Borro, Girolamo, also known as Borri and Hieronymus Borrius

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also known as Borri and Hieronymus Borrius

(b. Arezzo, I taly, 1512; d. Perugia, Italy, 26 August 1592)

natural philosophy, methodology of science.

Little is known of Bono’s early life, except that he was born at Arezzo, the son of Mariano Borro. He studied theology, philosophy, and medicine perhaps at Padua, although there is no record of his having received a degree there. About 1537 Borro entered the service of Cardinal Giovanni Salviati, whom he served as a theologian for sixteen years. After teaching for a short period at the University of Perugia (about 1538), Borro lived in Venice, Padua, and Rome. In 1548 he was in Paris, where he engaged in public disputations in the presence of King Henry II and perhaps also taught at the university, although published records do not indicate this. In 1550, still in the service of Salviati. he returned to Rome to participate in the conclave that resulted in the election of Pope Julius HI, After Salviati’s death in 1553, Borro began lecturing on philosophy at the University of Pisa, where he remained for six years.

Borro left Pisa in 1559 and we know relatively little about his life for the next sixteen years. In 1561 his first published work appeared, Del flusso e reflusso del mare, a treatise which attempts to explain the motion of the tides by appealing to Aristotelian principles. In 1567 he was implicated in the third heresy trial of Pietro Carnesecchi, which took place in Rome and resulted in Carnesecchfs execution. Borro returned to Pisa in 1575, teaching natural philosophy once more until 1586. During that period he published De motu gravium et lev-ium (1575) and De peripatetiva docendi atque addtscendi methodo (1584), an exposition of scientific method according to Aristotelian principles. Borro was absent from Pisa in 1582–1583, when he again had difficulties with the Roman Inquisition, but was freed through the intercession of Pope Gregory XIII.

Borro’s years at Pisa were marred by polemics and personal quarrels with colleagues, including Francesco de’Vieri, Francesco Buonamici, and Andrea Camuzio, who apparently reacted violently to his abrasive personality. His opponents finally persuaded the university to dismiss him in 1586. Borro is reported to have returned to the University of Perugia (although his presence there is as yet undocumented), where he continued teaching philosophy until his death at the age of eighty.

Borro was lecturing on natural philosophy at the University of Pisa when Galileo was a student there. It may well be that Galileo heard lectures containing material similar to what had been published in Borrows De motu gravium et levium. In any case. Burro’s work was in Galileo’s library and is referred to specifically in his De motu (Edizione Nazionale. I, 333), written at Pisa about 1590. Galileo also knew Borrows work on tides, which he owned in the 1577 edition; and Borro’s teaching on the subject is cited in the Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi.

Borro represents the conservative type of Peripatetic philosophy, against which Galileo began rebelling early in his life. On the whole he was a rather backward-looking Aristotelian: there is only scanty evidence that he was acquainted with the Greek text of Aristotle, he made little use of newly discovered ancient commentaries on Aristotle (such as those of Philoponus), and he was not receptive to the new approaches to the study of philosophy brought by the Renaissance. Moreover, he strongly rejected the application of mathematical methods to the study of natural philosophy, as well as all varieties of Platonism. In short, his basic approach to the study of the natural world was deeply rooted in the Western medieval Peripatetic tradition influenced by the Latin translations of Ibn Rushd’s commentaries.

Emphasizing an experiential approach to the study of natural philosophy (as opposed to a mathematical one), Borro was responsible for several interesting and perhaps significant suggestions. In De motu gravium et levium(pp. 214–217) he described a protoexperiment performed at his home with the aid of students. In order to resolve a dispute over whether a body of heavy material will fall faster than one of light material, he “took refuge in experience [experientia] the teacher of all things.” He described how lead and wood balls were dropped from a “high window” to resolve this question: “The lead descended more slowly, namely [it descended) above the wood, which had fallen first to the ground: however many times we were all there waiting for the result of this occurrence, we saw the latter [the wood) fall downward [before the lead]. Not only once but many times we tried it with the same results.” The conclusiveness and somewhat puzzling nature of his results parallel those described by Galileo in De motu (I, 333–337). Thus, Galileo’s putative Leaning Tower experiment was anticipated some years earlier by one of the most conservative of his own Peripatetic teachers of natural philosophy.


I. Original Works. Published works, all relatively rare, are Del flusso e reflusso del mure (Lucca, 1561: rev. and enl. ed., Florence. 1577. 2nd rev. ed Florence. 1583), which is accompanied by other writings; De motu gravium el levium (Florence. 1575; repr. 1576); and De peripatetica docendi atque addiscendi methodo (Florence, 1584). His printed correspondence with Pietro Aretino is listed by Stabile (see below). There is also a letter addressed to him in Delle letter del sig, Bonifatio Vannozzi,I (Venice. 1606), 227–228. In addition to the MSS listed by Stabile, the following should be noted; Florence, Biblioteca Nazionaie, II.V.168. fols. 70–74. an oration on the death of Pietro Calefati; and Magl. IX.25, epigrams dedicated to Borro. For an edition and discussion of an unpublished text, see C. B. Schmitt, “Girolamo Borro’ s Multae sunt nostrarum ignoratiotinun causae (MS. Vat. Ross. 1009)”, in Philosophy ami Humanism: Renaissance Essays in Honor of Paul Os-farKristeller (New York, 1976), 448–462.

II. Secondary Literature. The most important biographical study is the article by G. Stabile in Dizionario biografico degli Italiani, XIII (1971). 13–17, which has an extensive bibliography. Earlier works that are still useful include A. Fabroni, Historia Avademiae Pisanae.II (Pisa. 1792; repr. Bologna, 1971), 281–282. 341 - 346. 469; and U. Viviani. Medici... delta prox in-cia arctimi (Arezzo. 1923), 103–109.

For Borro’s intellectual and scientific contributions, see the following, listed chronologically: P. Duhem. Études sur Léonard de Vinci, 111 (Paris, 1913), 205–207; L Olschki, Geschichte der neusprachlichen urissenschaftUchen Literatur,II (Leipzig-Florence -Rome-Geneva, 1922; repr. Vaduz, Liechtenstein, 1965), 253–256; Opere di Galileo Galilei A. Favaro, ed., XX (Florence. 1939), 97, 398; E. A. Moody. Studies in Medieval Philosophy, Science, and Logic (Berkeley -Los Angeles-London, 1975). 203–286; N. W. Gilbert, Renaissance Concepts of Method (New York. 1960), 186–192; E. Garin, Scienza e vita civile nel Rinasch mento Uaiiano (Bari. 1965), 123- 126, 141–142; C. Vasoli, Studi sulla cultura del Rinascimento (Man-duria. 1968). 341–342; W. A. Wallace. Causality and Scientific Explanation,I (Ann Arbor. Mich.. 1972). 149–150, 178: and C. B. Schmitt, “The Facutly of Arts at Pisa at the Time of Galileo,” in Physis14 (1972) 243–272.

Charles B. Schmitt