“To make these discoveries in the 21st Century is frankly nutty”

It was spectacular enough when X-ray fluorescence was used last year to reveal original texts by Archimedes, among others – obscured when the 10th Century parchment they were transcribed on was used in the construction of a 13th Century palimpsest. Now another imaging method, multispectral imaging, has revealed in the palimpsest an early commentary to Aristotle’s Categories, also here, which is thought to be the work of Alexander of Aphrodisias in the 2nd or 3rd Century AD. There was a live webcast, by the project director Dr William Noel, from the American Philosophical Society’s General Meeting earlier today which might be available in their archives, or maybe this archive, at some point.From the BBC report

A provisional translation of the commentary is currently being undertaken.

It reveals a debate on some aspects of Aristotle’s theory of classification, such as: if the term “footed” is used for animals, can it be used to classify anything else, such as a bed?

The passage reads:

For as “foot” is ambiguous when applied to an animal and to a bed, so are “with feet” and “without feet”. So by “in species” here [Aristotle] is saying “in formula”.

For if it ever happens that the same name indicates the differentiae of genera that are different and not subordinate one to the other, they are at any rate not the same in formula.

Dr Noel said: “There is no more important philosopher in the world than Aristotle. To have early views in the 2nd and 3rd Century AD of Aristotle’s Categories is just fantastic.”

“We have one book that contains three texts from the ancient world that are absolutely central to our understanding of mathematics, politics and now philosophy,” he said.

“I am at a loss for words at what this book has turned out to be. To make these discoveries in the 21st Century is frankly nutty – it is just so exciting.”