Mark Amsler

title.none: Reynolds, Medieval Reading (Amsler)

identifier.other: baj9928.9801.002 98.01.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Mark Amsler, University of Delaware,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Reynolds, Suzanne. Medieval Reading: Grammar, Rhetoric and the Classical Text. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature, vol. 27. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Pp. xvi, 237. $54.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-47257-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.01.02

Reynolds, Suzanne. Medieval Reading: Grammar, Rhetoric and the Classical Text. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature, vol. 27. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Pp. xvi, 237. $54.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-47257-1.

Reviewed by:

Mark Amsler
University of Delaware

Once upon a time, the twelfth century marked the frontier of the history of linguistics in the Middle Ages. The really significant developments in grammatical theory, syntactic analysis, and morphology, so the story went, occurred during and after the twelfth-century renewal of education and especially after new approaches to dialectic and logic and new commentaries on Priscian were introduced into the ars grammatica. The twelfth century was an important turning point in the ways medieval scholars, teachers, intellectuals, and everyday literate people understood and used Latin and the vernaculars, as it was a turning point for western political thought, theology, philosophy, and literature.

Recently, however, scholars have devoted more attention to the history of early medieval linguistics, language study, and literacy, and as a result, the earlier medieval period has been shown to be more complicated, innovative, and in some ways more continuous with the grammatical and rhetorical discourses of the later Middle Ages. Whereas the earlier story of medieval linguistics emphasized the discontinuities between the ars grammatica pre- and post-twelfth- century, more recent scholars have investigated the complex, interrelated continuities and discontinuities within grammatical, rhetorical, and dialectical discourses from the Carolingians through the fifteenth century.

In addition, scholars of medieval linguistics and language study in the past twenty years have begun to connect more closely the study of medieval grammatical theory with the study of grammatical pedagogy, literacy teaching, questions of usage, and everyday linguistic practice. Studies of manuscript syntactic glosses and commentaries on Priscian, Latin grammarians' new thinking about morphology, government, and the logic of syntax, connections between the grammatical curriculum and literary and textual theory, the uses of the vernacular to teach Latin, and medieval grammarians' interest in second language pedagogy have blurred the distinction between the history of medieval grammatical theory ('high theory') and the history of grammatical pedagogy, literacy, and reading. While some linguists continue to maintain the hierarchical distinction between grammatical theory and applied linguistics, while many literature departments still separate literature courses and theory courses (despite the advent of more theoretically informed modes of criticism and cultural studies), recent scholars of medieval grammar and language study have been rewriting the history of the theory/practice distinction.

In her important new book, Medieval Reading (based on her University of London Ph.D. thesis), Suzanne Reynolds extends our historical understanding of medieval grammar, literacy, and pedagogy by examining the tradition of glossing a single text in the grammatical curriculum, Horace's Satires. Reynolds uses twelfth-century English and northern French glossed manuscripts of Horace's poetry to recover fundamental but frequently evanescent classroom practices and assumptions of medieval grammar teachers and pupils. She sets her study of glosses and reading practices within the broader context of the twelfth-century grammatical curriculum and linguistic concepts related to reading glosses (chapters 1-2), in order "to recover the history of a certain kind of reading, . . . as much part of grammatica as Donatus' Ars minor, and as much part of the history of reading as, say, biblical commentary" (p. 28). Reynolds' project offers a welcome reassessment of the critical and historical hegemony of medieval biblical commentary as the model for understanding medieval reading and literacy while also complicating the notion that the twelfth century represents a thorough break with earlier modes of interpretive and linguistic thinking. Reynolds' provocative book opens up and reshapes two important questions for the study of medieval literacy: How did twelfth-century students actually learn to read complex texts? and What can glossed medieval manuscripts tell us about the historical and literate formation of twelfth-century readers and reading practices?

As the critical key, Reynolds focuses on the function of glosses "as the written vestiges of a reading undertaken by experts for those who are not experts, that is to say, as a reading by a teacher for his pupils" (p. 29). One of the obvious gaps in the study of medieval grammar and pedagogy has been concrete evidence for how the often complex Latin texts named in the curriculum, such as Horace's Satires, were actually taught and read by the novice pupils for whom those texts were prescribed? Reynolds thickens our knowledge of medieval reading practices by discussing glossing in functional terms as textual mediation, the traces of an expert reader's efforts to improve the reading skills of novice Latin readers: "[Glosses] are not the reflection of an individual's interests and desires, but answer to the grammatical requirements of the audience--a third party--for which they were destined" (p. 31). The glosses for school texts, says Reynolds, serve different purposes: 1) to teach novice readers to construe text; 2) to teach readers grammatical or rhetorical metalanguage; 3) to teach readers grammatical or rhetorical concepts for which Horace's text is the example.

After outlining (chaps. 1-3) the interconnections of grammar, manuscript mise-en-page, and basic Latin literacy, Reynolds devotes the remaining two thirds of her book to analyzing specific reading practices: translating words (which Reynolds regards as least important for her project) (chaps. 4-6), construing syntax (chaps. 7-9), and interpreting text, analyzing rhetorical situations, and establishing authorial intention (chaps. 10-12). Reynolds effectively uses her typology of glosses (etymologies and derivations, translations and synonyms, morphological glosses, various syntactic and ordo glosses [HIC, ABC, diacritical glosses], paraphrases, rhetorical commentary, and metalingual discourse) to show the complex, multiple functions of glossing discourse inscribed in glossed manuscripts of Horace's Satires. As Reynolds points out, the glossators frequently blur the distinction between grammatical and rhetorical modes of analysis and description. Since at least the Roman grammarians, tropes were the site of discursive contact and conflict between the ars grammatica and ars rhetorica, and the twelfth- century Horace glossators continue to fuzz up the disciplinary edges because reading is neither strictly grammatical nor strictly rhetorical. But Reynolds claims that rather than regarding Horace's text as an autonomous object whose linguistic depth concealed grammatical, rhetorical, ethical, or religious knowledge which allegorical reading could uncover, the glossators were more deliberately hermeneutic: "This dissolution of the boundary between grammar and rhetoric in reading depends on a single hermeneutic notion--authorial intention" (pp. 130-31). Reynolds' analysis shows that earlier intellectual historians' neat succession of educational paradigms-- grammar in the early Middle Ages, rhetoric in the central Middle Ages, logic in the later Middle Ages--does not adequately account for the complexity of basic literacy and reading instruction in the twelfth century, marked as much by the continuation and synthesis of earlier modes of language study as by any rupture from them.

Reynolds' book often thoughtfully integrates recent work on medieval glosses, reading strategies, and syntactic theory with a study of how a basic text for teaching Latin literacy, Horace's Satires, was read by grammar teachers to help their students, young boys (pueri [pp. 71-72, 151-52]) as well as more advanced students, learn to decode and construe the page and interpret authorial and textual meanings. In a masterful and readable argument, she shows the important ways medieval grammatical theory sifted into everyday classroom discourse through glossing and how some grammar masters used and reshaped morphological and syntactic description to make difficult Latin texts more accessible to beginning Latin readers. In particular, Reynolds adds substantially to our growing understanding of how much Peter Helias' Summa super Priscianum and William of Conches' Glose super Priscianum influenced not only later medieval grammatical theory but also language attitudes, the status of the vernaculars, and classroom practice.

While Reynolds shows how much twelfth-century grammatical theory actually shaped classroom glossing discourse and basic Latin literacy, she might have taken her analysis further. For instance, she might have discussed more fully how the philosophical approaches of William of Conches and Peter Helias to syntax and consignification were in part prepared for by eighth- and ninth-century grammatical and rhetorical commentaries. Also, while Reynolds stresses the importance of derivatio for both medieval language theory and literacy pedagogy (pp. 77-80), especially for teaching students the Latin grammatical system of paradigms, declensions, and analogies, she does not always clarify how medieval glossators and grammarians used derivatio, compositio,and etymologia to analyze the different linguistic structures of words. Even if some glossators misunderstood the morphology of Horace's pharmacopolae (a derivation from pharmacon rather than a compound of pharmacon + polis [p. 81]), derivation and compounding were regarded as distinct etymological strategies throughout the Middle Ages. Moreover, the twelfth-century etymologizing Reynolds cites from the glossed Horace manuscripts and Peter Helias' commentary on Priscian (pp. 80-84) continue rather than differ from earlier medieval etymological strategies which used both verbal and the extraverbal evidence to unpack the semantic and morphological structures of words. In the twelfth-century, derivatio and etymologia were variously defined as part of wider discursive and institutional conflicts between grammatical, rhetorical, and philosophical approaches to literacy training and the metatheoretical debates about how linguistic analysis should be carried out.

One of Reynolds' side arguments is that Latin was the first language of literacy among medieval readers, but her argument on this point remains underdeveloped and somewhat tenuous. For example, there is evidence that by the twelfth century some pueri and puellae coming to Latin grammar schools, monastic schools, and convent schools could already decode the Roman alphabet, probably because they had already received training in decoding written vernacular texts. The Roman alphabet, modified to represent Old English sounds, was already known by literate Anglo-Saxons, when in the ninth century Alfred lamented that people could no longer read Latin texts and so proposed a vernacular translation program. In the twelfth-century Rhineland, the German Jew Hermann of Cologne apparently could already decode a written text without necessarily knowing how to read Latin.

Reynolds makes an strong case for how grammatical theory and glossing practices were connected in the school discourse on classical pagan texts such as Horace's Satires, but because the context is school glossing and not individual readers' commentary, we also need a more complex analysis of the educational institutions within which basic Latin literacy training was carried out. How were these glossed Horace manuscripts actually produced and maintained? Reynolds reads the glosses as the textual mediations of expert Latin readers on behalf of novice Latin readers, but are the glosses teachers' notes, editors' and scribes' codified aids to Latin literacy, or students' notes for construal based upon teachers' classroom discourse? To better understand classroom reading practices, we also need to know more about how twelfth-century grammar schools were organized and the ways grammar teachers divvied up the teaching of grammar and rhetoric. How representative are the glossators Reynolds studies of a developmental approach to teaching Latin literacy according to age and linguistic competence? We might assume that teachers responded to the needs of their students, but more work on grammatical classroom practices and educational philosophy is needed. What actually counted as "expert reading" in the twelfth century? Working within a literary critical framework, Reynolds assumes that medieval "reading" meant "interpreting authors" (expositio auctorum) and "extracting moral instruction from a text." What, then, was the role of oral reading in teaching students to construe Latin sentences and poetic figures? And much emphasis was given to the production of texts beyond glossing?

In the final chapters (10-12), Reynolds extends her reading of twelfth-century grammatical and rhetorical glosses to rethink our understanding of medieval textuality and interpretation. Reynolds argues that alongside the well documented medieval modes of allegorical exegesis, the twelfth-century glossed Horace texts represent a literal mode of reading which seeks to comprehend the writer's intention and in particular the satiric poet's figurative meanings: "Integumental or allegorical reading is generally opposed to the satiric mode of writing: the one treats the text as a covering for secrets, the other works by open and naked reprehension. Satire has no secrets, and Horace's Satires should not be read as allegoria in verbis, as having an allegorical sense. Even their use of the term fabula does not tie them to Chartrian analysis. They [twelfth-century Latin readers and glossators] always read the text literally" (p. 146). According to Reynolds, satiric texts' "naked reprehension" demands that readers grasp the authorial intention of the text, which means that readers lay claim not only to what is written but also to what is written between the lines--a double literal sense. The line separating allegorical and literal reading begins to blur: ". . . if we accept that the text is a rhetorical construction, and that exposition is a grammatical activity, then this movement of 'grasping' constitutes the appropriation by grammatica of rhetoric's productive structures and, once again, reading practice defies the division of the two arts" (p. 130).

Reynolds' discussion of a text's sensus literalis which includes both referential and figurative meanings is provocative but needs further development. She usefully shows how grammatical and rhetorical approaches to tropes (especially metaphor, simile, irony) reconfigure the domain of the literal in the text. Literacy in the twelfth century triggers rather than assuages the cultural anxiety about how pagan classical texts, prescribed by the grammatical curriculum, might be received by novice and expert Christian readers. Whereas many scholars have located the paradigm of medieval reading in biblical exegesis or scholastic discourse, Reynolds suggests a different, provocative line of inquiry which links basic Latin literacy instruction with theories of textuality and interpretation. However, as with her discussions of syntax, Reynolds could have explored further how grammatical glossing of the letter relates to the broader complex and multifaceted debates in the twelfth century about the sensus literalis, particularly with regard to Abelard's hermeneutics, Victorine exegesis, and discussions of Jewish and Christian modes of reading.

My questions and caveats about Reynolds' argument have to do more with what she leaves underdeveloped rather than with what is lacking or mistaken in her argument. She has written a dense but readable book about the important ways grammar and rhetoric were combined in Latin pedagogical discourse. In some remarkably concrete ways, Reynolds shows how grammatical and linguistic theory made their way into the twelfth-century Latin classroom. Her approach to the study of medieval literacy combines historicist criticism, new philological approaches to medieval manuscripts, and historiography of linguistics in a stimulating and provocative way. By showing the complex thinking behind some grammatical glosses of Horace's Satires, Reynolds has posed questions about medieval reading, literacy pedagogy, and written authority that will shape research on the theory and practice of medieval grammar and pedagogy for some time.