedure is presented by Gundissalinus also in his De divisione philosophiae, where the increased number of sources –in particular, Avicenna– does not prevent Gundissalinus to quote the entire passage on the methods of metaphysical science from the Iḥṣā’ al-ʿulūm, with some slight changes in his Latin translation. The analytical procedure herein proposed becomes an effective ‘metaphysical programme’ with regards to Gundissalinus’s onto-cosmological writing, the De processione mundi. The comparative analysis of this treatise with the procedure received by al-Fārābī shows Gundissalinus’s effort to follow and apply this metaphysical programme to his own reflection, in a whole different context from al-Fārābī’s and presenting doctrines quite opposed to the theoretical ground on which al-Fārābī’s epistemology is based, like ibn Gabirol’s universal hylomorphism. Nevertheless, thanks to the application of the ‘metaphysical programme’, one can effectively claim that Gundissalinus’s metaphysics is, at least in the author’s intentions, a well-defined metaphysical system. In appendix to this article the three Latin versions of al-Fārābī’s discussion on metaphysics are reported, e.g., Gundissalinus’s quotations in De scientiis and De divisione philosophiae, and Gerard of Cremona’s translation in his De scientiis.

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2015 – ‘Thierry of Chartres and Gundissalinus on Spiritual Substance: The Problem of Hylomorphic Composition’, Bulletin de Philosophie Médiévale 57, 35-57.

r53l2l14In this contribution I examine the problem of spiritual composition in Thierry of Chartres and Gundissalinus. While the former is quite reticent in admitting a spiritual hylomorphism, the latter develops Thierry’s outcomes through the results of al-Ghazali’s and Ibn Daud’s treatment of spiritual substances. The resulting ontology affirms that also spiritual creatures are composed of matter and form: an unacceptable perspective for the three sources used by Gundissalinus.

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2015 – ‘Elementi per una biografia di Dominicus Gundisalvi’, Archives d’Histoire Doctrinale et Littèraire du Moyen Âge 82, 7-22.

downloadThis study summarizes the main hypothesis and evidences in our possess regarding the biography of the translator and philosopher Dominicus Gundissalinus, who worked in Toledo during the second half of the 12th century. The main phases of Gundissalinus’life are presented through the exam of documental sources and data drawn from works ascribed to the “Gundissalinus’Circle”. The article clarifies some important aspects of Gundissalinus’ stay in Segovia, and tries to answer some questions regarding his transfer to Toledo in 1162.

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2015 – ‘Natura vero assimilatur quaternario: numerologia e neoplatonismo nel De processione mundi di Dominicus Gundissalinus’, in J. L. Fuertes Herrenos – Á. Poncela González (eds.), De Natura. La naturaleza en la Edad Media, vol. 2, Húmus, Ribeirão, pp. 679-688.

screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-09-02-39Nelle ultime pagine del De Processione Mundi, Dominicus Gundissalinus presenta due interessanti scansioni numerologiche dell’esistente a partire dai risultati dell’indagine sulla genesi del cosmo, affrontata nella trattazione anteriore. Già nelle pagine precedenti, il filosofo toledano manifesta una certa tendenza ad utilizzare la numerologia come strumento apodittico volto a suffragare l’argomentazione filosofica, sancendone così la validità in modo rigoroso. Un utilizzo, questo, che si esplicita in brani la cui paternità non è direttamente gundissaliniana, ma che sono risultanti da una combinazione delle tre fonti principali di Gundissalinus nella redazione del suo trattato: la Metaphysica avicenniana, il De Essentiis di Ermanno di Carinzia e il Fons Vitae di Avicebron.

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2013 – ‘Il De processione mundi di Gundissalinus: prospettive per un’analisi genetico-dottrinale’, Annali di Studi Umanistici 1, 25-38.

3077625_fcovIl De processione mundi si rivela dunque un trattato di estremo interesse, tanto rispetto alla rielaborazione gundissaliniana delle dottrine ivi presentate in chiave non più propriamente platonica, quanto – e parallelamente – rispetto alla ricezione delle istanze critiche tipiche della seconda metà del XII secolo, che fungono da sostrato al rapido mutamento di paradigma speculativo nel giro di pochi decenni. Le questioni dottrinali che Gundissalinus si pone, gli esiti filosofici che accoglie dal mondo arabo e quelli che rigetta dalla tradizione latina ci lasciano intravedere la ricerca di nuove risposte a quelle domande cui il sistema platonico-timaico non appariva più in grado di far fronte. Ed è proprio il tentativo gundissaliniano di sviluppare una prospettiva ontologica nuova che prescindesse dalla crisi del platonismo – che egli già percepiva e che costituisce lo sfondo della sua riflessione – a condensare il maggiore interesse storico e filosofico per la sua figura. Comprendere Gundissalinus e la sua opera può così permettere di gettare luce su quel periodo che segna il tramonto del paradigma platonico e il rapido sorgere dell’aristotelismo quale Weltanschauung complessiva del XIII e XIV secolo.

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Coming soon

2017 – ‘The Toledan Translation Movement and Gundissalinus: Some Remarks on His Activity and Presence in Castile’, in Y. Beale-Rivaya and J. Busic (eds.), Companion to Medieval Toledo. Shared Common Places (Toledo, 711-1517), Brepols, Turnhout, forthcoming.

This contribution analyzes the structure of the Toledan translation movement through the examination of one exemplar case: the activity of Dominicus Gundissalinus. Firstly, I will analyze the causes that made possible this translating effort, underlying its political, social, and institutional implications. The data at our disposal will further be examined about Gundissalinus’s biography and his presence in Toledo, providing a profile of his activity in the Castilian capital. Finally, I will stress some unsolved problems about his work and his biography, presenting a new line of research on Gundissalinus’s presence in Segovia.


2018 – ‘Domingo Gundisalvo y Daniel de Morley sobre la causalidad en el establecimiento y conservación del universo’, in M.J. Soto Bruna (ed.), Unidad y pluralidad del Logos en el mundo. Explicatio y ratio naturae (ss. IV-XIV). Hermenéutica medieval, EUNSA, Pamplona, forthcoming.

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 ontic multiplicity from God.


2018 – ‘Trustworthy Translator or Vicious Misintepreter? Gundissalinus, Ibn Gabirol, and the Doctrinal Consistency of the Fons vitae’, in N. Polloni, M. Benedetto, F. Dal Bo (eds.), Solomon Ibn Gabirol: Sources, Doctrines, and Influence on Medieval Philosophy, Brepols, Turnhout, forthcoming.

Survived only in its Latin translation—crucially accompanied by a Hebrew epitome and a few Arabic excerpts—the text of Ibn Gabirol’s Font of Life has raised many problematic questions concerning the actual meaning, the referred tradition, and the philosophical range Ibn Gabirol wanted to expose through this writing. Tricky doctrinal cores and ambiguous passages, which create a sort of theoretical tension throughout the work, have been variously addressed by scholarship as expressions of Ibn Gabirol’s ‘doctrinal perspectivism’ or ‘philosophical ingenuity’. Recently, the studies by Pessin casted new light on the relation between the Arabic original version of the Font of Life and its Latin translation, realised by Gundissalinus in the twelfth century. Pointing out a substantial semantic slippage in the Latin rendering of key terms such as ‘voluntas’ and ‘materia’, Pessin’s interpretation allowed a whole new comprehension of the Font of Life, marked by a renewed doctrinal consistency, until then quite precarious. This paper departs from Pessin’s hermeneutics of Ibn Gabirol’s writing focusing on the practical implication upon which it is grounded, i.e., Gundissalinus’s active role as ‘creative interpreter’ of the Arabic original texts of the Font of Life. Did Gundissalinus consciously ‘Aristotelise’ Ibn Gabirol’s Neoplatonic framework? The Toledan philosopher, though, doesn’t seem to have the necessary knowledge of Aristotle to do so. Did he misinterpret the text through a censurable (but accidental) use of Latin terms excessively bound to the Latin tradition? Or did he simply and plainly translated the Arabic text he had at his disposal, de verbo ad verbum, as he did with all the further Arabic writing he worked on? All these hypotheses will be analysed, and special attention will be paid to Gundissalinus’s reception of Ibn Gabirol’s theories in his original philosophical works, as well as to the pivotal role played by the most anti-Gabirolian Jewish thinker of that time: Abraham Ibn Daud, Gundissalinus’s collaborator on the Latin translation of Avicenna.