In 1965 Harvard's Houghton Library purchased a small Latin manuscript from Swiss bookseller Nicholaus Rauch. That manuscript, now Houghton MS. Lat 300 (hereafter H), consists of a single quire of eleven parchment folios, its overall dimensions slightly larger than a five- by-eight notecard. The parchment is of fair-to-middling quality and the whole is now contained in a nineteenth-century green leather binding. In the early nineteenth century it belonged to the collections of French historian Amans-Alexis Monteil, who interleaved the manuscript with paper pages on which he left sketchy attempts at transcriptions of the contents. Monteil apparently sold the manuscript to another collector in 1836, and the volume subsequently remained in France in private hands, and virtually unknown, until at least the middle of the last century. It attracted little notice at Harvard until Jan Ziolkowski published a detailed description and partial transcription of the contents in the Harvard Library Bulletin, "A Bouquet of Wisdom and Invective: Houghton MS. Lat 300" (N.S. 1 : 20-45). This present book draws on but updates and greatly expands the earlier article.
H appears to be principally in the hand of a single scribe, working in the last third of the twelfth century, with short sections of text by two others. Given the irregularity of the parchment in shape and quality, Ziolkowski suggests that the quire might have been put together in stages as scraps became available. That said, margins are reasonably generous and the handwriting serviceable, though making steady use of abbreviations. Errors are frequent enough throughout H to convince Ziolkowski that no part could "have been a poet's holograph," despite Monteil's assertions to the contrary. In all, the quire contains some ninety-five Latin poems, all in quantitative meters with the exception of the first poem, followed by a short prose piece on the two sides of the last folio. Space was left throughout the manuscript for rubricated titles and initial red letters for the poems, but actual rubrication is found only on fols. 1v-2r and red initial letters only on fols. 1v-4r. There are a number of brief added notes, mostly in thirteenth-century hands, but the quire seems to be a complete unit organized by the main scribe. It is impossible to know if the quire was once part of a larger manuscript or if it circulated and survived as a separate booklet or "libellus," though a nineteenth- century dealer's note in pencil on one of the interleaved paper pages suggests that H might have been removed from a larger manuscript. Strong circumstantial evidence of various sorts suggests that the manuscript originated if not in Tours then in the Loire Valley generally, and links its contents to the works of the great poets writing in the region around the year 1100: Marbod of Rennes (1035- 1123), Hildebert of Le Mans (1056-1133), Baudri of Bourgueil (1046- 1130), and Bernardus Silvestris (first half of the twelfth century).
H contains at its center, on fols. 3r-7r, an early copy of the biblical epigrams of Hildebert, bishop of Le Mans and archbishop of Tours. The sixty-nine epigrams are preceded by an anonymous, two-line versification of a passage from Gregory the Great's Moralia in Job. The epigrams in H follow, with some very minor differences, the sequence of poems supposed by the most recent editors to be the original order (A.B. Scott, Deirdre F. Baker, and A.G. Rigg, "The Biblical Epigrams of Hildebert of Le Mans: A Critical Edition," Mediaeval Studies 47 : 272-316). Ziolkowski gives the incipit of each epigram, but does not print or translate any of them. The epigrams make up the third group of poems (according to the editors' divisions). They are preceded by group one (fol. 1r), a single satiric poem of forty-four fifteen syllable lines (trochaic septenarii) grouped in mono-rhymed tercets and rhymed internally, and group two (fols. 1v-2v), a sequence of sixteen thematically linked poems in hexameters or elegiac distichs (or, in one case, both), seven unique to H, twelve with rhyme, and ranging in length from two to thirty-nine lines. All the poems in groups one and two are carefully edited and translated and supplied with generous introductions that discuss the poems' relationships with each other, with other poems of the period, and with classical sources.
Group four (fols. 7v-8r) contains two relatively well-known poems, the De gemellis (eighty-two hexameter lines without rhyme) and De paupere ingrato (fourteen unrhymed elegiac distichs), both poems based on "excercises in forensic rhetoric," the former on pseudo-Quintilian's Declamatio 8 and the latter on Seneca the Elder's Controversia 5.1. These two poems have been hesitantly ascribed to Bernardus Silvestris, whose roughly contemporary Mathematicus is concerned with similar matters. Ziolkowski would consider the pair "certainly...the product of the 'school of Bernard' or of the 'school of Tours'," and so "they may well have originated in the same region as did Hildebert's epigrams" (p. 68). Both poems have been recently edited (Robert R. Edwards, "Poetic Invention and the Medieval Causae." Mediaeval Studies 55 : 183-217) and are neither edited anew here or translated. Group five (8v-10v) contains six occasional poems all apparently unique to H and all in unrhymed elegiac distichs. The first two are long exercises in political panegyric, the one praising Geoffrey Martel le Jeune, count of Anjou (reigned 1103-1106), and the other praising King Louis VI of France (reigned 1108-1137). The third poem is an elegy for Milo, likely Milo II of Bray, viscount of Troyes and seneschal of Montlhery, who like many a twelfth-century noble led a complicated political life, but was ultimately mourned by his feudal overlord, Louis VI, after his assassination in 1116 or 1117. The last three poems are short epitaphs for named, but largely unidentified individuals--Frodo, Julian and Maurice. Baudri of Bourgueil wrote epitaphs for a Frodo who may plausibly be the same person; Maurice, who is satirized for bribery, may have Angevin connections. In any event, what evidence there is for the three shorter poems tends to confirm the whole collection's interest in the Loire Valley shortly after 1100. Group six, like group one, contains a single item, the only prose piece of the collection, on two sides of the final folio (fol. 11r-v). Bridgit K. Balint calls it a "final surprise," a truncated version of a text very popular in the later middle ages, the prophecy of the Sibylla Tiburtina, an apocalyptic vision of western European history ending with the coming of the Antichrist and the final victory of Christ at the end of the world.
One of the many strength's of this volume is the editors' willingness to engage imaginatively with the arrangement of the manuscript's various parts, to try to get inside the heads of the compilers to understand what it was about the contents that engaged the scribes and made them decide to include a work and to put it in a particular context. As Ziolkowski summarizes, anthologies like H "have attracted growing attention over the past quarter century...from the perspective of the motives and principles that governed the selection and presentation of the poetic contents" (p. 11). Anthologies like H tell us interesting things about communities of readers in a particular place and time, "they are literary museums,...scrapbooks or commonplace books that reveal what was available and considered worth preserving and displaying" (p. 13). So in group two (poems two to seventeen) we find "an anthology within an anthology" whose organization "evinces a deliberate thematic progression." At one level, the poems of group two provide useful examples of the sorts of dactylic verse, hexameter and elegiac, being practiced around the year 1100. At the same time, the compilers guide the readers through the sample texts in an intellectually engaging way: two poems on illness and its pains lead to three poems on death, eros and corrupt desire; a poem in praise of Thierry (of Chartres) and Galo who taught the speaker philosophy and poetry is linked to a brief poem on ancient philosophers and their doctrines; these praise poems from the schools are followed by a cluster of five verse invectives, most of which compare the malefactors to figures from classical mythology in ways reminiscent of Bersuire's Ovidius moralizatus; at poem fourteen, a pair of end-rhymed hexameters, the sequence shifts "toward penance and theology" (p. 56), a broad call for clerical reform that concludes with a pair of poems (sixteen and seventeen) the first of which criticizes the venality of the Roman court and questions the value of the difficult pilgrimage to Rome, while the second might be seen as a call to the pilgrimage of the mind through scriptural exegesis, an endeavor superior to the exegesis of classical myth evident in earlier poems in the section, but in many ways parallel. More broadly, Ziolkowski observes an informed intelligence behind the structure of the entire libellus, a "development of perspective that culminates in apocalyptic vision" after a beginning in "solipsistic concerns about sickness and love" (p. 131).
A final feature of this handsome book deserves particular mention. In addition to the very useful indices (Latin words and phrases, Latin incipits and titles, and a general name and topic index) and an appendix that edits and discusses a notable bit of marginalia, the editors have included towards the end of the volume a color facsimile of the manuscript, including the nineteenth-century additions, at 95% of the original size--the entire manuscript, cover to cover, as it now exists. The facsimile is also available to the public online through the Houghton Library website. Altogether Ziolkowski's and Balint's edition of the Carmnia Houghtoniensia is both elegant and extremely useful, perhaps the most generous and useful edition of a medieval poetic anthology that has ever been published. Its quite modest price, its copious notes and commentary, its careful translations, all make it ideal as a tool for teaching and a book that non-specialists interested in a close look at the way Latin poetry circulated in the middle ages will want to own for themselves. Put together with the encouragement of the late Rodney Dennis, Curator of Manuscripts in Houghton Library, written with the assistance of three former Harvard University graduate students (Justin Lake, Laura Light, and Prydwyn Piper), and reviewed before publication by some of the leading scholars of medieval Latin poetry (including Peter Dronke, Paul Dutton, Christopher McDonough, George Rigg, and Jean-Yves Tilliette) it is, finally, in addition to everything else, a small monument to the best sort of academic collegiality.