Sextus Empiricus’ Outlines of Pyrrhonism in the Middle Ages

in Vivarium
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This paper examines the authorship and reception of the medieval translation of Sextus Empiricus’ Outlines of Pyrrhonism. It is shown that its traditional ascription to Niccolò da Reggio (born ca. 1280) cannot be maintained, because the translation must have circulated already in the late 1270s. Its author is difficult to identify: the closest stylistic parallels are found with the anonymous translator of Aristotle’s De partibus animalium. With Alvaro of Oviedo († ca. 1282) and the otherwise unknown Johannes de Peretis two early readers can be named. Though a copy was accessible in Viterbo at this time and another copy possibly travelled around in Italy in the 1320s, no philosophical or other impact can be determined. A single reference is found in Peter of Auvergne’s Quaestiones-commentary on Aristotle’s Politics. Its origin is difficult to assess.

Sextus Empiricus’ Outlines of Pyrrhonism in the Middle Ages

in Vivarium




C. Jourdain“Sextus et la philosophie scolastique,” Journal Général de l’Instruction Publique (Paris 1858) reprinted in his Excursions historiques et philosophiques à travers le moyenâge (Paris 1888) 199-217; in the following I quote according to the first edition.


Jourdain“Sextus et la philosophie scolastique” 19.


H. Mutschmann“Die Überlieferung der Schriften des Sextus Empiricus,” Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 64 (1909) 244-283 and 478.


W. Cavini“Appunti sulla prima diffusione in occidente delle opere di Sesto Empirico,” Medioevo: Rivista di storia della filosofia medievale 3 (1977) 1-20.


FloridiSextus Empiricus63-64.


Jourdain“Sextus et la philosophie scolastique” 17.


C.B. Schmitt“The Rediscovery of Ancient Skepticism in Modern Times,” in The Skeptical Traditioned. M.F. Burnyeat (Berkeley 1983) 225-251 at 227; an earlier version of this study appeared in Rivista critica di storia della filosofia 27 (1972) 363-384.


H. Mutschmann“Zur Übersetzertätigkeit des Nicolaus von Rhegium. Zu Paris lat. 14700,” Berliner Philologische Wochenschrift 31 (1911) 691-693.


Cf. e.g. Cavini“Appunti sulla prima diffusione” 2; Schmitt “The Rediscovery of Ancient Skepticism” 243 n. 6; M. Frede “A Medieval Source of Modern Scepticism” in Gedankenzeichen. Festschrit für Klaus Oehler zum 60. Geburtstag ed. R. Claussen and R. Daube-Schackat (Tübingen 1988) 65-70 at 65; Floridi Sextus Empiricus 67-68.


Mutschmann“Zur Übersetzungstätigkeit des Nicolaus von Rhegium” 692.


See Frede“A Medieval Source of Modern Scepticism” 65.


See FloridiSextus Empiricus67-68.


See GalenusOpera quarta impressio ornatissima pars I et IIa cum praefatione Rustici Placentini (Pavia: Giacomo Pocatela1515). (I collated from the exemplar at the Bibliothèque Publique et Universitaire in Geneva [= Geneva bpu Nf 49].) On the transmission of this text cf. H. Diels Doxographi Graeci (Berlin 1879) 235-236. Without further study I assume here that the ascription of the translation to Niccolò in the explicit is trustworthy. The characteristic close fit to the Greek however is not always observed so there may be room for doubt.


Cf. Gonzálvez RuizHombres y libros de Toledo477-478. He was misled by the catalogue of Millás Vallicrosa in attributing the Outlines to Aulus Gellius.


Cf. item 55 in the list of 1280.


Cf. C. Burnett“Stephen of Messina and the Translation of Astrological Texts from Greek in the Time of Manfred,” in Translating at the Courted. De Leemans 123-132. The note on f. 225ra says “Hec proposiciones electe de astronomia que misse fuerunt Manffredo Regi Sicilie.”


Cf. Cavini“Appunti sulla prima diffussione” 3. That the document can hardly be counted as an original is clear from the missing marks of authenticity. It is more difficult to decide whether it was a draft or a copy.


Cf. Hernández and LinehanThe Mozarabic Cardinal154.


See C. Flüeler“Politischer Aristotelismus im Mittelalter. Einleitung,” Vivarium 40 (2002) 1-13with the following hint at 9-10: “Auch hat Petrus nicht nur auf gängiges Schulwissen und Florilegien zurückgegriffen sondern er zögerte nicht auf seltene Quellen zurückzugreifen. So finden wir z. Bsp. in seinem Quaestionenkommentar bei der Frage ob Inzest erlaubt werden könne das bisher einzig bekannte Zitat aus der mittelalterlichen Übersetzung der pyrrhonischen Skepsis von Sextus Empiricus (Paris bn lat. 16089 f. 185ra und Bologna bu ms. 1625 f. 64rb mit Verweis auf ph iii 205).” (“f. 185ra” must be a misprint for “f. 285ra.”) An anonymous referee pointed out to me that Flüeler was indeed preceded by Conor Martin in his dissertation The Commentaries on the ‘Politics’ of Aristotle in the Late Thirteenth and Early Fourteenth Centuries with Reference to the Thought and Political Life of the Time (unpublished PhD dissertation Oxford University 1949) 124; for the date of composition see ibid. 89.



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