Petrus Alfonsi and His Medieval Readers
AUTHOR: Tolan, John V.
PUBLISHER: University Press of Florida
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"I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this work; it is by far the best thing ever done on the subject, totally superseding all previous work on all aspects of this important author's work . . . a major contribution to medieval scholarship in a variety of areas."--Norman Roth, University of Wisconsin
Petrus Alfonsi was an important and unusual figure in the "twelfth-century renaissance" whose interests embraced polemical theology, astronomy, and literature, each an area in which he made important contributions to the development of medieval thought. Perhaps this diversity of interests is what has robbed Alfonsi of his due in modern scholarship, for he has fallen through the cracks, between various academic disciplines; he has received less acclaim among modern medievalists than he had among medieval writers.
In this first book-length treatment of Alfonsi, Tolan presents a thorough introduction to Alfonsi's thought and its importance to the Middle Ages.
A Spanish Jew who converted to Christianity, Alfonsi immigrated to England and later to France, wrote a polemic against Judaism and Islam, and translated moral fables and astronomical works from Arabic into Latin. The author shows that he was an important early transmitter of Arabic and Hebrew learning to the Latin north and greatly influenced later medieval thinkers.
Drawing from his analysis of nearly 170 manuscripts containing Alfonsi's works, along with the works of later authors who turned to Alfonsi as a source, Tolan uncovers much about who used Alfonsi's works and to what ends his works were put. He finds, for example, that Alfonsi's Disciplina clericalis provided a mine of materials not only for thirteenth-century preachers but also for Boccaccio and Chaucer, and that arguments from his Dialogis contra Iudaeos were taken up by Christian polemicists from Peter the Venerable to Alonso de Espina.
Tolan's straightforward style makes this work accessible to anyone with a general knowledge of the Middle Ages. Petrus Alfonsi will be important reading for a wide range of medievalists.
John Tolan teaches history at Stanford University.
PUBLICATION DATE: 10/20/1993
CATEGORY: Education, Literary Criticism, Reference