Albrecht Classen

title.none: Rauner, et. al., Mensa philosophica (Classen)

identifier.other: baj9928.9712.002 97.12.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Albrecht Classen, University of Arizona,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1997

identifier.citation: Rauner, Erwin and Burghart Wachinger, eds., in conjunction with Caroline Ruprecht-Alexander and Frieder Schanze. Mensa philosophica. Faksimile und Kommentar. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1995. Pp. vii, 338. ISBN: ISBN 3-484-15513-2.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 97.12.02

Rauner, Erwin and Burghart Wachinger, eds., in conjunction with Caroline Ruprecht-Alexander and Frieder Schanze. Mensa philosophica. Faksimile und Kommentar. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1995. Pp. vii, 338. ISBN: ISBN 3-484-15513-2.

Reviewed by:

Albrecht Classen
University of Arizona

The Mensa philosophica is a compilation of didactic and entertaining texts which were widely distributed from the late fifteenth through the seventeenth century. The Mensa contains a plethora of medical, dietetic, and scientific information derived from classical Greek and Latin and Arabic sources. Many humorous narratives enrich this collection and relate it to the genre of Facetiae composed by Poggio Bracciolini. The first section contains detailed information about a wide range of foodstuff, its preparation and effects upon the body; the second section deals with the various social classes and representatives of professions, with men and women, friends and relatives; the third section discusses questions pertaining to the physical well-being of humans and the impact of their lifestyle on their health; the last section offers jokes, and illustrates the power and potential of language, jocundity, and then examines many different kinds of people at their work places and in their private lives--in short, entertaining narratives. Here we discover the facetious tales which have much in common with Poggio's Facetiae, except that the sexual innuendos are missing, and so the treatment of the human body in a transgressive fashion.

This edition is a facsimile of the 1487 edition from Antwerp or Leuven, today housed in the Bavarian State Library in Munich (4 superscript o Inc. s.a. 1263). The editors opted against the 'editio princeps' because it is lacking in readability. But the variants to the 'editio princeps' and to the edition by Jakob Köbel (1489) are given in the footnotes.

The edition consists of the following parts, prepared by individual authors: facsimile; commentary to the facsimile; textual tradition and prints of the Mensa philosophica; excerpts of the fourth book in the Leipzig manuscript UB, ms. 1317 (15th century); a brief history of the genesis of the Mensa philosophica; sources and parallel texts; bibliography; documentation of the origin of some of the texts (this is the longest section of the apparatus); bibliography of the secondary literature; a Latin-German table of contents; an index of the authorities referred to in the text; index of other names; and a register of the sources and parallel texts primarily contained in books II and IV.

This is the first facsimile and fully-fledged edition after the first edition prepared by Thomas F. Dunn had appeared in 1934. The Mensa philosophica seems to have been created in Cologne and was printed there for the first time around 1480. We know of seven reprints in Germany until 1508, when the interest waned. From then on nine editions appeared in France until 1530. Then the text lost its popularity even there, and was only reprinted again in Germany in the early seventeenth century (1602-1608). We know of a total of twenty-four editions which are here listed and described in some detail.

Most of the editions appeared in university towns and seem to have appealed to the scholars. The most likely author of the Mensa philosophica appears to have been Konrad von Halberstadt (before 1313 to around 1355), as is suggested by Erwin Rauner (see also his two-volume study on Konrad's tripartitus moralium, 1989). But Burghart Wachinger points out that large sections of this compilation were borrowed from other sources, some of them, of course, written by Konrad himself, others, however, of older origin, especially the Compilatio singularis exemplorum from the early thirteenth century.

Our text is steeped in Dominican traditions of sermon literature and didactic texts for a diffuse array of readers/listeners. But in contrast to this tradition, the Mensa philosophica was obviously intended to reach primarily literati, that is, university trained readers.

The underlying principle of this compilation was to provide intelligent entertainment and teachings, to serve as recreation and instruction. In this sense, the Mensa philosophica emerges, indeed, as a forerunner to Poggio Bracciolini's Facetiae and appealed to readers at the royal courts and universities alike.

The commentary and scholarly apparatus provide many, though certainly not all hoped-for answers. The editorial team has performed very well in collaborating to collect all available information and to evaluate it as critically as possible. The differences of opinion are not hidden, but rather utilized to explore alternative interpretations. One might question why the editors relied on the facsimile and did not transcribe the text. Their choice of the 1487 edition makes sense, however, because it is a very legible version. Nevertheless, and quite unfortunately, many of the initials are not fully recognizable because the red ink did not copy well. Because of some confusion in the printed version, the pagination here begins on the first page of the text proper, but only follows the book and chapter structure. In addition there are now line numbers on the margin as references to the apparatus. The editors choose to quote the text exclusively using the book and chapter numbering on the external margins. Inconsistencies creep into this system, however, because this edition is supposed to stay comparable with the 1498 edition (T) to which the apparatus refers.