7a. Erasmian Philology and Mathematical Astronomy: Jakob Ziegler and the Humanist Recovery of Pliny’s Natural History, Book Two
In the first half of the 16th century, humanists associated with Erasmus of Rotterdam gave new impulse to the reception, reading and interpretation of the astronomical sections of Pliny’s Natural History. This novel interest is documented by the Basle publication, in 1531, of In C. Plinii de naturali historia librum secundum commentarius (Commentary on Pliny’s Natural History Book Two) authored by Erasmus’s collaborator Jacob Ziegler (1470-1549), shortly followed by another commentary composed by Erasmus’ pupil Jacob Milich (1501-1559), professor of mathematics in Melanchthon’s Wittenberg. These commentaries showed not only philological competences but also and foremost astronomical and mathematical expertise.
These sources reveal the philological and mathematical skills underlying the editorial and scholarly culture of the humanists working in Erasmus’s environment. In particular, this article focuses on Ziegler’s commentary on Pliny’s planetary theory as presented in Natural History II, 12-16. This is the basis for an assessment of Ziegler’s approach, supplemented by some historical prospects about the further circulation of this Plinian work among German humanists—pointing to Milich’s commentary, issued and received in a Melanchthonian context.
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