RENAISSANCE ENLIGHTENMENT - DEFENDING ARISTOTLE AGAINST CARDANO


SCALIGER, JULIUS CAESAR. - J.C. BORDONIUS.

Exotericarum exercitationum liber quintus decimus de subtilitate, ad Hieronymum Cardanum. In extremo duo sunt indices: priorbreuiusculus, continens sententias nobiliores: alter opulentissimus, penè omnia complectens.

Lutetiae (Paris), Ex officina typographica Michaelis Vascosani, uia Iacobaea, ad insique Fontis, 1557. 4to. Lovely 17th century full calf binding with five raised bands and small gilt ornaments to back. Boards with two blindstamped triple-line borders inside eachother, the inner one with gilt corner-ornaments, gilt centre-pieces. Binding with some wear. Leather overall worn, corners bumped, capitals worn, upper capital with a bit of loss of leather. Strip of about one cm. cut away from top of t-p., no loss of text, old (near contemporary) scribbles and owner's names crossed out on t-p., near contemporary or a little later handwritten ex libris to top of title-page ("Ex libris Joannis Rebraut"). Contemporary or a little later marginal annotations to some leaves and likewise neat bibliographical inscription to pasted down front endpaper (7 lines, ..."Hac Editio.../ est emendatissima et elegantissima."). Smaller marginal dampstaining to upper corner from leaf SSiii onwards, not affecting text. Last about 15 leaves with very minor marginal loss, not affecting text. Internally all in all nice and clean. Illustrated with woodcuts, about 19 larger and smaller woodcut illustrations in the text, depicting diagrams of the earth, how water is created, moon, sun & earth, etc. (8), 476, (1), (59, -indexes), (1, -Privilege du Roi), (1, -colophon, verso blank) pp.

The beautiful and rare first edition of Scaliger's devastating polemical attack on Cardano's main work, "De Subtilitate", which caused one of the most famous of Renaissance disputes and invoked a foundational discussion of the nature of empirical approach to natural sciences and philosophy. The work presents us with numerous interesting attempts at describing and explaining various (natural) phenomena and (philosophical) dilemmas, and it became a highly famous and widely read book that exercised profound influence upon later philosophers, scientists and natural historians. "The "Exotericarum exercitationum" won a celebrity that survived its author's death. Lipsius, Bacon, and Leibnitz were among its later admirers; and Kepler who read it as a young man, accepted its Averroist doctrine of attributing the movement of each star to a particular intelligence." (D.S.B. XII:136).

The title of the work indicates that this be the 15th book of Scaliger's attack on Cardanus' main work "De Subtilitate" - a "rambling miscellany of natural philosophy which eventually grew to twenty-one books and appeared in many reprints and revisions before and after Cardano's death in 1575" - polemically indicating that there were enough problems with the work to fill another 14 volumes. 14 such volumes were never written, nor planned. "Seldom read but widely cited in its own time and the century following was the "Fifteenth Book of Exoteric Exercises on Subtlety" by Julius Caesar Scaliger, a blast from an admirer of Aristotle bothered by Cardano's prose as well as his originality and sloppiness; Scaliger's title implied that there was enough wrong with "De subtilitate" to have filled fourteen other volumes. At one point, Scaliger thought that his attach had literally killed its victim, but it only helped enlarge his reputation, for better or for worse." (Copenhaver & Schmitt, p. 308).

Just as Cardano's two grand encyclopaedic works, Scaliger's "Exotericarum" deals with all parts of natural philosophy, and thereby with all subjects that in the Renaissance were accepted as belonging to this discipline, i.e. natural science in general. "In astronomy Scaliger ridiculed Cardano's stress on the astrological significance of comets; and he denied that the world's decay is proven because the apse of the sun was thirty-one semidiameters nearer the earth than in Ptolemy's time. Scaliger also rejected several of Cardano's beliefs in natural history: that the swan sings at its death; that gems have occult virtues ("a flea has more virtue than all the gems"); that there exist corporeal spirits that eat; that the peacock is ashamed of its ugly legs." (D.S.B. XII:135).

Due to his realistic and empirical approach to natural sciences and philosophy, Scaliger considered it necessary to attack the likes of Cardano. He considered himself an empirical Averroist, like e.g. Pomponazzi (by whom he is said to have been taught), and like him also primarily based his research and work on experience and observation. This search for truth was closely connected with his disputatious nature, which is what finally led him to this elaborate criticism of Cardano's "De subtilitate libri XXI", as it had lead him to attack Erasmus 26 years earlier. However, having received no answer from Cardano, Scaliger believed a false rumor that he had died, and suddenly felt awful having attacked the allegedly dead man; - he thus wrote him a funeral oration, full of repent. Cardano had not died, as it turned out, and he published his reply two years after the death of Scaliger.

Julius Caesar Scaliger (Bordonius) was born in Padua, Italy, in 1484, and died in Agen, France, in 1558. He studied at the University of Padua, where he received the doctorate in artes in 1519, and where he was appointed lecturer in logic the following year, -a post he declined, perhaps in order to study medicine, the doctorate in which he is believed to have obtained as well. In Padua he was taught philosophy by the most prominent of philosophers: Pomponazzi, Marc' Antonio, Zimara and Nifo. Scaliger himself later received a great reputation throughout Europe, not only as a philosopher, but also as a physician and a natural scientist. He befriended the likes of Ronsard and Rabelais (for a time), and was known by almost all learned Europeans in the Renaissance. It was because of Scaliger that Nostradamus and Rabelais came to Agen. Due to the empirically grounded research, many of the results of Scaliger's work were considered controversial and heretical; -he was summoned before the Inquisition (but was acquitted), and some of his books were placed on the "Index of Prohibited Books".


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