The manuscript COD. 2262 of the National Library of Portugal (BNP) is one of the most valuable items of Portuguese heritage. Written in Latin, it contains a small treatise about the structure of the eye and the principles of vision,
followed by commentaries on Euclids Optics and Catoptrics,
a small study of statics formerly attributed to Archimedes (De
ponderibus siue de incidentibus in humidis) and finally, an
unfinished commentary on a text of the Arab astronomer known by
the Latin name of Gebre.Its author was Francisco de Melo (c. 1490-1536),
a Portuguese humanist to whom King Manuel I granted a scholarship
to study Arts, Mathematics and Theology in the University of Paris,
where he also taught, and eventually became the Director of the
University of Lisbon (1529-1533). He was the most important Portuguese
mathematician of his time, revered inside and outside Portugal,
both by his peers and by common people. This is confirmed by many
sources, such as; among others, Gaspar Lax, in the preface to his
own Arithmetica Speculativa duodecim libros demonstrata
(1515); Gil Vicente, in the prologue to the Trovas de Filipe
GuilhÃ©m and to the Auto da Feira; AndrÃ© de Resende, in
his Oratio pro rostris (1534).
The need to study this manuscript according to a Portuguese and
European perspective has been emphasized by many national and international
scholars, such as LuÃs de Albuquerque or Marshall Clagett; the
latter even edited the part of the manuscript related to Pseudo-Archimedes,
in a work internationally recognized as among the best in its field
of scholarship [note:
Archimedes in the Middle Ages: The Fate of the Medieval Archimedes,
Philadelphia, American Philosophical Society, 1978, vol. 3, pp.
146 ss.]. The alleged reasons are very strong indeed:
it is the only known mathematical work of Francisco de Melo, it
is the only of its kind written by a Portuguese scholar with worldwide
reputation and it constitutes one of the oldest surviving testimony
of the attempts to interpret texts related to Euclid and Archimedes
during the Renaissance.
Despite these facts, the contents of the manuscript remain unpublished.
Two reasons justify this state of affairs. The transcription of
the text is especially difficult to carry out because of the handwriting
and the bad conditions of the codex itself; the translation and
study are complex tasks because the text is written in a very technical
Latin, and the interpretation of its contents requires specific
skills in the domain of mathematics, classical studies and history
of sciences. The state-of-the-art and the to-do-list related to
this manuscript remains the same since TeÃ³filo Braga wrote, some
120 years ago: âit is a shame that these commentaries remain unpublished;
edited with a critical-historical study, they would relate Portugal
to the intellectual movement of the Renaissance in a dignifying
da Universidade de Coimbra nas suas relaÃ§Ãµes com a InstruÃ§Ã£o
PÃºblica Portuguesa, Lisboa, Tipografia da Academia Real das
CiÃªncias, 1892-1902, 4 vols., vol. I (1289 a 1555), p. 324].
An unexpected discovery made this task pressing and unavoidable.
The BNP was informed, in the end of 2011, that the manuscript originally
offered by Francisco de Melo to King Manuel I as a gift in return
for the scholarship granted to him, and whose relation to the copy
located in the BNP remains obscure, had been found in the small
City Archive of Stralsund (Germany), after being lost for almost
This project proposes to edit, translate and study the commentaries
of Francisco de Melo to Euclid and Pseudo-Archimedes, based on the
two copies known at the moment, now that the existing circumstances
are so much favourable to interpret such fundamental source of Portuguese
culture with so high an international significance.
This being an exploratory project, the team members wish to follow
a second line of investigation, which will complement the main research.
Given the fact that Francisco de Melo states that he had taught
some lessons on Euclidâs Elements, it will be determined whether
there is a specific Portuguese tradition related to the interpretation
of Euclidean treatises on optics and geometry. To achieve this task,
a list of Euclid-related manuscripts and printed sources available
in libraries and archives of Lisbon will be made, without any chronological
boundaries. An anthology, with an introductory study, will be prepared,
in order to produce new perspectives for future projects of investigation.
The study of a particular mathematical tradition with roots in Antiquity
as a part of Portuguese culture is a novelty in our country. The
work of Francisco de Melo alone justifies such an endeavour.