Next Meetings

Marginal Epistemologies of Matter: Premodern Strategies for Knowing the Prime Substrate

Annual Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ International Working Group Spring Conference, Pisa (IT), 22-25 May 2019

This paper explores some relevant strategies adopted by medieval authors in order to supersede the intrinsic limitations on prime matter’s knowability as implied by the “otherness” of its peculiar ontological status. In particular, I shall focus on how medieval authors have engaged with problematic passages from (and hermeneutics of) Aristotle’s Metaphysics Ζ, 10 and I, 8; Physics Α, 7; and Plato’s Timaeus, 52b. Examination of relevant cases will show a fundamental tension in place between the scanty conditions of knowability of prime matter and the pivotal role this notion was meant to play in both natural philosophy and metaphysics.

Movements, Clusters, and Teams: Modern Perspectives on Premodern Translations

International Congress The Multi-ethnic Borderlands of Medieval Toledo: New Directions. Toledo (ES), June 5-7, 2019

Premodern scientific translations into Latin have been a central aspect of cross-cultural studies in the last century. Consideration of how books and ideas, problems and doctrines have easily crossed cultural, political, and religious boundaries throughout the Middle Ages has substantively reshaped the intellectual history of Premodern Europe. In the twelfth and thirteenth century, Toledo has been a most eminent venue of this “translation movement”. Translators like Gerard of Cremona, Dominicus Gundissalinus, Marc of Toledo, and Michael Scot contributed to make available to the Latin public a fundamental set of scientific and philosophical works which would have had major revolutionary outcomes in Europe. Undoubtedly, the historical relevance of the Toledan translation movement is central. This paper addresses a different question. It does not concern the relevance of this phenomenon, but our approach and implicit understanding of its intrinsic dynamics. What is it that we mean when we refer to a translation “movement”? What are the unspoken implications of our consideration of this activity (or activities) as an implicitly organised and organically developed phenomenon? And finally, if not a movement, how should we consider and refer to it when we study the crucial cultural events that took place in Toledo?

The Dark Side of Experience. Cross-cultural Perspectives on Matter as the Unknowable

Berlin (Germany), 27 June 2019

Robert Grosseteste: Patterns of Causality, Matter, Light, and the Divine

International Medieval Congress 2019,  University of Leeds, 1-4 July 2019.

Light. From the myth of the cave of Plato’s Republic to the holy atar of Zoroastrianism, up to the dreams of galactic warp-engines, light has always played an enveloping role in human imagination and thought. Light is intimately related to goodness, in its founding link with the Idea of the Good, again in Plato’s Republic, which shines goodness over the universe in analogy to the Sun, whose light provides visibility and, therefore, truth and even existence upon the world. Light also coincides with being, existence, and form. In Plotinus’s Enneads, for instance, the images of the transcendent forms, like rays of light, are reflected off the darkness of matter as off a dark mirror. Finally, light is perspicuity of knowledge, the final resolution of doxastic belief as expounded by Augustine’s theory of divine illumination and, following a much-complicated process, Aristotle’s theory of the soul in its Arabic and Latin developments.

Ephemeral Offspring of a Perpetual Mother: Hermann of Carinthia on Nature and the Heavens

2019 Meeting of the History of Science Society, Utrecht (NL), 23-27 July 2019

A well-known and important Arabic-to-Latin translator of the twelfth century, Hermann of Carinthia (c. 1100 – c. 1160) was also a refined philosopher. His work On the Essences (Lat. De essentiis) proposes a unique philosophical synthesis among pre-eminent sources. Leaving Aristotle aside, Hermann joins together Plato’s cosmology (as expounded in Timaeus and developed in Chartres) with astrological and Hermetic sources recently translated – crucially, pseudo-Apollonius of Tyana’s On the Secrets of Nature (De secretis naturae) and Abū Maʿshar al-Balkhī’s Great Introduction (Liber introductorium maius). Hermann grounds on these peculiar sources a new notion of nature as explanatory device encompassing – without being limited to – all phenomena of alteration and generation/corruption within the sublunary world. This central role of nature is pursued through the position of a curious astral mediation working on the hylomorphic composition of natural things in accordance to the primary tension between cosmological principles (“Essence” and “Substance”). My paper examines the patterns of regularity and irregularity to which Hermann’s system of nature is exposed – a non-Aristotelian notion of nature which also marks the apex of the Latin development of Platonic cosmology. I will pay special attention to the unaddressed problem of whether (and how) nature can be manipulated, a problematic core within the first reception of De secretis naturae and its “operational cosmology”.


Le questioni sulla Fisica di Ruggero Bacone: il problema della materia

Conference La Fisica di Aristotele nel Medioevo. Parigi e Oxford (1210-1270). Università di Roma “Tor Vergata”, Roma (Italy), 3 April 2019.

Il problema della materia, di cosa sia questa entità di cui l’universo è composto in modo radicale e originario, è uno dei problemi più affascinanti, duraturi e al contempo tra i più complessi della tradizione filosofica. Sotto molti aspetti, il mistero della materia non è oggi più chiaro di quanto lo fosse in antichità, ma di sicuro la posizione del problema è ben diversa. Non si tratta di campi elettromagnetici discreti che circoscrivono il vuoto e di particelle subatomiche che, con fare felino, sono e non sono al medesimo tempo. La fisica premoderna si basa su concetti diversi, fondamentalmente radicati su una visione del mondo come un continuo fisico, in cui il vuoto non esiste e dove spesso il discreto di riduce al continuo.

Premodern Translations into Latin: Rhetorical Strategies and Historical Reconstructions

International conference Mapping the Rhetoric of Science Writing in Antiquity and Beyond. Ionian University, Corfu (GR), 28-29 March 2019.

This paper approaches a specific problem concerning a rather peculiar phenomenon: the translations into Latin made in the Middle Ages. How can we distinguish between rhetorical exaggerations and reliable descriptions in letters and prologues accompanying the translated texts? To what extent can they be considered as trustworthy witnesses of the translator’s activity and social context? From this starting point, questions on the use of rhetoric in Premodern translations will be extended to our contemporary consideration of that phenomenon. How does rhetoric shape our scientific discourse on cross-cultural historical events like translations and doctrinal appropriations? And how much does our consideration of contemporary problems affect implicitly our appreciation of the past? Notwithstanding our historical distance, it will be argued, Premodern and modern rhetorical approaches to cross-cultural phenomena do not appear to differ much in style, as they do in orientation.

Looking into the Unknowable: Premodern Conundrums of Prime Matter

Lecture, Durham University, Durham (UK), 5 March 2019

In his Allegoria Peripatetica, the renaissance scientist and philosopher Fortunio Liceti engaged with a “sharp man” who claimed that prime matter is a sort of nothingness which can be grasped only by imagination. Fortunio’s short reply is lapidary. Prime matter does exist and has a marginal substantial existence. Moreover, it is knowable not through imagination, but through the intellect—and indeed only the fools are unable to conceive prime matter, as they have no intelligence. Less than a century afterwards, another philosopher and scientist with much prestige, Francis Bacon, would claim that the prime matter is nothing but a fairy matter, completely useless if not dangerous. Even more, Bacon adamantly acknowledges that any claim that things are made of this fairy matter is perverse and utterly inappropriate for natural philosophy. Be a matter of fairy tales or for very intelligent people, the notion of prime matter has fascinated generations of philosophers with its manifold tortuous intricacies. Medieval thinkers were no exception. This talk engages with some of these intricacies and tortuosities, examining how premodern thinkers acknowledged that prime matter was indeed knowable, at least under certain conditions.

Inside Marc of Toledo’s Approach to Ibn Tûmart and His Philosophical and Theological Doctrines 

(with Pedro Mantas)

International Conference Trespassing Walls. Jews, Christians and Muslims around Their Texts and Traditions. Universidad de Córdoba, Cordoba (ES), 29 January 2019

In our presentation we summarise our plans of collaboration within a forthcoming project leads by Juan Pedro Monferrer. The first step consists in a survey of Marie-Therese d’Alverny’s paper on Marc of Toledo and his translations commanded by Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada and master Maurice (it includes a summary of their edition, their philological analysis and commentaries). The second step combines a review synthesis of ibn Tūmart doctrine. With the third step, we enter what we consider the most relevant part of our contribution. We analyse key aspects of Rodrigo’s intellectual-political biography; the context of his Historia arabum as strategic political narrative, and his rational more than tolerant attitude toward Muslims and the Arab culture. Through this third step of our study, Marc of Toledo’s translations could be considered as an instrument which served Jiménez de Rada’s political purposes.


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

Workshop Matter, Mind, and More. Humboldt-Universität, 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, Mexico City (MX), 23-25 September 2018.

It is usually acknowledged that Robert Grosseteste was one of the first thirteenth-century Latin philosopher in studying, quoting, and being influenced by ‘the Arabs,’ particularly Avicenna, Averroes, and Ibn Gabirol. At a closer look, thought, the situation appears to be rather different, as Grosseteste’s use of his sources – rarely mentioned by name – is very peculiar. My paper will explore presence and influence of Arabic authors on Grosseteste’s early production, up to De luce, stressing the singularity of his approach to the philosophy of ‘the Arabs.’

Expanding Matter: Cosmologies of Light in Artephius and Grosseteste

53rd International Congress on Medieval Studies (Session: Structures of Order in Medieval Science I: Experience and Authorities), 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

International Conference Science Imagination and Wonder – Robert Grosseteste and His Legacy, University of 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

International Conference:  Conference: East-Western Transmission of Knowledge, 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.

Pass the Buck, Stop the Book. Arabic Philosophy in Latin Europe Before Michael Scot

International Conference: Crossing Lands. Spreading knowledge in the Near East and the Mediterranean from Late Antiquity to Middle Ages, Cordoba (Spain), 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

International Conference: Scire naturam: filosofia e ciências, da antiguidade ao início da modernidade, Porto (Portugal), 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

International Conference Explicatio y ratio naturae. Comprensiones medievales sobre el origen del universo, Pamplona (Spain), 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 ontic multiplicity from God.


Traducción y circulación del conocimiento árabe a finales del siglo XII: unas notas introductorias

Seminar: Oriente próximo y la cuenca del Mediterráneo. Fe, creencia y transmisión textual entre lo canónico y lo apócrifo. Cordoba, 30 November 2017.

Los mil años que separan la caída de Roma y las noventa y nueve tesis de Lutero están marcados por un incesante movimiento de personas, confines, ideas, mercancías, problemas y libros. Mediante estos movimientos, conocimientos y practicas circularon más allá de toda frontera geográfica, teológica y cultural, remodelando y refundando enteras tradiciones que estaban atadas entre sí por numerosos factores y un mar común. En sus orillas, se hablaban cuatro lenguas principales: árabe, hebreo, latín, y griego. Los movimientos de traducción que tuvieron lugar en todo el Mediterráneo durante la Edad Media y el Renacimiento estaban finalizados en superar estos límites lingüísticos y hacer disponible nuevo y precioso conocimiento. Se trata de una larga historia, cuyas raíces departen del comienzo mismo de la civilización humana.

Accordance and Strife: Encounters with Modernity at the Beginning of the Thirteenth Century

2017 Conference of the American Catholic Philosophical Association Philosophy, Faith and Modernity, Dallas (TX), 16-19 November 2017.

Since its very beginning, Christian philosophy received the crucial influence of Neoplatonic metaphysics. Augustine and Boethius, are the peak of a well-known process which shaped many aspects of the reflection on God and His creation throughout the Middle Ages. Among these themes, the discussion of the ontological difference between the Creator and His creation is one of the most intriguing, and it is as well the subject of this talk. Specifically, I will exposit two different strategies in dealing with this problem, elaborated by two very peculiar thinkers of the twelfth century—David of Dinant and Dominicus Gundissalinus. Their reflections, indeed, are marked by the reception of the new translations from Greek and Arabic realised in the second half of the twelfth century, translations that were to reshape the Latin philosophical debate in its entirety. David and Gundissalinus, then, are two witnesses of a first and radical approach to these scientific novelties, aspects of that ‘modernity’ the medieval thinkers had to face in the thirteenth century, and beyond.

Sciences of Matter? Knowledge of the Material Substrate in the two Bacons

2017 Meeting of the History of Science Society, Toronto (ON), 9-12 November 2017.

Separated by more than three centuries, the figures of Roger Bacon (ca. 1220 – ca. 1292) and Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626) are exemplar cases of the problematic relation between philosophy and science. Both attempted to revolutionise the scientific method of their day by criticizing causes of error, albeit under opposite circumstances. On the one hand, Roger attacked the ‘scholastic method’ as entangled in the passive use of philosophical authorities rather than in knowledge making based on experience. On the other, Francis elaborated a new speculative method which, in his eyes, could supersede the Aristotelian tradition grounded on late scholasticism, which included Roger’s views. Both thinkers thus studied physics with their peculiar interest, yet both had to also address the problem of matter as the irreducible root of physical reality. Roger lamented the lack of a detailed discussion on matter in the Aristotelian corpus, whereas Francis stressed the excesses of the Aristotelian approach to physics in answering the question of the knowability of matter, that is, if matter in itself—rather than what is material—can be known. My paper will focus on this fundamental aspect of the history of a ‘science of matter’ in the Middle Ages and in the Early Modern Period. In particular, I will show how and why the birth of the ‘science of matter’ would require the definitive sacrifice of the philosophical notion of matter proper to the Aristotelian tradition, and replace it by a quantitative (and thus mathematizable) concept of matter.

Matter of Change: Philosophical Claims and Religious Concerns on the Substrate

Workshop: Pre-Modern Sciences and Religions, Harvard University, Cambridge (MA), 6-7 November 2017.

The concept of matter is integral to the history of philosophy, and yet, it is also a source of puzzling problems and doctrinal tensions for almost every discipline thematising its notion. One of these tensions arising from the philosophical enquiry on matter appears as crucial: that is, the relation between matter and God. Up to the end of the twelfth century, this relation is mainly established and discussed in cosmogonic terms: matter, providing the ‘ontological leap’ from spiritual to corporeal beings, must enter the description of the world institution from its very beginning, as a direct effect of God’s creation. At the same time, though, in this relation matter appears to be characterised by an intimate ‘otherness’: God’s creative power, absolute unity and true being are the opposite of matter’s inert status, intrinsically tending to multiplicity and chaos, posited ‘between some kind of substance and nothing’ (with Plato) and yet furnishing tangible existence to the bodies. In my talk, I am going to discuss four twelfth-century authors who engaged with the problem of matter and God, starting with Calcidius’s Latin translation of Plato’s Timaeus. They are Peter Lombard, William of Conches, Honorius of Autun, David of Dinant, and Dominicus Gundissalinus.

‘Indeed, the soul has not been made by the first Maker’: Creation, Imitation, and Matter

International Conference: Creation and Artifice, The Warburg Institute, London (UK), 1-2 June 2017.

Gundissalinus’s radical interpretation of Ibn Gabirol’s account of matter as presented in his Fons vitae has pivotal implications for the Archdeacon’s cosmogonic theory. Gundissalinus considers God’s creative action to be limited to the creation and first composition of matter and form generally speaking (De processione mundi). As a consequence, the causative and institutive process of the temporal world in itself and in its parts has to be based upon the causality of a secondary cause. In Gundissalinus’ eyes, this secondary cause does not create (for creation is always ex nihilo), but rather moulds matter through a series of secundariae compositiones which imitate God’s ontogonic causality in ‘creating’ new bodies and souls every day (De anima, De processione mundi). In my talk, I will examine Gundissalinus’s peculiar interpretation of creation from matter on the basis of his sources (starting with Ibn Gabirol and Ibn Daud), and I will draw a first sketch of the dissemination and the influence of his positions on thirteenth-century debates concerning matter and universal hylomorphism.

I numeri della natura: testimonianze numerologiche della completezza del creato in Gundisalvi e Grossatesta

International Conference: Rappresentazioni della natura nel Medioevo, SISPM/CIRFIM, Università di Padova, Padova (IT), 24-27 May 2017.

Il nesso tra numeri e ordine naturale, variamente trattato dalle fonti tardoantiche della speculazione medievale (Agostino, Macrobio e Marziano Capella in particolare), trova nel dodicesimo secolo una nuova portata teoretica legata alla pervasiva tematizzazione del concetto di natura. Il caso più emblematico a riguardo è sicuramente la riflessione di Teodorico di Chartres, che lega la tematica numerologica alla costituzione stessa dell’essere creaturale. Lo sviluppo di questo tema nella riflessione di Domenico Gundisalvi e Roberto Grossatesta costituisce l’oggetto del presente contributo. Per entrambi questi autori, la matematica costituisce uno strumento indispensabile per la comprensione della realtà. In Gundisalvi, probabile autore del Liber mahameleth, lo studio dei numeri ha una validità primariamente pratica che però risulta di grande rilevanza per la dimostrazione della completezza della creazione, come richiesto dal programma metafisico proposto nel De divisione philosophiae. In Grossatesta, la matematica, accompagnata dalla geometria, ha un valore cruciale e fondativo per lo studio della realtà fisica, in particolare negli scritti successivi al 1225 e alla piena formulazione della sua teoria della luce. Tanto il De processione mundi di Gundisalvi (ed. Bülow, pp. 55,6-56,12) quanto il De luce di Grossatesta (ed. Panti, pp. 84,205-85,232) si concludono con una scansione numerologica della costituzione e della natura del creato. Il mio contributo si focalizzerà sull’esame di questi due brani, evidenziandone la portata dottrinale ed esaminando le relazioni genetico-dottrinali tra i due testi, al fine di comprendere come l’applicazione della numerologia al problema della composizione fisica trovi un coerente sviluppo dalla tematizzazione chartreana a quella oxoniense della prima metà del tredicesimo secolo, passando per Toledo.

Effectus, affectus, and defectus: Causality and Causation of the Substrate

International Conference: Aspectus and Affectus: Robert Grosseteste, Understanding and Feeling, Georgetown University, Washington D.C., 30 March-1 April 2017.

Based on the same Latin verb facio, the terms ‘affectus’, ‘effectus’, and ‘defectus’ are widely used by the Latin philosophers in reference to different disciplines and peculiar problems of the reflection on, among others, being, soul, and knowledge. By a metaphysical viewpoint, these concepts are bound to each other as they describe three ontological situations reciprocally connected as different aspects of a causal event. From that event, something (a.) is caused following the casual footprints of the event (effectus); (b.) it receives (and, in some case, provides) an accidental or substantial disposition (affectus), which is characterised by (c.) its lack of different characteristics or further improvement of those characteristics that the thing already has from the causal event (defectus). Often developed through slightly different vocabularies and theoretical contexts, the doctrinal genesis of this causal dynamic is connected to Aristotle’s thematization of physics and metaphysics, and its interpretations by the Muslim and Jewish philosophical traditions. Finally available to the Latin philosophers since the end of the twelfth century, these pivotal sources will reshape the medieval debate on physics and metaphysics up to the Early-Modern Period. In my talk I will examine a border-line case of this metaphysical dynamic: the substrate of corporeal bodies, matter, and its role in the constitution of the hylomorphic compound. Specifically, I will focus on the problematic position of matter as a per se ontological defectus (i.e., complete lack of actuality) which affects and effects the caused being, examining the opposed approaches to this problem offered by Ibn Gabirol and Avicenna, and their Latin developments.

La ciencia de ‘los otros’. Peculiares asimilaciones de teorías árabes por la tradición filosófica latina (1150-1210)

Public Lecture, Universidad de Córdoba, Cordoba (Spain), 26 January 2017.

Uno de los topoi más típicos de la percepción común de la Edad Media por los no especialistas es el reconocimiento de un choque de civilizaciones entre los musulmanes y los cristianos. Este topos, arraigado en eventos históricos muy peculiares como la reconquista en la península ibérica o las cruzadas en el Oriente Medio, se ha vuelto en uno de los pilares de la retórica política de hoy en día. Como bien sabéis, durante los mil años que componen la Edad Media, la historia de las relaciones entre cristianos, musulmanes y judíos muestra características y peculiaridades muy diferentes de esta idea común. Es una historia compleja de encuentros y enfrentamientos, curiosidad y aversión, colaboración y aislamiento. Y todavía, desde una perspectiva cultural y filosófica, se trata de la historia de una fusión continúa entre horizontes diferentes y a menudo opuestos, marcada por la influencia continuativa de la filosofía griega en las tres tradiciones filosóficas abrahámicas y de cada una de estas tres – o mejor dicho, cuatro, considerando la reflexión bizantina como algo diferente de la latina – en las otras, con diferentes grados de aceptación, problematización y repulsión. Córdoba, la ciudad de Averroes y Abraham ibn Daud. Estamos en uno de los lugares más simbólicos de este largo proceso que ha marcado indisolublemente la construcción y el desarrollo de la filosofía occidental, y hoy os presentaré algunos aspectos del aproximación de los primeros filósofos latinos a interesarse en la reflexión filosófica y científica en lengua árabe. Analizaremos algunos ejemplos de tres características de este primer aproximación a la cultura árabe entre la segunda mitad del siglo doce y el comienzo del siglo trece: el sincretismo teológico, la consideración de los árabes respeto a los griegos, y el sentimiento de inferioridad cultural de los latinos hacia su propia producción científica y filosófica.

Contrasting Perspectives: The Latins, the Arabs, and the Rise of a New Approach to Philosophy

International Colloquium: Filosofia Medieval: em curso e em toda a extensão, Universidade do Porto, Porto (PT), 12-13 January 2017.

The translation movement from Arabic into Latin had long-lasting effects on Medieval speculation, allowing the Latin philosophers to deal with new doctrines, problems, and approaches thanks to the translated works by Aristotle, Avicenna or Averroes. While the acceptance and criticism of many of these theories will be fully achieved in the second half of the thirteenth century, the first phase of assimilation of the ‘new’ doctrines is marked by an enthusiastic and, perhaps, ingenuous approach. In my talk, I will analyse some examples of this Latin appropriations of ‘Arabic’ philosophy, dealing with some intriguing authors between the end of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth century (Gundissalinus, Daniel of Morley, Alexander Neckam, and Robert Grosseteste).


Gundisalvo, Guillermo de Auvernia, y el problema de atribución del ‘De immortalitate animae’

VII Congreso Internacional Iberoamericano de la Sociedad de Filosofía Medieval De relatione, Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, Barcelona (ES), 14-16 November 2016.

Entre las obras atribuidas a Gundisalvo, el tratado De immortalitate animae pone algunos problemas de primaria importancia. De hecho, existen dos versiones de la obra, con dos diferentes tradiciones manuscritas que atribuyen el tratado a Gundisalvo y a Guillermo de Auvernia, aspecto que ha suscitado, en las últimas décadas, la refutación de la paternidad gundisalviana del De immortalitate por muchos autores. En esta contribución se tomarán en cuenta los datos presentados a favor y en contra de la atribución a Gundisalvo y a Guillermo, con particular atención a la ontología en que se basa en tratado y a la posible historia del texto. Por último, se intentará proponer una hipótesis de investigación que pueda contribuir a la vexata quaestio sobre la paternidad de esta obra muy peculiar.

Dominicus Gundissalinus and the Renovation of Medieval Philosophy

Conference: Translation and Philosophy:  Gundissalinus and Ibn Daud in 12th Century Spain, University of South Carolina, Columbia (SC), 11 November 2016.

Gundissalinus’s contribution is crucial and developed in a twofold way. On the one hand, indeed, the translating activity pursued by Gundissalinus and his participation to the ‘Avicenna project’ with Abraham Ibn Daud made available to the Latin public texts whose relevance is undeniable for the subsequent Aristotelization of medieval philosophy: and this is the case of Avicenna’s De anima and Liber de philosophia prima. But Gundissalinus’s choice to translate also peculiar writings like al-Kindi’s De radiis or Ibn Gabirol’s Fons vitae had permanent consequences on the reflections of many philosophers, like Grosseteste or Bacon. On the other hand, the second and even more important contribution by Gundissalinus is his original philosophical speculation as it is offered in the treatises he wrote. With those writings, Gundissalinus tried to fill the gap in the Latin philosophical framework in which he received his education, and thus, in the first place, Chartres. He tried to exceed the limits of the Timaic Platonism, criticising the doctrine of primordial chaos in a Gabirolian basis; refusing the theory of the demiurge following Avicenna’s doctrine of necessary being; revising the cosmological Platonism of Hermann of Carinthia’s De essentiis by putting them under a crypto-Aristotelian natural lens. The very same effort can be seen at work on Gundissalinus’s elaboration of a new articulation of science, the De divisione philosophiae, where he proposes a lay system of knowledge that could be able to integrate the new disciplines whose knowledge was made available thanks to the translation movement. And finally, a very similar scenario is provided by the consideration of his De anima, and his theoretical effort at assimilating the great news of the time, that is, Avicenna’s psychology.

Gundissalinus, Avicenna, and the Road to Paris

Marquette University, Milwaukee (WI), United States, 2 November 2016.

This talk is part of the Midwest Seminar in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy, and you can find more information on my contribution HERE. Together with two further, anonymous works,  the De causis primis et secundis and the Book on the Peregrinations of the Soul in the Afterlife, Gundissalinus’s writings mark the theoretical and even material path that will lead to the great receptions and criticisms of Avicenna and the other ‘Arabs’ in Paris and Oxford during the thirteenth century and beyond—from John Blund to Albert of Cologne, Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon, and Duns Scotus. I will try to cast some light on this very first stage of ‘theoretical appropriation’ of Avicenna’s doctrines in the Latin West, analysing how Avicenna’s doctrines have been accepted or rejected by Gundissalinus and the two anonymous authors of the De causis primis et secundis and the On the Peregrinations of the Soul in the Afterlife, and pointing out, in particular, the role played by other translations produced in Toledo on Avicenna’s philosophical reception.

Translation and Appropriation: Necromancy, Astrology, Alchemy

Public Lecture, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame (IN), United States, 31 October 2016.

The early-medieval traditional articulation of knowledge was based on the division between trivium and quadrivium expounded, posited under the authority of authors like Boethius and Martianus Capella. The human knowledge, thus, found its development through the seven liberal arts­—grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, arithmetic, geometrics, music and astronomy. The seven liberal arts were accompanied, in the mind of any early-medieval scholar, by the twofold division of philosophy in theoretical and practical; and by the mechanical arts, from agriculture to architecture, to cynegetics and navigation, discussed by a vast number of classical and early-medieval sources, among which one has to remember at least Macrobius, Isidore of Seville, Augustine, Priscianus, and the Roman authorities such as Virgil’s and Vitruvius’s. Notwithstanding their undeniable bond with the classical (and pagan) authorities, in these medieval systems of knowledge there is no place for bizarre disciplines like astrology or divination, or demoniac arts like necromancy, while others were simply unknown, like science of gold-making that will be called alchimia. This situation will abruptly change in the second half of the twelfth century as a direct consequence of the translation movements from Arabic and Greek into Latin, a change of perspective that constitute the topic with which we are going to deal today. We will take into account two articulations of knowledge, the system proposed by Hugh of St Victor in his Didascalicon and that expounded by Gundissalinus in his De divisione philosophiae, pointing out how the scenario changes with the arrival of the ‘new’ sciences in the Latin West.

Aristotele a Toledo

Conference: Da Stagira a Parigi: prospettive aristoteliche tra Antichità e Medioevo, conference held the University of Pavia, Pavia (IT).

Al momento della sua morte, avvenuta nel 1187, Gerardo ha tradotto dall’arabo al latino ben 71 opere, stando almeno all’eulogio scritto in suo onore dai suoi studenti; e tra questi scritti si trova un buon numero di opere aristoteliche: la Physica, il De generatione et corruptione, il De caelo, i primi tre libri delle Meteore, gli Analitici secondi ma anche gli pseudo-aristotelici Liber de causis e De causis proprietatum et elementorum quattuor. Manca quello che sarà il “piatto forte” dell’aristotelismo latino, la Metaphysica, che era già parzialmente disponibile tramite la translatio vetustissima di Giacomo da Venezia (comprendente i primi quattro libri) e la Metaphysica vetus che arrivava fino al sesto libro. Da Toledo, queste traduzioni aristoteliche si diffusero con estrema rapidità, insieme agli altri testi filosofici e scientifici resi disponibili in lingua latina, contribuendo all’Aristotelian shift del secolo successivo. Il mio intervento non si concentrerà sulla diffusione delle opere aristoteliche toledane in Europa, ma su una questione apparentemente secondaria, eppure di grande interesse per comprendere le modalità e gli sviluppi del movimento di traduzione toledano, aspetto preliminare ma fondamentale per comprendere la diffusione dei testi tradotti dall’arabo. Nello specifico, la questione cui tenterò di rispondere è se ci sia stata una ricezione degli scritti aristotelici tradotti da Gerardo già a Toledo, e quindi prima della disseminazione nel resto d’Europa, da Oxford a Parigi a Roma.

Entre Toledo, Segovia y Chartres: convergencias doctrinales en la discusión metafísica de Domingo Gundisalvo

III Encuentro Internacional de Filosofia Medieval Espacios de la filosofía medieval: Córdoba, Toledo y Paris, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid (ES), 9 March 2016.

Mi presentación se concentra en la especulación metafísica de Gundisalvo, traductor y filósofo toledano del siglo XII y, junto a Ibn Daud, uno de los más importantes exponentes del llamado «circulo de Toledo». Los principales aspectos cosmológicos y ontológicos desarrollados por Gundisalvo en sus tratados De processione mundi y De unitate serán analizados a partir de la recepción gundisalviana de las fuentes arábigas traducidas en Toledo. En particular, mi análisis se enfoca sobre la convergencia entre dos conjuntos doctrinales fundamentales para Gundisalvo: por un lado, la especulación de Ibn Gabirol, cuyo Fons vitae constituye probablemente la fuente más importante del filósofo toledano. Por otro lado, examinaré como el substrato de la reflexión gundisalviana se sitúa rotundamente en la huella de la tradición chartreana, evidenciando como el recurso a la ontología gabiroliana corresponde a específicos problemas elaborados en Chartres, y cuya solución se propagará de Toledo a Oxford y Paris.


Possibilità materiali e necessità formali: letture gundissaliniane di Ibn Sina, Ibn Gabirol e Ibn Daud

International Conference: Idee, testi e autori arabi ed ebraici e la loro ricezione latina, Università di Pavia, Pavia (Italy), 3-4 December 2014.

Nella sua riflessione metafisica, Gundissalinus mostra una progressiva presa di coscienza di alcune problematiche principali tanto in relazione alla progressione cosmogonica quanto rispetto all’analisi della composizione ontologica degli enti. In questo senso è possibile tracciare le tappe di questo percorso attraverso la problematizzazione della principale fonte dell’ontologia di Gundissalinus, ossia il Fons vitae di Ibn Gabirol, in relazione alla ricezione della metafisica avicenniana. In questo intervento analizzeremo come Gundissalinus “legge” Ibn Gabirol a partire dal De unitate et uno, prima opera in cui troviamo una decisa adesione tanto alla cosmologia quanto all’ontologia gabiroliane, per poi esaminare come tale adesione venga progressivamente problematizzata dapprima nel De anima e, in seguito, nel De processione mundi, dove l’analisi gundissaliniana è segnata dalla necessità di reinterpretare la riflessione di Ibn Gabirol alla luce della Metaphysica e della Physica di Ibn Sina: una nuova ermeneutica in cui l’influsso di Abraham Ibn Daud su Gundissalinus non è affatto indifferente.

Les sources néoplatoniciennes arabes de la cosmologie de Gundissalinus

Summer School: Métaphysique et cosmologie médiévales. Héritages philosophiques du Livres des causes, Dijon (France), 16 September 2014.

Aujourd’hui je vous présenterai quelques-uns des aspect les plus importants de la pensée métaphysique de Dominicus Gundissalinus par rapport à ses principaux sources néoplatoniciennes arabes. Je commencerai en illustrant brièvement quelques donnés biographiques concernant Gundissalinus, depuis je passerai à traiter des points fondamentaux de la réflexion philosophique gundisalvienne par rapport à ses sources, et finalement je vous presentarai des remarques à propos de l’éventuel accès de notre auteur au Liber de causis.


Toledo, crocevia di culture: il caso del movimento di traduzione

Conference: Cantieri d’Autunno 2013, Università di Pavia, Pavia (Italy), 15 October 2013.

Il 6 maggio 1085, dopo un breve assedio, l’antica capitale visigota di Toledo, inglobata nel dominio andaluso fin dal 711, si arrese alle truppe di Alfonso VI di Castiglia, che prese possesso della città il 25 maggio. Città di frontiera, tra il mondo islamico degli almohadi e degli almoravidi e un mondo latino in cerca di un riscatto politico, spirituale e culturale rispetto all’altra sponda del Mediterraneo, Toledo visse nel dodicesimo secolo un periodo di fioritura sociale e scientifica molto particolare e pressoché unico nella sua storia. Caratteristica principale e condizione materiale per un simile sviluppo fu un melting pot culturale, formato dalla coabitazione e collaborazione tra mozarabi, musulmani, ebrei e cattolici: questo crogiuolo interculturale, favorito da un’amministrazione cittadina ancora tollerante, costituisce una sorta di unicum nella storia d’Europa. Perciò non sorprende che Toledo divenga, nella seconda metà del XII secolo, il fulcro di quel movimento di traduzione dall’arabo al latino che condusse alla “svolta aristotelica” del secolo successivo, traduzioni realizzate tramite la stretta collaborazione tra individui appartenenti a religioni e culture diverse, ma uniti dalla comune credenza in una validità universale del sapere scientifico e filosofico. In questo contributo tratteremo inizialmente della storia del XII secolo toledano, dei principali problemi affrontati nell’assimilazione della città al regno di Castiglia, e specialmente quelli relativi alla convivenza con la popolazione musulmana e mozarabica. In secondo luogo, passeremo all’analisi specifica delle condizioni che resero possibile il movimento di traduzione dall’arabo, colto come principale manifestazione delle peculiarità della società toledana (ma con uno sguardo anche alle altre esperienze di traduzione, sottolineandone le differenze), esaminandone personaggi, metodologie e lavori, per concludere con alcune brevi riflessioni sull’impatto dirimente di queste traduzioni per la storia del pensiero e della cultura europei.

Gundissalinus and Avicenna: Some Remarks on the Textual Presence of Avicennian ‘Metaphysica’ in the ‘De Processione Mundi’ in Comparison to Its First Latin Translation

Workshop: 12th- and 13th-Century Attempts to Translate Muslim and Jewish Texts into Latin, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum (Germany), 19 March 2013.

In this paper I focus on Gundissalinus’s translation activity and his main metaphysical treatise, the De processione mundi, examining a particular aspect of Gundissalinus’s double work as philosopher and translator, that is, the textual relation between his translation of Avicenna’s Liber de philosophia prima and the excerpts and quotations of that treatise that Gundissalinus presents in the De processione mundi following what I call an ‘alteration strategy’ aimed at the doctrinal insertion of Avicenna’s theories into the new metaphysical perspective exposed by Gundissalinus. In particular, we will examine how Gundissalinus’s ‘alteration strategy’ leads to a different theoretical comprehension of Avicenna’s ontology presented in Liber de philosophia prima, I, 6-7. 


‘Natura vero assimilatur quaternario’: alcune osservazioni sulla numerologia del De processione mundi di Gundissalinus

VI Congreso Internacional Iberoamericano de la Sociedad de Filosofía Medieval De natura, Universidad de Salamanca, Salamanca (Spain), 4 December 2012.

Il De processione mundi di Dominicus Gundissalinus propone una struttura cosmogonica e ontologica incentrata sulla dottrina dell’essere necessario di Dio in opposizione all’essere possibile delle creature, proponendo una versione corretta dell’ilemorfismo universale gabiroliano. In questa processione cosmogonica, la causalità divina si esplica nei due distinti piani di realtà – ontologico e ontico – come creatio, compositio e generatio. La trattazione gundissaliniana della causa non si esaurisce però del tutto nella dottrina delle tre causazioni recepita da Ermanno di Carinzia: nel trattato possiamo infatti rintracciare alcuni riferimenti alla teoria numerologica che a prima vista risultano abbastanza oscuri, ma che si rivelano di notevole interesse ad un esame più attento.