“Aristotle and the Medieval University"—A Mellon Sawyer Seminar public lecture

Friday, April 28, 2017 - 10:30am to 12:00pm
Event Location: 
2520D University Capitol Centre
200 S. Capitol St.
Iowa City, IA 52242
Photo of a statue of Aristotle

Erik Kwakkel, historian of the medieval book and a full professor at Leiden University, will give a public lecture titled “Aristotle and the Medieval University: The Birth of a New Book Format” as part of the 2016–17 Andrew W. Mellon Sawyer Seminar.


This paper focuses on manuscripts with Latin copies of Aristotle’s works produced for educational purposes between c. 1100 and c. 1300. During these two centuries a shift is observed in how Aristotle was used in the classroom: from a teaching instrument in monastic education in the twelfth century, to a means for training students in the university classroom during the thirteenth century. This paper draws attention to a parallel shift in the material format of Aristotle manuscripts produced in these centuries. With the rise of the university, c. 1200, arts faculties across Europe began to adopt the so-called Corpus vetustius as their standard textbook, a volume that encompassed a substantial number of texts by Aristotle. Focusing on the codicological and paleographical traits of the ninety-odd surviving copies, the aim of this paper is threefold: to identify the shared codicological and paleographical features of Corpus manuscripts; to highlight how these features may be understood as a new book format, distinctly different from twelfth-century copies of Aristotle; and to show how this new book format was adopted throughout Europe. The observations presented relate to several threads running through the “Cultural and Textual Exchanges” seminars: the appearance of a new book format within a specific cultural context; the diffusion of new bookish features across geographical space; and the strong ties that exist between the physical features of the Latin manuscript and the manner in which the object was used.