On the 28th September, Giles will give a public lecture to the McGill Medievalists, supported by the Mellon Foundation. The subject will be the place of Astronomy in twelfth century schemes for Liberal Arts. Grosseteste’s De artibus liberalibus features strongly; the lecture will explore what Grosseteste sets as his task in the treatise and contextualise some of its more particular and idiosyncratic elements. Alchemy, Medicine, the impact of the various translation enterprises in Castile and Aragon, and comparison to Grosseteste’s contemporaries and predecessors, will all take their place. The lecture has been organised by Faith Wallis, a founding member of the Ordered Universe project, and Alice Sharp, Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow at McGill, and
The De artibus liberalibus, as James McEvoy put it ‘breathes the air of the twelfth century’. Grosseteste would later eschew some of the discussion of, or at least the enthusiasm with which he approached, subjects such as alchemy. In Dictum 2 he derides those who use the other arts, without realising that their ultimate purpose and fulfilment lies in pastoral care and theology:
One man rushes into medicine: he’ll cure the sick; he’ll even, with a bit of luck, raise the dead; he’ll get a name for working miracles; at the very least he’ll get rich. For like reasons another resorts to alchemy: he’ll turn lead to gold; he’ll purify and clarify these terrestrial, dark, impure bodies with his ablutions and sublimations; he’ll even undertake to draw you qualities out of the heavenly bodies.
With the De artibus liberalibus we follow Grosseteste in a rather different mode, with different sources, and different questions to explore. His first treatise, written in his 20s, nevertheless raises issues, such as the unity of creation, which he would never stop thinking about and trying to express. Details of the lecture are below – please circulate, and come if you can!