Ordered Universe Sessions at Porto

Cafe Majestic in Porto
Cafe Majestic in Porto

These are the details of the three formal sessions we have organised for the FIDEM Congress in Porto: focusing on the treatises on light and on colour. Each session has a mingling (to use a Grossetestian phrase) of scientific and humanities based scholars; all of which are needed to convey the richness and depth of these wonderful, and original expositions of Aristotle together with his Arabic commentators. The De luce we date to about 1225, the De iride is one of the last scientific texts Grosseteste composed, dated to 1228-1230.

FIDEM Congress 2013: Secrets and Discoveries

The Ordered Universe: the Scientific Works of Robert Grosseteste: Lost Legacies and a Living Past

These three linked sessions form part of an international project to edit, translate and interpret the scientific works of Robert Grosseteste (c.1175-1253), and to do so from an explicitly inter-disciplinary perspective. The medieval texts are prepared, read and commented on by medieval specialists, modern scientists, and social scientists with an interest in science education. The project is supported by an International Network grant from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, and based at Durham University, UK. Grosseteste was one of the greatest discoverers of the central medieval period, unlocking the secrets, as he found them, of Aristotelian science, fresh to the west in Latin translation, carrying its Arabic commentaries. The Ordered Universe groups (comprising scholars from the UK, Canada, the USA and Italy) has recently produced an edition of Grosseteste’s short treatise on colour (available from PIMS publishers). What is presented below are three sessions on two further treatises, on light and on the rainbow: these form the current research of the group.

Session 1: the De iride

Hannah Smithson (Vision Science, University of Oxford) 

Mike Huxtable (English Studies, Durham University)

Greti Dinkova-Bruun, Latin Palaeography (Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto)

CHAIR – Phil Anderson, Boundary Layer Meteorologist,  Scottish Marine Institute

Rainbow over Durham in Autumn
Rainbow over Durham in Autumn

Presenting the latest work from the Ordered Universe Group, Hannah, Mike and Greti will focus on Grosseteste’s treatise on the rainbow. One of his last treatises, and with a lengthy and sophisticated opening section, Grosseteste explores, correctly within the limits of his observations, the law of refraction, and then builds a fascinating account of the formation of rainbows. Hannah will explore the treatment of colour, within a single rainbow, and within multiple rainbows, looking to how Grosseteste draws on his earlier De colore, and how far something new is articulated in this treatise. Mike will look at the rainbow treatise from a literary and historiographical perspective, with a focus on the history of the rainbow and ancient texts on colour. Greti will present the exciting new discoveries in her exploration of the manuscript history of the treatise, including experiments, additions and scientific surprises. The session is chaired by Phil Anderson, a long-standing member of the British Antarctic Survey, and now Head of Marine Technology at SAMS: and an expert, practically and abstractly, on rainbows.

Session 2: the De luce 1

Giles E. M. Gasper (History, Durham University)

Tom McLeish FRS (Physics, Durham University)

Richard Bower (Physics, Durham University)

CHAIR – Faith Wallis, Dept of History and Dept of Social Science of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal

Screen Shot 2013-03-20 at 15.55.52
Light (Lux) expands from a single point until matter and light reach maximum rarifaction: Lumen reflects inwards from the first sphere

This is the first of two sessions on Grosseteste’s remarkable treatise on light; which has received significant recent scholarly   attention (including Panti and Lewis, involved in the following session). The research group has given extensive attention to the treatise, and as a result of the input of the Institute of Computational Cosmology (ICC), Durham University, has managed to create a mathematical model of Grosseteste’s expanding, and compressing, universe. Giles Gasper will explore some of the historiographical dimensions of the treatise, concentrating on its importance in the popular scholarly image of Grosseteste and the world of medieval science including its use in contemporary theology. Tom McLeish FRS, will examine the treatise from the perspective of a physicist: the ways in which Grosseteste speaks of the extension of matter, the mathematics of infinite series, and the application of a singular, simple, laws to explain physical behavior. Richard Bower, from the ICC, will present the model developed to show the creation, according to Grosseteste of the celestial spheres, including a visualization of the process. How the model was developed, the importance of interdisciplinary dialogue, and the impact of Grosseteste’s thought in the context of modern cosmologyare all key aspects to be considered.Faith Wallis, a leading expert in medieval science and especially medicine, who is jointly appointed to the Departments of History and Social Sciences at McGill University, will chair the session.

Session 3: the De luce 2

Cecilia Panti (Filosofia, Università di Roma – Tor Vergata)

Neil Lewis (Philosophy, Georgetown University, Washington D.C.)

Brian Tanner (Physics, Durham University)

CHAIR – Pietro Bassiano Rossi (Filosofia, Università degli Studi di Torino)

The second session dedicated to the treatise on light will explore its linguistic and structural aspects, as well as considering the treatise in the light of other discussions by Grosseteste. Cecilia Panti and Neil Lewis have published recently an edition and translation of the treatise which will form the basis for the Ordered Universe Group’s investigations. Cecilia will consider the philosophical-scientific terminology used within the treatise on light: Grosseteste’s language is very precise, discovering its meaning, complex. Neil will explore the relation between the treatise and others, with particular respect to terminological change; other treatises include that on corporeal motion and Physics and the Posterior Analytics. Brian Tanner will present issues involved in the interpretation of the treatise from the perspective of modern science, including the different understandings of terms such as energy, matter, light and density: which are vital to a contemporary comprehension of the treatise. How to translate 13th century science to 21st century science, and vice versa, are among the key methodological concerns of the research project to edit and translate Grosseteste’s scientific treatises. Pietro Bassiano Rossi, the leading commentator on Grosseteste’s scientific work, and the commentaries on Aristotle, will chair the session.


The Commentator (Ibn Rushd, Averroes)

2 thoughts on “Ordered Universe Sessions at Porto

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: