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Chapter Three Renaissance Aristotle, Renaissance Averroes A number of fifteenth-century humanists reviled Aristotle; others, such as Bruni, prized at least portions of Aristotelian thought, valuing it as part of antiquity’s intellectual heritage. Just as Ficino and his circle sought out new texts to interpret Plato’s thought, Aristotelians influenced by humanism attempted to find more accurate and complete interpretations of Aristotle’s philosophy. Although the texts of the Aristotelian corpus remained for the most part stable, the goal of finding a purer Aristotle changed the ways that scholars interpreted his writings, affecting their perceived relation to Christianity. Lauro Quirini, a Venetian noble who studied at Padua and associated with Bruni and Bessarion, expressed his desire to understand a pure version of Aristotle . In a letter from 1440, addressed to the captain of Padua, Andrea Morosini, Quirini wrote that it was valuable to understand the differences between Peripatetics and Platonists, differences that he contended were “most unknown in our age.”1 Writing that he had distanced himself from the views of contemporary Platonists , he distinguished between “the orthodox Christian faith” and the views of ancient philosophers.2 Although he argued that faith is superior to philosophy, he also maintained that “We should not dispute against philosophers using extraneous arguments,” that is arguments based on subjects beyond philosophy, such as theology.3 Instead of reconciling theology and philosophy, Quirini’s goal was to understand the true views of ancient philosophers. In this light, Quirini concluded, “We should be content to go back to Aristotle himself, rather than attributing faith to his authority.”4 Quirini continued the letter by describing a dream in which he encountered the ghost of Aristotle. In this narrative, Aristotle’s ghost told Quirini that he has 52 subv erting aristotle taken special pleasure in three of his followers and that Quirini will be the fourth. Quirini’s three predecessors were Theophrastus, Alexander of Aphrodisias, and Averroes. Aristotle’s ghost contrasted these three with a long list of late-antique philosophers—Iamblichus, Syrianus, Proclus, Plotinus, Porphyry, Ammonius, Aspasius, Themistius, Damascius, and Simplicius. Even though these philosophers , some of whom wrote commentaries on Aristotle, possessed subtlety, they were Platonists.5 Quirini, thereby, suggested that the best path to understanding Aristotle is to avoid the Neoplatonists and follow Theophrastus, Alexander, and Averroes. Quirini’s account of a nocturnal visit by Aristotle’s ghost illustrates the influence of humanism among Renaissance Aristotelians. Numerous university professors , who, despite not being humanists in a strict sense, embraced some of the ideals of humanism. Among these ideals were an interest in an historical understanding of ancient Greek texts and the desire to understand the literal meaning of Aristotle’s writings, even if this true meaning did not correspond to philosophical or religious truth. They wished to interpret Aristotle as Theophrastus, Alexander , and Averroes had done, in a manner they believed to be free of Platonism and devoid of considerations of faith. Literal Aristotelianism and Averroes Growing concern for literal interpretations of Aristotle recommended Averroes’ works. Averroes believed his goal was to interpret Aristotle, who had exceeded all others in his understanding of nature. Averroes’ objective corresponded to the desire of many scholars, influenced by humanism: to establish Aristotle’s thought rather than use it as a tool for supporting religion. The desire to make new interpretations of Aristotle consistent with the Greek commentaries on Aristotle, some of which were translated into Latin for the first time in the Renaissance, gave Italian commentators reason to consult the works of Averroes.6 Just as Quirini linked Averroes to Alexander, a number of scholars duly noted the concurrence of Averroes and his Greek predecessors. Their agreement testified to Averroes’ reliability and in turn encouraged the continued use of his works, because his deliberate and extensive consideration of the Greek commentators on Aristotle appealed to those who privileged ancient sources.7 The connections between the reception of Averroes’ works and the ideals of humanism reveal overlapping interests of seemingly opposed schools of Renaissance thought.8 Averroes’ attempt to recover Aristotle did not strictly follow Quirini’s assessment of late-antique Greek philosophy. Not just Alexander, but also Themistius, Simplicius, and Olympiodorus, whom Quirini assessed as Neoplatonists, influ- Renaissance Aristotle, Renaissance Av erroes 53 enced Averroes. Yet for Averroes, they represented a purer form of Aristotelianism free from Platonism and kalām.9 They were sources of interpretations and provided models for philosophical writing. Averroes structured his works so they paralleled those of the Greek commentators. The organization...


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