The Medieval Review 10.02.18

Waddell, Helen, introduction by John Scattergood. Mediaeval Latin Lyrics. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2008. Pp. xlii, 342. . $40 978-1-84682-106-6.

Reviewed by:

Tina Chronopoulos
Kings College London

Helen Waddell's collection of Medieval Latin Lyrics, first published in 1929, is here reissued in its fifth edition, accompanied by an introduction by the medievalist and Anglicist John Scattergood. 80 years ago, it appeared in the wake of W.'s The Wandering Scholars (1926), and was, in a manner of speaking, complementary to the latter, in that it contained the source material on which that literary history had been based. In order to undertake that overview, W. had prepared her own translations and she wrote in the preface to the book under review: "the introduction to this collection of mediaeval Latin verse was written some years ago in The Wandering Scholars." (xxxix) Mediaeval Latin Lyrics was published to public acclaim and further established Waddell's credentials as a Medievalist, amongst other things. Now, it has been reissued in the wake of a reassessment of her achievements and the republication of some of her other books. [1]

Scattergood's introduction (v-xxxviii) is followed by Waddell's 1929 preface (xxxix-xli) and her 1948 postscript (xlii). Then follow the poems in Latin with facing English translations, 98 in total (1-279); they are accompanied by 38 pages of biographical notes (280-337), in which Waddell provides brief summaries and bibliographical information on her chosen authors/poems. The book is rounded off by three indexes: of authors and manuscripts (338), to first lines (English) (339-40), and to first lines (Latin) (341-42). The original pagination has been retained, except for the introductory material.

The 34-page introduction provides a biographical and historical context for Waddell's life and work. It briefly outlines the most important events in W.'s life, who never held a permanent academic post, despite or perhaps because of her publications. She was the daughter of a Presbyterian missionary born in Tokyo in 1889, where she spent the early years of her life before returning to Belfast in 1900. References to primary and secondary sources allow the reader to explore Waddell's life, as well as career and writings in depth. Plentiful quotations from her letters to her sister Margaret Martin add a personable touch and make her come alive. Scattergood rounds off his sympathetic introduction with an appraisal of Waddell's achievement, by quoting from contemporary reviews of Medieval Latin Lyrics, and by discussing her translating practice in relation to the poem Levis exsurgit Zephyrus. He notes, in what has almost become a commonplace, that W. "in her translations did make lovely lyrics from the Latin texts she addressed, but her versions did not always replicate very exactly or sometimes very closely the originals (xxvi)."

The poems, both in rhythmic and quantitative metre, are arranged in chronological order, starting with the Copa and ending with a poem from the Arundel Lyrics, thus spanning a period of about 1100 years (if one follows Tarrant's dating of the Copa to the second century AD). [2] The geographical span reaches from Italy, via Spain, Gaul, Francia, the Low Countries, Germany, and England to Scotland. Thematically, the poems are mostly concerned with nature, love, and friendship. About one third of the collection is made up of poems from the Carmina Burana. The rest includes authors such as Ausonius, Paulinus of Nola, Boethius, Venantius Fortunatus, Alcuin, Rabanus Maurus, Walahfrid Strabo, Sedulius Scottus, Sigebert of Gembloux, and Peter Abelard. There are also four pieces from the Cambridge Songs, as well as a number of anonymous poems. Some of the translations in this collection (23 in total) already appeared in The Wandering Scholars.

In her 1948 postscript, Waddell acknowledged that she had been criticized for seemingly preferring secular to religious poetry, and admitted that she had not included them "because I cannot translate them." (xlii) Whether this is true in relation to such hymns as Venantius Fortunatus' Pange Lingua we cannot know. Indeed, she signposted the absence of authors such as Hildebert of Lavardin or Walter of Châtillon in the 1929 preface, and any number of other poets could be added to the list (e.g. Sidonius Apollinaris or Marbod of Rennes). It is of course possible but ultimately idle to fault Waddell's selection, given the scarcity of such collections even today. [3]

The accuracy of Waddell's translations is something contemporary reviewers jumped at, and her ODNB entry points out that "she was never an exact Latin scholar." [4] This is true, of course, and her approach can be difficult to stomach for scholars trained in the spirit of objective analysis and faithful translation. Looked at from this vantage, mistakes and omissions in her translations begin to accumulate very quickly. However, if one approaches Waddell's translations on their own terms and remembers that they are a product of her time, it quickly becomes apparent that they are poems in their own right. Her verse translations do not so much translate as render the originals in the same spirit, retaining as much as possible their aesthetic and evocative qualities. Waddell had already done something similar when she published, in 1913, her Lyrics from the Chinese, transforming prose translations of Chinese originals into English poetry, without having seen the originals.

Waddell occasionally shortens the poems or gives extracts without making it very explicit that she is doing so, a fact already observed by Howard Mumford in 1931. [5] A few examples will serve to illustrate the point. Alcuin's famous elegy on the loss of his nightingale (De Luscinia, 88) is actually 28 lines long-- Waddell has given the first 14 lines that deal primarily with the nature of the bird's singing, while the end of the poem is more concerned with nature and its creator. The poem Ad Paulum Diaconum (100) is in fact the end of the poem, yet the reference to it in the notes (308) does not reveal it as such. Thus the reader, whether general or specialist, needs to bear this in mind while reading through or dipping into the volume.

As already pointed out, Waddell has been accused of not being an exact scholar, and it is true that the texts she reproduced do contain a number of inconsistencies. Colman's poem (74) may serve as an example: while "ae" has been retained for vitae (line 2) or patriae (line 5), this has not been applied in the case of effete (line 16), que (line 22), or optate (line 33). The title of the poem (beginning Colmani versus) is in hexameters so that the second line should start with scottigena rather than ficti. Strecker's posthumous edition of it, based on two manuscripts, did not appear until 1951, [6] which means that Waddell's text reads, for example, vincit amor patriae (line 8) instead of vincis amor patriae, making the subject amor rather than the addressee. Similarly, Waddell was not able to make use of the entirety of Hilka's and Schumann's edition of the Carmina Burana, relying for the most part on one manuscript, "clumsily edited by Schmeller" (p. 332). [7] While her translations of these poems remain as fresh as 80 years ago, the texts are not, and anyone wishing to work with them is advised to seek out the original editions.

The biographical notes, in Waddell's own words, "cover something of the same ground as The Wandering Scholars, but with more detail (xli)." In 38 densely packed pages she manages to bring alive the authors and surroundings of the poems she translated. At the same time, Waddell's comparison between those who fawned over Nero and the socialites of eighteen-nineties (284) may well be lost on readers today. Given the advances in scholarship that have been made since the notes were written, it is not surprising that a number of Waddell's statements are no longer held to be true. The Lament for Alcuin (96), for example, ascribed to Fredugis in Waddell's edition, is nowadays attributed to Alcuin himself. [8] The Glossa Ordinaria referred to as gathering dust under Walafrid Strabo's name is no longer thought to have been written by him (313). This body of glosses on the Bible was finalized in the twelfth century and remains anonymous, but is based on a tradition that reaches back to Jerome. [9] The notes occasionally leave out the call-marks of manuscripts, a practice not unique to Waddell at the time. The Codex Salmasianus is Paris BN lat. 10318 (288); the Vienna manuscript mentioned on p. 302 is Vienna ONB Theol. 259; the manuscript referred to as the "Verona Anthology" (316) is Verona BC Cod. XC (85); the Cambridge manuscript of the Cambridge Songs is Cambridge UL Gg.5.25 (35).

The merit of this book lies in the introduction which gives the reader the now necessary background in order to fully appreciate Waddell's achievement in putting together Medieval Latin Lyrics. This consists of the wealth of material amassed through a huge amount of original scholarship, especially given the scarcity of secondary sources available to Waddell at the time. In Waddell's (modest) own words: "I sat down with Migne...and progressed like a caterpillar through volume after volume of the Patrologia [Latina]. By the time I had reached my own period (and had added the Poetae Latini Aevi Carolini) I had some kind of rough acquaintance with medieval verse." [10] It remains a useful and delightful introduction to Medieval Latin poetry, both for the specialist and the general reader, and is a scholarly and literary work at the same time. The one gripe I have with it is that it was not thought necessary to provide an appendix listing the most relevant and recent discussions on the authors and poems presented in this collection.

The cover of the book features a detail of a portrait of Waddell at work by the artist Grace Henry (1868-1953), now at Kilmacrew House, Banbridge, Co. Down.

Some technical grumbles to close with:

The references to related works at the end of the 1929 preface need augmenting by at least the following: F.J.E. Raby, A History of Secular Latin Poetry in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934). P. Dronke, Medieval Latin and the Rise of European love- lyric, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968). P.G. Walsh, Thirty Poems from the Carmina Burana (Reading: Department of Classics, University of Reading, 1976). P. Godman, Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance (London: Duckworth, 1985). P. Rainey, Medieval Latin Lyric, 3 vols (Bryn Mawr, PA: Thomas Library, Bryn Mawr College, 1993). P.G. Walsh, Love Lyrics from the Carmina Burana (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993). J. Szöverffy, Secular Latin Lyrics and Minor Poetic Forms of the Middle Ages: A Historical Survey and Literary Repertory from the Tenth to the Late Fifteenth Century, 4 vols. (Concord, N.H.: Classical Folia, 1992-95).

Waddell herself admitted, in a letter to her sister Margaret, that she was "the worst proof-reader in the world". [11] This would explain a number of typos still present in this edition, aside from those mentioned above. For example: for "Fortunatas" read "Fortunatus" on p. 58; for "et" read "te" in the title of Ego et per omne quod datum mortalibus on p. 341. There are also a number of typos in the introduction, such as: insert "authors" after "awarded to such" on p. vii; for "feminiam" read "feminam" on p. vii; for "aging" read "ageing" on p. xxiii.



1. F. Corrigan ed., Between Two Eternities: A Helen Waddell Anthology (London: SPCK, 1993). H. Waddell, The Desert Fathers: Translations from the Latin (New York: Vintage Books, 1998). Ead., Beasts and Saints (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996). Ead., Wandering Scholars (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 2000). Helen Waddell's Writings from Japan, David Burleigh ed. & intr. (Dublin, 2005). J. Fitzgerald, "Jazzing the Middle Ages: The Feminist Genesis of Helen Waddell's The Wandering Scholars," Irish Studies Review 8 (2000), 5-22. Ead., "Truth's Martyr or Love's Martyr: Helen Waddell's Peter Abelard," Colby Quarterly 36 (2000), 176-87. Ead., "Helen Waddell (1889-1965): The Scholar Poet," in J. Chance ed., Women Medievalists and the Academy (London: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005), p. 323-38.

2. R.J. Tarrant, "Nights at the Copa: Observations on Language and Date," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 94 (1992), 331-47.

3. For example, F.J.E. Raby's The Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959) offers no English translations and only very short notes. The Penguin Book of Latin Verse, ed. F. Brittain (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962) offers Latin poems with English prose translations, and ranges from Naevius up to the beginning of the 20th century.

4. P.G. Walsh, "Waddell, Helen Jane (18891965)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); online edition, May 2009 [, accessed 15 Feb 2010].

5. H. Mumford Jones, "Review of Mediaeval Latin Lyrics", Speculum 6 (1931), 167: "[I] am puzzled to know on what principle she condenses and omits in many poems."

6. K. Strecker, Poetae aevi Carolini, MGH AA 6.1 (Weimar: H. Böhlaus, 1951), p. 180-82.

7. A. Hilka, O. Schummann, & B. Bischoff, Carmina Burana, 2 vols (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1930-70).

8. P. Goodman, "Alcuin's Poetic Style and the Authenticity of Mea Cella", Studi Medievali 20 (1979), 555-83.

9. See M.T. Gibson, "The Glossed Bible," in K. Froehlich & M.T. Gibson, Introduction to the Biblia Latina cum Glossa Ordinaria: facsimile reprint of the editio princeps (Turnhout: Brepols, 1992), p. viii.

10. From a draft letter to G.G. Coulton, quoted in J. Fitzgerald, "Jazzing the Middle Ages," p. 15.

11. F. Corrigan, Helen Waddell: A Biography (London: Gollancz, 1986), p. 250.