14.03.30, Review Essay, Ars Edendi, vols. 1 & 2

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Scott G. Bruce

The Medieval Review 14.03.30

Kihlman, Erika and Denis Searby. Bucossi, Alessandra and Erika Kihlman. Ars Edendi Lecture Series, vol 1. Studia Latina Stockholmiensia 56. Ars Edendi Lecture Series, vol. 2. Studia Latina Stockholmiensia, 58. Stockholm: Stockholm: Stockholm University, Stockholm University, 2011. 2012. Pp. 130. Pp. 172. ISBN: 978-91-86071-70-7.
ISBN: 78-91-86071-95-0.

Reviewed by:
Scott G. Bruce
University of Colorado at Boulder

Imagine a magical land where revenue-producing financial institutions set aside money for the study of the humanities and in particular for the study of medieval Latin and Greek texts and the challenge that they pose to traditional methods of text editing. That magical land is Sweden. Since 2008, scholars at Stockholm University affiliated with the Ars Edendi ("The Art of Editing") Research Programme have been analyzing medieval texts and manuscripts with the financial support of the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation. Their goal is to support and sustain the skills of codicology, paleography, and editorial practice necessary to understand and communicate the content and meaning of medieval manuscripts to a wider scholarly public. [1] The program also sponsors a lively lecture series, in which leading specialists of medieval Latin and Greek texts discuss their editorial methods and share their practical expertise in working with genres of medieval literature that are challenging to edit, like commentaries, glosses, liturgical texts, and anthologies. The first twelve of these lectures have been collected in the two volumes under review. Two more volumes are forthcoming.

This is an important and timely outreach project, in no small part because the traditional skills of manuscript studies and text editing have fallen so far out of fashion in most university settings, especially in North America. Fewer and fewer courses in medieval Latin and Greek are being taught; graduate training in codicology and paleography is inconsistent and certainly not mandatory in most medieval and early modern studies programs; and formal experience in text editing is almost unheard of, except at the most elite institutions. The reasons for this are clear. The metrics by which most universities measure the productivity of premodern scholars usually do not include critical editions or, for that matter, translations. Show me an academic administrator who values the time and expertise required to create a critical edition of a medieval text and I will show you my unicorn wrapped in a rainbow. Erika Kihlman and her colleagues are doing a vital service here, but they are also swimming against a tide: the tendency of some scholars to cloak the art of text editing in a cloud of intimidating arcana. R. B. C. Huygens' elegant and acerbic little book Ars Edendi: A Practical Introduction to Editing Medieval Latin Texts (Brepols, 2000) is in my opinion required reading for all medievalists, but especially those who want to attempt a critical edition because it is full of practical insights and useful advice. But Huygens sets the bar so high that many would-be editors would rather write another monograph than risk the embarrassment of making a Latin mistake or overlooking a biblical citation in print. [3] Is the tide turning? For all of their good intentions, many of these essays remain very specialized. A basic understanding of the history of editorial methodology is generally taken for granted, so readers new to the field of textual criticism are on their own to puzzle out, for example, the differences between the stemmatic method made popular by Karl Lachmann (1793-1851) and the "best-text" approach of Joseph Bédier (1864-1938). An introductory essay would have been useful to lay out these principles and establish their contexts.

The Ars Edendi lectures presented in these two books vary widely in content, tone and accessibility. The first volume features five papers that vacillate between technical treatises and wide-ranging manifestos. Nigel Wilson ("Tasks for Editors") offers some meandering reflections on editing ancient and medieval Greek texts and some provisional comments about the rapid pace of technological developments and its impact on the future of the field. In contrast, Jan M. Ziolkowski's contribution ("De laude scriptorum manualium and De laude editorum: From Script to Print, From Print to Bytes") is a full-throated, take-no-prisoners roar in defense of the importance of medieval Latin with some points of clarity that I will return to later in the review. If you only have time to read one paper in the entire collection, this is the one. Three technical essays close out the first volume: Timothy Janz ("In Search of Lost Scribes") considers ways to measure the characteristics of the writing of known medieval Greek scribes to produce a database of scribal styles that might help to identify the scribes of other manuscripts; Peter Stotz ("Research on Early Medieval Rhythmical Poetry: Some Results and Some Problems") provides an introduction to the new collection of early medieval rhythmic poetry collected in the first volume of the Corpus rhythmorum musicum published in 2007; and Paschale Bourgain ("On Taking Stylistics into Consideration When Editing Medieval Texts") makes the plea that text editors do more to articulate the specific style of medieval texts by making the "rhythm and balance" of sentences more perceptible to modern readers through the intervention of punctuation.

The second volume of the Ars Edendi Lecture Series is longer, but also more focused. It features essays by scholars with experience editing "complex texts [that] challenge a straightforward application of tradition stemmatic, error-based methods" (II.1). Nicole Bériou ("Written Sermons and Actual Preaching: A Challenge for Editors") reminds us that medieval preaching was a kind of performance and asks editors to "consider whether written sermons can tell us something about the activity of preaching and about the aims and practics of preachers, even though this may not be immediately visible in the written texts" (II.12). Elizabeth M. Jeffreys ("Tapestries of Quotation: The Challenges of Editing Byzantine Texts") tackles the problem of editing and formatting texts that are interwoven extensively with quotations from other sources, such as the twelfth-century letters of Iakovos Monachos or James the Monk, which borrow heavily and at length from patristic authors. David L. d'Avray ("Contamination, Stemmatics and the Editing of Medieval Latin Texts") and Caroline Macé ("Comparing Stemmatological and Phylogenetic Methods to Understand the Transmission History of the Florilegium Coislinianum") both offer reflections on the limitations of Lachmann's stemmatic method. Neither is easily accessible to the non-specialist. In contrast, Michael Herren ("Is the Author Really Better than his Scribes? Problems of Editing Pre-Carolingian Latin Texts") ruminates with clarity and humor on the problem of how to edit so-called errors of spelling, morphology and syntax in Latin texts written after c. 600 but before the writing reforms of the Carolingians, a period of remarkable linguistic instability that gave rise to "maddening inconsistency" (II.91) in the orthography of late Merovingian texts. The final two essays in this volume offer contrary views on the degree of editorial intervention required with respect to the punctuation of Byzantine texts. Diether Roderich Reinsch ("What Should an Editor Do with a Text Like the Chronographia of Michael Psellos?") argues that editors should adopt the medieval rhetorical structure of texts rather than imposing an alien grammar upon them; in contrast, Börje Bydén ("Imprimatur?: Unconventional Punctuation and Diacritics in Manuscripts of Medieval Greek Philosophical Texts") advocates for editorial intervention to help make sense of texts because "the punctuation of medieval Greek manuscripts will usually be more of a hindrance than a help to the contemporary reader..." (II.166). The question at stake here is whether modern editors should privilege the medieval author's intention or actual practice with respect to punctuation and how they are able to judge the difference between the two.

Readers should not expect these essays to offer a systematic guide to editing medieval Latin and Greek texts. The point of these lectures is to open up discussion about editorial practices to a wider scholarly audience, particularly with those who already work firsthand with manuscripts. Many of the essays attain this goal. But there is a broader and ultimately more important issue at stake here as well, which Ziolkowski's lecture articulates most clearly. Text editing and translation are vital scholarly industries because they make available the texts that we read and study and teach, the very texts that make us humanists in the first place. As such, the scholars who lend their expertise to textual editions are performing a necessary service to the humanities on par with the specialists who examine these texts with the goal of understanding the premodern past. The Ars Edendi Research Programme gives this industry a voice, but it is imperative that scholars do their part to promote the importance of manuscript studies and editorial practice, especially to university administrators. In Ziolkowski's words, "We have to explain what Medieval Latin and editions are and why they are important. We need to profess cultural history, and editing constitutes an essential component, often even the very basis, of that profession" (I.37). And we need to do it now.



1. Further details about the aims and scope of the program are available on their website: www.arsedendi.org

2. Huygen's "exuberant intellectual machismo" is leavened somewhat by Scott Gwara's penetrating review of his book in Speculum 78 (2003): 531-533 (quotation at p. 531), which serves as an excellent prologomenon to the book itself, especially for the timid or faint-hearted.

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Scott G. Bruce

University of Colorado at Boulder