- Liber primus naturalium, Tractatus tertius de his quae habent naturalia ex hoc quod habent quantitatem by Avicenna Latinus
Janssens’s careful edition brings to a close the publication of the Medieval Latin version of the Avicennian appropriation of Aristotle’s Physics. Avicenna’s “encyclopedia” called al-Shifâ’ (The Healing) comprises a series of writings on natural philosophy. The first of them corresponds to the Physics (the others deal with other Aristotelian works, such as On the Heavens or On Generation and Corruption etc.), and Janssens gives here the translation of the third treatise of this book, made in Spain in the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries.
Editing the Medieval Latin text of Avicenna’s Physics is fraught with difficulties. First, the translation was left incomplete, as it does not include the last four chapters of the third treatise—nor does it at all include the fourth and final treatise, which survives in Arabic. Second, the multiplicity of Arabic editions (Tehran lithography 1886, Cairo 1983, and Beirut 1996), none of which are fully reliable, makes recourse to and comparison with the original text difficult (in his preface to his parallel English-Arabic text, Jon McGinnis [Avicenna, The Physics of The Healing, 2 vols. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2009] points to this fact, xxxi–xxxiv). Furthermore, for the third treatise, an additional difficulty complicates the editor’s task. The beginning of the treatise was translated in Toledo during the third quarter of the twelfth century and several manuscripts have survived, but for unknown reasons that translation stopped with chapter 1, l. 62, in the middle of a sentence (corresponding to 265, l.1, in McGinnis’s edition and translation). Roughly a century later and in Burgos, other translators completed it up to chapter 9; but of this part of the translation, only a single manuscript survived, and editing a unicum entails still more difficulties.
This third part of the Physics concerns what belongs to natural things owing to their quantity. Janssens offers a brief doctrinal introduction that highlights the importance of this text and its relevance for understanding both the Metaphysics and the De anima. He also gives a clear and measured explanation of the technical difficulties of this unusually complex editorial enterprise and explains his methodology.
The Latin text includes references to the Cairo Arabic edition and three levels of apparatus criticus. Level 1 gives the various readings of the manuscripts of the first part of the text (the Toledo translation), and, for the rest of the text (the Burgos translation), Janssens’s own corrections to the single manuscript. Level 2 indicates the differences between the Latin and the Arabic. Level 3 offers notes that specify Avicenna’s own vague references to other parts of the Shifâ, clarify some notions or the context, and identify sources.
The Arabic text and the Latin translation divide the text in the same way, but what the Arabic considers to be chapter one, the Latin considers to be simply an introduction, and so the first ten chapters of the Arabic correspond to an introduction and nine chapters in the Latin version.
The refutation of atomism constitutes one of the major issues of this part of the Physics. Aristotle had rejected atomism and Avicenna follows suit, but carefully takes into account more contemporary versions of atomism, that is, those of Kalam or Islamic theology. At the time, atomism was the object of lively debates, and Avicenna squarely faces them. Janssens’s notes are particularly helpful with their references to various Kalam views and arguments.
One can only applaud Janssens’s courage and meticulous skill in offering such a careful and intelligent edition of this important but difficult text. Even so, he considers that his task is not yet fully completed and announces that he will now prepare detailed Arabic-Latin and Latin-Arabic indices for all three treatises of Avicenna’s Physics (the Latin translation of treatise 1, on the causes...