Optics and Vision in the 13th Century
Optics and Vision in the 13th Century
This bibliography consists of items related to medieval concepts of the nature of light and visual perception. Since the process of acquiring knowledge was often explained 'visual' analogies, and since vision often served as the model for the workings of all the other senses, this bibliography also includes some articles on perception and cognition in general. A good example of this kind of literature is Spruit's book on species intelligibilis. The items concerned with 'light metaphysics' – such as the paper by McEvoy or Lindberg's essay – describe the central place of light as the source of being and behaviour within the entire universe.
The list is based on my M.A. thesis, in which I examined the conventional medieval Latin division of light into two elements – namely, lux and lumen - in the writings of two 13th-century scholars: Robert Grosseteste and Albertus Magnus. Some of the items therefore, deal primarily with these two authors and with the role of light in their philosophical and theological outlook. Hergan's book on the beatific vision in Albert's writing, is one example for such an item. Since my main concerns were the definitions and functions attributed to light, most of these texts describe the nature of light and not the physiological process of vision. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as Smith's paper and Lindberg's book on theories of vision, which are more general, and also treat physiological aspects of vision. Some of the books (Paul Kristeller's, for example) concentrate on the Aristotelian and Neo-Platonist optical traditions, and on their transmission to the West. Others, such as Miles's paper and Jay's book, focus on the status of vision in medieval and classical cultures.
The primary sources are all taken from Grosseteste's and Albert's writings. I chose just a few examples from their writings, texts in which the treatment of light in general, and the use of lux and lumen in particular, are most prominent.
This bibliography has been provided by Yael Raizman at the University of Haifa in Israel. Please see our UK & Worldwide Contacts page for details regarding her research and for her contact information.
Posted 28 September 2004

Primary Sources
Robert Grosseteste - In Latin:
De Colore. In L. Baur, (ed.) (1912). Die Philosophischen Werke des Robert Grosseteste, Bischofs von Lincoln. Munster: Germany, pp. 78-79.
De Iride seu de Iride et Speculo. In L. Baur (ed.) (1912), pp. 72-78. See Lindberg (tr.) (1974).
De Lineis Angulis et Figures- seu de Fractionibus et Reflexionibus Radiorum. In L. Baur (ed.) (1912), pp. 59-65. See Lindberg (tr.) (1974).
De Luce seu de Inchoatione Formarum. In L. Baur (ed.) (1912), pp. 51-59. See Riedl (tr.) ([1942]/1978).
De Operatione Solis. In J. McEvoy (1974). “The Sun as res and signum: Grosseteste’s Commentary on Ecclesiasticus ch. 43, vv. 1-5”. Recherches de Theologie ancienne et medievale 41. Louvain: Abbaye du Mont Cesar, pp. 38-91.
De Motu Corporali et Luce. In L. Baur (ed.) (1912), pp. 90-92.
Hexaemeron. In R. C. Dales and S. Gieben O. F .M. Cap (eds.) (1982). Oxford: Oxford University press. See Martin (tr.) (1996).
English translations:
Lindberg, D. C. (tr.) (1974). Concerning Lines, Angeles and Figures. In E. Grant (ed.). A Source Book in Medieval Science. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, pp. 385-388.
Lindberg, D. C. (tr.) (1974). On the Rainbow. In Grant (ed.), pp. 388-391.
Martin, C. F. J. (1996). On the Six Days of Creation – a Translation of the Hexaemeron. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Riedl, C. C. (tr.) ([1942]/1978). On Light. In F. E. Baired and W. Kaufman (eds.) (1994). Philosophical Classics vol. II – Medieval Philosophy (2nd ed.). New Jersey, pp. 266-272.
Albertus Magnus - In Latin:
De Anima. In Alberti Magni Opera Omnia. C. Stroick (ed.) (1968). vol. IIV pars I. Munster: Aschendorff. lib. 2 tract. 3 caps. 4-14, pp. 101-119.
De Caelo et Mundo. In Alberti Magni Opera Omnia. P. Hossfeld (ed.) (1971). vol. V pars I. Munster: Aschendorff. lib. 2 tract. 1 cap. 3, p. 107.
De Intellectu et Intelligibili. In Opera Omnia. A. Borgnet (ed.) (1800-1899). vol. IX. Paris: Vives, pp. 477-525 (This work is primarily concerned with knowledge, not with vision, but the explanation of vision here is done by way of a much elaborated analogies with vision, and much can be learned from it).
De Sensu et Sensato. In. Akdogan (ed. and tr.) (1978). pp. 25-102.
Super Dionysium De Divinus Nominibus. In Alberti Magni Opera Omnia. P. Simon (ed) (1972). vol. XXXVII,1. Munster: Aschendorff.
English translations:
On Sense and Sensibles. In Akdogan, C. (ed. and tr.) (1978), “Optics in Albert the Greast’s De Sensu et Sensato: An Edition, English Translation, and Analysis”. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. University of Wisconsin, pp. 104-229.
Secondary Sources
Camille, M. (2000). “Before the Gaze - The Internal Senses and Late Medieval Practices of Seeing”. In Robert S. Nelson (ed.). Visuality Before and Beyond the Renaissance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 197-223.
Crombie, A. C. ([1953]/1971). Robert Grosseteste – and the Origins of Experimental Science 1100-1700. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Dewan, L. (1996). “St. Albert, St. Thomas, and Knowledge”. American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 70 (1): 121-135.
Gilson, S. A. (2000). Medieval Optics and Theories of Light in the Works of Dante. Lewiston, Queenston & Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press.
Hergan, J. P. (2002). St. Albert the Greta’s Theory of the Beatific Vision. New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc.
Jay, M. (1993). Downcast Eyes -The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press.
Kristeller, P. O. (1979). Renaissance Thought and its Sources. New York: Colombia University Press.
Lindberg, D. C. (1976). Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
Lindberg, D. C. (1986). “The Genesis of Kepler’s Theory of Light: Light Metaphysics from Plotinus to Kepler”. Osiris, 2nd series 2: 5-42.
McEvoy, J. (1979). “The Metaphysics of Light in the Middle Ages”. Philosophical Studies 26: 126-145.
McEvoy, J. (1982). The Philosophy of Robert Grosseteste. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
McEvoy, J. (2000). Robert Grosseteste. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Miles, M. R. (1983). “Vision: the Eye of the Body and the Eye of the Mind in Saint Augustine’s De Trinitate and Confessions”. The Journal of Religion 63: 125-142.
Park, D. A. (1997). The Fire within the Eye – a Historical Essay on the Nature and Meaning of Light. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Reilly, G. C. (1934). “The Psychology of Saint Albert the Great – Compared with that of Saint Thomas”. Dissertation. Washington D. C: The Catholic University of America.
von Simson, O. (1962). The Gothic Cathedral: Origins of Gothic Architecture and the Medieval Concert of Order. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press (pp. 50-55 give an excellent summary of the medieval experience of light, and its most basic sources, characteristics and assumptions).
Smith, A. M. (2000). “Getting the Big Picture in Perspectivist Optics”. In M. H. Shank (ed), The Scientific Enterprize in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, pp. 315-336.
Speer, A. (1996). “Physics or Metaphysics? Some Remarks on Theory of Science and Light in Robert Grosseteste”. In J. Marenbon (ed). Aristotle in Bretain during the Middle Ages – Proceedings of the International Conference at Cambridge 8-11 April 1994. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 73-90.
Spruit, L. (1994). Species Intelligibilis from Perception to Knowledge, vol 1: Classical Roots and Medieval Discussions. Leiden: E. J. Brill.
Steneck, N. H. (1980). “Albert on the Psychology of Sense Perception”. In J. A. Weisheipl (ed.). Albertus Magnus and the Sciences: Commemorative Essays. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, pp. 263-290.
Tachau, H. K. (1988). Vision and Certitude in the Age of Ockham – Optics, Epistemology and the Foundations of Semantics 1250-1345. Leiden: E. J. Brill.
Dewan, L. (1996). “St. Albert, St. Thomas, and Knowledge”. American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 70 (1): 121-135.
Eastwood, B. (1968). “Medieval Empiricism: the Case of Robert Grosseteste’s Optics”. Speculum 43: 306-321.

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