Man is an Animal

On the frontispiece of his Latin translation of Aristotle's Historia animalium, Theodore Gaza asked the miniaturist to paint Aristotle as scriba naturae, the scribe of nature.

We see the great Greek philosopher seated at a desk as many species wait to tell him their history. Foremost are a specimen man and woman, along with a monkey, dog, ass, deer, pair of sheep, dragon, bear, camel, ox, lion, horse and elephant plus sundry fish and small animals in the foreground.

The manuscript, Vat.lat.2094, was presented to Pope Sixtus IV, probably in 1473 according to John Monfasani in a wonderful article about the philosophical discord surrounding it. The codex has just arrived online in full color at the Vatican Library's digital portal after previously being only accessible in muddy grey.

Gaza was supposedly appalled to be given the miserly papal fee of 50 ducats for his translation and allegedly threw the money in the Tiber in rage, then departed to Greek-speaking Apulia to die. But (see pages 498-503) ...
[QT] ... Theodore Gaza's presentation copy of Aristotle's zoological works in Latin (Vat. lat. 2094). Allan Gotthelf [and] I wrote an article in which we showed the story of the 50 ducats to be a myth! https://t.co/3IPueJWlD2
— Pieter Beullens (@LatinAristotle) March 11, 2018
I doubt if the couple in the picture are Adam and Eve as sometimes claimed. The notion of man as an animal species goes back long before before Darwin. Aristotle had no doubt about this matter, uncomfortable as it is for some people. The History of Animals explicitly treats humans as part of the subject and the miniaturist (several candidates are mentioned by Monfasani) puts this front and centre.

The dedication shows Gaza hard at work, sitting at what looks somewhat like the prisoner-made tubular steel desks that I remember from my school days. Whether the skinny legs of desks in the Quattrocento were in fact of turned wood or wrought iron is a matter beyond my ken.

For more about this celebrated manuscript, see the Rome Reborn catalog, where Anthony Grafton draws attention to the medal depicting the Ponte Sisto, a Rome bridge to be put up as part of Sixtus's construction program. The codex also contains De partibus animalium and De generatione animalium by Aristotle. The dedication also features in John Murdoch's Album of Science as image number 159.

One more subject of interest is a unicorn lurking in the picture. It is the shaggy thing behind the horse and the elephant's tusks. For a most interesting account by a zoologist of what a unicorn might have been, read the article by Chris Lavers (PDF download at Duke), 'The Ancients' One-Horned Ass'.

A total of 53 digitizations have appeared this week. Here is the full list:
  1. Barb.lat.2711,
  2. Chig.H.VIII.250 (Upgraded to HQ),
  3. Ott.lat.441 (Upgraded to HQ),
  4. Ott.lat.1400,
  5. Ott.lat.1662 (Upgraded to HQ),
  6. Ott.lat.1777 (Upgraded to HQ),
  7. Ott.lat.1787 (Upgraded to HQ),
  8. Ott.lat.2041 (Upgraded to HQ),
  9. Ott.lat.2110 (Upgraded to HQ),
  10. Ott.lat.3091 (Upgraded to HQ),
    Also seen in @JBPiggin's list: is this a handwritten prototype of Cappelli's Dizionario? Look for the τελωσ on f. 7r! https://t.co/U0Fp8LHSuj
    — Pieter Beullens (@LatinAristotle) March 11, 2018
  11. Reg.lat.27 (Upgraded to HQ),
  12. Reg.lat.453 (Upgraded to HQ),
  13. Reg.lat.612 (Upgraded to HQ),
  14. Reg.lat.703.pt.1 (Upgraded to HQ),
  15. Reg.lat.809,
  16. Reg.lat.1249,
  17. Reg.lat.1479 (Upgraded to HQ),
  18. Reg.lat.1958 (Upgraded to HQ),
    Latin version of Avicenna's commentary on Aristotle's Physica @DigitaVaticana
    HT @JBPiggin https://t.co/BZeIe5vtzF pic.twitter.com/CpvS67S0fj
    — Pieter Beullens (@LatinAristotle) March 11, 2018
  19. Vat.lat.454.pt.1,
  20. Vat.lat.937,
  21. Vat.lat.2094 (Upgraded to HQ), Historia animalium, De partibus animalium, De generatione animalium by Aristotle in the Theodore Gaza translation (above). Richly decorated, as in this fine initial M:
  22. Vat.lat.2274 (Upgraded to HQ),
  23. Vat.lat.2328,
  24. Vat.lat.2334,
  25. Vat.lat.2366 (Upgraded to HQ), a 15th-century medical manuscript including Avicenna: Lectura super I at ff. 94ra-132vb.
  26. Vat.lat.2434 (Upgraded to HQ),
  27. Vat.lat.2435,
  28. Vat.lat.2737,
  29. Vat.lat.2741,
  30. Vat.lat.2742 (Upgraded to HQ),
  31. Vat.lat.2744,
  32. Vat.lat.2750,
  33. Vat.lat.2753,
  34. Vat.lat.2755,
  35. Vat.lat.2756,
  36. Vat.lat.2757,
  37. Vat.lat.2758,
  38. Vat.lat.2776,
  39. Vat.lat.2792,
  40. Vat.lat.2794 (Upgraded to HQ),
  41. Vat.lat.2805,
  42. Vat.lat.2810,
  43. Vat.lat.2815,
  44. Vat.lat.2816,
  45. Vat.lat.2823,
  46. Vat.lat.2841,
  47. Vat.lat.2859,
  48. Vat.lat.2866,
  49. Vat.lat.2872,
  50. Vat.lat.2877 (Upgraded to HQ),
  51. Vat.lat.2891,
  52. Vat.lat.2894,
  53. Vat.lat.6214,
This is Piggin's Unofficial List number 153. Thanks to @gundormr for harvesting. If you have corrections or additions, please use the comments box below. Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for news of more additions to DigiVatLib.

Beullens, Pieter, and Allan Gotthelf. "Theodore Gaza’s translation of Aristotle’s De Animalibus: content, influence, and date." Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 47, no. 4 (2007): 469-513. http://openpublishing.library.duke.edu/index.php/grbs/article/viewFile/761/841

Monfasani, John. "Aristotle as Scribe of Nature: The Title-Page of MS Vat. Lat. 2094." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 69 (2006): 193-205. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40025844.

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