Since the late twelfth century European audiences have enjoyed the dialogue poem Dialogus Salomonis et Marcolfi, first in Latin, then also in various vernacular versions far into the early modern age. We can be fairly certain that the original exchanges between the wise king and the witty, almost diabolical peasant Marcolf can be traced back to Persian, or other Oriental literature. Jan Ziolkowski here offers, on the basis of Walter Benary's edition from 1914, an English translation on facing pages, making this text available again to a wide Anglophone readership for the first time since 1492 (this is not a misspelling!). He reproduces the critical apparatus already offered by Benary, translating it into English, slightly modifying it for clarity's sake. Also, Ziolkowski incorporated Benary's separate commentary on C into this section. The illustrations are taken from the quarto version published in Landshut by Johann Weissenburger (1514).
In his introduction, Ziolkowski discusses all the relevant aspects pertaining to this text: genre, content, date of composition, place of origin and place of composition, the reception history (especially among schools, humanistic circles, and scholastic intellectuals), the role of Solomon and the function of Marcolf and other antagonists opposed to the king, then the significance of the central issues addressed here, wisdom and learning (though consistently undermined by Marcolf), the significance of the proverbs, and the transition of the original text in Latin and written down in manuscripts into early- modern prints.
In many respects Ziolkowski can only offer guesses as to origin and date of the text, but he outlines the critical debate and draws the best possible conclusions. These might sound vague at times, but this is not uncommon for medieval texts, especially when they enjoyed such a degree of popularity. It is very likely, for instance, that two scribes were responsible for copying down the original text, but we cannot establish this with absolute clarity.
Ziolkowski is right on target when he characterizes the exchanges between Solomon and Marcolf as "an elemental clash between divine wisdom and boorish wit" (23), but I would have liked to see more inquiries into the uncanny utilization of feces and farts by Marcolf. He reflects to some extent on Bakthin's critical comments (included in his study on Rabelais and His World), which have earned Solomon and Marcolf "a certain chic" (15), but anthropological, sociological, and mental-historical research of more recent dates (see, for instance, the work by Mary Douglas) might have shed better light on this issue (scatology) (see also Fecal Matters in Early Modern Literature and Art, ed. Jeff Persels and Russell Ganim, 2004).
The textual notes (by Benary and expanded by Ziolkowski) and the commentary (by Ziolkowski) prove to be marvelously detailed and meticulous, but we do not find too many critical interpretations (the numerous examples of deliberately utilized flatulence for epistemological [?] purposes would have invited more investigations).
In a subsequent appendix we are informed about alternative beginnings and endings, then, in a second, very important appendix, about sources, analogues, and testimonies. The third appendix contains the English translation of a Welsh version, by Diana Luft. The final appendix consists of the sequence of questions and answers.
Following the extensive, almost exhaustive bibliography, Ziolkowski offers an index of Latin words and phrases, an index of motifs, proverbs, and tale types, and a most helpful index of subjects.
I would have liked to see more critical comments informed by more current scholarship. I have mentioned the topic of flatulence already, and here we could also think of misogyny, Andreas Capellanus, Oswald, Orendel, proverbs, spitting, tricksters, etc. Even in his introduction Ziolkowski is a little hesitant to probe the issues more deeply, though he offers a solid introduction overall. I am certainly happy with his translation and his admirable effort to make this intriguing work of medieval didactic literature available again, accompanied by such a learned apparatus/commentary.
As a final note, Ziolkowski regularly abbreviates Solomon and Marcolf as "S 8 M." There is, as the editor surreptitiously notes at the beginning, a hilarious irony to it, especially because of Marcolf's transgressive behavior and comments. "S 8 M" simply reminds me of a certain type of sexual practices, and we cannot be sure whether the tone of voice in our text might not even intend something of that sort here as well.