28455 - History of Semiotics (2nd cycle)

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2018/2019

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course, the student knows the history of semiotics, according to historical methods and semiotics, and the latest critical orientations.

Course contents

The first module of the course (equivalent to a 6 cfu course) in reference to the key texts, follows the development of linguistic and semiotic theories of the classical period (greek and latin), the Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, from Plato to the fourteenth century, with a hint to the subsequent developments.

Special attention is given to methodological aspects of research in different periods and to some theories, like that of Aristotle and Augustine, who most contributed to the development of the debate on sign and signification during the Middle Ages and the following centuries.

The second module (only for students of the 12 cfu course) is devoted to "Porphyry's Isagoge and its reception in medieval and contemporary philosophy".

Starting point will be the Porphyry's Isagoge and the essay by Umberto Eco dedicated to the Porphyrian tree (in its various versions, from 1981 to 1983). The reception of Porphyry's work in the Latin world, between XIIth and XIVth centuries, will be examined in its general lines, given the role it plays in Eco's interpretation.


First module

1. G. Manetti, Le teorie del segno nell'antichità classica, Milano: Bompiani, 1987 (excepted chap. 1 and 2).

2. C. Marmo, La semiotica tardo antica e alto medievale, unpublished texts can be downloaded from the online repository).

3. C. Marmo, Segni e linguaggio nel XII secolo, unpublished texts can be downloaded from the online repository).

4. C. Marmo, La semiotica del XIII secolo tra arti liberali e teologia, Milano: Bompiani, 2010.

5. C. Marmo, "Guglielmo di Ockham", in Filosofie nel tempo, eds. P. Salandini e R. Lolli, vol. I: Dalle origini al XIV secolo, Roma: Spaziotre, 2001, 1157-1188 (downloadable from the online repository).

Second module

Porfirio, Isagoge, Italian transl. by G. Girgenti, Milano: Bompiani, 2004 (Engl. transl. Porphyry, Introduction, ed. J. Barnes, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006; french transl. Porphyre, Isagoge, éd. A. de Libera et A.Ph. Segonds, Paris: Vrin, 1998).

U. Eco, “Significato”, Enciclopedia Einaudi, XII, Torino: Einaudi, 1981, 831-876 (repr. in U. Eco, Semiotica e filosofia del linguaggio, Torino: Einaudi, 1984, cap. 2).

U. Eco, “L’antiporfirio”, in in Il pensiero debole, ed. G. Vattimo and P.A. Rovatti, Milano: Feltrinelli 1983, (repr. in Sugli specchi e altri saggi, Milano: Bompiani, 1985, 334-361).

S. Ebbesen, “Porphyry’s Legacy to Logic: A Reconstruction”, in Aristotle Transformed: The Ancient Commentators and Their Influence, ed. R. Sorabji, London: Duckworth, 1990, 141-171.

C. Marmo, “Eco’s Semiotics and Medieval Philosophy”, in The Philosophy of Umberto Eco, eds. S.C. Beardsworth & R.E. Auxier, Chicago: Open Court, 2017, pp. 103-131.

Boethius, (Estratti da) In Isagogen Porphyrii commenta, ed. S. Brandt, Wien-Leipzig: Tempsky-Freytag, 1906 (CSEL, 48).

C. Militello, I commentari all’Isagoge di Porfirio tra V e VI secolo, Acireale-Roma: Bonanno, 2010.


And a selection of texts from the most important commentaries among those composed between XIIth and XIVth century; they will be provided in digital version at the beginning of the second part of the course.

Teaching methods

The teaching of the first module will consist of lectures on the topics detailed in the timetable. The texts commented upon during these lectures will be available from the beginning of the course, so they can be read by attending students and discussed during lectures, from a historical, critical and theoretical point of view.

The teaching of the second module will consist of a seminar. The reference texts include primary sources (published and unpublished or manuscript) and secondary literature. Much of the primary sources will be made available in digital format during the course.

Assessment methods

The exam will consist of a written test on the first module content and an oral exam for the second.

The written exam consists of three open-ended questions, each relating to one of the three periods examined: classical antiquity (IV BC - II A.D.); late-antiquity and early middle ages (III - XI A.D.); high middle ages (XII-XIV A.D.). The questions will be aimed at verifying:
1. the knowledge of the theories examined and discussed during the lectures;
2. the ability to locate the theories in the appropriate cronological and historical-critical framework;
3. the propriety of the written linguistic expression.

For the second module, the exam will consist of an oral exam on the sources or secondary literature or in the elaboration of a paper drawn up on the basis of one or more texts included in the bibliography or examined in class. The topic of the essay must be agreed upon with the teacher at least two weeks before the date of discussion. Attending students will have the opportunity to present and discuss in class the theme of their essays; in this case, the topic must be agreed upon with the teacher at least two weeks before the presentation in class.

The possession by the student of historical, semiotic and philosophical knowledge must be accompanied by critical thinking on the use of bibliographic tools and secondary literature, and by the possession of good command of written and oral language.

The two tests will contribute at 50% each to the final assessment.

Exam registration is done online from the site AlmaEsami.

The vote will be assigned by calculating the average of the votes assigned to each answer to individual questions, taking into account the following evaluation levels:

30 cum laude: excellent performance showing soundness of knowledge, rich discursive articulation, appropriate expression, interest of critical contribution;

30: Excellent performance, complete, and appropriate knowledge, well-articulated and appropriately expressed, with interesting critical contributions;

29-27: Good performance, more than satisfactory knowledge, correct expression.

26-24: Standard performance, essential knowledge, but not comprehensive and / or not always correctly expressed;

23-21: Sufficient performance, general but superficial knowledge; often inappropriate expression and/or confused articulation of speech;

20-18: Poor performance, sufficient expression and articulation of speech with significant gaps;

<18: Insufficient performance, knowledge absent or very incomplete, lack of orientation in the discipline, poor and seriously flawed expression.

Teaching tools

As a complement of the program and the indicated bibliography, the texts presented and discussed during the course will be made available to the students in digital format.
In the second module texts by various authors and scholars will be read in the original language and/or in translation, and will be listed at the beginning of the module.

Office hours

See the website of Costantino Marmo