News on the first volume of six from the Ordered Universe presenting the scientific works of Robert Grosseteste. The first volume is avialable for pre-order from both the Oxford University Press website and at Amazon (UK and others). The first volume has a shipping weight of 739 grams and is 640 pages in total, and features 19 co-authors (it is not an edited volume but a co-authored monograph, under the aegis of Ordered 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.
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.
Our next project symposium takes place in Lincoln, and we’re delighted to be back in the convivial surroundings of Bishop Grosseteste University, hosted by Jack Cunningham and the BGU Ordered Universe chapter. As part of the symposium, which features Grosseteste’s treatise On Lines and Angles, On the Nature of Places, alongside On the Supercelestial Motions and On Bodily Motion and Light, we have a public lecture on Grosseteste’s cosmology and its implications for understanding of the world. The three Continue reading →
Last week Ordered Universe members gathered in Dublin, hosted by Laura Cleaver and Karl Kinsella at Trinity College and Marsh’s Library. With our usual range of disciplines represented (philosophy, history, psychology, engineering, physics, creative arts, history of art), and with colleagues from Europe and the USA, we set to work on the four treatises for collaborative reading. Two days in Trinity, at the Long Room Hub, saw the group read through the middle third of Grosseteste’s treatise On the Supercelestial Motions. This challenging treatise deals with the question how the planets move, whether by external force, their nature, and what the effects of their movements are. We also read through, for the second time, On Bodily Motion and Light. Another complex piece of writing, the treatise focuses again on how bodies move, with a more consistent parallel with animal bodies, and exploration of medical material. This treatise ends with a startling passage on light as prime form; highly reminiscent of the treatise On Light. Continue reading →
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 Continue reading →
Ordered Universe is off on its travels. Fresh from our project conference, Easter School and participation in other conferences and colloquia, the next symposium takes place in Canada, at McGill University, Montreal. We are delighted to be hosted by Professor Faith Wallis, a core team member, and are very much looking forward to four days of collaborative reading in such a stimulating environment. Three texts are on the menu, a re-reading of Grosseteste’s On the Six Differences edited and translated by Sigbjørn Sønnesyn on notions of the horizon and up/down/left/right/back/front, and two new ones. The first is On the Supercelestial Motions, edited by Cecilia Panti, and newly translated by Neil Lewis, the second On Corporeal Motion and Light, edited and translated by Neil. These are the tenth and eleventh of Grosseteste’s scientific opuscula to be tackled by the team, thirteen in total. As we work through the texts, the sense of the intricacy and intensity of Grosseteste’s thought comes to the fore time and again. In the texts to be considered roots of characteristic aspects of his later thought emerge, for example the identification of nature with the first form, namely light. More than shades of On Light…
The symposium will also feature a public lecture to be delivered in the Redpath Museum, by Tom McLeish, Giles Gasper and Jack Cunningham, with details to follow. The symposium will be followed by a graduate conference at McGill, and then by members of the team making their way steadily westwards to Kalamazoo and the International Medieval Congress. We are very grateful to Faith and to Shameem Mooradun for expert organisation, and for helping to shape our twentieth collaborative reading meeting. And they get better every time!
The 18th Ordered Universe symposium – and the fourth held under the sponsorship of the Arts and Humanities Research Council – took place in Oxford, at Pembroke College, on 17-19 May. We were wonderfully hosted by the College, with lunches and dinners held in its magnificent Victorian Gothic hall; the symposium organisation Continue reading →
Tapisserie de Bayeux – Scène 32 : des hommes observent la comète de Halley
The next Ordered Universe symposium takes place in the week to come, May 17-19, at Pembroke College, University of Oxford. It will be great to be back at Pembroke, one of the original homes of the project, and to be broaching two new treatises for collaborative reading. These comprise the De cometis – On Comets and the De impressionibus elementorum; the latter connected to argument on the genesis, nature and activity of comets, the latter a discussion of meteorological phenomena, mostly watery (dew, hail, snow and rain). The reading sessions will be using the edition of the De cometis by Cecilia Panti, with translations of the two works, and a draft edition of the De impressionibus by Sigbjørn Sønnesyn. We will be welcoming some new participants to the group, as well as Ross Ashton and Karen Monid from the Projection Studio. The treatises under scrutiny reveal Grosseteste more at home with Aristotelian methodology, and articulating a more scientific approach to physical problems. Key aspects of his thought on sublimation, on light and on grounds for verification and falsification make their appearance, as do a range of different sources alongside Aristotle. The symposium organisation is principally by the Oxford team, under Hannah Smithson, and the project is extremely grateful to the efforts of Joshua Harvey, Tim Farrant and Clive Siviour, as well as the College conference staff. Set course for Oxford and we’re off! Look out for reports on the progress of the meeting – a copy of the programme is appended here in PDF and also available at Issuu.
The Ordered Universe project is very pleased to announce a Visiting Fellowship at Pembroke College, University of Oxford, for Prof. Cecilia Panti, for the month or so. Cecilia, an original member of the project, is the foremost expert on Grosseteste’s scientific works, including critical editions of the treatises On Light, On the Sphere, On the Super-Celestial Motions, and On Comets. She is also an expert on music in the Middle Ages, and the reception of Boethius and Augustine in this regard, has written widely on Roger Bacon and is co-investigator on a project with Professor Nicholas Temple, University of Huddersfield on ‘Lorenzo Ghiberti’s 3rd Commentary: Translation and Commentary’, supported by a British Academy/Leverhulme small grant award. These among wide interests in medieval philosophy, and further afield. Cecilia is a core member of the Ordered Universe project, and her time in Oxford will be a wonderful opportunity for the project’s work. We are very grateful to Pembroke College for arranging matters so smoothly.