Life of Gundissalinus

A map of places related to Gundissalinus’s activity in Castile

Extracts from N. Polloni, “The Toledan Translation Movement and Gundissalinus: Some Remarks on His Activity and Presence in Castile.”  In Y. Beale-Rivaya and J. Busic (eds.), A Companion to Medieval Toledo. Reconsidering the Canons. Leiden – Boston: Brill, 2018, 263-280.

Since 1162, the presence of another translator is witnessed in Toledo: Dominicus Gundissalinus. Quite certainly, Gundissalinus was born in the Iberian Peninsula, since the name “Gundissalinus” or “Gundisalvi” is the patronymic standing for “son of Gundisalvus”, a typical Castilian name. His birth should be placed between 1115 and 1125, following a series of remarks on the rather scarce documental data at disposal. In the first place, Gundissalinus’s philosophical reflection appears to be quite close to that of the Chartrean masters, in particular to William of Conches’s and Thierry of Chartres’s speculation.[1] Gundissalinus’s knowledge of their writings and doctrines has led many scholars to suppose a direct link between the Toledan philosopher and Chartres, and possibly also his personal presence in Chartres.[2] If this were the case, considering that Gundissalinus is surely attested in Segovia since 1148, if should have been in Chartres sometime between 1135 and 1148.

The archive of Segovia’s cathedral states his presence in that town on 6 May 1148. The document states registers “Dominicus archidiacunus Collarensis”, i.e., archdeacon of Cuéllar, a village close to Segovia.[3] The identification of the “Dominicus” archdeacon of Cuéllar with Gundissalinus is corroborated by the manuscript tradition of many of his works, which ascribes the paternity of these writings to Dominicus “archidiaconus Toleti” or, in the longer and more detailed qualification, “archidiaconus Segobiensis apud Toletum”.[4]

At least between 1144 and 1145 Segovia hosted an important translator, Robert of Chester, whom translated in the Castilian town the Liber de compositione alchemiae—the very first alchemical writing to be translated into Latin—and al-Khwarizmi’s al-Jabr.[5] Robert presumably remained in Segovia until 1146-1147, since in 1147 he is attested in England, where he wrote a treatise on the astrolabe, and soon after, in 1150, adapted the astronomic tables to the latitude of London.[6] Robert’s presence in Segovia is meaningful, since it attests a translating activity in that town before the arrival of Gerard in Toledo and the beginning of the Toledan translation movement. Can we suppose that Gundissalinus went to Segovia to carry out the work begun by Robert? This does not seem to be the case. In fact, at the time Gundissalinus was a well-trained person who had just finished his studies in Chartres, not a translator, not yet. But this does not entail that a certain, incipient translating activity had surely begun in Segovia during those years, with or without the collaboration of Gundissalinus.

Moreover, it is worth noticing that in 1149, i.e., one year after Gundissalinus’s arrival in town, John of Castelmoron became bishop of Segovia, an office he would hold for three years, until his election to archbishop of Toledo, in 1152 as John II.[7] It is under his archbishopric that the translation movement begun, with Gerard of Cremona’s activity which started sometime before 1157.

Gundissalinus moved to Toledo in 1161 or 1162.[8] His relocation is to be linked to another inaugural figure of the translation movement, Abraham Ibn Daud (“Avendauth”), whom arrived in the Castilian town around 1161.[9] The Jewish philosopher is the author of the Latin translation of Avicenna’s prologue to the Liber sufficientiae, the very first translation into Latin of a work by Avicenna.[10] As pointed out by Amos Bertolacci, Ibn Daud’s dedicatory letter of the prologue is an appeal to archbishop John to sponsor the translation of the whole Avicennian corpus, probably with the purpose of mirroring the work already begun by Gerard.[11] Apparently, John’s positive response implied the necessary presence in Toledo of a Latinist to assist Ibn Daud during the translations: this Latinist was Dominicus Gundissalinus, whom moved to Toledo in 1162, and there translated Avicenna’s De Anima with Ibn Daud before 1166.[12] The collaboration between Ibn Daud and Gundissalinus (and John of Spain, the third member of the team)  would go well beyond the translation of Arabic writings, and they gave birth to a pivotal speculative milieu of critical elaboration of scientific and philosophical works, as shown by Charles Burnett’s and Gad Freudenthal’s studies.[13]

The reconstruction of Gundissalinus’s transfer to Toledo, while persuading, entails some relevant problems. It is a matter of fact that Gundissalinus was an eminent Latinist, who studied in Chartres and therefore had a very good philosophical background, extremely useful for the translation of Avicenna. Nevertheless, this does not seem to be a sufficient reason, since no philosophical skills were required to Gerard, whom was already translating from Arabic. And surely the archbishop could have easily found a good Latinist in Toledo—one should remember that the most part of the Toledan chapter was made of French clergymen: any of them could perfectly fit the required profile.

Thus, it seems not unreasonable to suppose that the reason why John required Gundissalinus in Toledo was the latter’s familiarity with the translating activity.  If the archbishop wanted a collaborator to the biphasic translation of Avicenna, as requested by Ibn Daud, the most economic hypothesis is that John called Gundissalinus for the latter had already participated, to some extent, to Arabic-into-Latin translations while both were in Segovia.

This supposition, though, encounters many difficulties, and especially there are no attestations of a translating activity besides the data herein analyzed, and, at least at present, this makes it extremely hard to produce an overall and document-based hypothesis. At the very same time, the possibility of a translating activity in Segovia, in which Gundissalinus collaborated before going to Toledo, is a fascinating research hypothesis that must be corroborated (or rejected) by a renewed analysis of the Segovian documental sources, and the manuscript tradition of Gundissalinus’s translations.

Another problematic question arises from the consideration of Gundissalinus’s presence in Segovia. Presumably, Gundissalinus was still in France before that date, probably in Chartres. 1148 is the date on which the Council of Reims was held. That council the trial for heresy against Gilbert of Poitiers took place, as well as a harsh controversy between William of Conches and William of Saint-Thierry, as pointed out by Paul Dutton.[14] Two of the most important Chartrean masters, Gilbert and William, were under trial, while the very same Chartrian speculative liberty appeared to be at stake. For this reason, a wide participation of Chartrean scholars and masters in Reims should be correctly supposed.[15] The importance of the council is further corroborated by the attitude the Holy See had toward the celebration of the council: Rome, indeed, urged the European dioceses to strengthen their participation at the council, and eventually “in hac synodo, archiepiscopi, episcopi, et abbates, usque ad mille centum resedisse dicuntur”.[16]

The urgency to have a wide participation at the Council of Reims is further attested by a letter the pope sent to Alfonso VII, king of Castile, asking him to encourage the Iberian clergy to vastly participate in the meeting.[17] The effects of this request are testified by the accounts of the council, which saw the presence of many representatives of the Iberian Church, among which were bishops and archbishops.[18]

Probably—as one should expect from his election to bishop of Segovia, the year after—John of Castelmoron also participated. Unfortunately, this fascinating figure is surrounded by an almost complete lack of documental sources. As it has been mentioned before, John became bishop of Segovia in 1149—his oath is preserved in the Toledan capitulary archive—but before that date, and until his election as archbishop, all data about him is a matter of speculation.[19] He later became archbishop of Toledo under the name John II, and he would supposedly be the main sponsor of the first translations realized by Gundissalinus and Ibn Daud.[20] For the outstanding career he would develop, it is very plausible to suppose that John participated in the Council of Reims, together with many other clergymen from the Iberian Peninsula.

If this were true, in 1148 we can situate in Reims, with a certain degree of probability, both John of Castelmoron and the Chartrean masters with their pupils, among whom, possibly, even Gundissalinus, who went to Segovia that very same year. Would it be possible to suppose a causal link between these two events? There are no certainties about this eventuality, but the coincidence between the dates is fascinating.

All the same, even admitting a first meeting of John and Gundissalinus in Reims, this hypothesis does not explain, by itself, the motives for which Gundissalinus went to Segovia and became archdeacon of Cuéllar. What interests could Gundissalinus have had in that town? One explanation could be the supposition of a preliminary translating activity already in place in Segovia, from where Robert of Chester recently moved away. It is not unreasonable to suppose that Gundissalinus could have been willing to participate in this Segovian translating activity, aiming at finding new philosophical texts, in a similar fashion to Gerard’s transfer to Toledo with the purpose of translating Ptolemy’s Almagest.

Gundissalinus’s last attestation in the Toledan chapter is dated 1178, but the philosopher stayed in town at least until 1181, as it is documented by a certificate of sale of a terrain owned by him.[21] After 1181, Gundissalinus probably moved back to Segovia, where he is attested in 1190 by the capitulary archives of Segovia and Burgos.[22] This is the last source witnessing Gundissalinus alive: since 1194 Cuéllar has a new archdeacon, John, whose existence is witnessed by a letter and further attested  by the Toledan capitulary archive in 1198.[23]

[1] See R. Southern, “Humanism and the School of Chartres”, in R. Southern, Medieval Humanism and Other Studies, New York, 1977, pp. 61-85; N. Häring, “Chartres and Paris Revisited”, in J. R. O’Donnell (ed.), Essays in Honour of Anton Charles Pegis, Toronto, 1974, pp. 268-329; and P. Dronke, “New Approaches to the School of Chartres”, Anuario de estudios medievales 6 (1969), 117-140.

[2] Regarding Gundissalinus’ connections to Chartres, see M.-Th. D’Alverny, “Les traductions à deux interprètes, d’arabe en langue vernaculaire et de langue vernaculaire en latin”, p.197. The hypothesis of a direct and personal connection between Gundissalinus and William of Conches has been proposed and analysed by Alexander Fidora, see A. Fidora, “Le débat sur la création: Guillaume de Conches, maître de Dominique Gundisalvi?”, in B. Obrist – I. Caiazzo (eds.), Guillaume de Conches: Philosophie et science au XII siècle, Firenze, 2011, pp. 271-288. At the same time, many studies have focused on the relation between Gundissalinus and Thierry of Chartres: see N. Häring, “Thierry of Chartres and Dominicus Gundissalinus”, Mediaeval Studies 26 (1964), 271-286; K. M. Fredborg, “The Dependence of Petrus Helias’ Summa super Priscianum on William of Conches’ Glosae super Priscianum”, Cahiers de l’Institut du Moyen Âge grec et latin 11 (1973), 1-57; K. M. Fredborg, “Petrus Helias on Rhetoric”, Cahiers de l’Institut du Moyen Âge grec et latin 13 (1974), 31-41;  K. M. Fredborg, The Latin Rhetorical Commentaries by Thierry of Chartres, Toronto, 1988, pp. 14-20; R. W. Hunt, “The Introduction to the Artes in the Twelfth Century”, in R. Martin (ed.),  Studia mediaevalia in honorem admodum Reverendi Patris Raymundi Josephi Martin, Bruges, 1948, pp. 85-112; and Ch. Burnett, “A New Source for Dominicus Gundissalinus’s Account of the Science of the Stars?”, Annals of Science 47 (1990), 361-374. See also N. Polloni, “Elementi per una biografia di Dominicus Gundisalvi”, Archives d’Histoire Doctrinale et Littéraire du Moyen Âge 82 (2015), 7-22; and N. Polloni, “Thierry of Chartres and Gundissalinus on Spiritual Substance: The Problem of Hylomorphic Composition”, Bulletin de Philosophie Médiévale 57 (2015), 35-57.

[3] See L. M. Villar García, Documentación medieval de la Catedral de Segovia (1115-1300), Salamanca, 1990, n. 41, p. 91; and n. 42, p. 93. Unfortunately, the documental archive of Cuéllar (Cf. B. Velazco Bayón, Collección documental de Cuéllar (943-1492), Cuéllar, 2010) has no traces of Gundissalinus’s presence in that village. Nevertheless, one should not diminish the importance of Cuéllar during the Middle Ages, a relevant center in the Duero valley. See B. Velasco Bayon, Historia de Cuéllar, Segovia, 1974, pp. 149-50.

[4] See, for example, ms. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 6443, f. 44r; ms. Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 4428, f. 78r; ms. Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Ottob. lat. 2186, f. 1r; and ms. Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College, 504, f. 169v, reading “archidiaconus Toleti”. Regarding the reading “archidiaconus Segobiensis apud Toletum”, see for example ms. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 6552, f. 55r.

[5] See Ch. Burnett, Robert of Ketton, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 2004; B. B. Hughues, Robert of Chester’s Latin Translation of Al-Khwarizmi’s Al-Jabr, Stuttgart, 1989, p. 124; and R. Lemay, “L’authenticité de la préface de Robert de Chester à sa traduction du Morienus (1144)”, Chrysopoeia, 4 (1991) 3-32.

[6] A. Rucquoi, “Littérature scientifique aux frontières du Moyen Âge hispanique: textes en traduction”, Euphrosyne, 27 (2009) 193-210.

[7] See J. F. Rivera Recio, La Iglesia de Toledo en el siglo XII (1086-1208), Roma, 1966, p. 280, n. 75.

[8] See L. M. Villar García, Documentación medieval de la Catedral de Segovia (1115-1300), n. 61, p. 109: “Ego Dominicus Colar dictus archidiachonus”.

[9] See M.-Th. D’Alverny, “Avendauth?”, in Homenaje a Millás Vallicrosa, vol. 1, Barcelona, 1954, pp. 19-43; S. Weil, Das Buch Emunah Ramah, oder Der erhabene Glaube, verfasst von Abraham ben David Halevi aus Toledo, Frankfurt, 1852; and G. D. Cohen, A Critical Edition with a Translation and Notes of The Book of Tradition (Sefer ha-Qabbalah) by Abraham ibn Daud, Philadelphia, 1967.

[10] Avicenna, Prologus discipuli et capitula, ed A. Birkenmajer, “Avicennas Vorrede zum ‘Liber Sufficientiae’ und Roger Bacon”, Revue néoscolastique de philosophie 36 (1934), 308-320, ivi 314.

[11] See A. Bertolacci, “A Community of Translators: The Latin Medieval Versions of Avicenna’s Book of the Cure”, in C. J. Mews – J. N. Crossley (eds.), Communities of Learning: Networks and the Shaping of Intellectual Identity in Europe 1100-1500, Turnhout, 2011, pp. 37-54. This practice is common among Jewish philosophers, see G. Freudenthal, “Abraham Ibn Ezra and Judah Ibn Tibbon as Cultural Intermediaries. Early Stages in the Introduction of Non-Rabbinic Learning into Provence in the Mid-Twelfth Century”, in S. Stroumsa – H. Ben Shammai (eds.), Exchange and Transmission Across Cultural Boundaries: Philosophy, Mysticism and Science in the Mediterranean World, Jerusalem, 2013, pp. 58-81.

[12] Cf. J. Hernández, Los Cartularios de Toledo. Catálogo Documental, Madrid, 1985, p. 130, n. 134; the dedicatory of the translation to John II in Avicenna, De anima seu sextus de naturalibus, ed. Van Riet, Louvain – Leiden, 1968, pp. 3,1-4,26; and N. Polloni, “Elementi per una biografia di Dominicus Gundisalvi”.

[13] See Ch. Burnett, “John of Seville and John of Spain: a mise au point”; and G. Freudenthal, “Abraham Ibn Daud, Avendauth, Dominicus Gundissalinus and Practical Mathematics in Mid-Twelfth Century Toledo”, Aleph 16/1 (2016), 61-106.

[14] P. Dutton, The Mystery of the Missing Heresy Trial of William of Conches, Toronto, 2006.

[15] See N. Polloni, Glimpses of the Invisible: Doctrines and Sources of Dominicus Gundissalinus’ Metaphysics, forthcoming.

[16] P. Labbé – G. Cossart, Sacrosancta Concilia ad regiam editionem exacta, Venezia, 1730, vol. XII, p. 1662, B.

[17] “Illos autem episcopos en sola ex Gallia eo profectos arbitrare. Nam et Hispanos interfuisse intelligimus ex eiusdem Pontificis epistolis ad Alfonsum Hispaniae regem, et Bernardus Tarraconensem, superius descriptis”. See Labbé – Cossart, Sacrosancta Concilia, p. 1662.

[18] “Episcopos Hispaniarum Concilio Remensi interfuisse, docet Sandovalius in Alphonso VII aitque hunc Hispaniarum Imperatorem Concilium Palentinum cum Episcopis et Proceribus suis celebrasse era MCLXXXVI anno scilicet Christi praesenti, et imprimis lectum fuisse Eugenii III Papae Edictum: quo praecipiebatur, ut se se in Gallias ad celebrandum Concilium Generale Remis, indictum, et examinandas ibidem quatuor theses exoticas Gilberti Porretani Episcopi, conferrent, prolato ed iis judicio, ut vel per se ipso, vel interventum gravium et doctorum hominum illud postea Remis operirent. Adhaec in Epistula LXXIV ad Alphonsum Hispaniarum Regem scripta, sub datum in territorio Lingonensi V. Kal. Maii, se die XXVII mensis Aprilis, ait Eugenius: Quia Episcopos et Abbates regni tui ad vocationem nostram, tamquam devotus et humilis filius, Remensi interesse Concilio voluisti; benevolentiae tuae gratias exhibentes, precum tuarum consideratione devicti, eos qui venerunt a suspensionis sententia relaxamus. Quare plures Hispaniarum Episcopi et Abbates ad Concilium Remense venere. De praesentia Episcoporum Hispaniae in Concilio Remensi legendum Baronius num. XXXI”. See Labbé – Cossart, Sacrosancta Concilia, p. 1674.

[19] John’s oath is the following: “Ego Iohannes, sancte secobiensis aecclesie nunc ordinandus episcopus, subiectionem et reverentiam et obedientiam a sanctis patribus constitutam secundum constituta canonum aecclesie toletane rectoribusque eius in presentia domni Raimundi, toletani archiepiscopi, perpetuo me exhibiturum promitto et super sanctum altare propria manu firmo”. See Rivera, La Iglesia de Toledo en el siglo XII, p. 280, n. 75.

[20] The scarce information in our possess has been collected by Rivera, Los arzobispos de Toledo en la baja Edad Media, pp. 21-26.

[21] See J. Hernández, Los Cartularios de Toledo. Catálogo Documental, p. 185, n. 185; and M. Alonso Alonso, “Notas sobre los traductores toledanos Domingo Gundisalvo y Juan Hispano”, Al-Andalus 8 (1943), 155-188; and A. González Palencia, Los mozárabes de Toledo en los siglos XII y XIII, Madrid, 1926-1930.

[22] See L. M. Villar García, Documentación medieval de la Catedral de Segovia (1115-1300), n. 81, p. 135; D. Mansilla, “La documentación pontificia del archivo de la catedral de Burgos”, Hispania Sacra 1 (1948), 141-162 and 427-438; and D. Mansilla, Catálogo documental del archivo catedral de Burgos (804-1416), Madrid, 1971, n. 40, p. 279.

[23] See J. F. Rivera Recio, “Nuevos datos sobre los traductores Gundisalvo y Juan Hispano”, Al-Andalus 31 (1966), 267-280; and J. Hernández, Los Cartularios de Toledo. Catalogo Documental, p. 242, n. 263: “Ego J(ohannes) Toletane ecclesie decanus Colarensis archidiaconus testis”. The new archdeacon of Cuéllar has been identified with Gundissalinus’s collaborator, John of Spain, by Charles Burnett and Francisco Rivera. See Ch. Burnett, “Magister Iohannes Hispanus: Towards the Identity of a Toledan Translator”; Ch. Burnett, “John of Seville and John of Spain: a  mise au point”; and J. F. Rivera Recio, “Nuevos datos sobre los traductores Gundisalvo y Juan Hispano”.