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Cover of Vitellonis Thuringopoloni opticae libri decem (Ten Books of Optics by the Thuringo-Pole Witelo)

Witelo (also Erazmus Ciołek Witelo; Witelon; Vitellio; Vitello; Vitello Thuringopolonis; Vitulon; Erazm Ciołek); born ca. 1230, probably in Legnica in Lower Silesia; died after 1280, before 1314) was a friar, theologian and scientist: a physicist, natural philosopher, mathematician. He is an important figure in the history of philosophy in Poland. The Moon crater Vitello is named after him.


Witelo's mother was from a Polish knightly house, while his father was a German settler from Thuringia. He called himself, in Latin, "Thuringorum et Polonorum filius" — "a son of Thuringians and Poles." He studied at Padua University about 1260, then went on to Viterbo. He became friends with William of Moerbeke, the translator of Aristotle. Witelo's major surviving work on optics, Perspectiva, completed in about 1270–78,[1] was dedicated to William. In 1284 he described the reflection and refraction of light.[2]


Page from a manuscript of De Perspectiva, with miniature of its author Witelo

Witelo's Perspectiva was largely based on the work of the polymath Alhazen (Ibn al-Haytham; d. ca. 1041) and in turn powerfully influenced later scientists, in particular Johannes Kepler. Witelo's treatise in optics was closely linked to the Latin version of Ibn al-Haytham's Arabic opus: Kitab al-manazir (The Book of Optics; De aspectibus or Perspectivae), and both were printed in the Friedrich Risner edition Opticae Thesaurus (Basel, 1572).[3]

Witelo's Perspectiva, which rested on Ibn al-Haytham's research in optics, influenced also the Renaissance theories of perspective. Lorenzo Ghiberti's Commentario terzo (Third Commentary) was based on an Italian translation of Witelo's Latin tract: Perspectiva.[4]

Witelo's treatise also contains much material in psychology, outlining views that are close to modern notions on the association of ideas and on the subconscious.

Perspectiva also includes Platonic metaphysical discussions. Witelo argues that there are intellectual and corporeal bodies, connected by causality (corresponding to the Idealist doctrine of the universal and the actual), emanating from God in the form of Divine Light. Light itself is, for Witelo, the first of all sensible entities, and his views on light are similar to those held by Roger Bacon, though he is closer in this to Alhazen's legacy.[5]

Other works[edit]

In Perspectiva, Witelo refers to other works that he had written. Most of these do not survive, but De Natura Daemonum and De Primaria Causa Paenitentiae have been recovered.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ CHAUCER NAME DICTIONARY Copyright © 1988, 1996 Jacqueline de Weever Published by Garland Publishing, Inc., New York and London.
  2. ^ Joe Rosen; Lisa Quinn Gothard. Encyclopedia of Physical Science. Infobase Publishing; 2009. ISBN 978-0-8160-7011-4. p. 691.
  3. ^ Nader El-Bizri, "A Philosophical Perspective on Alhazen’s Optics", Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, Vol. 15, Issue 2 (2005), pp. 189-218 (Cambridge University Press)
  4. ^ Graziela F. Vescovini, "Contributo per la storia della fortuna di Alhazen in Italia: II volgarizzamento del MS. Vat. 4595 e il Commentario terzo del Ghiberti, Rinascimento, V (1965), pp. 1749 -- Also (Ibid, El-Bizri, 2005)
  5. ^ Ibid, El-Bizri, 2005


Witelo and his thoughts
  • Witelonis Perspectivae Liber Primus: Book I of Witelo Perspectiva, edition and English translation by Sabetai Unguru, with introduction and commentary, Warsaw, The Polish Academy of Science Press, Studia Copernicana, vol. XV, 1977.
  • Witelonis Perspectivae Libri Duo - Liber Secundus et Liber Tertius: Books II and III of Witelo's Perspectiva, edition and English translation by Sabetai Unguru, with introduction and commentary, Warsaw, The Polish Academy of Science Press, Studia Copernicana, vol. XXVII, 1991.
  • Witelonis Perspectivae Liber Quartus: Book IV of Witelo's Perspectiva, A Critical Edition and English Translation with Introduction, Notes and Commentary by Carl J. Kelso, University of Missouri-Columbia, 2003.
  • Witelonis Perspectivae Liber Quintus: Books V of Witelo's Perspectiva, edition and English translation by Mark A. Smith of the First Catoptrical Book of Witelo's Perspectiva, with introduction and commentary, Warsaw, The Polish Academy of Science Press, 1983.

External links[edit]