Astronomy Domine: The Ordered Universe set the controls for the heart of Rome

The spheres as imagined by Goussin de Metz in the later 13th century

Just as celestial bodies, according to medieval astronomy, would be brought to convergence by the motion of the firmament, so many members of the Ordered Universe project will converge in Rome in the first full week of April, drawn there by the gravitational pull of our workshop schedule. The focus this time will be on Grosseteste’s astronomical models and the mathematical tools at his disposal to calculate and measure celestial motions. At the centre of focus will be Grosseteste’s work ‘On the sphere’, also called ‘On the world machine’, written while he was still relatively young, and his ‘Compotus correctorius’, a work composed to offer corrections to the proper reckoning of time – a task intimately connected to the observations and calculations of celestial cycles.

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Dr Cecilia Panti, Roma (Tor Vergata). Philosophy of Science.

The ‘On the sphere’ was quite widely copied in the Middle Ages, and now exists in more than 50 individual manuscript copies. The argument is at least as elliptical as the stellar and planetary orbits it describes, so we are facing a fascinating challenge in coming to grips with this text. We are truly fortunate in that Dr. Cecilia Panti, who has produced a masterful edition of the Latin text of this work based on a comparison of all available manuscripts, is a member of the Ordered Universe core team of researchers. The text is a complex one, and far longer than most of Grosseteste’s scientific treatises, so having a world expert on this particular material on the team is a great strength. Cecilia teaches at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, and we are deeply grateful for all her work in setting up the coming workshop in the Eternal City; under her guidance through the city as well as through the text, we are in the very good hands indeed.

Special mention should also be made of Dr. Philipp Nothaft of All Souls College, University of Oxford, who has produced a marvellous translation of the Compotus correctorius in a remarkably short time. Philip has rare expertise in medieval astronomy and astronomical mathematics, and we are very grateful indeed for his sharing of that expertise with us for the upcoming workshop.

While we will spend most of the time reading and discussing the two treatises under the guidance of Cecilia and Philip, there will also be time for a half-day conference at Tor Vergata, and a public lecture by Cecilia Panti and Tom McLeish. I hope and believe I speak for everybody when I say that we are very much looking forward to meeting again, in the most beautiful of surroundings and with texts that are as interesting as they are challenging. It seems fitting enough to have been written in the stars that our discussions and deliberations will take place in a city where, in the Vatican Observatory, we now find many of the finest clergymen-astronomers of our time. Their multifaceted forerunner Grosseteste would surely have approved.

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