The titles of the three works contained in this medieval manuscript look easy to translate, but the modern connotations of metaphysics, physics and meteorology do not quite convey Aristotle's intent. The line between philosophy and science was not as firmly demarcated in the fourth century before Christ, when Aristotle flourished, as it is today. In Aristotle's conception, physics was concerned with things which are ‘movable’ or ‘changeable’ and metaphysics with forces which are ‘immovable’ or ‘unchangeable’. Meteorology was not just confined to the weather but took in the entire study of the earth and the oceans.
One of the three key thinkers (along with Socrates and Plato) during the golden age of Athens, Aristotle remained a huge influence on European thought throughout the Middle Ages. The Catholic Church accepted his scientific treatises as doctrine. It was probably at the instigation of one of the Church's leading lights, Thomas Aquinas, that the Dominican scholar William of Moerbeke (now part of the Belgian province of East Flanders) translated all of Aristotle's surviving writings from Greek to Latin (a much more widely understood language) in the thirteenth century. Thought to have been made in Paris by a near contemporary, the Library's manuscript is a copy of William's translation.
Unlike the Besancon Missal or the Rossdhu Book of Hours, it is not in itself a visually arresting work of art. Sparing in the use of ornament and devoid of illustration, it was intended for scholarly use. The main text is written in dark brown ink in a long sloping hand, with occasional glosses appended in very small, compact, well-formed hand. The copious marginalia in light brown ink added by a rougher hand sometime in the fourteenth century indicates how thoroughly Aristotle's words were scrutinised by scholars in the late medieval period.
Sir George Grey purchased the manuscript from the London booksellers Thomas and William Boone in the 1860s. In his 2006 study of Grey's collecting activities Amassing treasures for all times, Donald Kerr comments: ‘Grey's desire to possess this item was obviously strong because he disregarded its unbound condition and paid the asking price of £2 10s.’
Related resources: Amassing treasures for all times : Sir George Grey, colonial bookman and collector by Donald Jackson Kerr; medieval manuscripts.