Dr. Sarah Kay

title.none: Poe, Compilatio: Lyric Texts and Prose Commentaries in Troubadour Manuscript H. (Dr. Sarah Kay)

identifier.other: baj9928.0207.011 02.07.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Dr. Sarah Kay, Girton College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Poe, Elizabeth W. Compilatio: Lyric Texts and Prose Commentaries in Troubadour Manuscript H (Vat. Lat. 3207). The Edward C. Armstrong Monographs on Medieval Literature, 11. Lexington, KY: French Forum, 2000. Pp. 307. 34.50. ISBN: 0-917-05893-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.07.11

Poe, Elizabeth W. Compilatio: Lyric Texts and Prose Commentaries in Troubadour Manuscript H (Vat. Lat. 3207). The Edward C. Armstrong Monographs on Medieval Literature, 11. Lexington, KY: French Forum, 2000. Pp. 307. 34.50. ISBN: 0-917-05893-3.

Reviewed by:

Dr. Sarah Kay
Girton College

This is an intriguing and valuable study of a kind which is only just beginning to be written on the troubadour tradition. Philological attention, which in recent decades has been dedicated primarily to editing the corpus of individual troubadours, is now being turned to the large anthology manuscripts in which their songs are transmitted, and which are usually referred to (despite the absence from most of them of musical notation) as chansonniers. MS H, a North Italian chansonnier copied in the last quarter of the thirteenth century and thus relatively early in the tradition, is an eccentric example and one richly deserving the close examination it receives here. It has attracted much interest in today's academic context due to its containing an exceptionally large collection of lyric works by the women troubadours and their accompanying prose prefaces (vidas and razos). Many of these trobairitz texts, and indeed many other texts in H, are unique to this manuscript.

Poe's study coolly contends that this high representation of women's voices is probably far from indicating a pro-feminist stance on the part of the compiler. On the contrary, she argues that the general tone of MS H is scholarly and misogynist. The women's texts, in her view, are satirically exposed rather than reverentially exhibited. Her analysis spotlights other aspects of the manuscript which are consonant with this conclusion. Its contents show considerable influence from the scholar-poet Uc de Saint Circ, who instituted the teaching of troubadour poetry in Italy and is the author of all the earliest vidas and razos. This influence can be seen in the inclusion in MS H of a large number of Uc's satirical coblas; in its choice of sources that were probably shared with Uc or derived directly from him (including the trobaritiz section); and in the use of glosses which seem to have been taken from the Donat proensal (an early Occitan grammar which Poe attributes to Uc). The Uc represented in MS H is not the author of the somewhat academic courtly cansos that have come down to us, but the scholar, teacher, and satirist. Copied as a palimpsest over a Latin schoolbook of some kind, MS H seems to have been intended as a student guide to Occitan poetry, and thus to have continued where Uc left off. The Latin scholastic model, although physically effaced from the parchment leaves, lives on in the fact that H includes a Latin-style florilegium of useful troubadour snippets on fols. 47-9, and provides glosses for difficult words or phrases in its selection of poems by Arnaut Daniel. Above all, Poe argues throughout, MS H attests the activity not just of a scribe or editor but of a compiler: of a scholar, that is, who assembles texts by others with a specific (in this case, didactic) end in view. With scrupulous detail she argues that the compiler of H researched and exploited a considerable variety of sources. His compilation was designed to serve the interests of literate Northern Italians who wanted to study Occitan lyric not in order to compose it themselves, but in order to achieve enhanced understanding of it. This is, of course, the self- same objective that drew readers to the manuscript through its subsequent history, including Occitanists today like ourselves.

Poe's study is cast in the form of a narrative of failure. She had set out to work on the florilegium on fols. 47-49 which consists of quotations from troubadour songs together with indications as the circumstances in which they might prove to be of use. Her objective was to demonstrate that it was, in fact, an embryonic sketch made by Uc de Saint Circ for a set of razos. This was to form part of a wider argument for the manuscript as a whole being the work of a student of Uc's. A plank in this argument would be to discredit the view that the high number of female-authored texts which H contains are evidence of female influence--that of a female patron, for example--on its composition. This plan, however, Poe admits, foundered on the recalcitrance of the florilegium. Instead of finding confirmation in it of sole authorship by Uc, Poe instead came to the conclusion that it was itself a compilation drawn from a number of sources, and that it shared common ground--not necessarily the same in each case--with MSS J and D and the Breviari.

But although her thesis changed as her research progressed, the florilegium and its context remained centre stage. Indeed, as she wryly concedes (38, n. 7), the originally projected chapter outline survived the change of argument virtually intact. This means that her study concentrates on those elements in the manuscript that are scholarly in order to conclude that the MS is predominantly scholarly; and that it focuses on the influence of Uc in such a way as to infer that it was greatly influenced by Uc. This predisposition towards certain conclusions does not of course invalidate them, but it needs to be borne in mind when we read her book which is, inevitably, selective. To be more precise, it devotes most of its attention on the section which the nineteenth-century philologist Gustav Grober, who first tried to identify the various sources of H, labelled H3: namely fols. 43 to 60, the end of the manuscript. H3 is the section which contains examples of tensos, coblas, and coblas tensonadas. The first two thirds of the manuscript, in which are copied its selected cansos, are not discussed except for the Arnaut Daniel glosses (which fall in what Grober called H1) and the vidas and razos (some of which are in what he called H2 and others in H3). It would be redundant to insist that a reading which proceeded differently would reach different conclusions--obviously it would. However, in the case of MS H, one can easily see how reading the compilation with as much attention to the courtly cansos as to the coblas and tensos might produce a dramatically different outcome, notably with regard to how the female presence in it is interpreted.

That said, Poe's discussion of the shorter works in H3 is fascinating. She sets out to rectify Grober's dismissive account of this section as a jumble of unrelated material. She shows how the coblas it contains are organized, some by theme and some--in the case of a series of contrafacta of lyrics by Bertran de Born and Peire Vidal--by form (Chapter 1). She finds coherence in its collection of coblas by Uc de Saint Circ who, as she puts it, "dominates H3" (p. 73; Chapter 2). She argues that the way satirical coblas are interspersed among, or frame, the works by female authors is intended to undermine their authority and to propose critical or even misogynist readings of them (Chapter 3). The next two chapters analyze the Arnaut Daniel glosses and the H vidas and razos respectively; and the final two edit and discuss the florilegium section of H3. Although all of the chapters are integrated to an overall argument, most can be read independently of one another and each has its chief conclusions clearly pointed. The study is well buttressed with an Introduction and Conclusion, a Preface and Post-Scriptum, that both hold the structure together and ornament it. This is an elegantly conceived and executed work, with the inevitable technicalities of its subject matter helpfully smoothed over and served up with dry wit.

Poe modestly insists on her reliance on the palaeographical analysis of MS H recently published by Maria Carreri (Modena: Mucchi, 1990). Her aim, she asserts (14), is "to provide the complementary literary analysis of the codex that [Carreri] in her book invites". However, I would not describe this book as 'literary'. Path-breaking as Poe's work is, it nevertheless represents a return to the early days of troubadour scholarship with its careful examination of manuscripts and sources. The debt to Grober, who is hymned from first to last, is determining. Philological this book may be, but there is virtually nothing that you could call literary criticism detectable in its pages: no spectre of enjoyment to distract from dissection, no aberrant enthusiasm to cloud clarity. The moments of keenest literary perception are passages of wry paraphrase where the obscurities of some allusive cobla suddenly leap into focus as intelligible prose. Nor is there any hint of the theoretical; the brouhaha of the New Philology might never have happened and certainly has not touched the impeccable positivism of Poe's analysis. Ultimately she represents the compiler as an author figure who moulds his sources according to his own shaping intention. To repeat the obvious, this is another way in which a subsequent study of the same materials might arrive at a radically different view.

That this book has much to teach us all is shown by the fact that a whole session was devoted to it at this year's Kalamazoo. Poe has not evolved a way of thinking that is new but she has given us much that is new to think about, and set a benchmark for further research.