Next week sees the tenth, and final, Ordered Universe symposium in the current series, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK. It is fantastic that we should be holding this symposium at the University of York, home institution of Tom McLeish, one Continue reading
The most recent Ordered Universe Syposium took place amid a riot of colour as summer turned to autumn at Pembroke College Oxford in late September. Continue reading
Why is the natural world saturated with constant movement, and how do we make sense of this perpetual fluctuation of material things? What principles and methods are most suited to find order and coherence in this ever-changing world? From May 13th to 16th, the Ordered Universe gathered at Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincoln to read, analyse, and debate Robert Grosseteste’s answers to these questions in a series of texts. The scope of these texts ranges from the geometrical and optical principles of natural causality in the twinned treatises On Lines, Angles, and Shapes and On the Nature of Places, via the labyrinthine search for the unifying causal factor in bodily movement in On Bodily Movement and On Light, to the condensed metaphysics of On the Movement of Supercelestial Bodies. If the principles of heavenly movement remained obscure, the clear skies allowed the rays of the sun full freedom to give leafy Lincoln a summery sparkle. The staff and amenities at Bishop Grosseteste University were as welcoming as the weather, and provided ideal surroundings for activity and movement as well as for rest.
As always, our twofold task was to beat draft translations into shape and figure out what arguments the sometimes highly obscure Latin texts were meant to establish. We were fortunate to have in our midst scholars from a range of discipline corresponding to the breadth of Grosseteste’s interests and talents. BGU did not only contribute hospitality but also scholarship, in the form of Dr Jack Cunningham and his PhD students Ros Gammie and Adam Foxon at the theology department at BGU, and Dr Gioacchino Curiello, who is a British Academy Post-Doc at the same department. Gioacchino also brought some welcome variation into our work schedule through presenting his ongoing research on Grosseteste’s translations of and commentaries on the Pseudo-Dionysian corpus of texts, and how these can be linked to his pastoral care as Bishop of Lincoln.
The texts we worked on this time draw heavily on geometry and optics to explain natural phenomena and natural causation. Professors Tom McLeish from York and Brian Tanner from Durham produced extremely helpful diagrams of the reasoning implicit and explicit in the texts, and Oxford Vision Scientists Professor Hannah Smithson and Dr Rebekah White brought clarity and focus to our reading by refracting Grosseteste’s opaque words through the lenses of their expertise. Professor Clive Siviour and Joshua Harvey, also of Oxford, showed how useful their training in Engineering and, in Josh’s case, Experimental Psychology, is for elucidating medieval texts with precision.
Professor Cecilia Panti (Rome, Tor Vergata) had produced wonderful new editions of On Lines, Angles, and Shapes and On the Nature of Places, and Dr Neil Lewis’s (Georgetown) translation of On the Movement of Supercelestial Bodies was based on Cecilia’s already published edition of that work. We also revisited Neil’s meticulous edition and translation of On Bodily Movement and On Light, which continues to fascinate and puzzle us. Since these texts draw heavily on other medieval works, we were delighted to welcome back Dr Nicola Polloni (Berlin) and Dr Seb Falk (HPS, Cambridge), who made essential contributions from their expertise, respectively, in medieval philosophy and medieval science. Dr Sarah Gilbert, who recently completed her PhD in History at Durham, had helped organise the workshop and added her valuable Latin skills to her administrative contributions. We were also joined by Karen Monid of The Projection Studio. Karen and Ross have used Grosseteste’s texts as inspiration for their wonderful projection shows, using the movement of light and of sound to make the most profoundly moving projection shows. We are very much looking forward to seeing what this creative team will do next!
Grosseteste assumed as axiomatic that a unitary effect must have a unitary cause and origin. The union of these disciplines in a unitary debate, while dependent on all participants, can be traced back to the unifying leadership of Professor Giles Gasper (Durham), who once again managed to make numerous disparate impulses and energies pull in the same direction. Giles also gave a public lecture, together with Sig Sønnesyn (Durham) and Cecilia Panti, with the title ‘Creation and the World Machine: 13th Century Science and Theology’. In this lecture, Giles framed Grosseteste’s life and work within the overarching theme of creation theology and natural science. Sig gave a case study of this from the perspective of the short treatise On the Six Differentiae, and Cecilia presented her recent edition of a text, quite possibly and plausibly authored by Grosseteste, on the importance of astronomical time-keeping for the art of medicine and healing.
One of the central lessons of Grosseteste’s geometrical account of natural causality is that while a single rectilinear influence from cause to effect can be effective, the effect is many times stronger when several such lines converge on the same point to concentrate their efforts. This workshop, converging on Grosseteste’s episcopal seat and final resting place, has reminded us how this is applicable, with the necessary modifications, to scholarship as well. By coming together to concentrate our efforts towards a shared goal, we were able to produce effects that none of us would have been capable of on our own. Grosseteste would not have been surprised at this, convinced as he was that nature is the best guide for art and academic pursuits.
Our next Ordered Universe symposium, the eighth under the aegis of our current funding from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, and 24th overall in a series stretching now over a decade, takes place 13-16 May, at Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincon. It has been a fascinating journey, and from tomorrow, we broach the two treatises remaining for all of Grosseteste’s shorter scientific works to have been edited, translated, and patiently and collaboratively read. On Lines, Angles, and Shapes, and On the Nature of Places, brings the canon to its completion, with reading on-going for On the Movement of Celestial Bodies, and a final read-through of On Bodily Motion and Light. Two symposia remain for our current sequence which will revise the latest treatises and revist On Colour and On the Rainbow.
The programme for the symposium is available for downloand here and online:
It is a great pleasure to be back at Bishop Grosseteste University. BGU has been a fabulous partner, supporter, and advocate for the Ordered Universe project, principally through the energy and tremendous good offices of Dr Jack Cunningham. We will look forwad to the hospitality and welcome at BGU, and getting on to the most stimulating experience of collaborative reading and exploring the world of early 13th century science.
Next week, Grosseteste scholars from a wide radius will make straight lines for Lincoln and Bishop Grosseteste University, converging to concentrate our efforts on unpicking Grosseteste’s understanding of movement and change in supercelestial and sublunary bodies, and the geometric principles governing how the former influence the latter. We will read four treatises together: On the Movement of Supercelestial Bodies, On Lines, Angles, and Shapes, and On the Nature of Places, all edited by Cecilia Panti, and On Bodily Movement and On Light, edited by Neil Lewis.
These treatises approach a complex set of questions from different angles: at the heart of all of them is the search for order in the universe, that is, for the principles that can make an ever-changing world intelligible. On the Movement of Supercelestial Bodies draws heavily on Averroes to explain and account for the unchanging circular movement of the heavenly spheres, and how this movement can be caused by an unmoving ultimate mover. On Bodily Movement and On Light seeks a unifying factor of all bodily movement, and finds it in light. In this way, the rectilinear and changing movements of sublunary bodies can be linked to the unchanging movements of the luminous bodies of the heavens. On Lines, Angles, and Shapes provides an account of the geometric principles according to which heavenly bodies exert causal influence on the world below, while its companion treatise On the Nature of Places applies these principles to explain how the causal influence of the heavens has different effects in different places on earth. Reading these treatises together will allow us to penetrate more deeply into the ways Grosseteste understood the order that governed and connected the supercelestial and sublunary realms.
The team are deeply grateful to Cecilia and Neil for preparing new and improved editions of these texts, and to Jack Cunningham and BGU for hosting us us in a place of such a congenial nature. We are greatly looking forward to intense and fruitful days of reading, discussion, and companionship.