Terence Tunberg

title.none: Howlett, ed, Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources (Tunberg)

identifier.other: baj9928.9809.010 98.09.10

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Terence Tunberg, University of Kentucky, Lexington,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Howlett, D. R., ed,. Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources. Fascicule V (I-J-K-L). Oxford: The British Academy. Oxford University Press, 1997. Pp.. $105.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-197-26148-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.09.10

Howlett, D. R., ed,. Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources. Fascicule V (I-J-K-L). Oxford: The British Academy. Oxford University Press, 1997. Pp.. $105.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-197-26148-5.

Reviewed by:

Terence Tunberg
University of Kentucky, Lexington

As we read in the preface to this volume by Michael Winterbottom, the publication of the fifth fascicule of the monumental Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources (henceforth DML) brings this work half-way to completion. When finished, it will supersede the well-known and extremely useful Revised Medieval Latin Word-List from British and Irish Sources, edited by the late R. E. Latham, who was also the first editor of the DML.

Even half-way complete the work is an indispensable source for students of medieval Latin, and Neo-Latin too, since its sources are drawn from an immense time span which includes the Anglo-Saxon period at one extreme, and the second half of the sixteenth century at the other. This very fact suggests the first of several caveats of which everyone who uses DML should be aware. The usages of words recorded in DML extend well beyond the period conventionally regarded as the Middle Ages. Authors such as Roger Ascham (ob. 1568), John Bekinsau (ob. 1559), John Caius (ob. 1573), Thomas Linacre (ob. 1524), St. Thomas More (ob. 1535), and Polydore Vergil (ob.1555), to name only selected examples, are certainly representatives of the humanist culture of the Renaissance. But there are good reasons for adding material drawn from the vocabulary of these authors without any special distinction other than indication of date. Despite the usual tendency of modern historical scholarship to regard the Middle Ages and Renaissance as discrete periods, humanistic Latin authors may be regarded as later representatives of a continuing tradition of Latin usage among the learned of the West, a tradition that had existed with no real break since the end of the Roman empire. Moreover, although much remains to be learned about the language of humanistic writers, recent philological work demonstrates that a considerable medieval element remains in Neo-Latin, despite the classicizing precepts of humanistic teachers, and despite the virulent polemics of certain humanists of the fifteenth and early sixteenth century directed against 'barbarous' medieval Latin (usually, we note, aimed at scholastic philososphers and speculative grammarians: humanistic attacks on authors of more 'literary' medieval Latin prose and poetry are much harder to find). Elements of medieval syntax can sometimes be detected in the works of Neo- Latin writers, though this is more frequent in the earlier than the later periods of humanism. But the most obvious medieval survivals in Neo-Latin are to be found in vocabulary, since many of the Latin words for political, ecclesiastical, and especially academic institutions had developed entirely in the Middle Ages, and of necessity Neo-Latin writers continued to use the same terminology. This will be apparent to anyone who scrutinizes R. Hoven's recently published Lexique de la prose latine de la Renaissance (which is fortunately not limited to any specific geographical area of Europe). Nevertheless, the use of medieval terminology by humanistic authors takes on a meaning for investigators of Neo-Latin that the use of the same words by medieval authors does not have. Hence it will do no harm to stress the obvious point that DML, despite its title, is not limited to medieval Latin.

Readers should also note that virtually all types of writing, literary, technical, legal, etc., are represented in DML. This is another reason why it is always important to keep an eye on the 'fontes' when looking up a word. For there are vast differences between the Latin of charters or registers and the Latin of scholars, academics, diplomats, or authors of 'literary' texts. The former kind of latinity, especially in court rolls or manorial accounts, is often so infiltrated with local terminology and usage derived from vernacular dialect that documents from one area might easily have been unintelligable to someone in another part of Britain, to say nothing of Latinate readers on the continent of Europe. The other kind of latinity, by contrast, was indeed an international tongue which could be understood wherever Latin was learned (as is demonstrated by the circulation of such works). The need to keep in mind the typology of sources from which various words are cited was already stressed by Latham in his preface to Revised Medieval Latin Word-List, p. viii. Of necessity such a vast variety of 'Latins' is included in DML, and the diligent user of these volumes will be thankful that the various sources are clearly and succinctly described in the very extensive biblography -- a bibliography, we note, which has grown considerably since the publication of the first volume in 1975.

A third and perhaps more serious issue to be considered by users of DML is the question of geographical limits. The dictionary is said to be taken from British sources, but how shall we define 'British'? Clearly -- and rightly -- the editors have chosen to understand this term in the widest sense. The sources for DML include authors and documents not just from England, but from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and -- understandably enough, in view of the fact that Norman kings ruled England from 1066 -- from Normandy. But also included are authors such as Petrus Alphonsi, Titus Livius de Frulovisiis, or Polydore Vergil, who came from outside the British Isles and Normandy, but who either wrote about English affairs or who were in some way connected with England or Anglo-Norman rulers. In short, the authors drawn upon for DML represent a considerable variety of vernacular language groups. Obviously the geographical distribution of the origins of these authors and sources represents an area considerably wider than 'Britain' in the modern sense. But one might also reasonably doubt whether they consistently represent a geographical or political entity even in the medieval sense. Although the dukes of Normanday came to rule the area known as England, one wonders how really 'British' are sources such as the Cartulaire de l'abbaye royale de Notre Dame de Bonport or the Statuta et consuetudines Normannie. Moreover, to consider Latin of a more 'literary' nature, although a continental author such as Orderic Vitalis may include in his work discussion of events and affairs pertaining to England or Britain, can he be considered a British writer? Latham, in his preface to Revised Medieval Latin Word- List, p. ix, addresses this difficulty too, and admits that the very notion of 'British', when speaking of this period, is highly elastic. For this and several other reasons, one might make a good case that the ideal medieval Latin dictionary would be European, or at least western European in scope, such as the few extant fascicules of the Mittellateinisches Woerterbuch or F. Blatt's Novum glossarium mediae latinitatis. But the typical divisions of modern academic departments (an anachronistic framework for the study of medieval culture, and especially medieval Latin), together with the limitations imposed by national funding organizations, generally impose a reality on lexicographers of medieval Latin which is less than ideal.

In view of these considerations we may congratulate the redactors of DML for accomplishing their task with consistent observation of the highest scholarly standards within the limitations imposed by necessity. The format they have chosen is clear and makes the lexicon relatively easy to use. Ample excerpts from each source are provided so that the careful reader can judge the use of any word within its immediate context. The editors have also attempted to indicate the date of the sources they have used. Abbreviations indicate at a glance whether a word comes from classical Latin, late Latin, and medieval Latin.

In short, DML might be best regarded as an important lexicographical resource derived from a large body of post- antique latinity, the utility of which will not be limited to medievalists or students of the history of the British Isles. DML should be in the library of any institution where the study of the Latin language in all its historical manifestations is taken seriously.