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The Weather Forecast, in Aristotle, 'Works on Natural Philosophy'

The Weather Forecast, in Aristotle, 'Works on Natural Philosophy'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1265

Shelfmark: Harley MS 3487

Item number: f.140v

Length: 37.2

Width: 24.6

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

In the 13th-century, western Europe rediscovered Aristotle's books on natural philosophy, or natural science ('Libri naturales'), and this caused an intellectual revolution. Despite being banned in Paris early in the century, they quickly became part of the curricula of universities. Oxford, where this manuscript was probably made, was a leading centre for the study of Aristotle. All students had to read set texts of Aristotle's treatises with commentary, of which this book is an example. It is exceptional, though, because it is quite richly decorated with unusual images. Furthermore, it belonged to Nicholas of Cusa, a German theologian and cardinal, in the 15th century. The set textbook includes Aristotle's treatise on weather ('Meteorologica'). An historiated initial begins the book, showing our hero, the philosopher, enduring difficult conditions to observe the skies, from which protrudes an lion's head gushing forth terrestrial fire. One modern scholar has explained this rather weird weather with depictions of the Apocalypse: the makers of the book used the most significant and dramatic depictions of weather they knew, illustrations for the Book of Revelation. Another possibility is that the picture refers to knowledge imparted by bestiaries, or books on animal lore which formed a significant part of medieval scientific literature. The archer and wounded hatchetman above belong to another category-- entertainment--because a connection with Aristotle's discussion is difficult to make.

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