The Medieval Review 11.05.02

Copeland, Rita, and Ineke Sluiter. Medieval Grammar and Rhetoric, Language Arts and Literary Theory, AD 300-1475. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Pp. xii, 972. 175.00 ISBN 978-0-19-818341-9. .

Reviewed by:

Michael Calabrese
California State University, Los Angeles

Lucky owners of this massive anthology ought to delight themselves by skipping directly to the first primary selection to hear the voice of Terentianus Maurus (ca.300), known mainly today for having said in his verse grammar that "books have their fates." Terentianus speaks as a caring teacher, addressing his son and son-in-law but, of course, now speaking to us and all readers through time. He explains his need, in his retirement, to keep busy and sharp, inspiring him to write this treatise on letters and syllables. Like an old Olympic archer, he says, who devises a geriatric workout to keep limber (pulling up pails of water from a well by concentrating all the body's energy and muscles through the fingertips), he has decided to do some instructional writing. He ends his work by recounting how even though sick while working, he fought hard and "finished what [he] had begun" so that, he says, "uncertain of my life, even so, people could see I had lived" (81). This statement emblemizes the anthology as a whole, which labors to preserve the work of around 50 authors (plus countless authorities they allege and, by extension, the thousands of scribes, now lost to history, who preserved these texts) that dedicated themselves as poets, scholars and teachers to the life of the mind and to the development of learning, both humane and sacred. Its 1000 pages of primary material and apparatus defy paraphrase and summary, and its uses are as varied as its readers will be over the next 50 years (how could it need revision as there is nothing to add?). But one way of apprehending our experience as readers is to hear the voices of our greater forebears; we are used to a certain occlusion and anonymity (and an artful rhetorical pretence) in our imaginative authors such as Chaucer, Langland, and Dante, but in many of these instructional works we hear the voice of real men working for the good of their students and communities, thus providing a bond of kinship to us and to ours.

The book compiles primary selections in the history of grammar and rhetoric from the Late Classical to the late medieval periods (300 to 1475), allowing us access to so many texts that were widespread and important in their day but just not available in modern editions or translations until now--and certainly not in one place with notes, apparatus, and contextualizing introductory essays. Some major authors who are widely available, such as Boethius, Aquinas, and Alan of Lille, are represented minimally or with lesser-known selections, allowing space for a score of authors that, so to speak, one hears of from time to time in medieval academic circles, but has not been able to read. For example, many of us know the story Augustine tells of Victorinus in the Confessions (8.2), whose name is heroically chanted as he enters church and converts, but who can say they have ever read any Victorianus? Here is our chance, and, as it turns out, his writing is lively and powerful, as he reminds us that "wisdom by itself is not very useful" (107), a doctrine better known from his younger contemporary, Augustine, and a thousand years later from Piers Plowman. The editors note, in fact (v), that half of the selections here have never been translated into English before.

Just too expensive for students, the book is for libraries and personal collections but not the classroom, though it can really be a two-semester long course itself (for the very few who would get to teach a two-term class in medieval literary theory). It will more likely be a companion to scholarly research (at any level) because it takes us into the workshop and schoolroom, into the books that lie behind all the creative work of our medieval poets. These translations can be cited widely, though in some cases one would have to track down the original editions when available (all duly referenced) to cite the Latin (when that level of precision and quotation is demanded by publishing context). Thus, since everything here (save the Middle English) is in translation, the book will not serve as a source for advanced scholars in the fields of medieval Latin learning but can be a "resource" of information and access for all readers who need to know--and seek to know--the many intricate histories of grammar and rhetoric revealed here. From that perspective, there is no telling what this collection will reveal about the artistry and educational purposes of our major poems such as the Canterbury Tales and Piers Plowman (here I speak from my own most immediate potential application), as this book provides us the very texts, lessons and academic practices that lie behind our authors' own voices. For teachers of medieval English vernacular medieval literature, while sources per se, such as Boethius, Boccaccio, the Romance of the Rose, the Bible, Dante, etc. have been long used and are available, works in grammar and rhetoric have not and, correspondingly, have not been used as extensively in our research and teaching.

This has obviously been changing, and this anthology enters the scene at a particularly ripe moment, just as manuscript studies and detailed material histories are flourishing. Now there is nothing here about codicology and textual studies, but those fields will be strongly bolstered by this access to the widespread educational texts that filled so many medieval manuscripts and were inherent parts of the study and libraries of our authors. Here is the company our authors kept, the deep context for their creative productions, and just as we study the anthologies that medieval people made and the relations between collected texts, we can now know more about those ubiquitous grammatical and rhetorical works--the "ground of all" to employ Langland's phrase about the former. This book continues the great prior contributions of Copeland herself and of A.J. Minnis's and Scott's anthology of Medieval Literary Theory and Criticism c. 1100--c. 1375: The Commentary-Tradition, for the texts here reveal not only what we would call grammar but also close reading, literary criticism, philology, and literary theory; many of our current practices today are witnessed in these texts.

The "General Introduction" is really a short monograph (60 pages) on the history of medieval grammar and rhetoric; it offers various frameworks in which we can understand the selections within and often, necessarily, assumes knowledge of the contents. An example of the tone and fabric of the introduction: "The trivium can also be seen as a synthetic and dynamic unit of 'logic' in which words, however treated, are linked to logos as reasoning. The notion that language and reasoning are unified is certainly essential to the Stoic understanding of 'logic' as a division of knowledge" (8). These synthetic and analytic summaries and histories are best read in focused connection to the actual contents of the anthology. But each section and author has its own prolegomena. Each of the book's six parts, as well, has its own focused introduction of 5-10 pages, which traces the major intellectual changes (and movements in educational history) that e/affect the productions of works in grammar and rhetoric, such as the rise of cathedral schools and the infusion of Platonic and Aristotelian texts from Arabic sources in the 12th century. Let's examine some selected highlights from each of the 6 parts: (see the table of contents for full listings).

Arts of Language, ca 300-ca 950: Includes Terentianus; Donatus; Victorinus (on the De Inventione); Servius (on the Aeneid), Martianus Capella; Priscian; Boethius (De topicis diferentiis); Cassiodorus on the Psalms, where he compares human and divine eloquence: "now eloquence is the right and fitting exposition of any particular matter. But the eloquence of the divine law is a chaste, secure, truthful, and eternal proclamation" (213); Isidore; Bede; and Alcuin, whose dialogue between a Frank and Saxon (versions of Charlemagne and himself?) portrays, as the editors describe "an ideal schoolroom scenario in which the boys are deeply curious and eager to learn" (274).

Dossiers on the Ablative Absolute and Etymology: Though part 2 contains some lesser-known authors (such as the "School of Ralph of Beauvais: Gloss Promisimus on Priscian") these various selections about the ablative and etymons, drawn from all periods under study in a "diachronic overview" (312), include the Prologue to the Wyclifitte Bible; Augustine from De Dialectica; and Osbern of Gloucester's Derivationes, the prologue of which provides more of that intimate portrait of the medieval teacher that I maintain is one of the virtues of this majestic anthology. So useful as well is the inclusion of the lively etymologist Hugutio of Pisa (who, as our editors tell us, used Osbern "directly," 343). "[C]ommodities, virtue, and knowledge," writes Hugutio in his dramatic account of the history and function of knowledge [scientia], are God's threefold remedy since "the human race fell" because of "the devil-induced transgression of our first-created" [Adam] (358). Such word books of Osbern's and Hugutio's were the sourcebooks/handbooks employed in medieval grammatical commentaries of all kinds, as this reviewer learned in encountering the Commentary on the Sequences according to the Sarum Usage found in a 15th-century Piers Plowman manuscript. Where poetry is, "grammar" is never far behind.

Sciences and Curricula of language in the Twelfth Century: Includes Wiliam of Conches's Second Redaction of his Commentary on Priscian's Institutiones ("it is not inappropriate if in our old age we revise something we wrote in our youth," 384); John of Salisbury from the Metalogicon; and Alan of Lille's Anticlaudianus; though these two famous authors are widely available, they thrive well in the presence of their peers and predecessors because in individually presented volumes, their work can be hard to contextualize historically and stylistically. In other words, we visit old friends at home here and thus understand them anew. The editors helpfully explain John's work thus: "Above all, grammar for him is an 'orthopraxis,' a coordinated structure of language and understanding that sustains and reflects a moral order." Such eloquence has "real application to civil affairs as well as, indeed, to questions of belief.... John is claiming that the old, integrated methods of study help one to achieve greater influence and authority than the new methods that distain the Trivium" (485, 486).

One of the great gems of this section is Rupert of Deutz, De Sancta Trinitate; as the editors elegantly explain: "Rupert's work does not present itself as a Christian appropriation of proscriptive rhetoric to guide future preachers. Rather, his purpose is to return us to the reading of scripture itself, armed with a greater understanding of how skillfully Scripture perfects its discourse and purveys its message of salvation" (392). Rupert avers, accordingly, that "anyone" "anywhere" who sets "his eyes clearly on rhetoric--the science of speaking well" and encounters scripture will--if he is not "half asleep or blinded by a cloud of malevolence" say that "rhetoric is especially prominent there" (394). Thierry of Chartres too, as the editors note, "attempts to bring Christian theological understandings of spiritual meaning into line with grammatical and rhetorical teaching" (410) and prefaces one of his commentaries on Cicero with this gem about his fans: "let those who are detained by nothing but the aura of my name, so that they may fabricate the pretty fiction that Thierry is one their side, remain outside the palace" (411). Alexander Neckam ends the chapter with his "list of textbooks," an informative grouping of 13th-century must-reads; and in a comment to be enjoyed by smart-phone and I-pad culture, he advises any student "who is to be educated in the liberal arts" to always "carry a wax tablet on which anything noteworthy may be written" (536).

Pedagogies of Grammar and Rhetoric, ca 1150-1280: As the editors explain, "medieval grammar students were taught how to compose by imitating the examples from classical poetry which they also expounded for grammatical usage" (546). Here included, then, are the great instructive manuals that address not only exposition but the art of composition itself; Mathew of Verdme and Geoffrey of Vinsauf, the latter explicitly named in the Canterbury Tales, as the editors note (see 595).

Professional, Civic, and Scholastic Approaches to the Language Arts, ca 1225-ca 1272: Includes Brunetto Latini on Cicero; Vincent of Beauvais's Speculum Doctrinale; Aquinas's Preface to Aristotle's Posterior Analytics; and Giles of Rome's commentary on Aristotle's Rhetoric.

Receptions of the Traditions" The Language arts and Poetics in the Later Middle Ages ca 1369-ca 1475: This section includes Gower (the "education of Alexander" material); the Preface to the Wyclifitte Bible, and other Middle English works pertaining to the literary and religious contexts in the age of Chaucer and Langland and to the concurrent religious movements into the 15th century. Here we see dramatically the "vernacularization of Latin pedagogy" as displayed in Middle English grammatical treatises during the fifteenth century, during which "the innovation of using English to teach Latin gained enormous momentum" (816). Fans of the Clerk's Tale can learn much here about those "colors" he promises he will not use in his narrative from Nickolaus Dybinus's Declaracio Oracionis de Beata Dorothea (821ff.).

The audience of the book is varied; often the introductions, notes and apparatus are aimed at the reader coming to this material for the first time and needing some bearings; all this is deeply valuable. Other notes deal with complicated linguistic matters (demanded by the primary works at hand), textual cruxes, and variants as reflected in prior translations in several modern languages; the notes also often refer to scholarship in various European languages that will be of use only to those who who read Italian, French, and German easily and who are themselves involved in the editing of these works from manuscripts to print. Even so, some notes seem oddly facile, such as that the Aeneid offers six books in homage to the Iliad and six to the Odyssey, which seems aimed at freshmen (in the selection from Donatus, 101). In the best sense, there is something for everyone here, but readers will have to assert and control their own reading experience. Ten thousand lifetimes of labor went into the creation and circulation of these primary texts, and our editors have given incalculable time themselves in assembling, editing, translating, and annotating these texts, proving themselves heirs to the very tradition they are here preserving. This is a book one has to name in one's will, but before that, one hopes, it will provide a lifetime of learning and edification. A bibliography of primary works called "select" nonetheless appears to have all the anthologized works listed and many others referred to; then follow secondary works, a word-list of Latin terms, and ancient and medieval names, and a general index. In short, I think this book is the most impressive and useful such compilation of primary materials ever made available. For the price, you could hope for a properly sewn volume, but my hard-bound copy is glued, which is perilous for a 1000 page book.

Brunetto Latini asks Dante--and thus Dante asks us--to remember him through his Treasure, but with some words from the selections offered here from his Rhetorica (a translation of the De Inventione) we can let the man who taught Dante how to immortalize himself provide the final commentary on the works collected in this all-star assembly, which chronicles a mission and a responsibility that continues to this very day with every word we read and write in our profession. Brunetto tells us:

[Grammar] teaches how to speak correctly and to write correctly.... The second science, namely dialectic, demonstrates the truth of the statement through arguments that make the statement trustworthy.... The third science is rhetoric, which discovers and embellishes the words in proportion to the material, so that the audience is appeased and willing to believe, and is gratified and moved to want what the speaker says. Thus the three sciences are needed for speaking (for without them there is nothing) (771).