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Peter Olivi’s Dialogue with Aristotle on the Emotions

From: Franciscan Studies
Volume 70, 2012
pp. 189-245 | 10.1353/frc.2012.0030

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Peter of John Olivi composed Question 57 of his Quaestiones in secundum librum Sententiarum (“Questions on the Second Book of the Sentences”) in the decade after William of Moerbeke had translated, not long before 1270, Aristotle’s On Rhetoric into Latin.2 It was above all Moerbeke’s translation that gave thirteenth-century Europe access to the analysis of the emotions that Aristotle had placed in Book Two of the work. Two earlier translations existed: one that Hermannus Alemannus had made from an Arabic translation in 1256, and another that an anonymous translator had done from the Greek, sometime in the middle of the century.3 Few had read Hermannus’s version; and even fewer that of the unknown translator. In Opus Majus (1267–68), Roger Bacon bemoaned the situation. He speculated that the cause probably lay in the poor quality of Hermannus’s translation, which had been done at a remove from the Arabic by someone who, on his own admission, had no education in logic.4

It is hard to gauge when Olivi would have read Aristotle’s On Rhetoric. He could have read it in Hermannus’s translation earlier in his time as a student at the Franciscan studium generale in Paris, or in Moerbeke’s later during his stay. How long Olivi actually spent in Paris is still debated. It seems likely that he arrived in the summer or early autumn of 1267.5 He himself says that he heard Bonaventure give the series of homilies entitled Collationes de septem donis Spiritus Sancti from February 25 until April 7, 1268.6 This would suggest that he was already there for the start of the academic year of 1267–68. When he left is even more uncertain. The earliest date would be the end of the four-year period normally spent by Franciscans preparing to be lectores (viz. teachers appointed to the regional houses of study); in Olivi’s case, this would have been in mid-1271, if we take it that he arrived in mid-1267. Sylvain Piron, however, argues for the much later date of mid-1274.7 He bases his hypothesis firstly on the fact that Olivi’s texts reveal an acquaintanceship with Collationes in Hexaemeron, the cycle of homilies that Bonaventure gave in Paris between April 9 and May 28, 1273.8 He also argues that the earliest of the Quaestiones in Quaestiones in secundum librum Sententiarum appear to have arisen out of a course on Aristotle’s Physics that Olivi would have given at the Parisian studium after the four-year period normally granted to lectors.9 While Piron’s hypothesis is certainly possible, it is nevertheless highly speculative. All we know for sure is that Olivi was back in Languedoc in the later 1270s.

Although one might suspect that Olivi had read On Rhetoric in his student years, especially given the interest that Moerbeke’s (if not Hermannus’s) translation had triggered in academic circles, all that we know, from the textual evidence which Question 57 provides, is that he had read at least the section in Book II on the emotions by the time that he wrote this question. Unfortunately, we can only say approximately when that was. Passages in the question suggest that Olivi had read the text of the articles condemned by Bishop Tempier and his advisors on March 7, 1277.10 I would tend to agree with Sylvain Piron, therefore, in dating it to 1277 or the earlier part of 1278.11 What needs to be kept in mind, however, is that the question addresses disputes about the nature and real existence of liberum arbitrium that go back to Olivi’s student years in Paris.

A question that we might first want to ask is why Olivi would embark upon such a full-blown investigation of the emotions in a question whose primary purpose is to investigate whether or not humans possess the capacity to decide freely; namely “liberum arbitrium,” which is more often than not translated as “free choice” (“… quaeritur an in homine sit liberum arbitrium, hoc est, an in homine sit dare aliquid per quod possit agere aliqua libere” [305]). His reason lies precisely in...



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