William of Moerbeke

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Dominican archbishop, translator; b. Moerbeke, Belgium, c. 1215; d. Corinth, 1286. Although he is sometimes described as a native of Flanders or Brabant, because of the border town in which he was born, he belonged to the Dominican priory of Ghent. He studied at Cologne, possibly under Albert the Great. By 1260 he had been sent to the priory in Thebes, Greece, and later went to Nicea. From the pontificate of Clement IV (126568) until 1278 he was chaplain and confessor to several popes. Well known as a translator of Greek works, he translated certain writings "at the request of Friar Thomas Aquinas," whom he knew intimately at Viterbo and Orvieto. As an enthusiastic promoter of reunion between Greek and Latin churches, and as personal advisor of gregory x, he participated in the Council of Lyons (1274). On April 9, 1278, he was appointed archbishop of Corinth by nicholas iii and was given the pallium by Giacamo Savelli (later honorius iv). He resided in Corinth until his death, presumably in 1286, when a successor was appointed. The Greek village of Merbeke is named after him.

The most eminent and prolific translator of the 13th century, he gave Latin scholars a careful, literal version of Aristotle, Proclus, many Greek commentators, Archimedes, Eutochius, and certain books of Ptolemy, Hero, Galen, and Hippocrates, which remained standard until the 16th century. Roger Bacon called these literal translations "barbaric," but their fidelity allowed St. Thomas to grasp Aristotle's exact meaning, and they enable modern scholars to reconstruct Greek originals, many of which are lost. Besides revising earlier translations of Aristotle, he introduced De caelo 34 (c. 1260), Meteorological 13 (1260), Metaphysics 11, Politics 38, Rhetoric, De animalibus 121, and Poetics (1278). All of William's versions are published in Aristoteles Latinus. Among the more important commentators translated by him are Ammonius on Perihermeneias (1268), Simplicius on Praedicamenta (1266) and De caelo (1271), Alexander of Aphrodisias on Metaphysics (1260), Themistius on De anima (c. 1268), and John Philoponus on De anima, 3 (1268, possibly two versions). These are published in the Corpus Latinum Commentariorum in Artist. Graecorum of Louvain. His translation of the Elementatio theologica of Proclus (Viterbo May 18, 1268) revealed to St. Thomas the true nature of the Liber de Causis, previously considered Aristotelian. This and other translations by William gave great impetus to neoplatonism in the late Middle Ages. Neoplatonists, such as Witelo and Henry Bate, accepted his friendship and dedications, as did the physician Rosello of Arezzo and the mathematician John Campanus. Through his translations he contributed not only to a precise and embracing Thomism but also to an interesting Platonism in the Middle Ages.

Bibliography: m. grabmann, Guglielmo di Moerbeke, O.P., il traduttore delle opere di Aristotele, (Miscellanea Historiae Pontificiae 11; Rome 1946). p. glorieux, Répertoire des maîtres en théologie de Paris au XIIIe siècle (Paris 1934) 1:119122. j. quÉtif and j. Échard, Scriptores Ordinis Praedicatorum (New York 1959) 1:388b391a. l. minio-paluello, "Guglielmo di Moerbeke traduttore della Poetica di Aristotele," Rivista di filosofia neoscolastica 39 (1947) 117; "Note sull'Aristotele Latino Medievale," ibid., 44 (1952) 389411. g. verbeke, "Guillaume de Moerbeke: traducteur de Proclus," Revue philosophique de Louvain 51 (1953) 349373.

[j. c. vansteenkiste]

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William of Moerbeke

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