Ana-Isabel Magallón

title.none: Barney, Etymologies (Ana-Isabel Magallón)

identifier.other: baj9928.0705.030 07.05.30

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Ana-Isabel Magallón, Universidad de Zaragoza,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Barney, Stephen A. W. J. Lewis, J.A. Beach, Oliver Berghof, trans. and eds. Isidore of Seville: The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. xii, 475. $150.00 (hb) ISBN-10: 0-521-83749-9, ISBN-13: 978-0-521-83749-1.. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.05.30

Barney, Stephen A. W. J. Lewis, J.A. Beach, Oliver Berghof, trans. and eds. Isidore of Seville: The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. xii, 475. $150.00 (hb) ISBN-10: 0-521-83749-9, ISBN-13: 978-0-521-83749-1.. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Ana-Isabel Magallón
Universidad de Zaragoza

Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636), the most important author of Visigothic Spain, wrote many significant works about grammar, history, ecclesiastical and theological issues and other related topics; but the most outstanding of these books is the Etymologies, a very rich encyclopaedia arranged by subject matter in twenty books, which covers all branches of lore from Late Antiquity. Thanks to the excellent English translation by Barney, Lewis, Beach and Berghof, Isidore's Etymologies has finally become accessible for a broader public. It is the first time that this monumental work of the mediaeval world appears completely translated into English, and we should be delighted that this collaboration has been published by such a prestigious press.

The book as a whole is an irreproachable work of translation. Nonetheless, there are some points to be made regarding its explanations of Isidore and his context. I regret to point out that this book, addressed to the English-speaking world, somehow disregards previous studies by scholars writing in other languages, mainly in Spanish: after all, Spain is the country which produces the largest amount of scholarly work about this Visigothic author.

The translation is based on the text edited by W. M. Lindsay (1911), which also includes the "Correspondence of Isidore and Braulio" as an Appendix (407-13). Barney et al. have reviewed and updated with the standard modern editions the references to the authors quoted by Isidore in his work. All the conventions meant to facilitate the understanding of the translation by the twenty-first-century reader are specifically detailed in the "Note to the reader" (xi-xii). For example, this section clarifies the use of parentheses to set off the Latin word in question or its English translation, which makes clear the lemma generating an explanation, or the word substantiating every etymological argument. The book concludes with three indexes. Particularly useful is the "General index" (417-464), which contains important terms, sub-topics and most proper names, both in English and Latin (for some technical terms when the corresponding English translation is not viable).

The book opens with an "Introduction" which consists of very useful chapters about the Etymologies: first of all an "Historical background" followed by a "Chronology" (4-7), describing Isidore's historical setting. Thirdly a chapter on Isidore's "Life and Works" (7-10), in which Barney et al. let other medieval authorities speak about the extensive bibliography produced by the saint: in this respect, the most important testimony is the Renotatio by Braulio of Saragossa, whose text was wonderfully edited five years ago by Martín. [1] This important edition, however, has not been taken into account for this English translation. The second source, chronologically and by order of importance, is Ildefonsus of Toledo, who speaks about Isidore in his De viris Illustribus. [2] As a whole, the main objection to be made regarding this chapter is the assertion that "Braulio was in Seville with Isidore until 619" (7). This is a myth frequently repeated in the past which Díaz y Díaz refuted long ago. [3] According to Díaz y Díaz, Braulio was not exactly a disciple of Isidore: they met for the first time circa 620--probably in Toledo--when Braulio became archdeacon, and it was not until the death of King Sisebut (621) that they became close friends.

Next comes the chapter on "The sources of the Etymologies" (10-17), which reviews all the encyclopaedic and lexicographical works which might have had some influence on Isidore and which have constituted a distinguished ancestry. [4] From my point of view, the importance of the Ars of Aelius Donatus and his followers--apart from other grammarians--to Book I is not sufficiently emphasized. For this reason, I would recommend Holtz's excellent edition of this grammarian. [5] If his work had been consulted instead of citing Aelius Donatus after Keil's Grammatici Latini, the notes to the translation of Book I would have been richer.

"The character of the Etymologies" (17-24), constitutes a useful synopsis that focuses on the work's method, purpose, intention and organization. However, some assertions in this part could be enriched with further bibliography:

a) Roger Wright's "fascinating argument" about learning Latin (1982), cited in p. 18 n. 53, has already been competently answered by M. Banniard. [6] Banniard provides exhaustive information about the level of literacy of the public of the Etymologies, an encyclopaedia with a significant propaedeutic orientation. To this purpose, for instance, Banniard does not forget to study the usages that Isidore labels as vulgo ("commonly"), whenever they become an indicator of the closeness of Isidore with the semi-lettered people of Seville.

b) Regarding the arrangement of the Etymologies and the original division into tituli, it is necessary to refer to the essays by Codoñer. She explains how the original distribution into chapters, preserved in the oldest manuscripts, reveals with greater detail the encyclopaedia's arrangement by subject matter. This was particularly noticeable in the ten-book edition that Isidore sent and dedicated to King Sisebut, which was not sufficiently considered in the edition by Lindsay. [7]

c) At present it is risky to affirm that the essay by Fontaine (1978) on the chapter on etymology (I.29) "fully and definitively treats Isidore's thinking" (22). This assertion does not take into account the number of contributions written after Fontain's work that have treated the significance of this nuclear chapter, adding more data for its complete understanding. [8] Furthermore, it would have been convenient to include a mention of the prologue to Book X, where Isidore speaks again about the types of etymology.

The Introduction concludes with an interesting chapter on "The influence of the Etymologies" (24-26), which summarizes the early dissemination and the popularity of this encyclopaedia in medieval European culture up through the great Italian and English poets of the fourteenth century.

More information about the cultural context is provided again at the end of the book. There is an appendix with the correspondence of Isidore and Braulio, whose dates are based on C. W. Barlow, 1969--the title of the referred work does not appear anywhere. [9] Moreover, according to the authoritative analysis of Martín in his recent edition of "Renotatio" (2002), some of this information is obsolete nowadays.

To conclude, it could be said that I miss some updating in the bibliography: to give one more example, Barney et al. cite the five volumes of the international edition published by Belles Lettres, in the series Auteurs Latins du Moyen Age, in Paris; but I think that it would not have been difficult for them to include as well the Etymologies Book XIII, dated on April 2004. [10] This gives the impression that they stopped their documentation work in 2003, even though the book was published three years later. In any case, the volume is carefully produced, with a minimum of typographical errors, which do not detract from the overall quality of the work. Isidorian scholars and all interested in the study of the Middle Ages may certainly rejoice at this important contribution; but its price is high, and we would be even happier if a paperback edition became available soon.


[1] JoséCarlos Martín, La Renotatio Librorum Domini Isidori de Braulio de Zaragoza (+651), introducción edición crítica y traducción (Logroño, 2002). Now available in a second revised and augmented edition published as Corpus Christianorum, Series Latin 113B (Turnhout, Brepols, 2006).

[2] On page 10 n. 24 the editor of this work is named C.C. Merino, but the correct form is C. Codoñer Merino. The same error in citing appears in p. 9 n. 22, where the editor of Las Historias de Godos... is C(ristóbal) Rodríguez Alonso, instead of R. Alonso.

[3] M. C. Díaz y Díaz, "Isidoro en la Edad Media hispana", in Isidoriana, ed. M. C. Díaz y Díaz (León, 1961), p. 349. Other scholars have shared this opinion, as for example L. Váquez de Parga, Sancti Braulionis Caesaraugustani episcopi Vita S. Emiliani. Edición crítica (Madrid, 1943), pp. vii-viii, or JoséCarlos Martín, La Renotatio...., pp. 87-97, with detailed information.

[4] A survey about the grammatical sources can be found in Ana-Isabel Magallón, La tradición gramatical de differentia y etymologia hasta Isidoro de Sevilla (Zaragoza, 1996).

[5] L. Holtz, Donat et la tradition de l'enseignement gramatical. Etude sur l'Ars Donati et sa diffusion (IVe-Ixe siècle) et édition critique (Paris, 1981).

[6] M. Banniard, Viva Voce. Communication écrite et communication orale du IVe au IXe siècle en Occident latin (Paris, Études Augustiniennes, 1992).

[7] C. Codoñer Merino, "Los 'tituli' en las 'Etimologiae'. Aportaciones al estudio de la transmisión del texto", in Actas del Primer Congreso Nacional de Latín Medieval, (León 1-4 diciembre de 1993), ed. M. Pérez González (Universidad de León, 1995), pp. 29-46; C. Codoñer Merino, Introducción al libro X de las Etymologiae: su lugar dentro de esta obra, su valor como diccionario (Logroño, 2002).

[8] A status quaestionis about the interpretation of this chapter (I.29) can be found in Magallón, La tradición..., pp. 277-287, where I stressed the importance of the two contributions of C. Codoñer Merino, "La 'etimología' en Isidoro de Sevilla", Symbola Mitxelena (Vitoria, 1985), pp. 275-286; "Origines o Eymologiae", Helmantica 45 (1994): 511-527. See also W. Schweickard, "'etymologia est origo vocabularum...' Zum Verständnis der Etymologiedefinition Isidors von Sevilla'", Historiographia Linguistica 12, 1/2 (1985): 1-25.

[9] C. W. Barlow, Iberian Fathers, vol. 2: Braulio of Saragossa. Fructuosus of Braga (Washington D.C., 1969). We also have a more modern text of the Correspondence by L. Riesco Terrero, Epistolario de San Braulio. Introducción, edición crítica y traducción (Universidad de Sevilla, 1975).

[10] Isidore de Séville, Etymologiae XIII (De mundo et partibus). Edizione, traduzione e commento, ed. G. Gasparotto, col. A.L.M.A., (Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 2004). However, this contribution has to be contrasted with the comments in the critical review by P. Gautier Dalché, Archivum Latinitatis Medii Aevi 62 (2004): 305-311.