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Aristotle as a Cuttlefish: the Origin and Development of a Renaissance Image

  • Charles B. Schmitt (a1)


The anti-Aristotelian movement which grew from the humanist critique of the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and culminated in the new philosophical and scientific outlook of the seventeenth century based many of its objections to the Stagirite on sound philosophical and scientific principles. It brought with it, however, also much rhetorical bombast which was meant to cast aspersions on Aristotle's doctrine. We read time and again, in the writings of Valla, Agricola, or Ramus on logic or of Bruno, Patrizi, or Bacon on natural philosophy, critical judgments of Aristotle and of the Aristotelians which are not so much soundphilosophy and science as clever oratory. To attempt to separate the two strands of the critique would be by no means an easy task, though it may well be worth while and interesting. Let me hasten to add that I do not intend to do so here.



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1 On Atticus see Ueberweg /Heinze, Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophic (12th ed., Basel, 1960), I, 548-550; J. Baudry's introduction to Atticos: Fragments de son oeuvre (Paris, 1931), pp. iii-lviii.

2 The fragments of Atticus’ works which have come down to us have been preserved in Eusebius’ Praeparatio evangelica (xi, 5o8d∼5ioa and xv, 794-816 passim). The most convenient edition of these fragments is Baudry's (cited in note 1), pp. 1-33, where they are accompanied by a French translation. The most recent edition of Eusebius’ work as a whole is to be found in vol. vin of Eusebius Werke (Berlin, 1954-1956, Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte). The parts relating to Atticus may be found in the second part, pp. 6-8, 349-377.

3 Some examples are given in Baudry, op. cit., pp. xlvii-xlix.

4 Ibid., p. 28, lines 75-79 (Praep. evan. xv, 9, 13; 8iod). It will be noted that here Atticus merely says that a cuttlefish makes itself hard to catch through its darkness or obscurity (IK TOV o-Koreivov) and he says nothing about its ability to emit an 'ink’ to hide itself. Consequently, I can see no reason for rendering this passage as Baudry has done. The final phrase he translates ‘en lancant une liqueur noire'. This is certainly the method that the cuttlefish uses, but, as far as I can see, there is nothing in the Atticus fragment to indicate this. The technical term 8o\6s which is used in the most important Greek treatises to indicate the ‘ink’ is not used here (nor is any equivalent term). For the knowledge of the cuttlefish in the ancient world see below, note 11.

5 See the evidence cited by Baudry, op. cit., pp. lv-lvii. This is by no means conclusive, but certainly the work is not often mentioned in the writings of the middle ages. Furthermore, extant manuscripts that date from before the fifteenth century are rare and there does not seem to have been a Latin translation before Georgius Trapezuntius’ partial effort of the fifteenth century.

6 The translation is dedicated to Pope Nicholas v and, consequently, must have been completed during his pontificate (1447-1455). It was first printed at Venice in 14.70 (Hain 6699) and was reprinted at least six more times by 1500 (Cologne, c. 1473; Venice, 1473, 1497, 1498, 1500; Treviso, 1480). There is also a manuscript (Laurenziana, plut. XVII. 25) which antedates the printed editions, being completed in 1462. This is still not the original copy, however, since Nicholas v died seven years before the completion of the manuscript. See A. M. Bandinus, Catalogus codicum latinorum Bibliothecae Mediceae Laurentianae (Florentiae, 1774-1778), 1, cols. 347-348.

7 On the shortcomings of Trapezuntius’ translation see Apostolo Zeno, Dissertazioni vossiane (Venezia, 1752-1753), n, 6-7; Georg Voigt, Die Wiederbelebung des classischen Alterthums (2d ed., Berlin, 1881), II, 142-143; and Eusebii Caesariensis opera, ed. Gulielmus Dinsdorfius (Leipzig, 1867-1890),!, 15.

8 Eusebii Pamphilii evangelicae praeparationis libri XV (Lutetiae, 1544). Here the entire fifteen books are printed for the first time, including the passage on the cuttlefish, which appears on p. 473.

9 The first edition was 1489 in Florence. The composition of the work spanned the previous ten years. See [Alessandro Perosa], Mostra del Poliziano nella Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana … Catalogo (Firenze, 1955), pp. 42-43.

10 Angela Politiani opera … (Lugduni, 1533), 1, 574.1 am indebted to Professor Alessandro Perosa for calling my attention to Poliziano's use of the comparison. I cite this and all other Latin sources in the original to allow the reader to compare the terminology of the various authors.

11 He evidently knew a Greek manuscript of the Praeparatio evangelica. In the list of authors who were consulted for the composition of the Miscellanea both Atticus and Eusebius are mentioned (ed. cit., I, 495-496). There was a copy of the Greek Praeparatio evangelica in the Medici Library to which Poliziano had access, already in the inventory of October 1495. See Enea Piccolomini, Intorno alle condizioni ed alle vicende della Libreria Mediceaprivata (Firenze, 1875), p. 97, no. 715 (this article is also printed in Archivio Storico Italiano, set. 3, XIX [1874] and XXI [1875]). This is, of course, after the completion of the Miscellanea, but the manuscript may have already been in the library for some time. It is probably one of the two manuscripts (plut. vi. 6 and plut. vi. 8) of Eusebius’ work mentioned in A. M. Bandinus, Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum Bibliothecae Mediceae Laurentianae varia continens operagraecommpatrum (Florentiae, 1764-1770),:, 102-107, 114-115. The dates of these are fifteenth century and 1344.

12 For Aristotle's contribution see Charles Singer, A Short History of Biology (Oxford, 1931). PP- 26-31; Otto Keller, Die antike Tierwelt (Leipzig, 1909-1013), n, 507-518. As a guide to the scientific aspects of this paper I follow the detailed monograph of Adolf Naef, Die Cephalopoden (Berlin, 1921 £, Flora undFauna des Golfes von Neapel, monograph 35). For Aristotle's discussion of the cephalopods see particularly Depart, an. II, vii (65439-31); IV, V (678327-679330); and iv, ix (685ai2-b3o).

13 678b37-679a8. The English translation is taken from Aristotle: Parts of Animals, Movement of Animals, Progression of Animals, ed. A. L. Peck and E. S. Forster (London, 1937, Loeb Library), pp. 319-321.

14 II, 50, 127.

15 IX, 45, 84.

16 Lines 19-22. For this poem, which comes down to us only in a very abbreviated and corrupt form, I follow the text in The Halieutica ascribed to Ovid, ed. J. A. Richmond (London, 1962), p. 16. See also the commentary to this passage on pp. 35-37 for interesting parallels, textual variants, etc.

17 I, 34. The English translation is taken from Aelian: On the Characteristics of Animals, ed. A. F. Scholfield (London, 1958-1959, Loeb Library), 1, 53.

18 Other references to the sepia are to be found in the second-century Greek poet Oppian's Halieutica, III, 156-165, printed in Oppian, Colluthus, Tryphiodorus, ed. A. W. Muir (London, 1928, Loeb Library), and the fourteenth-century Byzantine poet Manuel Philes' On the Properties of Animals, 105, printed in Poetae bucolici et didactici, ed. C. F. Ameis ct al. (Paris, 1846, Scriptorum Graecorum bibliotheca, 44). The use of the comparison of something with a cuttlefish to indicate lack of clarity or obscurity has also entered into the vernacular literatures. Examples may be found in the various dictionaries which include literary sources of the words (e.g. The Oxford English Dictionary, Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca).

19 Ioannis Francisci Pici... opera quae extant omnia (Basileae, 1601), p. 668.

20 Ibid., p. 677.

21 Caelii Calcagnini… opera aliquot (Basileae, 1544), p. 398; see Quirinus Breen, ‘Celio Calcagnini (1479-1541)', Church History xxi (1952), 226

22 Mario Nizolio, De veris principiis et vera ratione philosophandi contra pseudophilosophos, ed. Quirinus Breen (Roma, 1956), 1, 28 (which reads ‘recum’). The first edition of this work was Parma, 1553 and it caused a good deal of controversy when published. One of his opponents, a certain Joannes Verneretus, counters Nizolio's argument by saying that Aristotle appears obscure to the Ciceronian because he does not understand him. After quoting Nizolio's version of the cuttlefish simile, Verneretus continues by blasting Nizolio in what must rank as one of the most vivid invectives in the entire humanist literature: 'Obscuritas est ubi lux et splendor non est, in tua mente noctes sunt perpetuae, ergo mirum non est si apud Aristotelem lucem et splendorem haud possis invenire’ (Ioannis Vemereti… Disputatio adversus Marium Nizolium Brixellensem …, Lugduni, 1575, p. 40).

23 Both squid and cuttlefish are alike in this respect. They differ markedly in certain anatomical features and have different habitats, which have led scientists to place them in different families. Both were known equally well to the ancients as ‘ink squirters'. See Aristotle, Depart, an.,67^37-679^2$; Pliny, Hist, nat., IX, 45, 84; Oppian, Halieutica, m, 166-168; Ovid, Halieutica, 131-132.

24 He quotes the text from Cicero (cited above, p. 7) under the word sepia in his Thesaurus Ciceronianus.

25 The similarity between the two works is apparent when one compares book rv of the Examen vanitatis with the De verisprincipiis. Regarding Pico's work Nizolio (n, 175) says, 'Sed jam fineni huic capiti imponam si breviter hie subjecero inscriptiones quorundam capitum ad incertitudinem librorum Aristotelis pertinentium, quas loannes Franciscus Picus Mirandula in quarto libro Examinis sui Vanitatis doctrinae gentium scriptas reliquit.'

26 FrancisciPatritii discussionumperipateticarum tomi IV… (Basileae, 1581), pp. 172-173.

27 Ibid., p. 424.

28 Themistius does, however, speak of Aristotle's lack of clarity several times. This probably led Patrizi to attribute the cuttlefish simile to him. See, for example, Themistius' introductions to his Paraphrases on the Posterior Analytics and on the De Anima (in Themistiiparaphrases Aristotelis … , ed. Leonardus Spengel, Leipzig, 1866, Teubner Series, I, 1-2; n, 1). Latin translations of these passages are in Themistii … paraphrases … Hermolao Barbaro . . . interprete (Venetiis, 1560), ia, 141a. This translation was available in printed editions after 1481. At the beginning of the seventeenth century we again find the simile used by Antonio Possevino, who mentions both Atticus and Themistius in connection with it: ‘Neque vero in rebus, verum etiam in verbis obscuritatem affectasse et dicendi genere pressiore quam ipso Attico usum: ut plerunque non tam sint eius verba intelligenda quam nutus astutam proinde sepiam vocant (ut facit Themistius) Aristotelem, quod superba et nova placita tam saepe atramenti effusione tutetur, ne dispici possit aientibus, ne faveat an negantibus’ (Antonii Possevini Mantuani Societatisjesu bibliotheca selecta de ratione studiorum … , Venetiis, 1603, n, 41). Themistius is also mentioned as the source of the saying by Alard of Amsterdam and Joseph Glanvill. See below.

29 ‘Et Atticus eum sepiae similem esse dicebat, cuius ea natura proditur, ut dum a piscatoribus quaeritur, iamiamque admoveri manus persentit, atramentum illud humoris nigerrimi, quod in sese habet congenitum spargens, inficiat aquam, ut ab oculis mox et a manibus piscatorum elabatur. Sic Aristoteles in his rebus, in quibus capi noluit, nimia brevitate et ambiguitate aciem illorum, qui se deprehendere volunt, eludit.’ (Jacobi Mazonii … in universam Platonis et Aristotelis philosophiam praeludia sive de comparatione Platonis et Aristotelis, Venetiis, 1597, p. 173.) We are led to conclude that this is taken from Pico rather than from Nizolio since Mazzoni follows Pico's text where it differs from Nizolio's. Mazzoni nowhere in his work seems to mention Pico's Examen vanitatis by name, though certain arguments used by Mazzoni closely resemble those used by Pico. In an earlier work he does specifically mention Pico's De providentia Dei; see Jacobi Manzonii… de triplici hominum vita ... (Cesenae, 1577), fol. F4V.

30 This work was not printed until 1636 at Paris, but seems to have been completed about 1610. See Luigi Firpo, Bibliografia degli scritti di Tommaso Campanella (Torino, 1940), pp. 110-111.

31 Thomae Campanellae … de gentilismo non retinendo (Parisiis, 1636), p. 24.

32 Rodolphi Agricolae … de inventione dialectica libri omnes … per Alardum Aemstekedamutn accuratius emendati et additis annotationibus illustrati (Coloniae, 1539), p. 19. The similarity of Alard's formulation of the cuttlefish's action and that of Aelian (see p. 65) should be noted.

33 Iacobus Carpentarius, Platonis cum Aristotele in universa philosophia, comparatio … (Parisiis, 1573), II, 20.

34 Gassendi himself states this. See the preface to the work in Pierre Gassendi, Dissertations en forme de paradoxes contre les Aristoteliciens (Exercitationes paradoxicae adversus Aristoteleos), ed. Bernard Rochot (Paris, 1959), p. 7. The work was first printed in Grenoble in 1624. It seems to have been composed during Gassendi's stay at Aix-en-Provence during the years 1616-1623.

35 Ibid., pp. 101-103.

36 On Glanvill see particularly Dictionary of National Biography vn, 1287-1288; Basil Willey, The Seventeenth-century Background (New York, 1952), pp. 170-204; Richard H. Popkin, ‘Joseph Glanvill, a Precursor of Hume', Jour, of the History of Ideas XIV (1953), 292-303.

37 Joseph Glanvill, Sciretuum nihil est: or the Authors Defence of the Vanity of Dogmatizing; against the Exceptions of the Learned Thomas Albius in his late Sciri (London, 1665), p. 58.

38 George Henry Lewes, Aristotle: a Chapter from the History of Science (London, 1864), p. 2 n. Lewes, however, incorrectly supposes that the comparison had its origin with Nizolio.

39 One example is Joannis Baptistae Bernardi. .. Seminarium totius philosophiae (Venetiis, 1599), in, fol. 55r, where the examples from Pico and Charpentier are quoted verbatim. The work was first printed at Venice, 1582-1585.

40 I need only mention the definitely anti-Ciceronian viewpoint expressed in his letters On Imitation written to Pietro Bembo.

41 The research for this paper was carried out under the provisions of a United States Government grant for study in Italy.


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