12.02.03, Liuzza, Anglo-Saxon Prognostics

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Andrew Rabin

The Medieval Review 12.02.03

Liuzza, R.M.. Anglo-Saxon Prognostics: An Edition and Translation of Texts from London, British LIbrary, MS Cotton Tiberius A.iii.. Anglo-Saxon Texts. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2011. Pp. xi, 293. ISBN: 9781843842552.

Reviewed by:
Andrew Rabin
University of Louisville

This review is being composed on the twenty-ninth of December, an auspicious day for bloodletting according to the texts in R.M. Liuzza's Anglo-Saxon Prognostics: An Edition and Translation of Texts from London, British Library, MS Cotton Tiberius A.iii. I am not certain if bloodletting and book-reviewing were seen as related activities by the manuscript's eleventh-century scribe; nonetheless, their similarity in the modern academy leads me to believe that I may proceed without fear of wasting illness, untimely death, sinful fornication, or any of the other diverse misfortunes threatening those foolish enough to neglect the advice of these texts.

In truth, though, there is little need for bloodletting here: Liuzza's edition is a major contribution, not only to the study of Anglo-Saxon prognostics themselves, but to our understanding of pre-Conquest intellectual culture more generally. As the culmination of a series of articles published over the last decade, the volume testifies to Liuzza's long engagement with this topic and extensive knowledge of his material. Likewise, as a successor to Laszlo Sandor Chardonnens' Anglo-Saxon Prognostics, 9001110: Study and Texts (Leiden: Brill, 2007), Liuzza's volume helpfully corrects some of the earlier volume's errors and fills in some of its blank spaces. The texts--as one might expect from a scholar of Liuzza's caliber and experience-- are well presented, sensitively translated, and comprehensively annotated. Liuzza's wide-ranging introduction positions the Tiberius A.iii prognostics within the tenth-century reformist movement as well as in relationship to Old English medical and computistical thought. Attention to Old English prognostics has long languished, largely due to an absence of authoritative scholarly editions; thanks to Liuzza and Chardonnens, this need has now been answered.

Liuzza's volume opens with a lengthy introduction in which he identifies the primary influences on the Tiberius A.iii prognostics and (in so far as it is possible) traces their manuscript history. Pointing out that the corpus of prognostics traditionally has been "somewhat loosely defined" (1), Liuzza wisely refrains from trying to demarcate the corpus' parameters too rigidly. As he points out later in the introduction, "most attempts to delineate a corpus of prognostic texts...have done so only by making post hoc distinctions and drawing artificial boundaries between 'prognostics' and other texts" (59). Rather than engage in such retrospective theorizing, he limits himself initially just to the observation that the texts grouped by modern scholars under the heading of "prognostics" tend to share certain features: an origin in the continental Latin rather than the native Germanic tradition; an emphasis on calendrical rather than astrological predictions; and a closer relationship to scientific texts (especially medical manuals and computus) than to folklore. The texts survive in at least thirty Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, as well as many more from the continent. Although Liuzza does not supply a complete survey of the manuscripts-- otherwise available in his earlier article, "Anglo-Saxon Prognostics in Context: A Survey and Handlist of Manuscripts" (Anglo-Saxon England 30 [2001], 181-230])--he does provide a description of Tiberius A.iii along with the nine other Anglo-Saxon and continental manuscripts to which it is most closely related. In doing so, he highlights "the unusually full complement of lunar calendars compared to other groups of prognostics in other English manuscripts" (23) as well as "the relatively small number of exemplars...along with a relatively large degree of license in the selection and transcription of these texts" (24).

Following a detailed survey of the types and sources of the prognostics in Tiberius A.iii--lunaria, dreambooks, Revelatio Esdrae, weekday prognostics, and brontologies--Liuzza returns to the question of definition via a consideration of prognostics as a genre. Pointing out the "incongruities" between the prognostics and the surrounding texts in the manuscripts, Liuzza convincingly argues that prognostic texts can--and, indeed, were-- understood as a distinct genre occupying "the shifting conceptual overlap between medicine, computus and the modern notion of 'magic'" (60). Moreover, the presence of prognostics in manuscripts associated with the tenth-century reform movement--Tiberius A.iii, for instance, also contains a text of the Regularis Concordia in the hand of the same scribe--suggests that the quasi-magical learning underlying these texts was not understood as antithetical to orthodox theology, but as complementary to it. Liuzza's discussion here is particularly helpful: in pursuing a "negative definition" of prognostics as a genre, Liuzza situates his texts within and against other forms of pre-Conquest scientific learning, thus providing an effective model for understanding how scientific knowledge itself was conceptualized during the later Anglo-Saxon period.

The texts themselves are presented in the order they are found in the manuscript alongside facing page translations. The presence of a glossary makes this edition particularly helpful for classroom-use. Liuzza's apparatus, annotations, and commentary discuss in admirable detail the texts' sources, especially knotty interpretive or linguistic problems, as well as the relevant continental analogues.

It is now the thirtieth of December, a day inauspicious for bloodletting and (doubtless) book-reviewing also; as such, these comments must be brought to a close. Liuzza's volume is a significant scholarly achievement, one which will help open up for Anglo-Saxonists a new area of study. Yet, I hasten to add, scholars should take care to avoid engaging in such study on the twentieth of the month, or if the kalends of January falls on a Saturday, or if their birth falls on the second of the month, or if they happen to fall sick on the ninth of the month...not that I believe any of this, mind you, but I would hate to invite misfortune!

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Andrew Rabin

University of Louisville