The Sublunary Phaenomena as a Subject of Medieval Academic Discussion: Meteorology and the Prague University Disputationes de Quolibet

In: Early Science and Medicine

Prague university scholars found ten questions (six quaestiones and four probleumata) of medieval meteorology remarkable enough to include them in the agenda of annual ceremonial disputations de quolibet between 1399 and 1417. The disputations resembled rhetoric tournaments where masters of the Faculty of Arts fought with each other using their polemics about scientific and political issues of the time. The six enticing quaestiones mostly concerned topics which were not sufficiently addressed by Aristotle, although they had been discussed extensively since antiquity. Above all, they concerned aspects of optical phaenomena (meteors, comets, halo effect, rainbow). The so-called probleumata, simple topics added to the quaestiones to entertain and refresh the audience, will also be discussed; unlike quaestiones, probleumata rarely referred directly to Aristotle’s work. The present study examines to what extent the sources for quodlibet disputations represent relevant material for the study of the reception of meteorology in medieval education.

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     Lynn Thorndike“Oresme and the Fourteenth Century Commentaries on the Meteorologica,” Isis45 (1954) 145-52and “More Questions on the Meteorologica” Isis 46 (1955) 357-60; see also Charles H. Lohr Latin Aristotle Commentaries 1.2: Medieval Authors M-Z (Corpus philosophorum medii aevi. Subsidia 18) (Florence 2010) 34-35. On Buridan School commentaries on the Meteorology see Miecyzsław Markowski Burydanizm w Polsce w okresie przedkoperni­kańskim (Studia copernicana 2) (Warsaw 1971) 410-3. The most widespread commentaries were those of Oresme Albert of Saxony Jean Buridan Pierre d’Ailly and Themon Iudaei. There is evidence that a commentary by Nicole Oresme was used in Prague even before the quodlibets started; it was copied in Prague but preserved in Munich cf. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek MS Clm. 4376 (1365-7) fols. 1r-64r: Quaestiones quattuor librorum Meteororum Buridani finitae Pragae a. d. 1366. The commentary was mistakenly attributed to Buridan cf. Mieczyslaw Markowski Buridanica quae in codicibus manu scriptis bibliothecarum Monacensium asservantur (Wrocław Warsaw and Krakow 1981) 73-4. Later the quaestiones by John Versor were brought to Prague directly from Paris by Czech students together with others of Versor’s works. Copies spread from Prague to Vienna Krakow and Leipzig. See František Šmahel “Paris und Prag um 1450. Johannes Versor und seine böhmischen Schüler” (reprint) in Die Prager Universität im Mittelalter. Gesammelte Aufsätze - The Charles University in the Middle Ages. Selected Studies by František Šmahel (Education and Society in the Middle Ages and Renaissance 28) (Leiden and Boston 2007) 444-54 and 460-62.

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     Cf. Thorndike“Oresme” 148.

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     Šmahel“Die Verschriftlichung” 363.

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     Cf. Stralsund MS 1067fol. 242vb: “Omnium impressionum ignitarum exalacio est materia per Aristotelem primo Methorum ... .” For instance Aristotle said that meteors occur in two ways. They can result from the ignition of dry hot exhalation which ascends from the surface of the earth. Being lighter than air the exhalation reaches the highest areas of the sublunary zone where it catches fire from the enormous heat and dryness and then it shapes the sky with its movement. The other source of meteors is the mixture of dry and wet exhalations in the lower layer of the sublunary zone. The exhalations form clusters which when cooled condense and discharge heat down towards the surface of the earth. See Aristotle Meteorologica I4 341b7-23 341b36-342a35 ed. Pierre Louis I (Paris 20022); for a detailed analysis of Aristotle’s meteor theory see Lettinck Aristotle’s Meteorology 66-7 and Wilson Structure and Method 120-6. Cf. Stralsund MS 1067 fol. 242vb: “impressiones differunt solum secundum materiam utque una plus habet de materia rara alia plus habet de materia densa sed illud non videtur facere differenciam.”

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     Cf. e.g. Stralsund MS 1067fol. 243ra: “… alique impressiones ignite habent motus naturales sibi contrarios ut capra saltans habet motum valde irregularem sursum et alie valde regularem deorsum …”

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     Cf. Thorndike“Oresme” 152. Similarly in the collection Quaestiones Meteororum of Jean Buridan (Munich Bayerische Staatsbibliothek MS Clm. 17226 fols. 118r-119v: Utrum yris debet apparere secundum circuli periferiam si non sit impedimentum; fol. 113v: Utrum omnis yris debeat esse tricoloris) in the Quaestiones super quatuor libros Meteororum of Themon Iudaei (III11: Utrum colores apparentes in iride sint ibi ubi apparent esse et sint veri colores; III15: Queritur utrum omnis iris debeat esse tricolor; ed. in Questiones et decisiones physicales insignium virorum Lyon 1534) or in the collection of questions formerly attributed to John Duns Scotus (cf. Ps.-Scotus Quaest. meteor. III8: Utrum colores iridis sint veri colores vel solum apparentes and III9: Utrum iris debeat apparere secundum circulum).

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     Cf. Šmahel“The Faculty of Liberal Arts 1348-1419” 267; Kejř Kvodlibetní disputace 90-4.

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    Šmahel“The Faculty of Liberal Arts 1348-1419” 267; Kejř Kvodlibetní disputace 101-4.

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    Šmahel“The Faculty of Liberal Arts 1348-1419” 267; Kejř Kvodlibetní disputace 100-1.

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    Šmahel“The Faculty of Liberal Arts 1348-1419” 267; Kejř Kvodlibetní disputace 83.

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