From 'Philosophia Naturalis' by Paul of Venice

Chaucer and Science – an exhibition

This post introduces an exhibition to coincide with the Biennial London Chaucer Conference  on the theme of Science, Magic and Technology. It runs from 29th June to 12th July at Senate  House library.

Senate House Library often puts on displays to support conferences. It’s a win-win situation: the conference is enhanced by the books or manuscripts shown, and the Library demonstrates a sample of the richness of its holdings and the relevance of its material for research. This is the second time that it is supporting the biennial London Chaucer conference. Last time it exhibited a range of editions of Chaucer, from Richard Pynson’s 1492 printing of the Canterbury Tales onwards, and including private press editions noteworthy for their production as ‘books beautiful’. This time we broadened the display to fit the theme of ‘Science, Magic and Technology’, focussing on the science – more specifically, on astronomy and astrology.

From Chaucer's 'Knight's Tale' in 1550 edition of Chaucer's 'Workes'
‘The Workes of Geffray Chaucer Newly Printed’
Geoffrey Chaucer
London: R. Toy, [1550?]
[S.L.] I [Chaucer – 1532] fol.
We still showed a couple of early editions of Chaucer: his Workes from about 1550 (ESTC S122266), open at the ‘Knight’s Tale’ because that tale is rich in astrological symbolism, and the Workes from 1532 (the first complete edition of Chaucer) because it provides the earliest printed appearance of Chaucer’s Treatise of the Astrolabe. And we fetched out some other examples of medieval literature: a 1554 edition of Gower’s Confessio Amantis (in part imbued with astrology), and an illustrated edition of Dante’s Comedy from 1544, showing Dante’s paradise of nine concentric circles around the earth.

 

'Philosophia Naturalis, Compendium Clarissimi Philosophi Pauli Veneti' Paul of Venice Paris: J. Lambert, [ca. 1515?] M [Paulus] SR
‘Philosophia Naturalis, Compendium Clarissimi Philosophi Pauli Veneti’
Paul of Venice
Paris: J. Lambert, [ca. 1515?]
M [Paulus] SR
But we also used early scientific works. Possibly the rarest item, and the item with the most illustrative appeal, is Philosophia Naturalis, by Paul of Venice (ca 1368-1428), printed in Paris in about 1515. Despite its comprehensive title, this book comprises just one work, De Compositione Mundi – an abbreviated Latin version of the thirteenth-century monk Ristoro d’Arezzo’s Composizione del Mondo, written in about 1282. The Composizione, itself based on work by Ptolemy, Aristotle, Averroes and others, is the first astronomical work to have been written in Italian; a further claim to fame is that it may have influenced Dante, who influenced Chaucer.

 

Visit the exhibition  at Senate House Library (4th floor, Senate House), 29 June – 12 July 2015. Available during Senate House Library opening hours: Mon. – Fri. 9.00-17.45; Sat. 9.45-17.15.

 

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