Skip to content
IUScholarWorks Journals
13.07.08, Salomon, Glossa Ordinaria as Medieval Hypertext

13.07.08, Salomon, Glossa Ordinaria as Medieval Hypertext

One of the newest offerings of the University of Wales Press' small series, Religion and Culture in the Middle Ages, this volume aims "to provide a primer on the Glossa ordinaria, inviting the reader to consider the ideas of hypertext and hypertext reading" (2). In the introduction to the work, Salomon proposes "to trace the development of attributed marginal references as the precursor of modern hypertext" (3). Using as an interpretive point of departure the notion that "there appears to be little evidence for what we now call reading theory in the Middle Ages" (4), Salomon sets about to investigate the evolution of the practice of reading from Augustine to the editio princeps of the Glossa ordinaria.

The first chapter, "The Glossing Tradition and the Glossa ordinaria," is, as Salomon admits, "largely a summary of [Christopher] De Hamel's research" (6). It commences with subchapters such as "What is a Glossed Text?," "Why Gloss?" and "What is the Glossa ordinaria?" before moving on to consider the Glossa ordinaria as a twelfth-century codification of much earlier biblical exegetical processes and concerns. The last portion of the first chapter brings Paul Saenger's studies on silent reading and Mary Carruthers' on memory into the discussion in an attempt to reconstruct earlier monastic reading strategies as a precursor of the Glossa's role as an organizer of information. Saenger and Carruthers are mainstays throughout the book, insofar as reading and memory are regularly cited as the driving forces behind glossing. This thesis is buttressed by the use of Brian Stock's Augustine the Reader, in which the concept of "reading" includes not only Augustine's linear consumption of texts but also his use of memory to make connections between what he has previously read and the underlying meaning of texts. Salomon considers then the history of marginal annotations through quotations of H. J. Jackson, Anthony Grafton and Michael Camille before turning his attention to Hugh of St. Victor who, though he "never actually touches on glossing" in the Didascalicon, "provides us with much of the rationale behind the production of a glossed Bible" (29). The author briefly reflects upon florilegia as another potential source for the Glossa's structure and concludes this initial chapter with two pages on the 1480/81 Rusch edition by positing two important rhetorical questions: "why Rusch and why the French border town of Strassburg?" (32), neither of which is actually answered, however.

The second chapter, "History, the Text, and the History of the Text," is divided into three main parts. The first begins with an overview of current scholarship on the Glossa, highlighting the work of Margaret Gibson. Salomon then dedicates one to three pages to each of the following subchapters: "The School of Laon," "Anselm of Laon," "Gilbert the Universal," "Walafrid Strabo," and "Gilbert of Poitiers" (sections 2.2–6). Anselm is described as "one of the more important figures in medieval biblical exegesis" (36) but his "importance lay in compilation rather than composition" (37). In the subchapter dedicated to Gilbert the Universal, Salomon underscores his significance in the first paragraph with a quotation of Beryl Smalley but then sets him aside in favor of thoughts on John Contreni's studies on the archives of Laon, on Valerie Flint's provocative claim that "there was no school of Laon at all" and on Marcia Colish's refutation of that notion (39). The section on Strabo emphasizes errors in the Migne edition of the Glossa and quotes Smalley and de Blic to demonstrate that Strabo could not have been the work's author. The page on Gilbert of Poitiers explains, with the words of Theresa Gross-Diaz, that Gilbert was responsible for the cum textu mise en page. The second main part of this chapter is divided into the following subchapters: "Origins of the Glossa Layout," "The Catena Format," "The Cum Textu Layout" and "The Index." In these sections Salomon provides a general explanation of the catena and cum textu arrangements and explains that the latter was used in the Glossa: "Perhaps the feature of the Glossa Ordinaria most striking to the modern reader, and the one that connects it to modern theories of hypertext, is its page layout" (48). Gross-Diaz is copiously cited in these pages, especially with regard to Gilbert of Poitiers' elaboration of the cross-index that facilitated the study of the psalms. The subchapter then comes to a close with another discussion of Carruthers' ideas on memory. The final section of the second chapter brings the work of several scholars to bear on the question of how the Glossa was used: Terrence Kardong on the Benedictines; Contreni again on the archives of Laon; and Gross-Diaz again on Gilbert's psalms. The two subchapters entitled "The Written Text as 'Artificial Memory'," and "The Glossa Ordinaria as 'Printed Memory'" return the reader again to Carruthers on memory and to Stock on Augustine's reading. Curious, however, is Salomon's identification of Hugh of St. Victor's debt to Plato's Phaedrus, a text that did not reappear in the West until the 1480s. The second chapter then reaches its end with five pages of observations on the Glossa's 1480/81 editio princeps and on subsequent printings up to 1617.

The third chapter, entitled "Reading, Theory, and Reading Theory," argues for seeing the process of glossing as one in which the reader has the ability to "refute a text" (66). Salomon then describes the difficulty with which "early medieval readers" struggled with "the heft of a volume that was either chained to its shelf or so heavy that holding it up to read (as moderns do) was impossible" (67). He goes on to explain the subsequent transformation of the act of reading: "For the first time, as we truly enter the age of print, what had been exclusively abstract, confined to memory and thought process, now becomes tangible on the printed page" (68). There then follows another section dedicated to silent reading and to memory in Augustine, from which Salomon concludes that reading was born as "conversation" and the act of glossing as the "tangible product of the conversation" (72). This ongoing discussion, he notes, was manifested in "one of the most important sites of medieval hermeneutic debate" (73), that is, in the Glossa ordinaria. After this section, Salomon turns his attention to St. Benedict and the separation of "devotional reading" and "intellectual reading" (76) before moving on to consider Gregory the Great, Robert of Melun and the importance of grammar study. The chapter comes to a close with Salomon's summation of medieval reading theory as having been informed primarily by Augustine's De doctrina christiana and Hugh of St. Victor's Didascalicon, inasmuch as Augustine's silent reading dovetails easily with the Benedictine Rule and Hugh of St. Victor, like Gregory, allows for interpretations beyond the literal.

Chapter Four, despite a couple of transcription and translation problems, presents a sort of guided tour of the initial section of the Glossa's proem to Genesis, pointing out how the compiler has incorporated preexisting texts into the commentary and made use of the well-known fourfold senses of scripture (82–92). The chapter then gives an overview of the Glossa's treatment of Gen. 1:1 and 3:1 and John 1:1 with an emphasis on non-literal reading and a mention of figural interpretation. The fifth chapter returns to what had been only glimpsed in occasional suggestive references earlier in the book: the idea that the Glossa could be considered hypertextual insofar as each of the multiple references embedded in its exegetical apparatus are like a "node" in the larger network of background cultural memory (93–99). The commentary's copious references to other texts provide "links" to other readings, pathways that may be followed in different ways by different readers. "In many ways," Salomon notes, "I would argue that the medieval mind's ability to think about this text abstractly and reach out and connect texts intellectually, creating a network in the space of the mind, is a human achievement to marvel at" (97). "The medieval mind," he continues, "displayed a startlingly modern understanding of cognitive theory" (98). What the medieval reader lacked, Salomon concludes, was "the technical ability to effectuate what he theorized" (98).

Salomon's conviction that modern notions of hypertext theory can be profitably applied to the study of the Glossa's annotations is, at its core, very useful and one that many "digital natives" would find authentically helpful. Indeed, I believe that his book's intended audience is most probably a student who possesses far more knowledge about linked texts and the "autonomy" of the reader than about manuscript studies, allegorical hermeneutics (both scriptural and lay), and the very complex medieval commentary traditions that ultimately led to Rusch's late-fifteenth-century printing of the Glossa. In this sense, Salomon's study could nicely complement other texts in an introductory course, for example, on reading medieval materials. That said, however, the book does have some drawbacks. First, by positing Augustine and Hugh of St. Victor as the principal sources for a study of medieval reading, the author has somewhat obscured the fact that they pursued quite distinct interpretive methods. Second, I believe the author's insistence on the novelty of the editio princeps and on Froelich's facsimile edition actually does not add very much to what the volume's title promises. The very limited space here (fewer than 100 pages) could perhaps have been more economically utilized even without entirely leaving the Glossa as its principal object of study. Almost nothing, for example, is made of the postillae of Nicholas of Lyra. Likewise, it could have been very useful to consider the hypertextual possibilities inherent in canon tables, Gospel harmonies and the concordances of Grosseteste or the Dominicans of St. Jacques. The fundamental qualities that make glosses so marvelously hypertextual are not at all limited to the Glossa ordinaria, as readers of this review know, but that is sometimes the impression one gets reading Salomon's book. The choice to divide the five chapters into subchapters could have produced a very beneficial effect, especially for undergraduates, but forty-three subchapters in a book of one hundred pages inevitably lead to some redundancies here and there and to some generalizations that specialists may not find agreeable. Lastly, I would note that, although I spotted only one misprint in English, there were several in the Latin, including an entire paragraph on p. 29 that did not correspond to the translation that followed it.