Johannes de Dacia

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by Sten Ebbesen

Four scholastic works are attributed to one Johannes de Dacia: (1) Divisio Scientiae, (2) Summa grammatica, (3) Sophisma “de gradibus formarum”, and (4) Quaestiones super Priscianum minorem. Of these the first two are surely by the same author, and the third is likely to be his too, whereas the fourth item is probably someone else’s product.


About the identity of the author of (1)–(2) nothing is known except that having first written (1), he in 1280 published (2), to which (1) was (then or later) prefixed. Everything points to Paris as the place of origin. A reference to Saint-Germain in (2) makes it probable that the author is identical with the author of (3), who almost certainly is the John of Denmark referred to about 1305 by the Dominican Johannes Picardi de Lichtenberg, who mentioned him as a prominent partisan of the theory of plurality of forms: Et hanc opinionem tenuit Avicebron et Johannes Dacus in campo sancti Germani Parisius (quoted OTTO 1955, IX n. 3) Proposals for identification with otherwise attested persons of the same name in OTTO 1955, X–XI.


(1) Diuisio scientie


The title has no support in the manuscripts, which rather support Philosophia, the standard designation of such surveys, which were commonly used as introductory lectures in thirteenth-century university courses.


Humana natura multipliciter est ancilla, ut scribitur primo methaphysice.


postmodum vero deo vitam cum sanitate conservante de hiis specialiter prosequetur.


44 printed pages. This work is a survey of all the branches of human knowledge. In written form such philosophiae often appear as (parts of) prologues to commentaries on Aristotle or other authoritative writers. John’s work circulated both as an independent unit and as a prologue to his Summa gramatica. According to a colophon in Bruges, SB 496, Divisio had existed for a considerable time before the Summa was written in 1280: Explicit philosophia magistri Johannis Daci et concequenter incipit sua summa gramaticalis, que ex philosophia prehabita dicitur dependere. Et sciendum quod huiusmodi philosophia ante summam nominatam per multum temporis in esse suo restitit introducta. Data autem fuit huiusmodi summa anno domini M°CC° octogesimo (OTTO 1955, 44). Authors of philosophiae commonly borrowed heavily from their predecessors, and John was no exception. One important source was Arnulf of Provence’s Divisio scientiarum from the 1250s (ed. in LAFLEUR 1988, with John’s loans pointed out in the footnotes). Medieval reception and transmission OTTO 1955 (XXXVI–XL) lists eight manuscripts from the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. At least three more exist (thirteenth–fifteenth century) (2) Summa grammatica Incipit Cum grammatica, quam antiqua auctoritas latinum, quod idyoma philosophorum est, docere protestatur, una sit septem scientiarum liberalium apud antiquos famosorum Explicit (mutile) Unde patet quod ille quatuor voces significent eandem rem alio et alio modo, et sic patet propter quid sit inuenta comparatio, et hec. Size 534 printed pages. Composed in 1280, this is a collection of about 150 questions dealing with grammar in general, phonology, and the parts of speech. In spite of its bulkiness, the Summa is incomplete, breaking off in the treatment of the first of the eight parts of speech (the nouns). The work breaks off in mid-sentence, and there is no way to know how much more may have existed. John shows no originality as a thinker. He is a compiler who borrows freely from his predecessors (Boethius of Dacia, Martin of Dacia, Ps.-Robert Kilwardby, and others), but he uses his sources in an intelligent way. Medieval reception and transmission Only two manuscripts are known, both from the fourteenth century, see OTTO 1955 (CPhD 1, 1), XL–XLI. (3) Sophisma “de gradibus formarum” Incipit Eorum quae secundum nullam complexionem dicuntur singulum aut significat substantiam aut qualitatem aut quantitatem, etc. Ista oratio sic probatur: omne quod significat aut significat per modum entis absoluti aut per modum entis in alio Explicit procedit nisi de mensura propria, de communi autem non. Size 56 printed pages. This is a fragmentary sophisma, i.e. a philosophical treatise cast in the form of a sophismatic disputation (for the form of such disputations, >Boethius de Dacia). The text may contain a core going back to the minutes of an oral disputation at the University of Paris, but the ambitious plan outlined at the beginning of the sophisma could never have been realized in an oral debate. The plan suggests that at least twenty problems were to be treated. The extant text covers three questions. The sophismatic proposition “Eorum etc.,” is a quotation from Aristotle’s Categories, and John appears to have wished to treat at least one problem relating to each of the ten categories. The preserved problems relate to the category of substance. They are: (1) Utrum individuum substantiae, quod est Socrates, sit Socrates et homo et animal et corpus et corpus animatum et substantia per unam formam substantialem vel per aliam et aliam, (2) Utrum materia sit substantia, (3) Quid sit illud quod sit primum et minimum, quod est causa et mensura omnium quae sunt in praedicamento substantiae. The first problem, which has given its title to the sophisma, was a much discussed one in the thirteenth–fifteenth centuries. Thomas Aquinas, famously, held that one substance has only one substantial form, and so did Boethius of Dacia, whereas John was in favour of the plurality thesis, according to which a man, e.g., is corporeal being (body) due to one form, a living body due to another form, a sentient living being (= animal) due to a third, and, finally, a rational animal (= man) due to a fourth form. For John Picardi of Lichtenberg’s reference to John as a protagonist of that view, see above. Medieval reception and transmission OTTO 1955, XLII–XLIV lists three manuscripts from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, but at least four more exist. (4) Quaestiones super secundum librum Prisciani Minoris Incipit Nunc queritur utrum constructio genitivi cum superlativo sit possibilis. Videtur quod non, nam illa constructio est impossibilis ad quam sequitur impossibile Explicit Sic etiam faciunt unum significatum etc. Et tantum de hiis questionibus. Sit laus deo et sancto Bartholomeo. Et sic est finis. Thirty questions on Priscian, Institutiones grammaticae XVIII, transmitted in a fifteenth-century manuscript, with the heading “Incipiunt hic questiones Iohannis Daci [corrected from Dati] super Secundum minoris Prisciani.” Most questions are rather short, with no more than four initial arguments and a brief determination. The grammatical terminology indicates a date no earlier than the late thirteenth century. Thus the questions may belong in the age of the author of the Summa, but their brevity contrasts strikingly with the prolixity displayed in the works (1)–(3), and so far significant cases of doctrinal agreement have not been found. Medieval reception and transmission The text is transmitted in Stuttgart, Landesbibliothek, poet & phil 4° 67: 269v–297vB (index of questions on fol. 269r). Editions OTTO, A. (ed.) 1955: Johannis Daci Opera, (CPhD 1, 1–2), Copenhagen (contains works (1)–(3)). An edition in CPhD (ed. S. Ebbesen & I. Rosier-Catach) is planned to include work (4). Bibliography EBBESEN, S. 2002: Dansk Middelalderfilosofi, Copenhagen. LAFLEUR, C. 1998: Quatre introductions à la philosophie au XIIIe siècle, (Université de Montréal, Publications de l’Institut d’études médiévales xxiii), Paris. PINBORG, J. 1967: Die Entwicklung der Sprachtheorie im Mittelalter (Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Theologie des Mittelalters, Texte und Untersuchungen 42.2), Münster – Copenhagen. ROSIER, I. 1983: La grammaire spéculative des Modistes, Lille.