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Roger Bacon and the Origins of "Perspectiva" in the Middle Ages: A Critical Edition and English Translation of Bacon's "Perspectiva" with Introduction and Notes (review)
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Reviewed by
David C. Lindberg. Roger Bacon and the Origins of “Perspectiva” in the Middle Ages: A Critical Edition and English Translation of Bacon’s “Perspectiva” with Introduction and Notes. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. Pp. cxi + 411. NP.

This new critical edition of the Perspectiva (= Opus maius, Part Five) of Roger Bacon is a landmark in Roger Bacon studies and in medieval philosophy. One needs to be able to depend on critical texts. In the case of Bacon’s Perspectiva, no such printed text existed. Professor David C. Lindberg in this new critical edition of the Perspectiva has rectified this absurd situation. And he has done a magnificent service to scholarship. He has produced the first adequate text and translation of this major philosophical text by Roger Bacon. To appreciate his achievement, a review of the previous editions is in order.

Prior to Lindberg’s critical edition, there have been three Latin editions: Combach (1614), Jebb (1733, 1750), Bridges (1879 Bridges (1900). Combach used a single Oxford manuscript which is no longer extant. Jebb claimed to have used four manuscripts, but appears to have relied on Combach’s text. In 1897, Bridges used two manuscripts (Dublin and Oxford) and consulted three others. These two Mss. were late and not very reliable. Lindberg’s judgment on the inadequacy of these editions, especially that of Bridges, is, alas, only too true: “My text, found below, corrects the texts of Combach, Jebb, and Bridges in perhaps a thousand readings (my italics)—many of modest significance, but others crucial to an understanding of Bacon’s intent.”

Further, a major difficulty arose in regard to the important geometical figures [End Page 133] which are closely linked to the argument in the text. The printed editions were much less adequate than the scribal manuscripts.

There is just one translation of the Perspectiva into English, that done by Robert Belle Burke (Philadelphia, 1928). This translation, based on Bridges’s deficient text, was very unsatisfactory.

Lindberg used twenty-three of the thirty-nine extant manuscripts, and has examined all of the thirty-nine manuscripts. This enabled him to identify five manuscript families. Six early manuscripts representative of the major families were used as the base text and were fully transcribed. Three manuscripts represent version 1; the four other families are represented by one manuscript each. Eight more manuscripts were used with some frequency, and sparing use was made of another nine manuscripts. A further sixteen manuscripts were not used since they were very late or were fragments.

The relationship between the manuscripts is so complex that the editor declined to construct a stemma codicum. He did this with good reason. Bacon had a working practice of producing multiple versions of the same text and this makes for difficulties. In the case of the Perspectiva, however, it would appear that the major differences in text seem to be limited to the Preface and to section 1.9.1. Examples of these are provided in Appendix 1 and 2 of the edition. It would seem then that a stable text of the Perspectiva existed from the beginning, and that minor editorial changes were made only in the Preface and at 1.9.1. Further, in the introduction (xiii), Lindberg notes: “It [the Perspectiva] may have been written about 1263, as Easton guesses.” Still, a question remains open: To what extent was the text itself altered by Bacon between 1263 and 1268 in preparation for Pope Clement IV? Was there not an evolution in the text by way of correction, emmendation, addition?

An examination of MS. P (Paris, Bibliothèque National, MS Lat. 7434) [= 18 in Lindberg’s list, p. ciii] would, in my estimation, provide grounds for the belief that family 5 (“Hic aliqua dicenda sunt de perspectiva”) may well be an edited version of family 1 (“Positis radicibus”). That is, the (“Hic aliqua dicenda”) may have been intended as part of the text and not just as a Preface. Further, I now believe that the traditional dating of MS 7434 is incorrect. It is even quite possible that the section of the Perspectiva found in this thirteenth- [not fourteenth-] century codex is a “draft version” of the...