Recovery of Aristotle

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The "Recovery of Aristotle" (or Rediscovery) refers to the copying or re-translating of most of Aristotle's books (of ancient Greece), from Greek or Arabic text into Latin, during the Middle Ages, of the Latin West.[1][2] The Recovery of Aristotle spanned about 100 years, from the middle 12th century into the 13th century, and copied or translated over 42 books (see: Corpus Aristotelicum), including Arabic texts from Arabic authors, where the previous Latin versions had only two books in general circulation: Categories and On Interpretation (De Interpretatione).[1]

The lack of Latin translations had been due to several factors, including limited techniques for copying books, lack of access to the Greek texts, and few people who could read ancient Greek, while the Arabic versions were more accessible. The recovery of Aristotle's texts is considered a major period in mediaeval philosophy, leading to Aristotelianism.[1][2][3] Because some of Aristotle's newly translated views discounted the notions of a personal God, immortal soul, or creation, various leaders of the Catholic Church were inclined to censor those views for decades,[1] such as lists of forbidden books in the Condemnations of 1210–1277 at the University of Paris. Meanwhile, Thomas Aquinas (c.1225–1274), at the end of that time period, was able to reconcile the viewpoints of Aristotelianism and Christianity, primarily in his work, Summa Theologica (1265–1274).[1]

The rejection, by powerful religious leaders, to censor some recovered books of Aristotle, opened a new path to allow other ideas to be considered, or taught, regarding subjects in the banned books. Eventually, new ideas became more widespread, such as the heliocentric (sun-centered) system noted by Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), which rejected Aristotle's Earth-centered system, even though Galileo's ideas were later censored by Church officials during his lifetime, as well.


In the Early Middle Ages, some Muslim scholars had translated Aristotle's ancient-Greek writings into the Arabic language.[1] They had also written commentaries about those writings. The preservation of ancient Greek ideas was a major contribution of Islamic civilization.[1]

In the 4th century, the Roman grammarian Marius Victorinus had translated two of Aristotle's books, about logic, into Latin: the Categories and On Interpretation (De Interpretatione).[2] A little over a century later, most of Aristotle's logical works, except perhaps for the Posterior Analytics, had been translated by Boethius, c. 510–512[2] (see: Corpus Aristotelicum). However, only Boethius's translations of the Categories and On Interpretation had entered into general circulation before the 12th century.

The rest of Aristotle's books were eventually translated into Latin, but over 600 years later, from about the middle of the 12th century. First, the rest of the logical works were finished,[1] by using the translations of Boethius as the basis.[4] Then came the Physics, followed by the Metaphysics (12th century), and Averroes' Commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics (13th century),[3] so that all works were translated by the mid-13th century.[2]

A text like On the Soul, for instance, was unavailable in Latin in Christian Europe before the middle of the twelfth century.[5] The first Latin translation is due to James of Venice (12th century), and has always been considered as the translatio vetus (ancient translation).[6] The second Latin translation (translatio nova, new translation) was made from the Arabic translation of the text around 1230, and it was accompanied by Averroes's commentary; the translator is generally thought to be Michael Scot. James's translatio vetus was then revised by William of Moerbeke in 1266–7, and became known as the "recensio nova" (new recension), which was the most widely read version.[7] On the Soul ended up becoming a component of the core curriculum of philosophical study in most medieval universities, giving birth to a very rich tradition of commentaries, especially circa 1260–1360.[8]

Although the Greek philosopher Plato had been Aristotle's teacher, most of the Greek writings of Plato were not translated into Latin until over 200 years after the Recovery of Aristotle.[2] In the Middle Ages, the only book of Plato in general circulation was the first part of the dialogue Timaeus (to 53c), as a translation, with commentary, by Calcidius (or Chalcidius).[2] The Timaeus describes Plato's cosmology, as his account of the origin of the universe. Translations of the Meno and the Phaedo, had been written in the 12th century by Henry Aristippus of Catania, but those books were in limited circulation.[2] Some other translations of Plato's books disappeared during the Middle Ages. Finally, in the wider Renaissance, Marsilio Ficino (1433–99) translated and commented on the complete works of Plato, about 200 years after the rediscovery of Aristotle.[2]

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  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society, Marvin Perry, Myrna Chase, Margaret C. Jacob, James R. Jacob, 2008, 908 pages, p.261/262, Google Books webpage: BooksG-kK.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Medieval Philosophy" (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy),, 2004, webpage: PS.
  3. ^ a b "Cambridge Histories Online" (Later Medieval Philosophy), John F. Wippel, 1982, Overview,, 2011, webpage: HC22.
  4. ^ Routledge encyclopedia of philosophy, Edward Craig, 1998, p.396, webpage: BooksG-GhV.
  5. ^ Sander Wopke de Boer, The Science of the Soul: The Commentary Tradition on Aristotle's De Anima, C. 1260–1360, Leuven : Leuven University Press, 2013, p. 15.
  6. ^ Sander Wopke de Boer, The Science of the Soul: The Commentary Tradition on Aristotle's De Anima, C. 1260–1360, Leuven : Leuven University Press, 2013, p. 16.
  7. ^ Sander Wopke de Boer, The Science of the Soul: The Commentary Tradition on Aristotle's De Anima, C. 1260–1360, Leuven : Leuven University Press, 2013, pp. 15–16.
  8. ^ Cf. Sander Wopke de Boer, The Science of the Soul: The Commentary Tradition on Aristotle's De Anima, C. 1260–1360, Leuven : Leuven University Press, 2013.

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