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Robert Balfour

(c. 1555—1626) philosopher and classical scholar


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Robert Balfour was a younger son of the family of Tarrie in Angus. He graduated in arts from St Salvator's College, St Andrews, in 1573, later acting as examiner. He is said to have studied in Paris, although his name is not recorded in that University; thereafter, he lectured at Toulouse. From Toulouse he was invited to Bordeaux, where he has been identified with an anonymous Scot who lectured there in 1582 on Greek and mathematics. His first two published works were translations from the Greek, one of Gelasius of Cyzicus on the Council of Nicaea (published Paris, 1599), the other of Cleomedes' Meteora (published Bordeaux, 1605). Another work, by Theodore of Raithu, on De incarnatione N.D. Jesu Christi (also published 1589), was highly commended by Isaac Casaubon, brought to the attention of Joseph Scaliger, and republished in Leiden as late as 1820. Later at Balfour's Collège de Guienne, Bishop François de Foix de Candale founded a chair of mathematics, of which Balfour was the first occupant. He was an earnest Catholic, as could be seen in 1584, when he with others volunteered to go back and campaign in Scotland, and again when he corresponded with David Graham of Fintray, executed for his part in the pro-Spanish ‘Blanks’ episode. Two Pronunciata philosophica, printed in Bordeaux in 1588 and 1589, theses on the whole arts curriculum, have survived, as well as dictated lectures on different works of Aristotle for 1587–90, which can be found in the National Library of Scotland (MS. 2236). His philosophical works show the influence of his St Andrews teacher, John Rutherford, with his opposition to the fashionable Ramism of the day, and his preference for Aristotle's Greek commentators such as Alexander of Aphrodisias, Themistius, Simplicius and Philoponus. He is politely critical also of Rudolf Agricola, a favourite with Rutherford's predecessor at St Salvator's, William Cranston. The medieval commentators, however, were gaining a revived interest, and Balfour's work reflects this, being especially deferential to Thomas Aquinas. Logic, Balfour maintained, has nothing to do with rhetoric; yet he quotes widely from classical sources, Greek as well as Latin. Among contemporaries, he favours above all Giacomo Zabarella. Balfour seems to have had more than a local fame, attracting many Scots to Bordeaux. Among his dictated lectures are those on ‘Mathematica quaedam praecepta a viro doctissimo Roberto Balforeo nobili Scoto tradita 1595’ (MS. 2 in the Bibliothèque municipale de Tulle). He became Principal of the College of Guienne in 1602 (year of a disastrous fire), and remained there until his death.

From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.


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