Aristotle in the Italian Vernacular


How did the advent of the Renaissance, the renewed interest in Plato, and the establishment of the vernaculars affect the honoured place held by Aristotle? Why did his influence not wane, as one might expect? Who promoted his relevance, discussing his philosophy in the vernacular? Which aspects of his philosophy were especially emphasized? What forms of accommodation did Aristotelianism find with contemporary currents of thought and belief? What institutional contexts were especially relevant? What genres helped the dissemination of Aristotelian ideas? These are some of the questions addressed by two recent research projects.

April 2019 saw the completion of a 5-year ERC Starting Grant on ‘Aristotle in the Italian Vernacular: Rethinking Renaissance and Early-Modern Intellectual History, c. 1400-c.1650’. This project (PI: Marco Sgarbi) was a collaboration between the University of Venice (Ca’ Foscari) and the University of Warwick, which together with the Warburg Institute had led an earlier AHRC-funded project (‘Vernacular Aristotelianism in Renaissance Italy, c. 1400–c. 1650’; PI: David Lines; CIs, Simon Gilson and Jill Kraye; research fellow, Eugenio Refini; PhD student, Grace Allen; 2010-2013) to study aspects of the Aristotelian tradition in the Italian vernacular during the Renaissance period. The AHRC project led to the establishment of an ongoing census of materials (both in manuscript and in print) relevant to the Aristotelian tradition (see updated platform at This has made it clear that, although the Renaissance saw a dominant Latin tradition of studying and interpreting Aristotle (particularly in the universities, as already shown by the work of Charles B. Schmitt and Charles H. Lohr), there was also a significant strand of interpretation of Aristotle in the vernacular, both in Italy and elsewhere. Some 250 printed editions and over 300 manuscripts in Italian (1400-1650) testify to an engagement with Aristotle’s thought through treatises, commentaries, translations, compendia, letters, poems, and other genres. The ERC project, which saw the continued participation of Simon Gilson and David Lines, relied on a robust team of research fellows (Bryan Brazeau, Eleonora Carinci, Matteo Cosci, Alessio Cotugno, Giorgio Lizzul, Cecilia Muratori, Anna Laura Puliafito, Laura Refe, Vera Ribaudo) and a PhD student (Lily V. Filson), who delved further into the individual philosophical strands of these interpretations. These concerned all of Aristotle’s production (logic, natural and moral philosophy, rhetoric and poetics), although very few works indeed survive on metaphysics. More specifically, subprojects dealt with themes such as logic, cosmology, the nature of the soul, ethics and politics, and rhetoric and poetics. They also considered pseudo-Aristotelian works, including the Problemata and Physiognomics, which had a remarkable fortuna in the period. Some of the figures studied were Bernardo Segni, Benedetto Varchi, Francesco Robortello, Sperone Speroni, Alessandro Piccolomini, Bartolomeo Cavalcanti, Giambattista della Porta, and Giuseppe Liceti. But there was also an activity of reading and studying Aristotle by women such as Camilla Erculiani.

The results of the project have been or are being published in a series of articles, book chapters, and volumes. Among the latter, the most significant are: I generi dell’aristotelismo volgare, ed. by Marco Sgarbi (CLEUP, 2019); ‘In Other Words’: Translating Philosophy in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, ed. by David A. Lines and Anna Laura Puliafito, special issue of Rivista di storia della filosofia, 74.2 (2019); and the exhibition catalogue Venezia e Aristotele (ca. 1450-ca. 1600): greco, latino e italiano / Venice and Aristotle (c. 1450–c. 1600): From Greek and Latin to the Vernacular (Venice, Sale Monumentali della Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, 21 April–19 May 2016), ed. by Alessio Cotugno and David A. Lines (Venice: Marcianum Press, 2016).

David Lines

University of Warwick

By |2019-06-16T16:22:29+00:00June 16th, 2019|Blog|0 Comments