On Aristotle’s “On the Heavens”


In collaboration with the Chinese scholar Li Zhizao (1565–1630), Portuguese missionary Fu Fanji (Francisco Furtado, 1587–1653) translated two Western works into Chinese. They were Huan you quan (On heaven and Earth), a translation with scholarly commentaries of Aristotle’s De Coelo et Mundo, and Ming li tan (Inquiries into the principles of names), a partial free translation of Aristotelian logic. A work of cosmology rather than of religion, the first book originally was a part of the eight-volume Commentarii Collegii Conimbrincensis Societatis Iesu, in quator libros De Coelo … Aristotelis Stagiritae, prepared and published in 1592 by the Jesuits at the College of Coimbra, Portugal, with Pedro de Fonseca as the chief editor. Furtado translated the Latin into Chinese, which was then polished by Li Zhizao. At the end of each juan is an inscription by Li Zhizao, stating that it was translated by Portuguese missionary Furtado and perfected by himself, in his Cunyuan garden near the West Lake. By the time the translation was complete, Furtado had mastered Chinese so well that “gradually he could say what he wanted to say.” The collaboration of Furtado and Li Zhizao on Ming li tan then followed. Qian qing tang shu mu (Bibliography of Qian qing tang), the catalog of a comprehensive collection of the Ming dynasty works, and some later bibliographies erroneously identify the author of this work as Fu Zhaoji and the work as Daoist. This copy has six juan, in a total of 375 leaves. A preface by Li Zhizao precedes the main text. The inscription at the end of the table of contents indicates that it was printed by Li at his own expense, and that he owned the print blocks. Juan 1 gives the outline in five paragraphs; juans 2–6 contain 15 essays and an appendix. At the end of the work, Li also listed the names of proofreaders and revisers, including Li Ningshi (Pedro Ribeiro, 1572–1640), Zeng Dezhao (Alvaro Semedo, 1585–1658), Fei Lede (Rodrigue de Figuerdo, 1594–1642), and Yang Manuo (Emmanuel Diaz, 1574–1659). He also provided the completion date of the translation (1625) and that of the printing (1628). The printing is exquisitely done, and it is surprising that no reprints ever were published. This copy is one of the first impressions. Juan 6 and the table of contents are handwritten transcriptions.

Last updated: June 21, 2012