Introduction to Latin Ms. 13

The University of Pennsylvania maintains a fine collection of Italian Renaissance manuscripts and printed books, many in their original bindings. The Catalogue of Manuscripts describes Manuscript Latin 13 as containing four cosmographies in Latin translation. The description is adequate for bibliographers, but it fails to suggest the interconnectedness of the texts. A brief introduction to the works follows.

The manuscript, indeed, contains four ancient Greek cosmographies in Latin translation. The first is Plato's Timaeus, translated with commentary by Calcidius. The second is a text that during the middle ages was often attributed to Aristotle (although certainly not his): De Mundo, translated by Joannes Argyropoulos. The third, by Philo of Alexandria, is De incorruptione mundi, translator not identified. The manuscript concludes with De contemplatione orbium ceolestium, written by Cleomedes, translated by Carolus Valgulius and dedicated, by Valgulius, to Cesare Borgia. The manuscript was copied and bound in Italy, sometime around 1500.

Cosmographies are concerned with the study of the visible universe, including geography and astronomy. Their scope can be quite broad, including discussions of the creation of the heavens and earth. Plato's Timaeus takes such a broad view with its central focus on the origin of things. Up until the twelfth century, the Timaeus was the only work of Plato's that was known in the West. During late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, in Calcidius' Latin translation, it was certainly the most influential of Plato's works. Calcidius is a shadowy figure. He has been described as a "Neo-Platonist of the Latin West" (Copleston, vol. I, pt. II, 227). He flourished, probably, during the first half of the fourth century. His translation and commentary served to light Plato's reputation and thinking through the dark ages. As late as the sixteenth century he was compared to Prometheus (van Winden, 2).

De incorruptione mundi does not immediately follow the Timaeus in our text, but its close relation to Plato's work and its importance to medieval thought make it useful to discuss here. Philo of Alexandria flourished at the beginning of the Christian era, born about 25 or 20 B.C and dying around 50 A.D. He was a leader in the vibrant Jewish community of Alexandria. He spoke and wrote in Greek (as did the bulk of Alexandrian Jews) and does not appear to have known Hebrew. Nevertheless, he was well versed in the Jewish Scriptures and also in the writings of the Greek Philosophers, especially Plato (Marlowe, 241). Through allegorical readings of the Jewish Scriptures, Philo attempts to reconcile the Jewish and Greek philosophical traditions. His influence upon the early Church fathers is significant. Looked upon as a prophet of sorts, apocryphal stories arose during the middle ages that refer to his conversion to Christianity (there is no evidence for this); and which make reference to him as "the Bishop Philo" (Royse, 1). The work translated in this manuscript, "The Incorruptabililty of the world" (also known as "The Creation of the World"), is a largely Platonic reworking of the Genesis story, owing much to the Timaeus.

The Pseudo-Aristotle text De Mundo was already considered spurious by the time of Argyropoulos' translation. It is "a potpourri of Stoic, Peripatetic, and Neo-Pythagorean doctrine, written perhaps in the first or second century A.D." (Muscarella, xx). After a brief description of the physical universe, it quickly turns to its central discussion of God as one who orders and controls the universe. Its popularity through the middle ages (and in the Renaissance, when it was respected for its style if not its content) is demonstrated by its repeated translation into Latin and the numerous extant manuscripts. This particular translation was made by Joanne Argyropoulos, a Byzantine Scholar who taught philosophy in Florence and Rome. Argyropoulos (1415-1487) had as patrons both Cosimo and Piero de' Medici and Pope Sixtus IV. De Mundo was probably translated around 1471.

Cleomedes, who wrote the final text in the manuscript, De contemplatione orbium ceolestium, probably lived during the first century B.C. He appears to have been a disciple of Posidonius, and it is through his work that we take our information on early measurements of the earth. This is the most scientific of the four cosmographies, being a significant astronomical text. The translation is by Charles Valgulius, secretary to the imfamous Cesare Borgia (the model for Machievelli's Prince). Valgulius was an acquaintance (perhaps colleague or pupil) of Argyropoulos; there are two notices of books borrowed from the Vatican library by Valgulius in Argyropoulos's name: one was a Greek manuscript of De contemplatione orbium ceolestium.

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