Sunday, March 11, 2018
Aristotle offers the key of wisdom, wrote one despairing 13th-century scholar, but he hid that key in so many books. From that period on, for two centuries, to become a reputable teacher of theology, you needed to produce hundreds and hundreds of pages of densely argued commentary on the Sentences, a 12th-century compendium by Peter Lombard. Tens of thousands of these commentaries weigh down the shelves of European manuscript libraries, many of them very likely unread in the 700-odd years since they were written. Master-of- arts candidates wrote commentaries on Aristotle that number in the thousands. There are so many that we do not even know how many still exist, much less what they actually say. Charles Lohr’s magisterial Latin Aristotle Commentaries, which simply provides a list of authors, works, and manuscripts, is in five hefty volumes. This is the period in which the university was born.