The Medieval Review 11.11.17

Tuczek, Suzanne. Die Kampanische Briefsammlung (Paris Lat. 11867). Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Briefe des Späteren Mittelalters. Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 2010. Pp. 351. 50 EUR. ISBN 978-3-7752-1852-8. . .

Reviewed by:

Scott G. Bruce
University of Colorado at Boulder

This volume of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica (MGH) has a tragic backstory. Its original editor, an aspiring young medieval Latinist named Susanne Tuczek, died in 2008 at the age of 37. Before her untimely death, she had completed the critical edition and scholarly apparatus of the book under review, but it was only through the industry of her advisor, Matthias Thumser, that the work was made ready for publication. Thumser wrote a substantive portion of the introduction to the edition, including a description of the manuscript, while Doris Bauernfeind of the MGH contributed to the indices. Tuczek had spent the last decade of her life editing the so- called "Kampanische Briefsammlung," a collection of 232 letters and textual fragments written in the early decades of the thirteenth century and preserved in an early fourteenth-century manuscript: MS Paris Bibliothèque nationale (hereafter BN) Latin 11867. Tuczek's edition brings to light this little-known letter collection and in doing so raises difficult questions about its historical value.

The introduction of the edition provides useful clarifications of the title and manuscript context of this letter collection. Its name-- "Kampanische Briefsammlung" (the Campanian letter collection)--is a conceit of the editor intended to communicate that most of the letters were written in and around Campania in southern Italy. This appellation also serves to correct the title given to the collection at the turn of the twentieth century by Karl Hampe, the first scholar to devote attention to BN Latin 11867. Hampe had called these letters "Campuaner Briefsammlung" because he inferred from their contents that Archbishop Rainald of Capua (1199-ca. 1215) had compiled them. Tuczek is undoubtedly correct that Hampe was a bit too hasty in his judgment about Rainald's role in the creation of this Briefsammlung. The identity of the compiler is lost to us, but Tuczek's renaming of this collection after the provenance of some of its contents raises issues of its own. "Kampanische Briefsammlung" is a convenient shorthand for the letters, to be sure, but it also inadvertently lends these texts a sense of cohesion that they did not enjoy in their manuscript context. BN Latin 11867 is a massive omnium gatherum of nearly two thousand letters and other works of diverse genres compiled in England around 1320. The "Kampanische Briefsammlung" is not a cohesive collection within the manuscript, but rather appears in three distinct blocks separated by texts from late antiquity: Block A (fol. 108va-110ra) precedes excerpts from the Variae of Cassiodorus and works of Gregory the Great (fol. 110ra-114va), while another short selection of texts by Cassiodorus separates Block B (fol. 114rb-120ra) from Block C (fol. 120va-130ra). In her edition, Tuczek presents the contents of these three blocks in the order in which they appear in the manuscript, but does not signal clearly enough where they were separated from one another by other texts. As a result, the reader should be warned that Tuczek's edition does not replicate the medieval experience of reading these letters.

The 232 letters that comprise the "Kampanische Briefsammlung" are both fascinating and frustrating as historical sources. The letters vary in length from a few short lines to several paragraphs. They range in topic from the concerns of church prelates and monastic communities to personal letters and pithy thank you notes. Evocative details abound. In one letter (no. 63), a man seeks permission from the pope to be excused from participating in a crusade. In another (no. 33), we find monks of the abbey of San Spirito constructing a bridge across the Volturno River. One of the longer pieces in the collection (no. 230) is not a letter at all, but a short treatise on animals and the natural world entitled De commendatione nature in creaturis. A handful are known from other sources, including six from the Summa dictaminis of Thomas of Capua and one by Bernard of Clairvaux (no. 115), but most survive only in this collection. There is no apparent order of presentation. Because these letters were preserved primarily to serve as models for letter-writing, almost all of the references to their authors and recipients have been omitted, which frustrates most attempts to reconstruct their historical context. Nonetheless, geographical markers indicate that many of them concern individuals and affairs in several ecclesiastical provinces in Campania, hence Tucsek's name for the collection. Those that can be dated were written between 1199 (no. 124) and 1239 (no. 66), with a notable exception discussed below.

How and why these letters from southern Italy and elsewhere made their way into a manuscript compiled in England a century after their initial composition is anyone's guess. The contents of BN Latin 11867 deserve further attention as a whole. They are very eclectic, but as mentioned above it seems most likely that fourteenth-century English readers were interested in these letters principally as models of Latin epistolary style. The large number of errors in the transcription of this collection is testimony to the need for such models. The letters are in fact so riddled with mistakes that the editor could not help but conclude that: "[d]er Schreiber beherrschte anscheinend die lateinische Sprache nur unvollkommen" (24). There follows a fascinating taxonomy of these errors (25) that is worth reading by anyone interested in the pitfalls of medieval transcription and their consequences for the transmission of texts.

The "Kampanische Briefsammlung" both excites and disappoints. While some of these letters yield tantalizing details about relatively minor events in southern Italy in the early decades of the thirteenth century, the hands of medieval scribes-cum-editors have pared them so thoroughly of topical information that it is very difficult to use them as sources for history. Moreover, there are some indications that the edition has suffered in the absence of its original editor. The volume includes indices of names, authors and recipients, and citations from the Bible and other important texts, but given the rich diversity of the letters it would have benefitted immeasurably from an index of subjects as well. Beyond this, the most startling omission is the lack of any discussion of the letter of Bernard of Clairvaux (no. 115) in the introduction. This is especially odd, given that it is both the earliest letter in the collection (contra the remark of Thumser on p. 23) and written by one of the best known authors of the twelfth century.