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The Thread of Life. Critical Editions of the Translatio Vetus of Aristotle's De Longitudine et Brevitate Vitae and Selected Texts from Its Early Reception in Oxford

Among Aristotle’s Parva naturalia (‘Short Treatises on Natural Philosophy’), we find the text De longitudine et brevitate vitae (‘On Length and Shortness of Life’). In this work, the Philosopher investigates the causes of longevity and brevity of life in both plants and animals. De longitudine et brevitate vitae became accessible to Latin scholars in the medieval West by means of its first Greek-Latin translation, made by James of Venice in the first half of the twelfth century. This extremely literal rendering is also known as the translatio vetus. Being part of a collection called the Corpus vetustius, James’s translation of the treatise circulated widely, especially during the thirteenth century.

Part I of this dissertation presents the first critical edition of the translatio vetus of De longitudine et brevitate vitae. In preparation for the edition, I examined in-depth the entire known manuscript tradition of this rendering, as well as the relation between the translatio vetus and the known Greek tradition of De longitudine et brevitate vitae. My profound study of the extant Latin manuscripts, which go back no further than the thirteenth century, reveals that the text has been subject to desperate contamination and corruption. My detailed comparison with the Greek tradition as we know it today shows to precisely which manuscripts the lost Greek model for the rendering must have been closely related. In the light of the Latin text witnesses that have been preserved, an exact reconstruction of James’s rendering is virtually impossible. Therefore, the aim of my critical edition is to come as close as possible to his original translation.


            With respect to the reception history of the translatio vetus of De longitudine et brevitate vitae, modern scholarship has knowledge of a few (thirteenth-century) commentaries, compendia, and glosses. Some of these works have been ascribed, whereas others are anonymous. In the secondary literature, the writings from the reception history are sometimes divided into two major groups, according to their place of origin: Oxford or the continent.

Part II of this dissertation offers the first critical editions, and also analyses, of selected texts from the early commentary tradition in Oxford. In particular, the focus is on some commentaries that are attributed to Adam of Buckfield in the secondary literature and on the anonymous compendium in manuscript Oxford, Bodleian Library, Tanner 116. With respect to the so-called Buckfield commentaries, I inquired into the known extant text witnesses and I explored the authenticity of the writings. This research has resulted in a more accurate, expanded overview of commentaries attributed to said author, one of which is very likely to be authentic. I have critically edited both the one commentary that was in all probability written by Adam of Buckfield and the anonymous compendium. Of these two works, I studied the formal aspects and the content (including the relationship with a few other texts). On the basis of this examination, I have found that the writings do not show clear influence of Averroes’s Epitome, but, on certain points, bear a strong resemblance to one another, especially in the structuring and clarification of the translatio vetus.

Date:1 Oct 2016 →  13 Dec 2022
Keywords:Aristoteles Latinus
Disciplines:Theory and methodology of philosophy
Project type:PhD project