© Cambridge, Cambridge University Library, MS Gg.1.1, fol. 490v–491r.


24. November 2023: 10:00–17:00

Im Rahmen des „Research Südtirol/Alto Adige“-2019-Projekts „MENS – Medieval Explorations in Neuro-Science (1050–1450): Ontology-Based Keyword Spotting in Manuscript Scans“ findet eine virtuelle Konferenz statt, die sich mit Gehirnkonzepten in der mittelalterlichen Philosophie, Theologie und Literatur beschäftigt. Die Auseinandersetzung mit der Anatomie und Physiologie des menschlichen Gehirns beschränkte sich im Mittelalter nicht nur auf medizinische Diskurse, sondern fand auch in seelentheoretischen und erkenntnistheoretischen Abhandlungen sowie in literarischen Texten, die sich mit der Rolle von Imagination und Gedächtnis beschäftigen, ihren Niederschlag.

Darüber hinaus widmet sich die Konferenz dem Auffinden von gehirnanatomischen und -physiologischen Referenzen in mittelalterlichen Manuskripten mithilfe von künstlicher Intelligenz. Im Projekt wurden hunderte Manuskripte mittels automatisierter Handschriftenerkennung durchsuchbar gemacht, um Schlüsselwörter aus dem Bereich der Gehirnanatomie und -physiologie zu finden.


  • Hubert Alisade (Universität Innsbruck, Österreich)
  • Diego Calvanese (Freie Universität Bozen, Italien)
  • Mario Klarer (Universität Innsbruck, Österreich)
  • Laetitia Loviconi (École pratique des hautes études (EPHE-PSL), Paris, Frankreich)
  • Aaron Tratter (Universität Innsbruck, Österreich)
  • Faith Wallis (McGill University, Montreal, Kanada)


10:00–10:15: Mario Klarer: Eröffnungsworte

10:15–11:00: Laetitia Loviconi: “Mens, amentia, dementia in medical practicae: Analysis of the Philonium (ca 1418) and of the Practica maior (1440–46)”

11:00–11:45: Diego Calvanese: “Preparing Manuscripts for Ontology-Based Keyword Spotting”

11:45–12:30: Aaron Tratter: “Statistical Analysis of Keyword Spotting Results in the MENS Project”

12:30–14:00: Mittagspause

14:00–14:45: Mario Klarer: “The Brain in Medieval Poetic Self-Reflection”

14:45–15:30: Hubert Alisade: “The Anatomy of the Human Brain in Constantine the African’s Theorica Pantegni (III.11) and Its Relationship to al-Mağūsī’s Royal Book and Galen”

15:30–16:15: Faith Wallis: “Strutting Enemies and Dancing Virgins: Brain, Soul, and Free Will in the Commentary on Johannitius’ Isagoge by Bartholomeus ‘of Salerno’”

16:15–17:00: Abschlussdiskussion


Laetitia Loviconi: “Mens, amentia, dementia in medical practicae: Analysis of the Philonium (ca 1418) and of the Practica maior (1440–46)”

I propose to examine the use of the term mens and alienatio mentis mainly in two practicae from the first half of the fifteenth century. The practicae are works that are primarily concerned with medical practice, and which therefore focus strongly on semiology, aetiology and therapeutics, but they also, especially in the fifteenth century, devote considerable attention to terminology, anatomy and physiology. While they therefore differ from more scholastic works such as the commentaries on the standard works of the medical university curriculum, they are nonetheless intended to provide the knowledge that makes medicine a science as well as an art, and this is why they are interesting for examining the meanings of the term mens in physiological and pathological contexts. The two practicae I have chosen are the Philonium, by Valesco de Tarente, dating from around 1418, and Michel Savonarola’s Practica maior, written between 1440 and 1446. I will also study here and there the Canon’s commentary of Jacques Despars, written between 1432 and 1453 (more precisely commentary on III.1).

The first circumscription of mens will be established in the practicae in the couple or alternation in which it is presented in different pathological situations. Mens and corpus appear as the two constituents of man, both of which are at stake in different diseases. It is therefore tempting to see the mens either as the equivalent of the soul, or as a part of the soul or a power of the soul. I will then study the discourses about mens in pathology subdivisions, in particular those dedicated to frenesis, mania, melancholia, lithargia, amor heroes, amentia, stoliditas and alienatio mentis to grasp what mens refers to from the soul virtues’ point of view. We will see that if mens can encompass all the internal senses, it often tends to focus on the rationality which relies on ration, cogitative virtue, intellect but also on imagination and memory. Even if patients with amentia seem mainly deprived of discursive cogitation, alienatio mentis (also permixtio and insania mentis) is a brain condition in which irrationality affects the patient, but which can originate in an affection of fantasia, ratio or memoria.

Diego Calvanese: “Preparing Manuscripts for Ontology-Based Keyword Spotting”

In-depth searching for specific content in medieval manuscripts requires labor-intensive, hence time-consuming manual manuscript screening. Using existing IT tools to carry out this task has not been possible, since state-of-the-art keyword spotting lacks the necessary metaknowledge or larger ontology that scholars intuitively apply in their investigations. This problem is being addressed in the “Research Südtirol/Alto Adige” 2019 project “MENS – Medieval Explorations in Neuro-Science (1050–1450): Ontology-Based Keyword Spotting in Manuscript Scans,” whose goal is to build a paradigmatic case study for compiling and subsequent screening of large collections of manuscript scans by using AI techniques for natural language processing and data management based on formal ontologies.

Aaron Tratter: “Statistical Analysis of Keyword Spotting Results in the MENS Project”

The keyword spotting function in Transkribus makes it possible to search for words in texts that were automatically recognized using a handwritten text recognition model. In contrast to full-text search, keyword spotting is able to find the searched-for words even if they are spelled incorrectly in the transcription. This is possible because the tool uses all probability values for each character and not only the most probable result. When a manuscript is examined for multiple keywords of a domain, the hits can be used to check whether the manuscript contains content related to that domain. In this talk, I will present the statistical analysis of keyword spotting results in the MENS project. In a case study, the keyword spotting function yielded 53,790 hits for eight searched-for keywords from the domain of brain anatomy and physiology in twenty-one automatically recognized manuscripts of the Codices Palatini latini. The distribution of these hits confirmed the occurrence of texts dealing with the human brain, including Avicenna’s (980–1037) De viribus cordis and Book 3 of his Canon of Medicine.

Mario Klarer: “The Brain in Medieval Poetic Self-Reflection”

A number of medieval authors, including Geoffrey Chaucer, Christine de Pizan, and Wernher der Gartenaere, devote central works of their oeuvre to poetic self-reflection or poetic allegory. This means that they reflect on the craft of writing and the process of reading by making recourse to brain anatomical and physiological concepts of the Middle Ages. In a number of instances, these authors employ extended ekphrases, i.e., descriptions of pieces of visual art, in order to shed light on reading and writing. This presentation tries to explore the logic of these descriptive passages in relation to brain anatomical and physiological concepts of the Middle Ages and to connect them to a poetology of what is privileged in medieval literary production and reception.

Hubert Alisade: “The Anatomy of the Human Brain in Constantine the African’s Theorica Pantegni (III.11) and Its Relationship to al-Mağūsī’s Royal Book and Galen”

It appears as a strange fact that modern research on the famous 11th century translator and scholar Constantine the African (d. c. 1087) from the 19th century on mainly focused on his biography as well as the literary sources of his works in general and therefore neglecting—for the most part—in-depth studies of individual aspects of the doctrines contained in his numerous translations of Arabic medical writings into Latin as well as microlevel investigations into the relationship between Constantine’s translations and his sources. In a way, this forms a striking contrast to the doctrinal influence Constantine exerted on Western medicine throughout the Middle Ages, to which countless surviving manuscripts from the late 11th to the 15th centuries and also the 16th century printed edition bear eloquent witness. With my presentation I would like to make a small contribution to a content-related as well as source-critical understanding of Constantine’s doctrine on the anatomy of the human brain, a topic that played an important role in medieval science, not only in medicine but also in philosophy, theology, and other areas of knowledge.

After a concise summary of the content of Theorica Pantegni III.11 (“De compositis membris interioribus ut cerebro”) according to MS The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, 73 J 6, the oldest Pantegni manuscript which in all probability was produced during Constantine’s lifetime and probably even under his auspices, I will first focus on the relationship between Constantine’s Latin translation and his vorlage, viz. the Kitāb kāmil aṣ-ṣināʿa aṭ-ṭibbīya (The Complete Book of the Medical Art) by the 10th century Muslim physician ʿAlī ibn al-ʿAbbās al-Mağūsī, that is also known under the name Kitāb al-malakī, i. e., The Royal Book. In doing so, I hope to be able to show that, contrary to the harsh criticism that the Pantegni already received in the 12th century from Stephen of Antioch, the re-translator of the Royal Book, Constantine’s work—at least in the brain anatomical chapter examined here—is a well-thought-out abbreviating adaptation of al-Mağūsī’s book which omits everything that is not considered necessary. Finally, I will take a step back and ask about the sources on which the brain anatomical chapter (III.11) of Constantine’s vorlage, the Royal Book, is based. A close comparison of al-Mağūsī’s text with Galen’s writings on anatomy will demonstrate that the Muslim physician’s doctrine on the human brain is an artistic literary mosaic composed of several works of Galen, especially—and not surprisingly—De anatomicis administrationibus and De usu partium. For the latter work I will also use the mostly unedited and unstudied Arabic version by the famous East Syrian translator Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq that is extant in MS Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, arab. 2853. It will turn out that just like Constantine has freed the Royal Book from what he considered to be superfluous ballast al-Mağūsī did essentially the same with the all too often verbose and tedious Galen, with the difference, however, that he did not abbreviate a single Galenic work but rather created a new synthesis from single components he found in the most important books on anatomy written by the great Greek physician.

Faith Wallis: “Strutting Enemies and Dancing Virgins: Brain, Soul, and Free Will in the Commentary on Johannitius’ Isagoge by Bartholomeus ‘of Salerno’”

The reception of Graeco-Arabic medical theory in Western Europe had a profound impact on ideas about psychology. In particular, Galen’s tripartite model of the physiological ‘spirits’ and their associated ‘operations’ and ‘virtues’ provided material for constructing a new model to explain human motivations, perceptions, and emotions. It is well documented how religious writers like the Cistercian William of Saint-Thierry adapted these medical ideas and debated their ethical implications. What is less well known is that medical thinkers of the time also reflected on the moral dimensions of medical models of psychology. In this paper, I explore the thinking of a medical writer of the middle decades of the 12th century, Bartholomeus ‘of Salerno.’ Bartholomeus was a famous teacher and practitioner, and the author of an influential suite of commentaries on the teaching anthology of medical texts later called the Articella. This anthology included Hunayn ibn Ishaq’s (Johannitius’) summary of Galenic medical theory (Isagoge) and Galen’s Ars medica or Tegni. In the Isagoge commentary, Bartholomeus notes that the ‘animal’ power located in the brain, and activated within and through its ventricles as reason, imagination, memory, takes its name from its cause, ‘because it proceeds from the soul (anima) and not from nature.’ The spiritual virtue, on the other hand, is called ‘spiritual’ from its effect, namely because it causes the inspiration of ‘spirit,’ that is, air. ‘And because it is ambiguous whether it proceeds from soul or nature or both, therefore it takes its name not from its cause, but from its effect.’ The ambiguous role of the spiritual virtue as the mediator between nature and soul was the topic of much reflection in the 12th century. Bartholomeus is very much au fait with these trends, but he rejects the view that emotions are exclusively the product of the heart. In his view, it is actually the brain that initiates emotion by forming a notion with a specific valuation. It does this by apprehending and judging phenomena relayed through the senses—for example, the sight of one’s enemy’s arrogant posture, or of the dancing of beautiful maidens. The heart responds when it registers the brain’s notion (a totally physiological process), and it does so by forming an emotional impetus (e.g., resentment against the enemy, or delight in the dancing maidens). At the interface of this physiological exchange between the brain and the heart lies the human capacity for free will. Bartholomeus explores this in detail in his discussion of sexual desire in the Tegni commentary, and of how moral virtue can direct the emotional traffic between brain and heart.

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