Medieval Manuscripts in Law Book Bindings, no. 14

Fragment: Aquinas’s Commentary on the Metaphysics
Date: c. 1375-1475
Found in: Barbier, Jean. Viatorium utriusque iuris. [Strassburg: Johann Pruss, 1493.]

The philosopher and theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas (c. 1226-1274) lived at a time of great intellectual development in European society. The works of Aristotle were being translated into Latin and widely disseminated at the same time that the first Christian universities were being founded. The nature of the relationship between reason and faith was being explored and debated across the continent, and Aquinas would ultimately become one of the most influential thinkers on this topic. Born in southern Italy, Aquinas entered the University of Naples before joining the Dominican Order and travelling to northern Europe where he studied under Saint Albertus Magnus (d. 1280), a pioneer in the application of Aristotelian philosophy to Christian thought. Late in his life, Aquinas wrote commentaries on twelve of Aristotle’s works.

The manuscript leaves used as pastedowns at the front and rear of this volume contain part of Aquinas’s Commentary on the Metaphysics (Book 7, Lecture 13) written in the early 1270s. Excerpts from Aristotle are underlined in red, and the rest of the text is Aquinas’s detailed discussion of that passage. The radically abbreviated 15th-century script employs many symbols (sigla) that stand in for groups of letters or even entire words. At the left edge of the fragment we can see small “pricking holes,” between which the scribe would have ruled parallel lines to help him write the text straight across the page. The Commentary on the Metaphysics was first printed in Paris in 1480, then again in Venice in 1493.

     – Notes by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes, Stanford University

Larger versions of this and other images are available from the Medieval binding fragments gallery of the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site. If you can provide additional information about the manuscript fragment displayed here, you are invited to send an email to .

“Reused, Rebound, Recovered: Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Law Book Bindings” is curated by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes and Mike Widener, and is on display through May 2010 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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