Nifo, Agostino

views updated Jun 11 2018


(b.. Sessa Aurunca, Italy, ca. 1469–1470; d.. Sessa Aurunca, 18 January 1538)

medicine, natural philosophy, psychology.

The son of Giacomo Nifo and Francesco Gallione, Nifo received his early education at Naples before attending the University of Padua. After receiving his degree around 1490, he taught t Padua from about 1492 until 1499, when he returned to his native city, He was involved in controversies at Padua with his teacher, Nicoletto Vernia, s well as with his lifelong rival, Pietro Ponionazzi, and the Franciscan theologian Antonio Trombetta. In the south he became as member of the circle of the famed humanist Giovanni Pontano, and he himself wrote and published humanistic treatises. He had learned Greek lay 1503. Nifo appears to have been professor of philosophy at Naples and at Salerno during the first decade of the sixteenth century and also to have practiced medicine. He served as physician to Gonsalvo Hermindez de Córdoba in 1504–1505.

Subsequently, Leo X invited him to the University of Rome, where he was ordinary professor of philosophy in 1514. In 1520 Leo made Nifo a count palatine, ranted lain the right to use the Medici name, and authorized him to grant degrees in is own name. Nifo had openly attacked Pomponazzi in his De immoratalitate animae (1518), which was dedicated to Leo. He served as ordinary professor of philosophy oat the University of Pisa from 1519 until 1522. He then departed for Salerno, where he appears to have taught from 1522 until 1535, except for the academic year 1531–1532, when he taught philosophy and medicine at Naples. Although the Florentines attempted to lure him back to Pisa in 1525 and Paul III asked him to return to Rome to teach natural philosophy in 1535, Nifo declined both invitations. lie was elected mayor of Sessa and extended the Formal welcome to Emperor Charles V during his visit there can 24 March 1536.

Nifo wrote commentaries can almost all the works of Aristotle, usually providing his own translation. In sonic cases he wrote as second, revised, commentary. While he held to the doctrine of Averroës (Ibn Rushd) of the unity of the intellect in two early works, the commentary on Averrös Destructio destructionum and the early commentary on the De anima, he rejected this the trace interpretation of Aristotle in his De intellectu, published in 1503. In hater works he emphasized that the true interpretation of Aristotle is reached through reading the Greek. text. Nifo also came tea prefer the Greek commentators over Averrös. This shift is especially noticeable in his psychological arid logical writings. He did not, however, give up his interest in establishing the true interpretation of Averroës himself.

In his early commentary on the Physics, book I, t.c 4 (Venice, 1508; fols. 7v-8), Nifo held that through a neogotiatio the intellect could grasp the cause of an effect and thus formulate a propter quid demonstration in natural philosophy, whereas in his posthumously published Recognitiones on the Physics, after having studied Aristotle and the Greek commentators more carefully, he rejected the notion of a negotiatio (see Venice ed., 1569, pp. 13–14) and proposed instead that the cause of an effect is learned through a merely hypothetical syllogism (syllogismus coniecturalis). To the possible objection that natural science would then cease to be science, he replied that while it is not science simpliciter, like mathematics, it is still a science propter quid, but one that remains conjectural, insofar as in it the knowledge of the cause can never be as certain as the knowledge of the effect, since the latter is based on sense experience. Although Nifo allowed in his commentary on the Posterior Analytics (1526), book I, t.c. 21, that there could be demonstratio simpliciter in natural science, he gave no examples of such a demonstration. The other form of demonstration, that “from hypothesis,” was now called demonstratio coniecturalis and appeared to dominate in science.

Nifo also attempted in his early commentary on the Physics, book VIII, t.c. 81 (fols. 236–236v), to reconcile Aristotle with the impetus theory by making the impetus the principal mover, and the medium and its properties only auxiliary causes or passive dispositions. Later, in his commentary on the De caelo, book III, t.c. 28 (Naples, 1517; fols. 22v-23), he added the interesting refinement that a vis impressa is communicated not only to the projectile but also to the air or medium. Nifo developed Averroesë dectrine of natural minima by further refining the notion of qualitative minima, which explain qualitative changes, and by using the theory of minima to explain physical structure and chemical reactions. His medical interests are clearly evident in his De ratione medendi and his unpublished commentary on Hippocrates’ Aphorisms. They are also occasionally reflected in remarks found in his De pulchro et amore, in which he proposed a sexual theory of love, and in his commentaries on the Parva naturalia and the De animalibus.


I. Original Works. There is no collected ed. of Nifo’s works. His commentaries on Aristotle, some of which contain a commentary on Ibn Rushd, include Super tres libros De anima (Venice, 1503), repr. with rev. commentary (Venice, 1522, 1523, 1544, 1549, 1552, 1553, 1554, 1559); Aristotelis De generatione et corruptione liber Augustino Nipho philosopho suessano interprete et expositore (Venice, 1506), repr. with Recognitiones and Quaestio de infinitate primi motoris (Venice, 1526, 1543, 1550, 1557,1577); Aristotelis Physicarum acroasum hoc est naturalium auscultationum liber interprete atque expositore Eutyco Augustino Nypho phylotheo suessano (Venice, 1508, 1519), to which Recognitiones was later added (Venice, 1540, 1543, 1549, 1552, 1558, 1559, 1569); In quattuor libros De caelo et mundo et Aristotelis et Averrois expositio (Naples, 1517); Parva naturalia Augustini Niphi Medices philosophi suessani (Venice, 1523); Suessanus super posteriora cum tabula, Eutychi Augustini Nyphi Medices philosophi suessani commentaria in libris posteriorum Aristotelis (Venice, 1526, 1538, 1539, 1544, 1548, 1552, 1553, 1554, 1565; Paris, 1540); and Expositiones in omnes Aristotleis libros De historia animalium, De partibus animalium et earum causis, ac De generatione animalium (Venice, 1546), which was completed in 1534 and published posthumously.

Besides his comments on Ibn Rushd in these works, Nifo wrote commentaries on Ibn Rushd’s Destructio destructionum (Venice, 1497); De animae beatitudine (Venice, 1508); De substantia orbis (Venice, 1508); and a short opusculum, Averrios de mixtione defensio (Venice, 1505). There is also a commentary on Ptolemy, Ad Apotelesmata Ptolemaei eruditiones (Naples, 1513); and one on the Aphorisms of Hippocrates, Biblioteca Lancisiana, Rome, Codex 158, fols. 55 ff. Other works of interest are his De demonibus, printed with his De intellectu (Venice, 1503); De diebus criticis (Venice, 1504); De nostrarum calamitatum causis liber (Venice, 1505); De immortalitate animae (Venice, 1518); De falsa diluvii prognosticatione(Naples, 1519); De figuris stellarum helionoricis (Naples, 1526); De pulchro et amore (Rome, 1531); and De ratione medendi (Naples, 1551), which was completed in 1528.

II. Secondary Literature. See Leopoldo Cassese, “Agostino Nifo a Salerno,” in Atti del Centro di studi di medicina medioevale, 3 (1958), app. to Rassegna storica salernitana, 19 (1958), 3–17; Angelo Crescini, Le origini del metodo analitico, II Cinquecento (Trieste, 1965), 141–144, 181, 187; E. J. Dijksterhuis, The Mechanization of the World Picture, C. Dikshoorn, trans. (Oxford, 1961), 236–237, 278; Giovanni di Napoli, L’immortalità dell’ anima nel Rinascimento (Turin, 1963), 203–217, 309–314; Pierre Duhem, Études sur Léonard de Vinci, III (Paris, 1955), 115–120; Eugenio Garin, La cultura filosofica del Rinascimento italiano (Florence, 1961), 114–118, 295–303; and Storia della filosofia italiana, II (Turin, 1966), 523–527, 535–538, 572–573; Michele Giorgiantonio, “Un nostro filosofo dimenticato del’400 (Luca Prassicio e Agostino Nifo),” in Sophia (Naples), 16 (1948), 212–214, 303–312; Gustav Hellmann, Beiträge Zur Geschichte der Meterorologie, I, Nr. 1 (Berlin, 1914), 40–44, 79–83; Edward P. Mahoney, “Agostino Nifo’s De sensu agente,” in Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, 53 (1971), 119–142; “Agostino Nifo’s Early Views on Immortality,” in Journal of the History of Philosophy, 8 (1970), 451–460; “A Note on Agostino Nifo,” in Philological Quarterly, 50 (1971), 125–132’ “Nicoletto Vernia and Agostino Nifo on Alexander of Aphrodisias: An Unnoticed Dispute,” in Rivista critica di storia della filosofia, 23 (1968), 268–296; “Pier Nicolo Castellani and Agostino Nifo on Averroës’ Doctrine of the Agent Intellect,”ibid., 25 (1970), 387–409-; and Anneliese Maier, Zwei Grunprobleme der scholatischen Naturphilosophie, 2nd ed. (Rome, 1951), 61, 295–297.

See also Bruno Nardi, Saggi sull’ aristotelismo padovano dal secolo XIV al XVI (Florence, 1958); and Sigieri di Brabante nel pensiero del Rinascimento italiano (Rome, 1945), passim; Antonino Poppi, Casalità e infinità nella scuola padvana dal 1480 al 1513 (Padua, 1966), 222–236; and Saggi sul pensiero inedito di Pietro Pomponazzi (Padua, 1970), 97–101, 121–144; John Herman Randall, The School of Padua and the Rise of Modern Science (Padua, 1961), 42–47, 57 ff., 74 ff.; Wilhelm Risse, Die Logik der Neuzeit I (Sutttgart, 1964), Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, V (New York, 1941), 69–98, 162 ff.; 182–188; Giuseppe Tommasino, Traumanisti e filosofi (Maddaloni, 1921), pt. I, 123–147; Pasquale Tuozzi, “Agostino Nifo e le sue opere”, in Atti e memorie della R. Accademua di scienze, lettere ed arti (Padua), n.s. 20 (1904), 63–886; Andreas G. M. van Melsen, From Atomos to Atom: The History of the Concept “Atom” (Pittsburg, 1952), 64–76; and William A. Wallace, Causality and Scientific Explanation, I (Ann Arbor, 1972), 139–153.

Edward P. Mahoney

Nifo, Agostino

views updated Jun 27 2018


(b. Sessa Aurunca, Italy, c. 1469; d. Sessa Aurunca 18 January 1538)

medicine, natural philosophy, psychology, zoology. For the original article on Nifo see DSB, vol. 10.

Research since the original DSB entry shows that Nifo’s medical thought is marked by a shift from the astrological medicine of the early works to an updated humoral Galenism in the later De ratione medendi. In zoology Nifo’s special contribution is a voluminous commentary on Aristotle’s treatises on animals, which tries to combine syllogistic formalizations, humanistic philology, and naturalistic information.

Theory of Regressus One aspect of Nifo’s theory of scientific method, which is cursorily mentioned in the original entry, deserves more explanation. In his first commentary on Aristotle’s Physics (1506), Nifo summarized a theory of regressus which is typical of early sixteenth century (and which would provide a basis for subsequent discourses on methods, such as those of Jacopo Zabarella). According to this theory, which Nifo ascribed to recent authors (iuniores), there are four modes of knowledge (or notitiae): (i) knowledge of the effect through the senses; (ii) a first discovery of the cause through a demonstratio quia(cf. Aristotle, Posterior Analytics I 13); (iii) subsequently, this cause is conceptually processed via a logical and linguistic treatment (labelled as negotiatio intellectus) that gives it the form of the middle term in a syllogism and makes it viable for (iv) a demonstration propter quid of the effect. The process of negotiation—possibly akin to the Platonic methods of composition and division—has the role of transforming the cause from being something in the real world to being a part of the scientific demonstration.

Medicine In his early medical writings, Nifo endorsed a deterministic view of astrological medicine (a theoretical view shared by many Renaissance physicians). For instance, in his De diebus criticis (1504) he claimed that the relationship between the courses of fevers and the movements of heavenly bodies legitimate strong criteria of diagnosis and therapy which are based on strict astrological calculations. Similarly, in his De nostrarum calamitatum causis (1505) he linked epidemic cycles to the quadrangolations of constellations and to the comets. However, in his later De ratione medendi (completed in 1528, but published posthumously, Naples, 1528) Nifo gave no role to astrological medicine, and favored an upto-date version of Galenic humoral (or complexionary) medicine: Diseases are reduced to a bad balance of the four humors (or bodily fluids: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile). Bearing in mind the contemporary debate on the scientific method, Nifo underscored the relevance on the application of the demonstratio coniecturalis (see the original entry on Nifo in DSB 10) as a method to reduce symptoms to their proper causes and to choose the most effective therapy.

Throughout the whole work Nifo aimed at giving an ordinate exposition of the main medical theories and procedures. Of particular relevance were the criteria for a differential diagnosis of smallpox (variolae) and measles (morbilli) (pp. 142–143) or the distinction between cancerosi abscessus (of humoral origin) and venenosi abscessus(of infective origin) (pp. 45–46). Nifo was also the author of a medical treatise on the lues (De morbo Gallico, Naples 1534) where a detailed analysis is given of glandular alterations in syphilis.

Zoology In his bulky commentaries on Aristotle’s zoological treatises (Expositiones on Historia animalium, De partibus animalium, and De generatione animalium, completed in 1534 in Salerno, but published posthumously: Venice 1546) Nifo tried to keep together, within the format of the medieval scholastic commentary, several disparate practices. These included such practices as literary erudition, syllogistic formalizations of Aristotle’s arguments, humanistic philology (e.g. references to the original Greek text), and naturalistic information.

Nifo, who lived in an age of travels and geographical explorations, in the preface observed that the new discoveries of exotic animals do not really challenge the epistemic framework of Aristotle’s zoology, in other words, a system of ultimate species and genera that allows the explanation of every possible single occurrence, including the new. For whatever animal is born or discovered “can only be aquatic or terrestrial; if aquatic, it will be fish or crustacean or gastropod or cephalopod; and if fish, it will be oviparous or viviparous, like cetaceans” (Praefatio, fol. 4r). These classifying schemes enable scholars to gather any novel information within a structured natural system “through the ultimate genera and through their proper predicates and through the causes of those predicates” (Praefatio, fol. 4r).

In the subsequent commentary each sentence of Aristotle’s text is surrounded by a mass of annotations, ranging from philosophical, philological and naturalistic remarks, to virtually everything noteworthy written by previous commentators and authors (Galen, John Philoponus, Michael of Ephesus, Averroes, Albert the Great, etc.). Nifo’s Expositiones on Aristotle’s zoology are not a step toward early modern science, but an extreme attempt to keep together late medieval scholasticism, flavors of humanist philology, and novel pieces of information on animals.


As Edward Mahoney noted in the original DSB entry, “there is no collected edition of Nifo’s works.” Thus, one must essentially rely on sixteenth-century editions. The following works constitute the few exceptions.


Niphi, Augustini. Expositiones in Aristotelis libros metaphysices. Dilucidarium metaphysicarum disputationum. Frankfurt, Germany: Minerva, 1967. This is an anastatic reprint of Venice 1559.

Lohr, Charles H. Latin Aristotle Commentaries. II. Renaissance Authors. Florence: Olschki 1988, 282–287. This text gives a list of Nifo’s commentaries on Aristotle, either printed or surviving as unpublished manuscripts.

Sobre la belleza y el amor. Spanish translation and notes by F. Socas, Seville, Spain: Universidad de Sevilla, 1990.

De pulchro et amore I, De pulchro liber, Du beau et de l’amour I, Le livre du beau, critical edition, French translation and notes by Boulègue L. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2003.


Ashworth, Earline Jennifer. “Agostino Nifo’s reinterpretation of Medieval Logic.” Rivista Critica di Storia della Filosofia31 (1976): 355–374.

Cranz, Ferdinand Edward. “The Renaissance reading of De anima.” In Platon et Aristote à la Renaissance, edited by JeanClaude Margolin and Maurice de Gandillac, pp. 359–376. Paris: Vrin, 1976.

De Bellis, Ennio. Nicoletto Vernia e Agostino Nifo. Aspetti storiografici e metodologici. Galatina, Italy: Congedo Editore, 2003. Collected essays. —_____. Bibliografia di Agostino Nifo. Florence: Olschki, 2005. This work contains a bibliography of the editions of Nifo’s works and a bibliography of the secondary literature.

Gargani, Aldo G. Hobbes e la scienza. Turin, Italy: Einaudi 1971. Pages 32–38 are on Nifo’s theory of scientific demonstration and its possible influence on Hobbes.

Garofano-Venosta, Francesco. “Il De ratione medendi di Agostino Nifo.” Pagine di Storia della Medicina 15 (1971): 59–74.

Hissette, Roland. “Note sur l’édition princeps (1497) des Destructiones destructionum d’Averroès avec Expositio d’Agostino Nifo.” Bulletin de Philosophie Médiévale 46 (2004): 55–60.

Jardine, Nicholas. “Galileo’s Road to Truth and the Demonstrative Regress.” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 7 (1976): 277–318.

Kuhn, Heinrich C. “Die Vervandlung der Zerstörung der Zerstörung. Bemerkungen zu Augustinus Niphus’ Kommentar zur Destructio Destructionum des Averroes.” In Averroismus im Mittelalter und in der Renaissance, edited by Friedrich Niewöhner and Loris Sturlese. Zürich, Switzerland: Spur, 1994.

Lautner, Peter. “Status and Method of Psychology according to the Late Neoplatonists and their Influence during the Sixteenth Century.” In The Dynamics of Aristotelian Natural Philosophy from Antiquity to Seventeenth Century, edited by Cornelis Leijenhorst, Christoph Luethy, and J. M. M. H. Thijssen. Leiden: Brill 2002.

Mahoney, Edward P. “Pico, Plato, and Albert the Great: The Testimony and Evaluation of Agostino Nifo.” Medieval Philosophy and Theology 2 (1992): 165–192.

—_____. Two Aristotelians of the Italian Renaissance: Nicoletto Vernia and Agostino Nifo. Ashgate, U.K.: Aldershot 2000. Collected essays.

Perfetti, Stefano. “Metamorfosi di una traduzione. Agostino Nifo revisore dei De animalibus gaziani.” Medioevo. Rivista di Storia della Filosofia Medievale 22 (1996): 259–301. Shows how Nifo modified Gaza’s humanist translation, by reintroducing elements from William of Moerbeke’s thirteenth-century literal translation.

_____. Three Different Ways of Interpreting Aristotle’s De Partibus Animalium: Pietro Pomponazzi, Niccolò Leonico Tomeo and Agostino Nifo.” In Aristotle’s Animals in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, edited by Carlos Steel, Pieter Beullens, and Guy Guldentops. Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press, 1999.

—_____. Aristotle’s Zoology and its Renaissance Commentators (1521–1601). Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press, 2000. A whole chapter (pp. 85–124) deals with Nifo’s commentaries on Aristotle’s zoological works.

Pine, Martin. Pietro Pomponazzi: Radical Philosopher of the Renaissance. Padova, Italy: Antenore, 1986. At pp. 153–162 the author gives a summary of Nifo’s De immortalitate animae, written against Pomponazzi.

Zambelli, Paola. “I problemi metodologici del necromante Agostino Nifo.” Medioevo. Rivista di Storia della Filosofia Medievale 1 (1975): 129–171. An article on Nifo’s reflections on borderline matters, such as necromancy and demonology.

Stefano Perfetti

Nifo, Agostino

views updated May 29 2018


Italian philosopher; b. Sessa Aurunca, ca. 1470; d. Sessei Aurunca, 1538. Educated at the University of Padua, where he first began to teach. He left for Naples in 1499. His early acceptance of averroes' doctrine of the unity of the intellect as the true interpretation of Aristotle was replaced by rejection of that interpretation in his De intellectu (Venice 1503). In that work he presents excerpts from albert the great's De natura et origine animae as the "true position" on the nature of the soul and intellect. He also borrows from Saint thomas aquinas and Marsilio Ficino to argue for the immortality of the soul. He had begun to learn Greek and to take the Greek Commentators, especially Simplicius and Themistius, as the best interpreters of Aristotle. On his return south, he taught at Naples and Salerno and was a member of the circle of the humanist Giovanni Pontano. He functioned as a physician. He taught at Rome in 1514 and at Pisa from 15191522 and later at Salerno. His own De immortalitate animae (Venice 1518) was a reply to Pietro Pomponazzi's work on the same subject. He declined an invitation from Paul III in 1535 to teach again at Rome. He wrote commentaries on most of Aristotle's works but there is no collected edition of his writings.

Bibliography: e. p. mahoney, Two Aristotelians of the Italian Renaissance: Nicolletto Vernia and Agostino Nifo (Aldershot 2000). b. nardi, Saggi sull'aristotelismo padovano dal secolo XIV al XVI (Florence 1958).

[e. p. mahoney]