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Albert the Great's Questions concerning "On Animals"

During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a number of previously unknown works by (or attributed to) Aristotle became available in Latin in medieval Europe. In the twelfth century, many of these were translated from Arabic sources, especially by translators in Spain like Gerard of Cremona. In the thirteenth century, scholars increasingly sought Greek exemplars on which to base their translations.[1] Although some of the texts introduced new elements of Aristotelian logic, ethics, or metaphysics, a large body of material introduced Aristotle's books on natural science, including his biological works that circulated in Latin under the title De animalibus, that is, On Animals. This is the title that translator Michael Scot gave to the Arabic version in nineteen books of Aristotle's three treatises: Historia animalium (History of Animals),[2] De partibus animalium (On the Parts of Animals), and Degeneratione animalium (On the Generation of Animals). Michael Scot made his translation from Arabic ca. 1210.[3]

For a time, De animalibus was an immensely popular work and came to be read in two faculties of the medieval university, Arts and Medicine. It became a part of the medical curriculum because De animalibus concerns much more than animal anatomy, reproductive biology, and behavior; it also examines as part of the world of animals the human and therefore includes extensive materials useful to physicians on comparative anatomy and physiology, as well as diet and pharmacology. It appealed to the Arts faculty because in these books Aristotle examines the foundational or causal principles of Nature and discusses the character of scientific investigation, which proved interesting to both philosophers and theologians. The introduction of these works at the University of Paris in the thirteenth century did not proceed without controversy, as evidenced by the condemnation in Paris of Aristotle's books on natural science or philosophy in 1210. Nevertheless, it is clear that this condemnation was weakened over the next half century, and by 1254 masters in the Arts faculty at the university had made De animalibus a regular part of the curriculum.

The earliest extant medieval commentary on De animalibus is by Peter of Spain (later Pope John XXI, d. 1277). The most influential commentary on De animalibus, however, was produced by the Dominican theologian, philosopher, and scientist Albert the Great (d. 1280). Preserved in more than fifty-five manuscript copies, Albert's commentary was likely begun in the period 1256-60. He certainly worked on this project while he was Bishop of Regensburg, completing it by 1263, Weisheipl asserts, at Viterbo (where he had gone to resign his bishopric).[4] Regardless of the date one assigns to the completion of the work, it is clear that Albert occupied himself with De animalibus for many years, producing several versions, although perhaps never a final redaction.[5] This very influential commentary on Aristotle's nineteen books, which also includes extensive original investigations and speculations by Albert himself, joined to a bestiary portion at the end of the work, has recently been introduced and translated in its entirely for the first time by Professors Kenneth F. Kitchen, Jr., and Irven M. Resnick.[6]

In addition to his commentary on De animalibus, however, we have another work attributed to Albert the Great under the title Quaestiones super de animalibus (Questions concerning On Animals). This text represents a series of disputed questions on Aristotle's De animalibus, conducted in Cologne in 1258 and preserved in the report of Conrad of Austria from perhaps about the year 1260.[7] Historians had long known of this work from medieval catalogues. Until 1922, however, it was thought to be lost to us. In 1922 a manuscript containing the Quaestiones was discovered in the Milanese Bibliotheca Ambrosiana. Additional manuscripts containing this work, or fragments of it, were uncovered between 1932 and 1952 in other libraries. A critical edition of the Latin text was prepared by Ephrem Filthaut and appeared in 1955 in volume 12 of the Opera omnia .. Alberti Magni in preparation in Cologne.[8]

In one sense, the Quaestiones super de animalibus (QDA) can be viewed as a useful companion piece to Albert's commentary on De animalibus. It represents Albert's attempt to introduce Aristotle's material to students in Cologne in his lectures during the year 1258. As such, QDA antedates his slightly later (and vastly larger) commentary, De animalibus. Although Albert did write down his commentary on De animalibusindeed, Stadler's Latin edition is based on an autograph copy[9]Albert did not himself write down these lectures that form the QDA, and this presents the historian with an interesting problem. Although attributed to Albert the Great, the work is in fact a reportatio; that is, it contains what Albert taught about Aristotle's books on animals in Cologne in 1258, but the QDA itself represents the notes of Albert's student, Conrad of Austria, who heard Albert teaching. A few years later these questions were collected and redacted. Albert the Great can be considered the author of the work, but his imprint on the work is indirect rather than direct, and is mediated by Conrad of Austria. This means that one cannot properly distinguish the words of Albert from the words of the one reporting them. In addition, insofar as the text presents a quasi-Scholastic series of disputed questions based on Aristotle's De animalibuswith a question posed, followed in most instances by evidence pro et contra and some sort of response or solution to the questionneither is it always a simple matter to identify Albert's own position on a given question or to distinguish Albert's doctrine from other, contemporary sources for his discussion of this material.[10]

The identity of Conrad of Austria remains a thorny problem. One possibility is that Conrad is a Dominican of that name identified in a necrology from a provincial chapter of 1284-88. This Conrad was, before his entrance to the Order, a scribe to the duke of Austria who later joined the Order in Vienna (and thus is known as Conrad of Austria). Other candidates have been proposed as well, however, and Conrad's identity remains uncertain.

Regardless of the difficulties involved, QDA gives the reader access to a wealth of material from the middle of the thirteenth century that constitutes a sort of handbook of medieval science and medicine. A comparison to his commentary on De animalibus reveals on almost every page Albert's personality, and discloses his pressing interest in the animal world. This interest was not only theoretical, but was based in part on experience and experimentation. It is when recounting his own experiences of animal behavior, anatomy, or biology that Albert's originality becomes evident and can enchant the reader.[11]

Until now, only a few pages of QDA have been available in English translation.[12] The translators propose to make QDA available here in a complete English translation for the first time. Although lacking the extensive annotation provided earlier in our translation of Albert's De animalibus, we will direct the reader to that work whenever possible for corresponding material and for a more detailed explanation of themes and issues treated in QDA.

  • [1] For an extensive list of texts translated in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, see especially Michael McVaugh, "The Translation of Greek and Arabic Science into Latin," in Edward Grant, ed., Sourcebook in Medieval Science (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974).
  • [2] Michael Scot's version includes the apocryphal book ten of Historia animalium.
  • [3] For a good discussion of Michael Scot's role as translator, see Charles Burnett, "Michael Scot and the Transmission of Scientific Culture from Toledo to Bologna via the Court of Frederick II Hohenstaufen," Micrologus a: Le scienze alla corte di Federico II (Turnhout: Brepols, 1994). For a more general discussion of his life and work, see Lynn Thorndike, Michael Scot (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1965).
  • [4] James A. Weisheipl, "Albert the Great and Medieval Culture," Thomist (198): 499.
  • [5] This suggestion has been taken up by Eckert, who suggests that "Albert hat sich jahrzehntelang mit den Tierbüchern beschäftigt. Eine Endredaktion war ihm jedoch nicht mehr möglich." Willehad Paul Eckert, Angelicum 57 (1980): 480-81.
  • [6] Kenneth F. Kitchell, Jr., and Irven M. Resnick, Albertus Magnus "On Animals": A Medieval "Summa Zoologica," 2 vols. (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999). Hereafter this work will be abbreviated as SZ.
  • [7] For a discussion of the discovery of this work, see especially Franz Pelster, "Alberts des Grossen neu aufgefundene Quaestionen zu der aristotelischen Schrift De animalibus," Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie 46 (1922): 322-34.
  • [8] Alberti Magni. . . Opera omnia, vol. 12: Quaestiones super de animalibus, ed. Ephrem Filthaut (Münster: Aschendorff, 1955). A discussion of the manuscript tradition can be found in the prolegomena, xxxv-xlvii. In addition, see Ephrem Filthaut, "Um die Quaestiones de animalibus Alberts des Grossen," Ostlender (1952), 112-27.
  • [9] Hermann Stadler, Albertus Magnus De Animalibus Libri XXVI. Beiträge zur
  • [10] For example, as De Asüa (1997) tries to show that Albert was dependent in part on the work of Peter of Spain.
  • [11] On Albert's experiential approach (with some comparison to the more theoretical approach of his contemporary Gérard du Breuil), see Tamara Goldstein-Préaud, "Albert le Grand et les Questions du XlIIe siècle sur le De animalibus d'Aristote," History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 3/1 (1981): 61-67.
  • [12] QDA 1.3 is available in English in Edward Grant, Sourcebook in Medieval Science (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974), 681-89.
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