Ethical diagram from MS Pal. 909 (Courtesy of the Biblioteca Palatina of Parma); click here to know more about it.


Prisca Historia: Rethinking Francesco Patrizi’s Anti-Aristotelian Philology from Humanist Doxography to English Empiricism

The title’s elusive notion of a prisca historia – which is taken from Tasso’s poem Le sette giornate del mondo creato (1607, c. 173) – can be better understood when we relate it to Patrizi’s pivotal role in the early modern appetite for ‘primordial wisdom’, and bring to the fore its broader philosophical implications for seventeenth-century experimental communities. Patrizi’s Aristotelian criticism entails a methodological debate which Maria Muccillo and Dmitri Levitin recently pursued with considerable vigor.

In this paper, I propose to frame Patrizi’s Discussiones peripateticae (1571) as, essentially, an episode of doxographical thinking as well as a major originator of intellectual arguments that bear fruits, often uncredited, among English philosophers (chiefly in Boyle’s historical worldview) and in the context of Bacon’s proposal for a new natural history. In line with the characterization of “learned empiricism” as an epistemic genre offered by Pomata and Siraisi, I argue that a well-rounded analysis of Patrizi’s historia needs to take into account a complementary speculative and textual nexus of facets.

To that end, I first show similarities in the technique of note-taking documented in Patrizi’s compilations such as MS Palatino 909 vis-à-vis the display of early Jacobean commonplace-books like MS Add. 102. Secondly, I discuss whether, and to what extent, the crystallization of anti-Aristotelian topoi ushered new methods of information management and observation or whether it simply adhered to the humanist view of historia as a preparatory toolbox before empirical learning.