William of Conches, 'Tract on Philosophy and Man', in an Astronomical Miscellany f.115v
Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum
It was not uncommon in the Middle Ages for a variety of short texts on related themes to be written as separate booklets, and later bound together, or else to be collected up and written out as a group. Sometimes, as in the present case, separate groups of texts are bound together to form a larger group. This volume contains several features pointing to the fact that it was used in Ely in the Middle Ages.
William of Conches (1080-1154) studied at the cathedral school of Chartres and taught in Paris where John of Salisbury was one of his students. In his 'On Philosophy and Man', he wrote about the philosophy of Plato and how it can be read as a view of Christian mysteries. William used the idea of the world soul or demiurge, from Plato's 'Timaeus', to understand ways in which God's presence can be seen in the world, citing Acts 17:23-30, where St Paul explains the pagan idea of an anonymous divine presence as a glimpse of God's omnipresence. Here he discusses the motion of the planets and the firmament (heavens) according to the arrangement believed by the ancients, in which the earth was at the centre and the heavens revolved, as shown in the diagram.