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On Portability


Portability is one of the main concepts that I will be using in order to conceptualize the transmission and circulation of the works of Ramon Llull during the early modern period. It encompasses edition, translation, commentary, and a bunch of other things that I will explain in the following post. If you care for knowing how I have found a term that fits into the particularities of manuscripts and printed books I am studying and how I have reached a definition, please read on. But do so keeping in mind that this could all change by the next post.

Madrid, BNE, MSS/174, ff. 120v-121r.

I must confess that the word “portability” came to me in the middle of a discussion. It was not my idea; I just invented it [<lat. invenio], meaning that I found it. I could say I caught it, kind of.

It was a felicitous suggestion made by one of the advisors of my second MPhil reading list (and hopefully of my future dissertation), Seth Kimmel. I have decided to stick to it because in a way it encompasses all the possible types of books that can be found while looking for sources related to Ramon Llull during the early modern period, both hand-copied and printed. In a Borgesian type of list there are: a) single editions of works by Ramon Llull (very rare); b) editions of several works by Ramon Llull in a volume; c) miscellaneous editions of different books by different authors that include works by Ramon Llull in them (quite common); d) books that quote explicitly Ramon Llull creating a dialogue with aspects of his figure and work, such dialogue can be encomiastic (Juan de Herrera in his Discurso de la figura cúbica), condemnatory (Francisco Peña in his 1578 edition of Nicolau Eimerich’s Directorum Inquisitorum), or somewhere in-between (Giovanni Pico della Mirandola in his Conclusiones CM publicae disputandae); e) books that re-work some aspects of the theories of Llull making them more challenging and difficult (Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim and his reinterpretation of the Art included in De occulta philosophia libri III); f) books that borrow the theories of Llull without quoting him at all (such as it has been suspected for don Juan Manuel’s Libro de los estados, a Castilian political treatise written in the 14th century, or what happens with Nikolaus von Kues’s De docta ignorantia); and, g) books falsely attributed to Llull that relate him to disciplines such as alchemy or the kabbalah (such as Piero Mainardi’s De auditu kabbalistico).

No wonder why a medievalist told me once that he avoided all things related to Llull because they are too difficult to navigate. Without regretting my choice of dissertation topic, I am starting to see how right he was.

Also no wonder why in the Directorum Inquisitorum, Nicolau Eimerich makes a distinction between the condemnation to Ramon Llull itself and his writings and the condemnation of Lullism, formed by what he calls the sequaces of Llull: “Iste Raymundus Lull multos sequaces habuit, atque habet hodie, qui impudenter doctrinam suam, licet hæreticam & perversam, atque ab ecclesia reprobatam, totis viribus sustinent & defendant; & defendentes in errores varios incident: qui sequaces Lullistae ab isto Raymundo Lull communiter appelantur.” (Dir. Inq. IIP. Q.IX, 189-90) I call portability of Ramon Llull to all the textual manifestations of Lullism (even the ones that are contrary and condemn his doctrines, or the ones that are apocryphal). Lullism, anti-Lullism, and pseudo-Lullism form a very complex cultural problem and a fascinating if troubling corpus. This corpus cannot be deemed as a mere “reception.” It is way more than that.

Early modern Lullist books constitute a very complex textual process made of successive copies, editions, translations, and commentaries. The fact that most authors that have dealt with this corpus belonged to an erudite tradition has provided us until today with an excellent if fragmentary account of the phenomenon of portability. Nevertheless, the careful recollection of data should not keep us from trying to approach the phenomenon of early modern circulation of ancient and medieval books in a less atomized way. What I am attempting to do in my dissertation with the works of Ramon Llull could and possibly should be attempted with other auctores such as Paracelsus, Hildegard von Bingen, or Arnau de Vilanova, just to name three that come quickly to mind. Ultimately, this study of the portability of Ramon Llull allows to read not only inside the texts but also around them, it allows us to think about how they connect different agents and institutions. To my eyes, using portability is the only way to create an integrated history of the agents, the institutions, and the ideas.

Today I have found a great example of the highly frustrating type e) working at the BNE with the volume MSS. 174. The exemplar is a beautiful manuscript in octavo copied in pretty legible cursive minuscule (thank goodness for that!) with alternated majuscules at the beginning of each paragraph in red and blue (as it was the 14-15th century fashion for French manuscripts). The volume is dated as being copied at the ending of the 15th century and it contains several books that discuss destiny and human willpower from a theological standpoint. The first of the compiled works is a Castilian translation of Boetius’s De consolatione philosophia, the second is a dialogue between a certain Gonzalo Morante and a “mal christiano” named Juan Rojel about free will and predestination, the third is a series of annotations of the same Gonzalo Morante to the previous translation, and the fourth is a Castilian translation of the Latin version of Gregory the Great of Job’s Moralia. What interests me the most is a paragraph I have found in the second of the works copied in the manuscript: “E por ende conviene quassy como es en dios sabiduria que assy sean en dios poder et otras dignydades: segun que aqui se sigue. Dios es sabiduria. poder. justicia. voluntad. bondad. verdad. gloria. virtud. eternidad. grandeza et perffeçion. Et todos estos atributos son en dios una mesma cosa en numero et un solo dios esto conviene que sea assy que assy como dios sabe con sabiduria assy es justo con justiçia et ama con su voluntad et assy celas otras dignidades.” (ff. 120v-121r) Dignitates are the main features the Art of Ramon Llull, the way in which order of nature corresponds to the main features of divine nature. They are not concepts since Llull is what today would be called a realist in terms of logic, somebody who believed that this dignitates where to be found in nature (they were not mental structures, but given features) and that it was possible to know divine nature ascending from them.

Contemporary authors such as Josep Perarnau i Espelt and Fernando Domínguez Reboiras have showed that Gonzalo Morante never existed and that the identities that have been hypothesized such as the humanist fray Diego de Valencia are very improbable. In spite of not knowing who was the author of this treatise, it illustrates the complexity of the portability of Ramon Llull. Lullism is there, his terms are borrowed but he is not mentioned. The figurae artis and other typical visual features of his doctrine are nowhere to be found.

From such a text, it possible to establish that: a) a vernacular Castilian circulation of Llull existed previous to the constitution of Cisneros’s circle; b) Cisneros’s circle may have experienced the influence of Castilian vernacular Lullism and therefore intellectuals such as Alonso de Proaza and Nicolau de Pacs may have been in contact not only with Parisian and Mediterranean centers; c) the vernacular tradition was partially related to the theological debate about free will and human destiny that came all the way from Boetius and that may have been related to the debates Petrarch had suscitated with his De remediis utriusque fortunae (here it may be useful the importance the book had in the circle of the Marqués de Santillana); d) by the 15th century Llull was seen as an auctor nearer in time but ultimately authoritative enough to be included in the volume along with Boetius and Gregory the Great; e) as I have pointed, the ideas and vocabulary here come from the Art, but the figurae artis were not included: this could mean that idiosyncratic Lullist thinking machines were not introduced to Castilian culture by this point, or that the author did not want to include them in order to make his manuscript less expensive. So far, these are all hypothesis, c) being a particularly loose one. Nonetheless, they are the measure of the portability of Lullism and its use in Late medieval Castilian theological debates. At least to some extent, this is the point from which Cisneros and later Philip II picked up the Art.

Last Updated 2 years ago


  • Agrippa von Nettesheim, Heinrich Cornelius. De occulta philiosophia libri III. Köln, 1533. Print.
  • Cusa, Nicholas of. On Learned Ignorance. Trans. Jasper Hopkins. Minneapolis: The Arthur J. Banning Press, 1981. Print.
  • Don Juan Manuel. El libro de los estados. Eds. Ian R. McPherson & Robert Brian Tate. Madrid: Castalia, 1991. Print.
  • Eimeric, Nicolau. Directorivm Inqvisitorvm R. P. F. Nicolai Eymerici, Ord. Præd. S. Theol. Mag. Inquisitoris hæreticæ prauitatis in Regnis Regis Aragonum, Denvo Ex Collatione Plvrivm, exemplarium emendatum, et accessione multarum literarum, Apostolicarum, officio Sanctæ Inquisitionis deseruientium, locupletatum, Cvm Scholiis Sev Annotationibvs eruditissimis D. Francisci Pegnæ Hispani, S. Theologiæ et Iuris Vtriusque Doctoris. Accessit rerum et verborum multiplex et copiosissimus Index. Cum Priulegio, et Superiorum approbatione. Ed. Francisco Peña. Roma: In Aedibvs Pop Rom, 1578. Print.
  • Herrera, Juan de. Sobre la figura cúbica. Ed. Manuel Arrate Peña. Santander & Camargo: Universidad de Cantabria-Ayuntamiento de Camargo, 1998. Print.
  • Llull, Ramon [Mainardi, Piero]. Opusculum de auditu cabbalistico. Venezia, 1518. Print.
  • Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni. Opera omnia Ioannis Pici Mirandulae. Basel: Henricus Petri, 1557. Print.
  • Tratados varios. Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España. MSS. 174. Manuscript.


Noel Blanco Mourelle, « On Portability », Blogs, Columbia University | LAIC, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (online), published on October 24, 2014. Full URL for this article

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