The Medieval Review 12.06.16

Pepin, Ronald E. and Jan M. Ziolkowski. Satires of Sextus Amarcius and Eupolemius. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011. Pp. xlix, 398. $29.95. ISBN: 978-0-674-06002-9.

Reviewed by:

Jonathan Newman
Dartmouth University

The intellectual flowering of eleventh-century Germany preceded and shaped the more famous renaissance of twelfth-century France. This ninth volume of the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (hereafter DOML) makes available two Latin texts from this period, the Sermones of Sextus Amarcius and the Eupolemius (without an authorial attribution), along with facing-page translations, contextualizing introductions, and notes. The Sermones are a series of verse satires attributed to one Sextus Amarcius (probably a classicizing pseudonym, with "Sextus" the successor to "Quintus Horatius Flaccus") [1]; it contains diatribes against vice, corruption, sin, and the Jewish people that have the programmatic character of sermons or the humorless satire of Persius. The Eupolemius is a strange hybrid epic, combining elements of biblical epic, universal chronicle, and allegory of virtues and vices. Both texts, steeped in biblical, patristic, and classical texts, indicate the high level of humanistic learning possible in eleventh-century German-speaking lands. This review will treat both texts with their separate apparatus and translations in turn.

The Sermones consist of four books coming to 2,684 lines. Each book is divided into four to eight sections devoted to such diverse topics as avarice (1.2), the inevitable hardness of the Jews (2.4), sobriety and charitable deeds (3.1), clerical lechery (3.6), and the "Twelve Precious Stones and Their Secrets" (4.2). As formal imitations of Roman satire, their translated title, Satires, follows established practice, but the subject and tone contains more than just saeva indignatio. As Pepin writes, these poems "are worth reading for their historical insight, numerous proverbs, and amusing scenes of human folly" (xxx). They are also worth reading to those interested in, among other things, reformist monastic discourse (3.6, 3.7) and anti-semitic and anti-Judaic discourse in the eleventh century--much of the second book, in fact, is an extended theological polemic addressed to the Jews themselves (2.1-3) before the speaker finally acknowledges the futility of his effort (2.4). Alternating between proverbs, biblical stories, legendary exempla, and moral castigation, the Sermones hover between sermons, satire, and wisdom literature; in fact, their diversity of topics anticipates the encyclopedic flavor of twelfth-century poets like Bernard Silvestris and Alan of Lille.

Pepin writes that his translation attempts to be "as faithful to the Latin original as it can be with an author noted for obscurity and odd syntax" and tries "to avoid a rendition that is wooden or stilted" (xxv). He largely succeeds; where he does not, he at least provides the flavor of Amarcius' Latin and a close and careful crib to the aspiring Latinist attempting to work through this text. Amarcius' style is crabbed and strange; to smooth out the translation too much would verge on mistranslation. In parts, however, both the Latin text and Pepin's translation assume a more fluid, discursive style, as in the paean to Emperor Henry III praising his mercy (3.2.141-184). These plainer passages interrupt the usual obscurity of Amarcius' highly-mannered style and offer glimpses of contemporary material culture and social contests. Nevertheless, much of the text remains unavoidably obscure. The explanatory notes scrupulously document biblical allusion with chapter and verse, but might have included more classical and patristic sources. One might also have hoped for some effort to untangle some of the more cryptic passages (e.g. 1.1.33-40), given the advertised ambition of the series to make its texts accessible to "general readers" and a "global audience." In the case of Amarcius, such clarification may surpass the power of any commentator; Max Manitius' MGH edition did not provide so much as Pepin does. [2] For those who like to unravel difficult passages, the Sermones is a treasure trove.

The volume's other text, the Eupolemius, is an epic in two books that recasts biblical history as a heroic narrative recounting a war between two kings, "Agatus" and "Cacus," good and evil. The first book recounts the disparate fortunes of the two sons of Agatus' subject Antropus (man)--Ethnis and Judas (who represent the gentiles and the Jews). The second book recounts the arrival of the epic hero "Messias," son of Agatus; Messias defeats Cacus by being betrayed and slain by Judas. Allegorical representatives of biblical persons exist in the narrative alongside personifications of virtues, vices, entire peoples, or other religious attitudes and practices. This results in some serious convolution, as when, in the first book, Moses, a guest at the courtly feast of Judas in Babylon, narrates the origins of Cacus and his expulsion from the court of Agatus (1.70ff). During his speech, Moses recounts how Anphicopas (circumcision) and Polipater (Abraham) were sent to console Judas when he was a prisoner of Cacus; he receives them hospitably, while Ethnis spurns them harshly (1.270- 304). "Anphicopas" is a back-formed calque from the Latin word "circumcision"; the Eupolemius is filled with such coinages, which suggest access to lexical resources but no familiarity with actual Greek (351).

One might understand the Eupolemius poet's narrative synthesis of multiple exegetical levels as representing the phenomenological experience of reading the Bible. Its obscurities are generated not by syntax (which is in a typical epic style), but by the constant mixing of typological levels, inkhorn wordplay, and abstruse condensation of biblical history into a martial narrative. Ziolkowski's notes are indispensable and abundant, in particular the index of proper names (a feature which also benefits the reader of the Sermones). The translation is unobtrusive and eloquent, in part because there is an existing idiom in English for the translation of Latin epic. Like the Sermones, the diversity of the Eupolemius reflects a number of the period's intellectual preoccupations: a bit of anticurial satire (e.g., 1.384); an elaborate fable of supercessionist theology; a repeated concern to euhemerize Greek myths as corrupted versions of true bible stories (1.671, 2.75, 2.91, 2.288, 2.419, 2.621); and digressive catalogues of distant lands with their monstrous peoples (2.487-552). For those interested in the social dimension of literary texts, there are irruptions of aristocratic disdain for commoners from the partisans of Cacus, as when the corrupted Judas accuses Messias of being the son not of Agatus but of a mere carpenter (2.715). The plurality of learned medieval discourses in the Eupolemius together with the relatively standard epic style would make it an excellent teaching text for courses in medieval Latin and medieval intellectual history.

This ninth volume of the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, taken as a whole, offers a fascinating glimpse at the intellectual and literary accomplishment of German monastic culture in the eleventh century. Both of the texts in the volume contain a multiplicity of styles, topics, and interpretive practices; they look back to the "platinum Latin" of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages as much as they look forward to the combination of humanistic learning and contemporary concerns. We are lucky to have these texts available with introductions, notes, and translations in a handsome and affordable volume.

One exciting aspect of the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library is its promise to redefine "obscurity." Specialists may rightly insist on citing the standard editions of the MGH or Corpus Christianorum, but this new series has the potential to enlarge the broader scholarly conversation by making fascinating and little- studied works like these known and accessible to non-specialists. Ronald Pepin and Jan Ziolkwoski are to be thanked for contributing to this goal.



1. Ronald Pepin attributes this observation to an unpublished presentation by Kurt Smolak (xxiii).

2. Sexti Amarcii Galli Piostrati sermonum libri IV, ed. Max Manitius (Leipzig: Teubner, 1888).

Copyright (c) 2012 Jonathan Newman

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