Moving objects, and heavenly bodies: Ordered Universe at McGill, Montreal

Last week the Ordered Universe team met at McGill University, Montreal. Some 18 members of the core group, from Durham, York, Oxford, Lincoln, Beirut, Siena, Berlin, Washington DC, Toronto, and the home team from Montreal, gathered together in the fabulous surroundings of the city and the university. Faith Wallis, from Montreal, was host for the symposium, and we can’t thank her enough for the impeccable organisation and care in all of the arrangements. To Sarah Gilbert our thanks as well for keeping the the administration running smoothly.

Housed in the Faculty Club and then the Arts Council Room, we explored two new treatises, On the Supercelestial Motions and On Bodily Motion and Light. Both, but especially the first have metaphysical questions, as well as those of natural philosophy. How Grosseteste thought the heavenly spheres moved is one thing, why they did so quite another. Here we encountered Grosseteste making very close use of Averroes, as well as Aristotle. The treatise was edited by Cecilia Panti, with Neil Lewis providing the translation, which, in Ordered Universe form we debated long and hard, identifying in the course of this lines of interpretation for follow-up and the written texts that will follow. On Bodily Motion and Light, a related treatise, also received its first collaborative reading; edited as well as translated by Neil. After a slightly elliptical beginning, the treatise introduces the notion of light embodied, and self-replicating, which we will find again, and famously, in On Light.

The other treatise which we read through was On the Six ‘Differentiae‘. Edited and translated by Sigbjørn Sønnesyn, this was the third reading of the text, and what a revelation that was – with the text established the intricacy of Grossteste’s thought on direction and place emerged into plain view. A very satisfying conclusion to our collaborative reading of the treatise, and one that provoked interest across the group.

In addition to the collaborative reading, and learning more about Montreal, we also organised a public lecture, with Tom McLeish, Jack Cunningham and Giles Gasper. Tom and Giles introduced the project, the captivating world of Grosseteste’s scientific vision, how we know about him and his texts, and our processes of working together. Jack introduced the 18th century Roman Catholic biography of Grosseteste by Perry, adding more historical depth to the reception of Grosseteste and the varied rhythms of interest in him, his works and his world after the Reformation. In the wonderful surroundings of the Redpath Museum, we can’t have asked for more.

A fantastic symposium, another detailed, surprising and exciting journey into the early thirteenth century and its inspiration for modern study. The team went its separate ways, but we’ve been busy – another McGill event, the International Medieval Congress and talks at MIT, Boston. More anon!

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