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Friday, June 25, 2010

Exploring Collections: Walter Burley in the College of Physicians

Posted by Darin Hayton on 06/25 at 10:30 PM

The Historical Library at the College of Physicians has an incredible collection of manuscripts, incunabula, rare books, and ephemera, spanning more than 500 years. The incunabula number over 400, and there is another 1200+ sixteenth-century books. Among the incunabula is Walter Burley’s Super octo libros physicorum (Venice, 1491). This is Burley’s commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, written probably around 1325.

An early printed copy of Walter Burley’s commentary on Aristotle’s Physics (Source: Historical Library, College of Physicians of Philadelphia)

Walter Burley (ca. 1275-1344) was a prominent 14th-century logician at the University of Oxford and later the University of Paris. He wrote a number of works on logic and commentaries on Aristotle. His commentaries became standard texts at universities across Europe throughout the latter 14th and the 15th centuries.

The title page from Burley’s Super octo libros physicorum (Source: Historical Library, College of Physicians of Philadelphia)

In addition to his importance for medieval logic and natural philosophy, Burley also played a role in Pierre Duhem’s Etudes sur Léonard de Vinci (Paris, 1906-1913), in which Duhem argued that the 14th-century calculators—often scholars assocaited with Merton College at Oxford such as Thomas Bradwardine, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead—were an important source for Galileo’s science.

It is interesting, then, to note that this copy of Burley’s commentary was previously owned by Pierre Duhem himself:

Pierre Duhem’s book plate in this copy of Burley’s commentary (Source: Historical Library, College of Physicians of Philadelphia)

This copy of the text is interesting too for the many marginal notes, in at least two hands, that run through much of the volume:

One of the many annotated pages in this volume (Source: Historical Library, College of Physicians of Philadelphia)

The marginal notes and interlineations are not too difficult to read, at least the annotations that remain. Unfortunately, the marginalia have been trimmed.

Trimmed marginalia (Source: Historical Library, College of Physicians of Philadelphia)

Along with this book, the College of Physicians has at least two other texts from Duhem’s library: Dominicus Questionum super xii. libros Methaphisicie (Venice, 1499) and Johannes de Magistris Questiones perutilies super tota philosophia (Parma, 1481).

Tags: aristotle, commentaries, incunabula, walter burley

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