“Release the Stars”


The Reception of the Timaeus in
Renaissance Science: Labels & Images

by Angela Zielinski-Kinney

(Click on images or other links for detailed views)

10. Plato. Works (Venice, 1556)
Omnia Divini Platonis Opera, tralatione Marsilii Ficini, emendatione, et ad Graecum codicem collatione Simonis Grynaei, summa diligentia repurgata.

This volume contains an edition of Marsilio Ficino’s Platonis Opera Omnia that was emended and collated with a Greek text by Simon Grynaeus (1493-1541).  Grynaeus was a  renowned Protestant humanist who shared friendships with Erasmus and Budé.  He is the first major revisor of Ficino’s work.  Grynaeus’ edition of Ficino’s text was first published in 1532.  In his preface, Grynaeus proclaims his admiration of Ficino and his desire to make Platonic doctrine more available to all.  He justifies the new edition by stating that he had collated Ficino’s work with a Greek exemplar (the Aldine Greek edition).  However, Grynaeus probably also disliked Ficino’s style; he actively attempts to revise Ficino’s Latin in accordance with classical usage.  The volume shown here is a reprint of the 1532 edition with the addition of a new index, printed by Giovanni Maria Bonelli at Venice in 1556.  The pages displayed translate the Timaeus passage 18a-24d– the beginning of Critias’ account of Solon’s visit to Egypt.  A fine Italic hand has written topical captions in the margins.

Call number: Q. 881 P5.Lf 1556, p. 475. See also p. 464.

11. Aristotle. Works (Venice, 1495)

This book is part of the editio princeps of the Aristotelian corpus, which Aldus Manutius (1449/1450-1515) published himself in five folio volumes at Venice in 1495.  Manutius was famous for his devotion to ancient Greek literature; he wished to save the Greek corpus from further loss by committing as many works as possible to type.  He also developed the typeface style known as italic.  Manutius’ edition of Aristotle was the first major Greek prose corpus to be printed in its original language and set the standard for the development of Greek type in the fifteenth century.  The pages displayed include a passage from De Caelo in which Aristotle mentions the receptacle described in Plato’s Timaeus as the receiver of all things.  This passage, De Caelo 306b15-22, begins in line 10 on the left page shown with the words
Ἀλλ’ ἔοικεν ἡ φύσις.

Call number: Incunabula Q. 881 A8 1495 v.2, p. 129v.

12. Aristotelica varia (Germany? 1465) 

Aristoteles Kommentare.
This manuscript contains, among other material, anonymous commentaries on a number of Aristotelian works.  Multiple fifteenth-century hands are represented in the manuscript, and some of the scribes give their names.  Judging by the extensive notes and highlighting throughout the volume, this codex probably belonged to a student.  The pages displayed contain a commentary on book IV of Aristotle’s Physics with many marginal notes.  The right page includes a passage discussing Plato’s conception of space and matter (which Aristotle mentions in Physics 209b).  While the cursive hand is very difficult to read, there is an abbreviation (plto) roughly in the middle of the right column that probably represents “Plato.”  It is also possible to make out the phrase antiqui ph­ī (“ancient philosopher,” the second word being an abbreviation for philosophi) in this section.

Call number: Pre-1650 MS 115, p. 39r.

13. Kepler. Cosmographicum Frankfurt, 1621)
Prodromus Dissertationum Cosmographicarum, continens Mysterium Cosmographicum de admirabili proportione orbium caelestium: deque causis caelorum numeri, magnitudinis, motuumque periodicorum genuinis & propriis, Demonstratum per quinque regularia corpora Geometrica.

Published at Frankfurt by Erasmus Kempfer, this volume contains the second edition of the astronomical work, Mysterium Cosmographicum (originally published in 1596) by Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), along with copious notes by Kepler himself.  The Mysterius Cosmographicum was the first published defense of the Copernican heliocentric system.  It was in this work that Kepler believed he had uncovered God’s geometrical plan for the universe – he proposed a model of the solar system using nested Platonic solids.  The page displayed illustrates his distinctive model of the universe.

See also: Tabella I. Exhibens Ordinem Sphaerarum
Tabella II. Fixarum Stellarum Sphaera
Tabella IV. Ostendens Veram Amplitudinem

Call number: Q. 521.3 K44p 1621, Tabella III, (between p. 26 and 27).

14. Kepler. Harmonices (Linz, 1619)

Harmonices Mundi

This volume is a first edition of Johannes Kepler’s Harmonices Mundi, printed by Johannes Plancus at Linz (Austria) in 1619.  In this work, Kepler explains his vision of harmony and congruence in geometrical forms and in the physical world.  This vision of harmony focuses upon his conception of musica universalis – the “music of the spheres,” which had been studied by earlier astronomers (including Ptolemy).  He also details his discovery of the Third Law of planetary motion.  The pages displayed include a lengthy quotation from Proclus and a marginal note indicating that Kepler considered Plato’s Timaeus as a commentary on the biblical book of Genesis.

Call number: IUQ03582, p. 117.

15. Platonic solids


16. Globe

Cary, John, 1754-1835, and William Cary, 1759-1825.
Cary’s New Celestial Globe ...
Made and Sold by J. W. Cary
London, January 1, 1800

17. Bayer. Uranometria Augsburg, 1603)


The Uranometria, published by the lawyer and amateur astronomer Johann Bayer (1572-1625), was the first astronomical work to be considered a collection of star maps (rather than symbolic pictures).  It was printed at Augsburg by Christopher Mangus in 1603, and the elaborate copperplate engravings were done by Alexander Mair.  One important feature of Bayer’s atlas is his new system of stellar nomenclature—he assigned Greek letters to brighter stars, generally by order of magnitude.  The plate displayed is Bayer’s map of the constellation Cancer. The image of Capricorn may be found here.

Call number: Q. 523.8903 B34lu, map Aa.

18. Ptolemy. Almagest (Venice, 1496)

Epytoma Joannis De Monte Regio in Almagestum Ptolomei.

Georg von Peurbach (1426-1461) began work on this condensed version of Ptolemy’s Almagest; his pupil and friend Johannes Müller von Königsberg (1436-1476), known by the pseudonym Regiomontanus, finished it.  Printed at Venice by Johannes Hamman in 1496, the book became a renowned astronomical guide.  Columbus and Copernicus were introduced to Ptolemy’s work via this epitome.  The work includes a woodcut portrait of Ptolemy and Regiomontanus underneath a large celestial sphere.  This portrait shows Ptolemy reading from the Almagest while Regiomontanus listens and points to the celestial sphere – a representation of the heavenly order described in Ptolemy’s work.  The pages displayed here are from the eighth book of the epitome, the section covering positions of the stars (Click here for recto page).

Call number: Incunabula Q. 520 P95a 1496, leaves i4v, i5r.  

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library
The University of Illinois Library