Constant Mews

title.none: Marenbon, ed., Poetry and Philosophy in the Middle Ages (Constant Mews)

identifier.other: baj9928.0112.008 01.12.08

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Constant Mews, Monash University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Marenbon, John ed. Poetry and Philosophy in the Middle Ages. Mittellateinische Studien & Texte, Vol. 29. Leiden: Brill, 2001. Pp. iv, 392. 135.00. ISBN: 9-00411964-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.12.08

Marenbon, John ed. Poetry and Philosophy in the Middle Ages. Mittellateinische Studien & Texte, Vol. 29. Leiden: Brill, 2001. Pp. iv, 392. 135.00. ISBN: 9-00411964-7.

Reviewed by:

Constant Mews
Monash University

Peter Dronke's contribution to the study of both Latin and vernacular literature in medieval Europe is by any measure remarkable. Since he first obtained a lectureship in Medieval Latin at Cambridge University in 1961, he has published both articles and books covering a vast range of texts, from Perpetua's vision in the late second century to the Divine Comedy in the fourteenth. Above all, he has written extensively on the great authors of the twelfth century, notably Abelard, Heloise, Bernard Silvestris, and Hildegard of Bingen, as well as anonymous poems and texts that might otherwise have languished unread in medieval manuscripts, had they not attracted his attention. Not the least important aspect of Dronke's achievement has been the way that to draw attention to the continuous vitality of a Latin tradition, often overlooked or underestimated by literary historians who concentrate on vernacular tradition. This Festschrift, put together by John Marenbon, does not claim to survey the full scope of his interests. Rather it picks up one important theme of Dronke's output, a concern for the way philosophy and poetry interact throughout the medieval period. He has always been fascinated by the way in which poetry can communicate not just emotions of the heart, but also philosophical reflection. In this particular Festschrift, published to mark Dronke's retirement from the personal Chair in Medieval Latin Literature that he has held since 1989, Marenbon has chosen to solicit essays which relate to this particular theme, the interaction of philosophy and poetry in relation to medieval and renaissance Latin literature.

There is a particular poignancy to this volume. In a revealing and nuanced introduction to the volume, on Dronke's formative role in promoting the study of Medieval Latin at Cambridge, Marenbon laments the University's apparent decision not to continue with teaching the subject, on the grounds of the small number of students who choose to take it up--a policy decision which many medievalists may recognize as all too familiar in university administrations. If there is any underlying theme that comes out in this particular Festschrift, it is surely that the study of medieval Latin literature and philosophy is one of great excitement and intellectual diversity. The volume itself does an excellent job in demonstrating the powerful influence that Peter Dronke has exercised over this field, as well as the continuous capacity of medieval literature to offer up unexpected treasures as well as philosophical depth.

The papers in the collection range between those of a literary and of a philosophical or religious character. A number continue Dronke's example in bringing to public attention texts that were hitherto unpublished or had not previously attracted wide attention. In this vein, one of the most remarkable papers in the collection is an essay by Charles Burnett, "Learned Knowledge of Arabic Poetry, Rhymed Prose and Didactic Verse from Petrus Alfonsi to Petrarch" (pp. 29-53), in which he documents a wide number of translations of Arabic poetry, from the seventh to the eleventh century of the Common Era, into Latin. In 1256, Hermann the German introduced Latin readers to a range of Arabic poetry through his translation of the commentary of Averroes on Aristotle's Poetics (in which Averroes had replaced examples of Greek poetry with poems from his own culture). In the previous century, knowledge of Arabic prosody had been made available by Gerard of Cremona, through his translation of al-Farabi's Enumeration of the Sciences. Perhaps the most widely circulated assembly of Arabic poetic wisdom was that passed on by Peter Alfonsi in his Disciplina clericalis, usefully summarized by Burnett in an appendix to his study. Even if Arabic poetry was dismissed in toto as seductive and without moral fiber by Petrarch (blindly following a disparaging remark made by Averroes about a certain kind of poetry), it is fascinating to discover how some twelfth-century clerics were more familiar with Arabic wisdom than an educated audience nine centuries later. Burnett's paper on the presence of Arabic literature in Latin writing is nicely paralleled by Marenbon's own contribution to the Festschrift, a discussion of Dante's Averroism (pp. 349- 74). Whereas many scholars have taken pains to distance Dante from any idea that he might have been sympathetic to the thinking of an author whose influence was deemed by Thomas Aquinas to be pernicious to Christian truth, Marenbon argues with compelling clarity that Dante's use of the notion of a single potential intellect in the Monarchia does deserve to be taken as a form of Averroism, in his case developed for the ends of political theory. By placing Siger of Brabant within Paradise, Dante was surely making a point, Marenbon argues, that this enthusiast for Averroes within the Arts Faculty in Paris had something important about his theological vision, even if his ideas had elicited censure from his ecclesiastical contemporaries.

Three papers in the volume explore issues of authorship and literary identity in the early medieval period.. Michael Herren discusses the authorship of three poems in quantitative meter, attributed to Columbanus of Bobbio (pp 99-112), first found in a manuscript from the late eighth century. He questions the validity of some of the arguments that have been put forward to deny that Columbanus' authorship, and instead points out some common themes, notably the condemnation of avarice, with other writings attributed to the abbot of Bobbio. He also relates these poems (Ad Sethum, Ad Hunaldum, and Columbanus Fidolio) to poems of a bishop Colman, who might be Columbanus or otherwise a very close imitator who lived no later than the eighth century, in Italy. In a similar piece of detective work, Edouard Jeauneau discusses the mysterious identity of a copyist of Eriugena's writing, once identified as Eriugena himself, but now identified by Jeauneau as a disciple of Eriugena who was not afraid to question occasional arguments of the master. Because so many of his interventions begin Nisi forteI Jeauneau whimsically identifies this questioning scribe (i2 to Eriugena scholars), who often questions some of the more outspoken theological hypotheses of his master, as Nisifortinus. The third paper to discuss early medieval matters is also a comparison of the writing of master and disciple, in this case a comparison by Mary Garrison of a well known consolation poem of Alcuin (Carmen IX), written to comfort the monks of Lindisfarne after a Viking attack in 793, with a similar poem by Hrabanus Maurus, Ad Bonosum (pp. 63-78). She shows how Hrabanus, writing in the more troubled time of the early ninth century, had a darker vision of the world, although spoke more confidentially about the security offered by God.

A paper by Stephen Gersh, "Cratylus Mediaevalis--Ontology and Polysemy in Medieval Platonism (to ca. 1200)" (pp. 79-98) is of philosophical interest for the originality of its approach to Platonist thought. Rather than simply tracing the influence of a text or the continuity of belief in universal forms, he considers the legacy of a philosophical tension raised by Plato within Cratylus, between the view of language as non- ambiguous or monosemous (that a word relates unambiguously to some reality), and the view of language as inherently ambiguous or polysemous. While Cratylus was not known in the early medieval West, Gersh traces how both views of language can be traced in authors shaped by the Platonic tradition. He suggests that the ontology of Priscian reflects a monosemous view of language, while passages in Boethius' De divisione reflect a polysemous view. Eriugena is the one author whom Gersh identifies as endeavoring to combine both views of language. He also comments briefly on some twelfth- century attempts to relate polysemous discourse to the work of the imagination.

A number of the papers in this Festschrift relate to authors and texts the twelfth century. Walter Berschin (pp. 19-27) introduces a schematic diagram of the macrocosm and microcosm, produced by Uodalscalc of St Ulrich and Afra (1124-c. 1150) within a late fifteenth-century manuscript from Augsburg, but based on a lost twelfth-century original. David Luscombe documents Abelard's comments about pagan poets, as transmitting ethical wisdom. (pp. 155-71). Giovanni Orlandi employs his considerable textual skills on Abelard's Planctus (pp. 327-42), in particular suggesting emendations to the text of the lament over the daughter of Jephta, as established by Meyer and Vecchi. Claudio Leonardi offers a disappointingly brief essay on criticism of ecclesiastical authority in the letters of Hildegard of Bingen (pp. 343-48).

The paper of Paolo Lucentini, "Il Liber viginti quattuor philosophorum nei poemi medievali: il Roman de la Rose, il Granum sinapis, la Divina Commedia" (pp. 131-54) is an essay also in a classic Dronke mould, in this case discussing the literary influence of a pseudo- Hermetic text, recently re-edited by F. Hudry (Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaeualis 143A). This text is most famous for developing a philosophical image of God as a monad, begetting a monad and reflecting a single heat within it, as well as the definition (developed by Nicholas of Cusa in the fifteenth century) that God is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere, but whose circumference is nowhere. While Hudry has suggested that this may be a Latin translation of a third- century Alexandrian text, known to Avicenna and Gundisalvi, Lucentini prefers to situate the text in the context of a twelfth-century revival of Platonic teaching, that picks up on the axiomatic method elaborated by Gilbert of Poitiers and other Chartrian teachers. While the work was the subject of frequent criticism in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Lucentini traces how it also exercised a fascination over a number of writers, notably Jean de Meun, the young Eckhart and Dante himself.

Another intriguing essay in the collection, making similar connections across time, is Barbara Newman's contribution, "God and the Godesses: Vision, Poetry, and Belief in the Middle Ages" (pp. 173-96). She argues that the innumerable goddesses which populate medieval literature need to be seen not simply as literary personifications, but as articulating a feminine vision of divinity in a way that was never condemned as heretical. Newman does not hesitate to blur the conventional categories of "mystic" and "writer", arguing that visionary writing needs to be seen as both conscious literary construction and as articulating religious sentiment. She thus looks at feminine images both in a "mystic" like Suso and a "writer" like Christine de Pizan, whom Newman interprets as transforming Latin tradition into a vernacular theology. In so doing she provides a feminine version of an otherwise very masculine theology.

There are a number of papers relating to the later medieval period. Paul Gerhardt Schmitt offers an edition of a previously unpublished letter from Bernhard von Waging, a fifteenth-century prior of Tegernsee, to Nicholas of Cusa, about the untrustworthy visions of an unidentified nun, wishing to promote her own way of life (pp. 197-215). J. B. Trapp describes a range of French and Italian illustrated manuscripts of Petrarch's De Remediis Utriusque Fortunae (pp. 197- 216). Jill Mann reflects on Jean de Meun's discussion of the castration of Saturn at the opening of his continuation of the Romance of the Rose (pp. 309-26). She traces the various interpretations offered by mythographers of the classical myth, concluding that the strongly literal reading offered by Jean de Meun marked a new naturalism in his approach to sexuality as a subject in its own right. Another paper that continues this interest in mythological sexuality is that of Marina Warner, who discusses some renaissance texts and images of the union of Leda and the swan, as depicting in one way or another the genesis of physical life, as a pagan counterpart to the way in which the Holy Spirit as a dove might hover above the Virgin Mary (pp. 263-79).

There are also a few papers tackling more general themes in medieval literature. Benedikt Konrad Vollmann offers a short general essay on medieval debate on the uncertain relationship between philosophy and poetry, which he describes as "two quarrelling sisters" (pp. 251-61). In "Individuality, Originality and the Literary Criticism of Medieval Latin Texts" Haijo Westra argues that there is a distinct concern for literary originality within medieval literature, quite different from anything found in the classical period (pp. 281- 92). He looks in particular at two texts, the pilgrimage of Egeria and the Ruodlieb, an eleventh-century classic that combines with great originality oral, Germanic narrative with the Latin genre of the epic. The theme of how medieval literature combines respect for traditional forms with concern for innovation is also pursued by Jan Ziolkowski in another general paper, "The Highest Form of Compliment: Imitatio in Medieval Latin Culture" (pp. 293-307). He traces the varying ways in which imitation was seen in the medieval period. Imitation was seen generally seen as a way of learning how to reproduce both good style and perfection. Yet there were warnings from ancient authors about the dangers of uncritical imitation that might lead one astray, advice that gained increasing respect from the twelfth century. Ziolkowski's major theme, however, is something that Peter Dronke always took pains to emphasise: that it was through skilful imitation and adapting of older models that originality could always emerge. The theme could apply to all of the essays in this volume, a worthy testament to the impact of Peter Dronke on the study of medieval Latin literature.