Frank Coulson

title.none: Sharpe, Titulus (Frank Coulson)

identifier.other: baj9928.0402.012 04.02.12

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Frank Coulson, Ohio State University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Sharpe, Richard. Titulus: Identifying Medieval Latin Texts, an Evidence-Based Approach. Series: Brepols Essays in European Culture, vol. 3. Turnhout: Brepols, 2003. Pp. 301. ISBN: $40.00 2-503-51258-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.02.12

Sharpe, Richard. Titulus: Identifying Medieval Latin Texts, an Evidence-Based Approach. Series: Brepols Essays in European Culture, vol. 3. Turnhout: Brepols, 2003. Pp. 301. ISBN: $40.00 2-503-51258-5.

Reviewed by:

Frank Coulson
Ohio State University

Richard Sharpe is well known for his important scholarly contributions in the fields of bibliography and textual studies. His recently published guide to writers in Great Britain and Ireland before 1540 is a major advance on previous bibliographical treatments and marshals the evidence with enviable clarity and penetrating scholarship. In this new book Titulus: Identifying Medieval Latin Texts: An Evidence-Based Approach, which is volume three in a newly inaugurated series from Brepols entitled "Brepols Essays in European Culture," Sharpe addresses the problems faced by manuscript cataloguers and bibliographers in determining the specific author and title of medieval works transmitted in manuscripts and early printed books. It is a work of vast erudition that clearly reveals the author's years of first-hand experience with manuscripts. Anyone who has had to grapple with the complexities of the transmission of texts in medieval codices (and here I speak from experience) will benefit enormously from the practical advice and admonitions contained therein. One of the great strengths of the book is its willingness to move from the theoretical to the practical. Sharpe is the consummate detective, and the stories he weaves of misappropriations and wrongly deduced attributions are fascinating and compelling.

The book is conceived as a continuous essay woven into fifteen chapters which treats the topic of identifying medieval Latin texts and their authors from various perspectives: the theoretical, the historical, and the practical. There is also a most helpful excursus at the end [A Shelf of Reference Books] where Sharpe surveys the secondary literature most important to the topic and gives advice and direction about the value of each (wisely adding that not all readers will agree with his observations). The problem which confronts the author is clearly elucidated in the forward: "At one level there is a practical need for an identification that effectively differentiates one text from others that may resemble it, for example, in title or opening words. At a deeper level we need a method for determining those fundamentals for each text. Guides to medieval texts in too many cases are concerned only to draw together information without applying on a broad front the critical methods that exist to discover valid data for specific texts" (9). The fifteen chapters that follow dissect these problems with specific examination of existing guides (such as published catalogues of manuscript collections, reference works, ancient and modern bibliographical guides, and incipitaria). Few scholars escape Sharpe's dissections unscathed. His eagle-eyed acumen is particularly reserved for such incipitaria as those of Lynn Thorndike and Morton Bloomfield, the inadequacies of which are treated with unremitting, though justified, scorn. "As a mere user of this finding-aid (A Catalogue of Incipits of Mediaeval Scientific Writings in Latin), I feel that I have had to do more of Thorndike and Kibre's job than they did themselves. They do not tell me anything about the relationship of incipit and text, merely where they have found several variant incipits from they-know-not-what texts" (155). Bloomfield's often helpful incipitarium, Incipits of Latin Works on the Virtues and Vices, is dispatched similarly, though with less animus. Having dealt with the inadequacies of earlier approaches to identifying the medieval author and his works, Sharpe moves on in the concluding section of the work (chapters 14 and 15) to offer his own solutions. Any scholar who is engaged on manuscript work would be well advised to heed the sage advice proferred on pp. 246-47, where Sharpe inveighs against the tendency to use previous scholarship uncritically and encourages us to return to the manuscripts. Finally, Sharpe makes an eloquent case for the need for what he terms "a science of medieval texts that is concerned with their identification" (249).

In a book of this nature, so concerned with the practical, it would be invidious of a reviewer not to stress how profoundly Sharpe's methodology can alter the information that is conveyed to the reader either on a particular text, or its author, or its manuscript transmission. Chapter 14 of Titulus details two case studies that illuminate the strengths of Sharpe's recommendations. Case study one involves a certain Iohannes Toletanus, who has been consistently misrepresented in the scholarly literature. Having surveyed the various guises under which this Iohannes is cited, Sharpe takes as his point of departure the citation of the author in the incipitarium of Thorndike-Kibre, where confusion and lack of clarity reign. Sharpe then itemizes the known manuscript evidence and produces an identification that is noteworthy for its elegance of presentation and remarkable ease of consultation, not to mention its magisterial encapsulation of information (see p. 215). Case study number two leads the reader through a text whose author was much altered in the medieval period. Sharpe's entry for the author on p. 245 again "cuts to the chase" and allows the reader to make his way quickly through a confusing mass of manuscript evidence.

In sum, Sharpe's little volume is one that should find its way to the shelf of anyone who has to deal with manuscripts. It is a mine of practical advice on every page; rich in illustrative material taken from the author's own experience; and, mirabile dictu, written in a style that is clear and jargon free. If the tone is somewhat sharp at times, it needs be said that the criticism is appropriately directed. All in all, an elegant and authoritative guide that ably fulfills a pressing need in manuscript research.