Charles F. Briggs

title.none: Brett, ed., Defender of the Peace (Charles F. Briggs)

identifier.other: baj9928.0702.003 07.02.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Charles F. Briggs, Georgia Southern University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Brett, Annabel, ed. and trans. Marsilius of Padua: Defender of the Peace. Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. lxi, 569. $75.00 0-521-78332-1. ISBN: $29.99 0-521-78911-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.02.03

Brett, Annabel, ed. and trans. Marsilius of Padua: Defender of the Peace. Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. lxi, 569. $75.00 0-521-78332-1. ISBN: $29.99 0-521-78911-7.

Reviewed by:

Charles F. Briggs
Georgia Southern University

When asked to review this new English-language translation of the Defensor pacis, I must admit the first thought that flitted through my mind was, "do we really need another translation of this?" After all, I reasoned, there are several printings of Alan Gewirth's perfectly serviceable 1956 translation floating about, including Columbia University Press's reissue of 2001, with its very helpful Afterword by Cary Nederman. After having read Brett's translation (and, I might add, after further reflection), however, I have become convinced of its desirability and value. First, Brett has benefited from the bounty of Marsilian scholarship and of studies devoted to later medieval political philosophy and intellectual culture that has been produced over the half century since Gewirth's pioneering rendition. To this must be added the appearance of an impressive number of critical editions of texts cited by Marsilius and of searchable databases of classical, patristic, and medieval sources. Finally, Brett, as she herself admits, (xl-xli), has had the advantage of being able to refer back to Gewirth's own effort and to Jeannine Quillet's superb French version (Le defenseur de la paix) of 1968, as well as, secondarily, a number of other modern-language translations that have appeared since Gewirth's. The result is an accurate yet accessible English Defensor pacis for a twenty- first-century audience of students and their teachers which also is of real value to scholars.

The story of Marsilius and the Defensor pacis is well known, so there is no need to go over it here. Rather I will confine my remarks to the contents and qualities of this translation. Brett's prefatory material consists of an Introduction, Suggestions for Further Reading, a chronology of the Principal Events in Marsilius's Life, Notes on the Translation, and Notes on the References. The Introduction does an especially good job of describing the intellectual and political milieus of Padua and Paris, wherein Marsilius received his formation in arts and medicine, and the contemporary political contests over papal plenitudo potestatis and clerical poverty that formed the polemical context in which the Defensor pacis was written. Here Brett rightly rejects the old assessment of Defensor pacis as a work of "political Averroism," arguing instead for the essential complementarity of the different approaches employed in its three Discourses. Also useful is Brett's brief but illuminating survey of the text's contents and main arguments. The annotated list of further readings which follows has been judiciously selected. To it I would add Janet Coleman's clearly expressed and intelligent chapter on Marsilius in her A History of Political Thought: From the Middle Ages to the Renaissance (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000) and, for the intellectual context of the Defensor pacis, Ronald Witt's comments in his In the Footsteps of the Ancients: The Origins of Humanism from Lovato to Bruni (Leiden: Brill, 2003), as well as some important recent studies by Alain de Libera, Serge Lusignan, and Jacques Verger.[1]

All translators of Defensor pacis admit to its being a mighty difficult task. Its subject matter is complex and it is written in the abstruse technical language of the later medieval schools. And despite Marsilius having written this treatise with an eye to assisting princes against papal claims of sovereignty, his intended primary readership was no doubt other men of learning such as himself. Only in the brief third Discourse does he make any attempt at vulgarization, and even here the Latin is hardly easy. Thus Brett is to be commended for rendering the text's "difficult and often obscure" (p. xli) Latin in a readable English prose that nonetheless manages at once to convey Marsilius's meaning and the flavor of his scholarly discourse. All readers of this translation will also benefit enormously from its superb annotation, which not only explicates difficult passages and provides additional information about authors and works cited, but also takes care to cite the best and most recent editions of Marsilius's sources, especially when he seems to be getting his information at second hand (as, for example, the classical and penitential material he cites by way of Geremia da Montagnone's Compendium moralium notabilium and Thomas of Ireland's Manipulus florum) or when he discusses similar issues to, or may have been influenced by or be responding to, works of his contemporaries, like Pierre de la Palud, Lupold of Bebenburg, Remigio de' Girolami, Fra Paolino, Herve de Nedellec, and Dino del Garbo (none of whom is cited in Gewirth's notes).

In fine, this is an excellent translation that deserves to take its place as the English version of first resort. Having said this, however, I have no intention of dispensing with my Gewirth, since his introduction still makes worthwhile reading and his notes at times supplement Brett's. If pressed to make some sort of criticism of this new Cambridge version I can instead only offer up a personal hobby- horse: this being disappointment that translations of medieval texts (including this one) very rarely discuss the manuscripts of their text. Although I am aware that doing so is neither conventional nor, in many instances, useful, I do think that in the case of a really scholarly translation of a text that has not been edited in more than seven decades, readers would benefit from an up-to-date treatment of manuscript context. But this, as I said, is no more than a cranky manuscripts historian's quirky desideratum.


[1] A. de Libera, "Le troisieme pouvoir: les intellectuels scolastiques et la politique," and S. Lusignan, "Intellectuels et vie politique en France a la fin du Moyen Age," in Les philosophies morales et politiques au Moyen Age, ed. B.C. Bazan, E. Andujar, and L.G. Sbrocchi (Ottawa: Legas, 1995), pp. 241-66 and 267-81; J. Verger, Men of Learning in Europe at the End of the Middle Ages, trans. L. Neal and S. Rendall (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000).