David Townsend

title.none: Rollason, ed. and trans., Symeon of Durham: Libellus de Exordio (Townsend)

identifier.other: baj9928.0107.007 01.07.07

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: David Townsend, University of Toronto,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Rollason, David, ed. and trans. Symeon of Durham: Libellus de Exordio atque Procursu istius hoc est Dunhelmensis Ecclesie. Oxford Medieval Texts. New York: Oxford Unversity Press, 2000. Pp. xcv, 353. $90.00. ISBN: 0-198-20207-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.07.07

Rollason, David, ed. and trans. Symeon of Durham: Libellus de Exordio atque Procursu istius hoc est Dunhelmensis Ecclesie. Oxford Medieval Texts. New York: Oxford Unversity Press, 2000. Pp. xcv, 353. $90.00. ISBN: 0-198-20207-5.

Reviewed by:

David Townsend
University of Toronto

Among the great generation of Anglo-Norman monastic historiographers that included Eadmer, John of Worcester, and of course preeminently William of Malmesbury, Symeon, cantor of Durham, provides the fullest account of northeastern England, an area where the transition to Norman hegemony was particularly protracted, traumatic, and violent. Martin Brett's elegant observation is that "[these writers'] purpose was in part to reassert the continuity of experience across the great caesura of the Conquest, in part also to defend ancient title to lands and rights threatened by grasping or ignorant newcomers." In and around Durham, that caesura arguably must have seemed a very long jump indeed.

Symeon himself was a relative newcomer, a Norman or northern French monk probably brought to Durham by Bishop William of St- Calais (1080-1096) in 1091, when the latter returned from a three-year exile in Normandy. Symeon thus arrived in Durham about eight years after Bishop William had first replaced the existing community of secular canons with Benedictine monks. We know a great deal more about Symeon and his literary activity now than we did a decade ago, thanks in no small part to David Rollason's previous work, as well as to that of his fellow researchers in the field, among them W. M. Aird, A. I Doyle, Michael Gullick, and A. J. Piper. Symeon's hand appears from the 1090's, and he supervised Durham scribes between 1115 and 1130; he probably died soon thereafter. After Bishop William's demise in 1096, the see of Durham was vacant for three years; it was then filled by the king's infamously rapacious agent, Ranulf Flambard, in 1099. Symeon, apparently in collaboration with other members of the community, wrote the Libellus de Exordio (LDE) between 1104 and 1109.

The work, then, is arguably a defense of existing arrangements in the cathedral's monastic community, in the face of challenges to that order by Durham's current and really scary bishop. (W. M. Aird emphasizes the dynamics of Ranulf's episcopate as the principal engine driving the work's propagandistic aims; Rollason himself, in contrast, sees the work's narrative and rhetorical agenda as more centrally concerned with more fundamental discontinuities within the community itself, viz., the ongoing resentments and difficulties arising from the 1083 replacement of the Durham canons by the monks.) The LDE is for long stretches a pastiche of previously available materials and in its surviving form shows insufficient polish and unification; but it offers the historian invaluable accounts of events in Durham in the eleventh and early twelfth centuries. It recounts the displacements and relocations of St. Cuthbert's uncorrupted body and its guardians in a narrative that is implicitly susceptible of biblical typology: for a monastic audience steeped in Augustinian exegesis and Orosian history, the saint's coffin must surely have figured as an Ark of the Covenant for the haliwerfolc who accompanied it, and the introduction of monks as a kind of Deuteronomic restoration. The text is also ground zero for the notorious transformation of Cuthbert into a misogynist saint who tolerates no feminine presence within his precincts--no such anecdotes of Cuthbert predate Symeon's accounts.

Whether it was the ongoing need to explain the transition from the old canonic community to the new monastic one, or the perceived threat of Ranulf Flambard's change management style, that drove the text's composition, the two earliest surviving MSS (London, BL Cotton Faustina A.V, or F; and Durham, University Library, Cosin V.II.6, or C) were apparently produced in close succession under Symeon's direct supervision. The former had been given to Fountains Abbey by the late twelfth or early thirteenth century, and was probably originally the presentation copy to Bishop Ranulf Flambard himself; the second, according to Rollason, presents a reworked text that reflects somewhat altered local conditions. A further eight MSS of the twelfth through fourteenth centuries survive. Rollason's edition takes account of all extant MSS but is based on the text of C, which arguably represents Symeon's later intentions for the whole, and which carries, in addition to the LDE itself, a continuation of the text to 1144 and a summary regarded by Rollason not as properly prefatory but as a later precis reflecting local conditions that had shifted once again. Rollason prints these additions to Symeon's text as appendices.

The most recent previous edition of the text was that by Thomas Arnold of 1882 in Rolls Series 75.i. Rollason takes into account three MSS not used by Arnold. His new text is also a great advance over the old edition in that he provides a full apparatus of textual variants, and copious notes, the latter well and clearly written. The new edition follows the early manuscripts' orthography, whereas Arnold had classicized his text, most obviously by reexpanding diphthongs represented in the early MSS by e-cedilla and depalatalizing -ci- to classical -ti-. Rollason of course punctuates more lightly, which reflects the general trend of anglophone editors of Latin texts in recent decades, in contrast to the Victorian penchant for setting off appositive phrases and dependent clauses by paired commas. Users of the edition who find their Latinity stretched by the text may feel nostalgia for some of these editorial signposts, but the effect of the lighter punctuation is certainly closer to the rhythm of the prose as it would have been perceived by Symeon's near-contemporaries. In any case, such readers are provided, in accordance with the format of the Oxford Medieval Texts, with a facing-page translation, the first into English to my knowledge.

Arnold's text, within its limitations, was a competent and usable production. The substantive discrepancies between it and Rollason's version are relatively few and do not often radically affect the sense, but Rollason has corrected the occasional clear error, as at Book iv, ch. 5 (Rollason p. 238, line 1), where Arnold prints "filius" for "filios", or Book iv, ch. 5 (Rollason page 240, line 1, "unaquaque"; Arnold "unaqueque"). On p. 248, line 15, Rollason correctly prints "repente," which was omitted by Arnold. (I should state that the only MS available to me in microfilm at the time of writing was one of MS F.) These examples are representative of the level of difference between the texts. Other variations more likely reflect Arnold's silent adoption of other MS variants, but if so, these sometimes do not show up in Rollason's critical apparatus. Two examples can be found in Book iv, ch. 3: Rollason, p. 230, line 12, "Eos" (in agreement, at any rate, with F) against Arnold, "Eis"--the latter the more classical choice; and Rollason, p. 232, line 12, "prouidentia", against Arnold, "prudentia", which latter is also the reading of F. One dramatic variation in editorial punctuation occurs in Book iv (the section of the text, I should say, in which I made the most careful comparison), p. 254, lines 4-9, where Arnold concludes the direct quotation of the dying Bishop William one sentence earlier than does Rollason. The shift could be seen, in context, as having some implications for how the narrative voice is meant to mediate between the story and the text's readers.

I note one consistent if relatively infrequent tic of the present edition that leaves me puzzled. Symeon in giving specific days of the month generally uses the Roman designations, counting backwards from Kalends, Nones, and Ides. In classical texts, the most common usage is the construction "ante diem", followed by a masculine accusative ordinal for the day, then Kalendas, Nonas, or Idus, in the accusative plural, and an adjectival form of the month agreeing with the latter element of the formula. Alternatively, one finds "die" in the ablative of time with the ordinal agreeing with it (classically in this context, a masculine noun, but in medieval texts more often treated as feminine). Replacing the adjective for the month with a genitive noun is common in medieval texts. For example, 26 May might be designated as "ante diem septimum Kalendas Iunias", or else, unremarkably in medieval texts, "die septima Kalendas Iunii" or even more simply "septima Kalendas Iunii". The latter is the form one finds, for example, in MS F, at Book i, ch. 15 (Rollason p. 70, line 18). Rollason gives, however, "septimas Kalendas Iunii," and is consistent about such usage throughout the text. (MS F sometimes but not always gives the Roman numeral in such situations, so that the expansion of the ordinal is an editorial decision.) The form is anomalous, and while it may reflect other MSS, I seriously doubt this, especially since F and C were both produced under Symeon's supervision. In one case the expansion is simply wrong, at Book iv, ch. 10, where F clearly gives "xvii", not "xvi", though the date is translated correctly, according to the MS reading, as 16 January. (Yeah, right, this is going to precipitate World War III.)

Undergraduates and amateurs will of course greatly welcome the availability of the facing page translation and can read it with reasonable confidence of its reliability. It is an intelligent and generally accurate rendering of the Latin, whose departures from the hypotaxes of the original often improve the stylistic effect of the English, though in reading I found myself thinking that even further liberties with the Latin syntax, taken, of course, judiciously, would produce a smoother and more agreeable read. A sentence like the following (p. 261, from the appended summary of the text), for example, needs more work: "However, while for many years the barbarians held sway in the province, Bishop Eardwulf and after him several of his successors wandered hither and thither with the treasure that was the sacred body, having no fixed home and never finding rest in the face of the barbarians and the constant threat of the sword, until, when peace had returned and a divine revelation had been received, the body was carried to Durham where it rests today." But to be fair, translating the Latin of local chronicles is a frequently underappreciated task. Professor Rollason has done a very creditable job on this front, and no one, I think, would claim that either Symeon's original, or his continuator's, is a stylistic masterpiece whose distinction is obscured by the translation. The English version in other passages renders the Latin with considerably more grace.

Symeon at the Resurrection owes Professor Rollason his thanks, for this edition as for the latter's other efforts on the former's behalf. When the time comes, I advise them both to steer clear of Bishop Ranulf.