The English Historical Review/Volume 37/Daniel of Morley

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Daniel of Morley

Especially since Halliwell and Thomas Wright[1] printed the preface and other brief extracts from a treatise by Daniel of Morley entitled 'Philosophia sive Liber de Naturis Inferiorum et Superiorum', and Valentin Rose reprinted the preface with the conclusion and made what has been called 'the fundamental study on Daniel'[2] in his 'Ptolemaeus und die Schule von Toledo',[3] allusions to Daniel have been not infrequent in treatises on twelfth-century England or medieval learning. His studies in Spain with Gerard of Cremona, the translator of the Almagest, his strictures upon the law professors of Paris, his allusion to himself as the sole Greek among Romans, his interest in the doctrines of the Arabs and in astrology, and the 'abundant supply of precious volumes' with which he returned to England—these points have made him as interesting a figure to modern students as he was to his contemporary, John, bishop of Norwich (1175–1200), who asked him many questions concerning his studies at Toledo and the marvels of that place, as well as concerning astronomy and the rule of the superior bodies over our sublunar world.

But the sole source of information concerning Daniel has remained a solitary treatise by him of which the best-known manuscript is Arundel 377, of the thirteenth century in the British Museum.[4] Sudhoff has recently printed the text after this manuscript,[5] and there is another well-known manuscript at Oxford,[6] of which, however, he makes no use in his text. A third manuscript at Berlin has since been noticed by Birkenmajer.[7] I shall mention a fourth manuscript of the complete treatise and others which contain portions of it, and shall show that Rose's account of Daniel is misleading or erroneous in other respects.

It should perhaps first be noted that before Wright published Daniel's preface Charles Jourdain[8] had spoken of a 'De Philosophia Danielis' as contained in Latin manuscript 6415 of the Bibliothèque Nationale. On turning to the manuscript one fails to find there any treatise by Daniel of Morley, but it seems that Jourdain had somehow received an impression that Adelard of Bath was the author of a treatise entitled 'De Philosophia Danielis', and the manuscript does contain Adelard's 'Questiones Naturales'.

Daniel's work is, however, contained entire in a manuscript of the thirteenth century in the University Library at Cambridge.[9] I have not seen the manuscript itself, but from rotographs of selected pages[10] infer that its text is almost identical with that of Arundel 377 for Daniel's treatise, but somewhat less legible and accurate.

Rose asserted that, on account of Daniel's addiction to Arabian and astrological doctrines, 'his book found no favour in the eyes of the church and was shunned like poison. It has left no traces in subsequent literature; no one has read it and no one cites it.'[11] Such an assertion, made largely on the assumption that only one copy of Daniel's treatise existed, is perhaps sufficiently controverted by the existence of three other manuscripts, of which at least one appears to be twice removed from the original. But, furthermore, in a manuscript of the fourteenth century at Oriel College, Oxford,[12] in the fitting company of excerpts from Adelard of Bath and Gundissalinus, are more than three double-column folio pages of extracts drawn from various portions of the 'Philosophia'. These begin with Daniel's excuse for borrowing the eloquence and wisdom of the infidels and with some of his utterances about the creation of the world. They include a number of his citations of other writers, his story of the two fountains outside the walls of Toledo which varied in fullness with the moon's phases and contained salt water although six days' journey from the sea, and other bits of his astrological doctrine. A similar, although not identical, selection of pearls from Daniel's philosophy is found in one of the note-books of Brian Twyne,[13] the Oxford antiquary, who gives the title of Daniel's work as 'De superioribus et inferioribus', and makes extracts both from its first and second book. Both Twyne and the fourteenth-century writer of the Oriel College manuscript appear from their extracts to have been particularly impressed with Daniel's views concerning the creation rather than his retailing of astrological doctrine from Toledo. Twyne first repeats Daniel's statement that the quantity of the universe reveals the power of its Maker; its quality, His wisdom; and its marvellous beauty, His unbounded goodwill. Twyne also notes Daniel's phrase, 'court of the world', for the universe. Both Twyne and the Oriel manuscript note Daniel's passage concerning the triple universe, and another in which he tells how the three human qualities, reason, irascibility, and desire, may be used either to discern and resist evil, or may be perverted to evil courses. Both also notice his contention that the chaos preceding creation was not hyle, or matter, but a certain contrariety present in matter.

As we have disproved Rose's assertion that no one read Daniel of Morley, so we must reject his further assertion, for which he gave no proof, that Daniel's book 'found no favour in the eyes of the church and was shunned like poison'. If it is true that Daniel's work was not as widely known as some others, the more probable reason for this may well be that his brief résumé of Arabian and astrological doctrines appeared too late in the twelfth century, when the fuller treatments of Ptolemy and of the Arabian astrologers were already becoming known through complete Latin translations. Brief pioneer treatises, like those of Adelard of Bath and William of Conches, which had appeared earlier in the century, had had time to make an impression and become widely known during a period when there was perhaps little or nothing available that was fuller and better. But Daniel's little trickle of learning from Toledo, which does not represent any very considerable advance over Adelard and William, might well be engulfed in the great stream of translations that now poured from Spain into Christian western Europe. But it is unreasonable to conjecture that Daniel's book, which is in any case, rather mild in its astrological doctrine, and which was evoked by the favouring questions of a bishop, was then crushed by bitter ecclesiastical opposition, when we know that William's book, which actually encountered an ecclesiastical opposition of which we have no evidence in Daniel's case, nevertheless continued in circulation and was much cited in the next century, and when we know that both Arabian and astrological doctrines and books were widespread in Christian western Europe both in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Treatises with more poison of astrology in them than his were read and cited and seem to have weathered successfully, if not to have escaped unscathed, whatever ecclesiastical censure may have been directed against them. Moreover, if Daniel's own composition did not secure a wide circle of readers, the chances are that 'the multitude of precious volumes' which he imported from Spain to England did so, despite his sighs about being the only Greek among Romans. Certainly the translations of the master, Gerard of Cremona, who had taught him astrology at Toledo, became known throughout western Europe. Thus while Daniel's personal influence may not have been vast, he reflects for us the progress of a great movement of which he was but a part.

The list given by Rose of the authorities cited by Daniel is inexcusably deficient in the number of its omissions: for example, at fo. 89r, 'sicut in trismegisto repperitur' and 'isidori'; fo. 90v, Aristotle, 'philosophus', 'Adultimus' (?), 'Platonitus'; fo. 91r, 'Esiodus autem naturalis scientie professor omnia dixit esse ex terra', and so on for 'tales milesius', Democritus, and other Greek philosophers; fo. 91v, 'sicut ab inexpugnabili sententia magni hermetis'; fo. 92r, 'audiat ysidori in libro differentiarum'; fo. 92v, 'unde astrologus ille poeta de creatione mundi ait', and 'magnus mercurius', and 'trismegistus mercurius praedicti mercurii nepos'; fo. 97r, 'Aristoteles in libro de sensu et sensato', and 'Albumazar', and 'Aristoteles in libro de auditu naturali'; fo. 98v, 'in libro de celo et mundo'; fo. 99v, Almagest, and 'Ypocrati et galieno'; fo. 100v, 'liber veneris … quern edidit thomas grecus', and 'aristoteles … in libro de speculo adurente'.

Perhaps I may note an inference which other modern scholars have drawn from Daniel's treatise, but which does not seem to me well grounded. Mr. S. A. Hirsch in his edition of Roger Bacon's Greek Grammar[14] follows Cardinal Gasquet[15] in observing concerning Daniel's preface: 'There can be no clearer testimony than this to the complete oblivion into which Greek had in those days fallen in western Europe, including England.' It may be granted that there was and had been little knowledge of the Greek language and grammar in twelfth-century England, but that is not what Daniel is talking about. Indeed, there seems to be no reason for believing Daniel himself to have been proficient either in Greek grammar or Greek literature. When he calls himself 'the only Greek among Romans', he means the only one interested in Greek philosophy and astronomy and in translations of the same made largely from the Arabic. But earlier in the same century we find Adelard of Bath, William of Conches, and Bernard Silvester interested either in Platonism or Arabic science and finding hearers; we also find the anonymous Sicilian translator of the Almagest from the Greek[16] and before him Burgundio of Pisa and other translators from the Greek. Therefore all that Daniel's doubtless exaggerated remark seems to indicate is that there was less interest in Greek philosophy in England after his return than before he went away.

Lynn Thorndike.

  1. J. O. Halliwell, Rara Mathematica, 1839; Thomas Wright, Biogr. Brit. Lit., London, 1846, ii. 227–30.
  2. C. H. Haskins, 'The Reception of Arabic Science in England', ante, xxx. 67, n. 2.
  3. In Hermes, viii (1874), 327–49.
  4. Arundel MS. 377, thirteenth century, a well-written small quarto, fos. 88–103, 'Philosophia magistri danielis de merlai ad iohannem Norwicensem episcopum … | … Explicit liber de naturis inferiorum et superiorum'.
  5. Karl Sudhoff, 'Daniels von Morley Liber de naturis inferiorum et superiorum nach der Handschrift Cod. Arundel 377 des Britischen Museums zum Abdruck gebracht', in Archiv für die Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften und der Technik, Band 8, 1917. The text is edited from photographs, and apparently without further reference to the manuscript itself. Birkenmajer has already suggested that Sudhoff sometimes renders the contractions and abbreviations incorrectly.
  6. Corpus Christi College MS. 95, thirteenth century, where, according to Sudhoff, the first two of three books ascribed to William of Conches are really the treatise of Daniel. See Holland in Oxford Hist. Soc. Collectanea, ii. 172–3, and Burrows, ibid., 323.
  7. Alexander Birkenmajer, 'Eine neue Handschrift des Liber de naturis inferiorum et superiorum des Daniel von Merlai', in Archiv für die Gesch. der Naturwiss. und der Technik, December 1920, pp. 45–51. The manuscript is Berlin, Latin, Quarto 387, 51 fos. Birkenmajer dates it in the twelfth century, but states that it has many slips of copyists and is neither the autograph nor a direct copy from the original. This would seem to indicate a very rapid multiplication and dissemination of Daniel's treatise, which at the earliest was not composed until after 1175.
  8. Charles Jourdain, Dissertation sur l'etat de la philosophic naturelle en occident et principalement en France pendant la première moitié du XII siècle, Paris, 1838, p. 101.
  9. Cambridge University Library 1935 (Kk. i. 1), thirteenth century, small folio, fos. 98r–105r (not to 115r, as stated in the catalogue, which consequently does not give the right closing words). This, together with the fact that it gives the title as 'De creatione mundi', led me at first to suppose that this was a fragment of the treatise similar to those described subsequently in this paper.
  10. Fos. 98r, 98v, 100r, 105r.
  11. Rose in Hermes, viii. (1874) 331.
  12. Oriel College MS. 7, fourteenth-century folio, fos. 194v–196v (191–3, according to Coxe), extracts from 'De Philosophia Danielis', opening, 'Nos qui mistice…' These extracts are immediately preceded in the manuscript by extracts from 'Adelardi Bathonensis … de decisionibus naturalibus'.
  13. Corpus Christi College MS. 263, early seventeenth century, written in Twyne's own hand, fos. 166v–167r, Ex Daniele de Merlai [or Merlac, as in Coxe] alias Morley in lib. de superioribus et inferioribus primo De creationis Mundi'. Twyne's extracts are followed by extracts 'from William of Conches who is together with Daniel Merlai in our library', and in Arundel MS. 377 Daniel's work is immediately followed by that of William of Conches.
  14. Edmund Nolan and S. A. Hirsch, The Greek Grammar of Roger Bacon, Cambridge, 1902, p. xlvii.
  15. Gasquet, 'English Scholarship in the Thirteenth Century', and 'English Biblical Criticism in the Thirteenth Century', in The Dublin Review, vol. 123 (1898), pp. 7 and 362.
  16. Haskins and Lockwood, 'The Sicilian Translators of the Twelfth Century and the First Latin Versions of Ptolemy's Almagest', in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, xxi. (1910) 75–102.