A Scholar’s Library is a Scholars’ Trap: Ramon Sibiuda’s “Science of Man”, Nicolas of Cusa’s Library, and the Materiality of (Non)Reception


Thursday, February 14, 2019, 6:00pm to 7:30pm


Gould Hall, I Tatti

Speaker: Thomas Gruber (I Tatti)

To many researchers, a scholar's library is a godsend, not least when it once belonged to such a versatile and productive thinker as Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) and is still largely preserved in its original place. Which scholar could easily resist the invitation to study a famous forerunner's annotations and their every underlining? Accordingly, specialists have been quick to trace the origins of Cusa's so-called 'anthropological turn' back to his discovery of a particular concept in his own manuscript of the Liber creaturarum (also known as Theologia naturalis or Scientia de homina), written by the little-known Catalan philosopher Ramon Sibiuda (d.1436). Arguably, however, such hypotheses were not only based on uncritical notions of 'origin' and 'influence' but also on the overestimation of the informative value of one's book collection. Inviting in a wider discussion of the methodology of reception, this paper reflects on the implications of some seemingly atypical, yet pervasive characteristics of the Gelehrtenbibliothek. Taking a 'slow' approach that remains patient even with small but stubbornly puzzling details, it aims to show how the materiality of a seemingly unspectacular manuscript opens to path to unexpected areas of knowledge, such as, in this case, recreational mathematics between Florence and Flanders.

Thomas Gruber is a Post-Doctoral Fellow and Assistant to the Director for Publications and Conferences. He holds a D.Phil. in History from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes scholar at Merton College and a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College. Before coming to I Tatti, he pursued a career as a strategy consultant, policy advisor to the German Federal Parliament, and consultant to UNESCO. Thomas’ research interests include Renaissance anthropology, the history of unbelief, the methodology of the reception of ideas, and the life and intellectual networks of Ernst H. Kantorowicz. His publications have focused on the transcultural and cross-epochal history of the idea of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad as the 'Three Impostors'.