Manuscript Number: ljs384

Version: May/03/2002

William of Conches, De Philsophia Mundi, [With] Hugh of St. Victor, Expositio de Evangeliis (Didiscalicon), in Latin. Manuscript on Vellum.

[France, 2nd half 12th century

Quarto, 21 folios, 1-28, 35 of 36, v cancelled blank, modern pencil foliation, 2 columns of 37 or 38 lines written in brown ink in a small early gothic bookhand within 4 verticals and on 37 horizontals ruled in blind, prickings visible in the outer margins of most leaves, justification: 172 x 128 mm., 6 to or three line initials in red, 16 maps and diagrams in the text, contemporary additions or corrections in margins of ff. 14 and 18, natural flaws in several leaves, offset to ff. 19v, 20v, 21 from facing script, light stains to ff. 10, 18 and 19, deletions in ink by an early reader to ff. 15v-16, blank lower portion of f. 21 trimmed away, modern vellum in a linen box, 207 x 147 mm.

Incipit: Quoniam ut ait Tullius in prolog Rethoricorum eloquent sine sapientia nocet…


  1. Hirsch, bookseller sold to Goldschmidt on 16 April 1928 according to Goldschmidt’s stockbooks at the Grolier Club.
  2. E. P. Goldschmidt & Co., catalogues 18,21,23 & 25, numbers 47,10, 97 & 84 respectively, 1929 and 1930.
  3. Charles Singer, the science, medicine and technology writer bought this ms. from Goldschmidt on August 2, 1932.
  4. William Foyle.
  5. Acquired at Christie’s, 11 July 2000, lot 7.


William of Conches (Conches, 1080-c. 1154) wrote Philosphia to elucidate the total rational knowledge of the time. He argued that virtually everything was subject to reason as a counterpoint to the determinism and caprice derived from the concept of all powerfulness of God. "But William’s precocious treatise got him into some trouble, for William of St. Thierry, who had encouraged Bernard of Clairvaux to prosecute Abelard, wrote a letter of complaint to Bernard about William’s treatise…We don’t know what Bernard of Clairvaux’s response was, but we do know that William revised some parts of his controversial boo in a work called the Dragmaticon… The Philosophy was one of the most influential works of the Middle Ages…It influenced the poets, especially Jean de Meung the author of the Roman de la Rose" Paul Dutton, private note entitled William of Conches’s lost and now found Philosophy.

The treatise is divided into four books covering astronomy, geography meteorology and medicine. Several of the chapters are illustrated with explanatory diagrams. Astronomy is illustrated with the orbits of the sun, Mercury and Venus on folios 8v and 9; the zodiac on folio 9; the eclipses of the sun on folio 10v, and eclipses of the moon on folio 11. Geography is depicted by two world maps. The first, on folio 13 depicts the world as a circle with east at the top, surrounded and divided into two hemispheres by the ocean. Captions outside the perimeter of the ocean explain the action of the tides. The Southern Hemisphere is completely empty, but the Northern Hemisphere, Europe and Africa are indicated, separated by the Mediterranean Sea. Gibraltar and the Atlas Mountains of Africa are designated but not very accurately. A second mappa mundi is shown on folio 15 also shows a circular map with east at the top and also shows the world surrounded and divided by the ocean, Here, however, the land mass is divided into five zones, a frigid region at each pole, a temperate zone in the central region of each hemisphere and a torrid zone in the center divided by the equatorial ocean. The geography of the Northern Hemisphere is more articulated. Asia in the east is divided from Europe by the Tanais and Nile rivers and the Mediterranean Sea divides Europe from Africa. These maps are derived from the cosmological sections of Macrobius’ Commentary on the Dream of Scipio and Martianus Capella’s Marriage of Mercury and Philology. William of Conches’ discussion of meteorology includes the description of air becoming less dense and colder as the altitude increases and he sought to connect the circulation of the air with that of the oceans. His remarks on medicine are concerned principally with procreation and childbirth. These realistic remarks have been partially censored on folios 15v and 16 by an early reader. It is interesting to note that when he issued a revised version under the title Dragmaticon these were some of the descriptions that disappeared.

Hugh of St. Victor (Ypres 1096-1141) wrote an early encyclopedia and classification of the science in six books called Didascalicon The text "lay the theoretical foundations for the medieval universities" (Acton Institute). He placed philosophy above the liberal arts and divided philosophy into theoretical, practical, mechanical (including commerce) and logical. The text included on folios 19v and 20 begins with a citation of Luke 19:13 "Negotiamini dum uenio" but is from an unknown text.


Dr. Paul Edward Dutton, editor of the unpublished new critical edition of William of Conches’ Philosophia private correspondence; E. P. Goldschmidt, cat. 21, no.10; Christie’s, 11 July 2000, lot 7; Edward Myers, "Hugh of St. Victor", The Catholic Encyclopedia, Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science, vol. II, pp. 193-4, 197-8, Thorndike, History of Magic & Experimental Science, pp. 8-16, 50-65.

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