Friday, March 19, 2010

The Man Who Taught da Vinci How to Play Darts (and Trumped Galileo)

 Titlepage to De unius legis veritate et sectarum falsitate opus utilissimum y perspicacissimum. 

“Monti! Monti! Monti!”

The awkward, manic indecision of of a Let’s Make A Deal contestant as channeled by George Carlin?

No, just a simple exclamation asserting who wrote about the relative velocity of falling objects first, Galileo or Pietro Monti?

Monti Hall Who?

Warrior, scholar, theologian, and noble, Petrus Montius aka Pietro Monti (c.1457-1530) was a Spanish master at arms living and studying in Northern Italy who wrote volumes on military theory, martial arts, and science and nature, all of which are obscure, quite rare, and have only recently come to light. According to Stanley Anglo, Monti (aka Monte, Monci, Monis) was a friend of Leonardo da Vinci.

“At some time during the years 1497/9, Leonardo da Vinci wrote a little memorandum in one of his notebooks now preserved at the Institut de France in Paris. Evidently he  had been puzzling over certain problems concerning the trajectory of javelins, for he sketched what appears to be a technique for hurling spears by means of a sort of sling, and he noted: ‘Parla con Pietro Monti di questi tali modi di trarre i dardi’ [Spoke with Pietro Monti of these methods of drawing darts” i.e. javelins] (Richtler, The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci, Oxford, 1939, 2d edition, 2 vols., II, p.353],  and so we meet the man who taught Leonardo darts” (Anglo, The Antiquaries Journal, Vol. LXIX, 1989, pp. 261-278).

Okay, Da Vinci and Monti walk into a pub, they have a few pints, and play a game of darts. The room clears: These jolly nut-jobs are experimenting with trajectories and, one never knows, they may trajectory a dart right into somebody’s renaissance.

Fun with spear-chucking and science as public nuisance is not why we should care about Monti. We should think about him because of a book he wrote, published in 1509.

De unius legis veritate et sectarum falsitate opus utilissimum y perspicacissimum is not a title that trips off the tongue but Of the Whole Law True to Nature and the False Way: A Clear and Useful Work - about as obscure a tome as can be found - contains empirical observations on the relative velocity of falling objects 100 years before Galileo definitively proved Aristotle wrong about the subject.

“An immense encyclopaedia into which Monti has packed pretty well everything he has he has read and pondered concerning theology and science. It is stuffed with an erudition which ranges from Aristotle to Aquinas and Pietro d’Albano - though it must be acknowledged that there is no authority, however exalted, with whom Monti slavishly agrees… [This work contains] an extraordinary sequence of chapters dealing with the velocity of celestial, artificial and animal bodies, in which Monti discusses the relative velocity of falling objects - concluding against Aristotle, but with Galileo, that (whatever their dimensions) if of the same material, they fall at the same speed. The thing worth noting about this is, of course, that Galileo’s treatment of the problem is more than a century later, though it must be conceded that Monti’s view is wholly empirical, and that he formulates no mathematical law concerning his observation. Monti also considers the difference between objects moving directly and those which are spinning; and he attempts to compare the speed of crossbow bolts with stones propelled by gunpowder.” (Op cit., Anglo).

Aristotle’s conclusion that the motion of falling objects was proportional to their weight was initially doubted by John Philoponus (c.490CE-570CE) in the Theory of Impetus within his tome In Physics. His approach to the problem, however, was through critical thinking and commentary. In the fourteenth century, the “Oxford Calculators” of Merton College addressed the issue from a logico-mathematical vantage point, further eroding Aristotlean physics. In La Gnomonica (1553), Venetian mathematician Giambattista Benedetti determined through strict calculation that Aristotle was incorrect, eleven years before Galileo was born. His work is known as The Equality of Fall Rates.

In his observations on kinematics, Monti clearly ranks between the Oxford scholars of the fourteenth century and Giambattista Benedetti in the sixteenth century; whether he had a direct influence, however, upon Galileo, who definitively proved  Aristotle’s theory of kinematics to be wrong through experimental methods, remains unknown. Yet as early testament to its value and utility, the volume under notice was issued in a second edition eleven years later and was quite possibly read by Benedetti. With the reemergence of this tome, Of the Whole Law True to Nature and the False Way: A Clear and Useful Work, within just the last twenty-one years this true Renaissance Man can justifiably take his place amongst the natural scientists of his age, his scientific observations and conclusions based upon his thorough knowledge of military science.

The copy noted by Graesse was in the Crevenna Library. Pietro Antonio Crevenna (1726-1792) was an Italian merchant who lived in Amsterdam; his was one of the most important libraries in the Netherlands. It distinguished itself from other libraries in the eighteenth century through size and structure. It was a library of international renown, containing a rich diversity of the rarest books on all the sciences.  Due to financial problems Crevenna was forced to sell the larger part of his library in 1789. Material from the Crevenna collection are the highlights of many important libraries throughout the world. That Crevenna included this volume in his library stands as further testament to its contemporary scientific value.

Only one copy located, at Cambridge (classmark  P*.3.32C). No other copies located in OCLC or KVK.  Oxford and Yale possess copies of the second edition of 1522. This is a truly scarce book.

By the way, Door #2 contained a wheel of Mother Bocciwhatcha’s mozzeroni cheese, an all-expenses paid cruise through the Bermuda Triangle, and a copy of John Carter’s ABC For Book Collectors. Stinky cheese, deadly cruise - but a copy of Carter. Such a deal!

“Oh, Monty! Monty! Monty!”

MONTIUS, Petrus. De unius legis veritate et sectarum falsitate opus utilissimum y perspicacissimum. Habes lector optime hic divisum vomumen in libros undecim. (Mediolani [Milan]: Jo. Angelum scinzenzelar, impensa Jo. Jacobi & Fratum de Ligano, 1509).

Adams M1721. Paulau 178783. Graesse IV, 593.

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