98.04.04, Perrin, ed., Rabani Mauri in honorem sanctae crucis

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John J. Contreni

The Medieval Review baj9928.9804.004


Perrin, Michel, ed.. Rabani Mauri In honorem sanctae crucis. Corpus Christianorum. Continuatio Mediaevalis, vol 100.. Turnhout: Brepols, 1997. Pp. cxx, 342. ISBN: 2-503-04001-2 (hb).
ISBN: 2-503-04002-0 (pb).

Reviewed by:
John J. Contreni
Purdue University

In 810, or shortly after, Hrabanus, a monk of Fulda, sent Hatto, a fellow deacon, a copy of a complex work he had conceived with Hatto's help. As young monks both Hrabanus and Hatto studied at the monastery of Saint-Martin in Tours with Alcuin (735-804), one of the early luminaries of the Carolingian intellectual and cultural reform movement. It was at Tours that Alcuin, ever conscious of his own position and influence as a teacher, bestowed the name 'Maurus' on young Hrabanus in imitation of an earlier Maurus, the favorite disciple of Benedict of Nursia. Hrabanus returned to Fulda with more than a new name. Michel Perrin suggests (p. xii, n. 12) that it may well have been at Tours, where since the days of Bishop Gregory of Tours (died 594) an oratory housed relics of the true cross, that young Hrabanus Maurus also found inspiration for the work he submitted to Hatto's scrutiny. Hatto may have been the first reader of Hrabanus's figure-poem, the In honorem sanctae crucis (Perrin prefers that title to the more familiar In laudem sanctae crucis for good textual reasons [pp. xxvi-xxix]), but he was not the last. Despite duties as teacher at Fulda, then as abbot (822-842), and, finally, as archbishop of Mainz (847-856) and while producing a prodigious record of scholarship to boot, Hrabanus over the course of forty years returned to his first work repeatedly. A deluxe ninth-century copy kept at Fulda bears hundreds of corrections in a script identified as the author's own (but most of the twenty-three plates Perrin published to support this point are miserable -- scratched and littered with fiber, the film from which the plates were reproduced appears to have been run through microfilm readers too many times). The In honorem had a public purpose as well, especially in the politically charged decade of the 840s, when Hrabanus used gifts of the book to establish networks of friendship and patronage. Copies went to Bishops Haistulf of Mainz (813-826), the monastery of Saint-Martin, Bishop Otgarius of Mainz (826- 847), Emperor Louis the Pious, Pope Gregory IV (827-844), Duke Eberhard of Friuli, and the monastery of Saint-Denis. Bishop Rodulfus of Bourges (840-866) also received a copy, but in the absence of a formal dedication from Hrabanus, it is not clear how or why the book came to him.

Despite its high cost of production and the intensive skilled labor needed to copy it, In honorem continued to be copied throughout the Middle Ages. Some eighty-one copies survive. Most modern readers would probably judge Hrabanus's decision to use the figure-poem popularized by Publilius Optatianus Porfyrius in the fourth century as the vehicle for his devotion to the cross as bizarre at worst and precious at best. The genre challenges the poet to superimpose a poem or verse on a grid containing a background poem. The two texts can share the same letters as when the first letters of each verse can also be read vertically or when the letters embedded along the diagonals of the background poem yield their own meaning. The poet can also inscribe images or figures on the background poem and fill in the images with a uersus intextus, verse independent of the letters of the background text. Poetry in the porfyrian style required the poet to master and blend two media -- word and image -- on the same page. Alcuin revived interest in porfyrian poetry (a conjunction not reported by Perrin, but see Peter Godman, Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance [Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985], 20 and 138-143) and even composed an acrostic De sancta cruce, but the pupil exceeded the master and all other medieval practitioners of the genre. One need only study Michel Perrin's excellent edition to understand the perennial interest in Hrabanus's first work. At one level Hrabanus's In honorem sanctae crucis is a marvel to look at. Its paintings, as Hrabanus no doubt intended, puzzled the eyes of medieval readers while offering them intriguing incentives to decode his visual puzzles and to follow along with Hrabanus to a deeper spiritual level, to a meditation both on the cross and on Christ.

In undertaking his edition, Perrin faced a challenge familiar to editors of other ninth-century texts. How does one fix on a page a text that evolved over time? Can a snapshot of a moving picture faithfully render the meaning of the moving picture? Edouard Jeauneau confronted this problem when he edited John Scottus's Periphyseon for Corpus Christianorum. Jeauneau's solution lay in publishing a synoptic edition of the four versions of the text (see Iohannis Scotti seu Eriugenae Periphyseon Liber Primus. Editionem nouam a suppositiciis quidem additamentis purgatam, ditatam uero appendice in qua uicissitudines operis synoptice exhibentur. Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis 161. [Turnholt: Brepols, 1996]). As the first editor of In honorem sanctae crucis since Jakob Wimpfeling in 1503 (all subsequent editions essentially reprint his), Michel Perrin has been equally aggressive and clever.

In honorem consists altogether of 30 figure poems, 28 meditations on the cross and two prefatory poems, one from the dedication to Louis the Pious (see Elizabeth Sears, "Louis the Pious as Miles Christi: The Dedicatory Image in Hrabanus Maurus's De laudibus sanctae crucis," in Peter Godman and Roger Collins, eds., Charlemagne's Heir: New Perspectives on the Reign of Louis the Pious (814-840) [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990], 605-628; Perrin disputes Sears's analysis) and Hrabanus's own preface calling on his muse (every seventh letter of which creates the legend: "Magnentius Hrabanus Maurus hoc opus fecit"). The copy kept at Fulda, Vatican, Reg. lat. 124, also preserves portraits of Hrabanus and Alcuin (whose paternal arm is draped over the protege's shoulder) presenting the book to St. Martin and of Hrabanus presenting his gift to Pope Gregory. This manuscript also records the dedication to Bishop Otgarius. Reasonably enough, Perrin chose the Vatican manuscript as the basis for his edition, supplementing its readings with those of nine other ninth-century copies (most of which come from Fulda or Mainz) and one from the tenth or eleventh century (a Paris manuscript that uniquely preserves the dedication to the monks of St.-Denis).

Sensitive to the nature of Hrabanus's work, Perrin edited both text and image to place in the hands of his readers a work that recreates as much as possible the experience medieval readers encountered when turning the pages of In honorem. In important respects, Perrin has made the task of decoding Hrabanus's work less challenging for modern readers. When Hrabanus finished the copy he sent to Hatto (a working copy that no longer exists) it consisted of the figure poems on the verso sides of the folios with Hrabanus's explanations (declarationes) of the poems on the facing recto sides of the following folios. It must have become readily apparent that the poems, fitted onto a grid with no indication of verse beginnings or endings, no word separation, and partially obscured by the superimposed figures, were difficult to read. A seventh quire added to the Vatican manuscript following the 28 paired series of figure-poems and explanations solved this problem by providing retranscriptions of the poems in conventional format. Later still, Hrabanus added a second book to the evolving In honorem. This addition enabled the author to adopt the "mos apud ueteres" by composing prose versions of his poems. Hrabanus here described himself as an "interpreter, not of another language, but of another way of speaking" (226,24-25). Thus, the geminus stylus complemented porfyrian style in the same work.

Perrin's edition makes two important innovations that readers will welcome. First, the figure poems and prefatory dedicatory portraits are excellently reproduced in full color from the archival Fulda manuscript now in the Vatican and presented as a separate fascicle of plates (designated 100 A in the Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Medievalis series). Facing modern sketches of the figures clearly delineate the figures and texts of the poems -- especially helpful when the background colors of the manuscript are faded or dark. Perrin's sketches are also reproduced opposite the texts of the poems in the edition. His second innovation affects the presentation of the text. Perrin published Hrabanus's retranscription of each poem on the page facing its respective figure poem. A medieval reader, for example, pondering the first of the figure poems on the cross -- a full length portrait of Christ with arms and body filled with text superimposed on a grid of background text on f. 8v of the Vatican manuscript -- would read Hrabanus's explanation of the poem's meaning on facing f. 9r. To read Hrabanus's retranscription, the medieval reader needed to turn to f. 37r, the folio following the last of the figure poems and its explanation. Perrin has simplified things for his readers by juxtaposing all three elements for each figure-poem: figure-poem, retranscription, and explanation. Thus the sketch of the first figure poem occurs on p. 26 (left) of the edition, the retranscription on facing p. 27 and p. 28 and the declaratio beginning on p. 29. Interestingly, fragmentary ninth-century manuscript evidence (salvaged from a bookbinding) suggests a presentation of the text similar to that adopted by Perrin. In fragments of In honorem conserved at Strasbourg and in Vasteras, Sweden, the retranscription of the poems was copied directly beneath the figure-poem.

Perrin's edition will enable scholars to study Hrabanus's In honorem in a new, bright light -- the contrast with the most widely accessible edition in Migne's Patrologia latina, vol. 107, could not be starker. One can predict that the stature of a text already well-known (Perrin's selective bibliography lists 116 titles, 35 of which date from the 1990s) will only be enhanced by the new edition for several reasons.

At the most basic level, Hrabanus in his prefaces and in the declarationes accompanying each figure poem perhaps more than any other Carolingian writer shares with his readers his editorial and compositional strategies. To make his letters fit the established grid, Hrabanus freely bent the rules of orthography and grammar. In 26 instances he elided words as when caeleste animal was rendered caelestanimal. He dropped letter 'u' following 'q' 295 times. Readers would know that qater = quater and atqe = atque. In 104 cases Hrabanus dropped letters that are not pronounced. These and other strategies enabled him to free up space for 811 letters according to Perrin's analysis. By the same token, Hrabanus added letters to fill out blank spaces ('caedris' for 'cedris') 36 times. Clearly his major problem was fitting his words into the available spaces on the grid. Hrabanus's linguistic ingenuity offers an interesting contrast to the linguistic hypercorrectivity of many of his contemporaries.

Even more impressive is the ingenuity implicit in the figure poems that Hrabanus made explicit in his declarationes. Only a few of the figure poems are as straight-forward as the third in the series. The words CRUX (arranged vertically) and SALUS (arranged horizontally) intersect to form a cross. The nine letters correspond to the nine orders of angels, the names of which are each inscribed within the borders of the letters. The background poem on which CRUX and SALUS are superimposed is a meditation on the angels who assisted Christ during various moments of his earthly life, from the Annunciation to the Resurrection. The fifteenth poem on the evangelists presents their symbols arranged in the form of a cross with a lamb at the axis. The meaning of this image with the lamb of God placed at the center of evangelist symbols is obvious. But Hrabanus intended another reading as well. The positioning of the images can also be read to represent the evangelists as the four rivers of Paradise flowing from one source, Christ. Most of the figure poems draw on the manipulation of mystical numbers. The thirteenth poem presents four small crosses arranged in a cross pattern on the grid. The theme of the poem is the Temple, which took 46 years to build, but only 3 days to restore. The texts inscribed in the four crosses consist of 276 letters representing the number of days the body of the Lord "in utero uirginali constructum atque compactum est" (109,1-5). Hrabanus, following Augustine's De Trinitate, explained that the 46 years it took to build the Temple multiplied by 6, yields 276. In terms of days, 276 equals 9 months, 6 days, the period of Christ's gestation. Dividing 276 by the four ends of the cross yields 69 which further represents the 9 months and 6 days of Mary's pregnancy and the sixth day of creation when man was created and the nine orders of angels. Hrabanus's calculations in the In honorem testify to his skill with numbers (he was a master of computus) as well as with words and images. They also demonstrate graphically and with precision how seamless the Old and New Testaments were to the mind of a medieval biblical scholar such as Hrabanus, whose learning and methods could confidently prove in ingenious ways the underlying unity of the two Testaments.

At its most profound level, what matters most is that the In honorem is a deeply spiritual work centered on an object, the cross, represented in multiple ways by a series of complex images. At the moment Hrabanus Maurus composed his poem and during the years he continued to work on it and distribute it to patrons, the Carolingian world was caught up in a searing debate about the appropriate use of images in worship (among important recent work on the topic by David Appleby, Celia Chazelle, and Thomas Noble, see Chazelle's "Matter, Spirit, and Image in the Libri Carolini," Recherches Augustiniennes 21 [1986], 163-184). The debate involved some of the leading intellectuals active during the closing years of the eighth century and the first third of the ninth century. For a time it pitted Carolingians against their perceptions of Byzantine policies and led to the production of the Libri Carolini. While not addressing any of the many issues that animated the debate directly, Hrabanus's poems and paintings can be read and viewed as a stunning confirmation of the cross's special status as a consecrated object, a res sacrata. Hrabanus limned his own position in the debate in the very first figure-poem in the series. Here his first depiction of the cross portrayed the body of Christ with arms extended. Christ is the cross, the cross is Christ. "O truly good and truly holy cross of Christ, who can properly say everything about you?" Hrabanus asked in a remarkable apostrophe (168,30-31). Tellingly, when Hrabanus took up the challenge to say everything about the cross, he produced a string of divine epithets: "Sancta, pia, bona, iusta, benigna, rationabilis, laudabilis, uenerabilis, amabilis, fortis, suauis, mitis, sapiens, patiens, potens" (168,49-51).

Michel Perrin has been publishing on the In honorem since 1988 and has contributed a French translation of the text and a series of fundamental articles on larger topics related to Hrabanus's poem. His 120-page introduction to the Corpus Christianorum edition sticks fairly closely to technical editorial and codicological matters -- although he does think more highly of Hrabanus's skill as a poet than did Ernst (not Heinrich [pp. lxiv, cii, cvi]) Duemmler who edited the poems for the Monumenta Germaniae Historica in 1884. One senses that Hrabanus, who always modestly undercut his efforts ("O crux alma Dei, usque huc, quantum potui, laudem tuam cecini" [287,60-61; emphasis added]), would be pleased by the results of Michel Perrin's work and especially by the edition's designation as the one-hundredth volume in the CCCM series. Scholars working today and for generations to come with Perrin's careful and judicious edition will welcome the research tool he has prepared for them.

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John J. Contreni

Purdue University