14.04.05, Winterbottom, trans and ed., On Lamentations

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Thomas O'Loughlin

The Medieval Review 14.04.05

Winterbottom, Michael. William of Malmesbury: On Lamentations. Corpus Christianorum in Translation 13. Turnhout: Brepols, 2013. Pp. 410. ISBN: 9782503548494.

Reviewed by:
Thomas O'Loughlin
University of Nottingham

This review needs to be seen as three distinct reviews under one heading. First, it must introduce a work written sometime in the first half of the twelfth century. Note the word "introduce" as any attempt at a "review" in the modern sense would be both presumptious and go beyond the scope of what we envisage as the review genre. Second, it must review the translation, introduction, and notes that have been produced by Michael Winterbottom which is the bulk of this volume. Third, it must review the format in which the translation of the twelfth-century work is set before us in the relatively new series Corpus Christianorum in Translation. So let us proceed through these tasks in turn.

William, a monk of Malmesbury in Wiltshire (his dates are usually given as c. 1090 to c. 1143), is known, almost exclusivly, for his historical works which run from an almost mythic past down to his own day. But as with most pre-university era authors his output ranged more widely across the spectrum of learning than the box in which we today locate him: he produced a contribution to the cult of the virgin Mary, at least one work on liturgy, and a biblical commentary on Lamentations. This, he tells us, was produced after his historical writings and when he was about the age of forty--it therefore represents the mature work of an emensely indusstrious scholar who has digested a range of earlier works, including all the major patristic commentaries, and produced a new work with the surface appearance of being merely the tradition reduced to a manageable size. As a work of exegesis it exhibits all the characteristics of the twelfth-century renaissance in theological writing, but is enlivened by the frequency with which William speaks directly, in the first person, to the reader and by his willingness to make comments on contemporary events, such as Norman rule in England, en passant of his attention to the biblical text. While we usually have to search diligently to hear echoes of contemporary tensions in works of exegesis, in some matters William surprises us by being quite explicit about his concerns. Hardly anything has been written on William as an exegete--I can recall only one article from 1962, [1] so this translation may be the trigger for new interest. I note that in the list of secondary sources (30), there is still no more recent article devoted to this work.

My second review is of the translation as such. Michael Winterbottom is the ideal translator of this text not only because he has been identified with William more than any other scholar in recent years and having already translated other works by William (you can find the list on p. 29), but also because he was one of the editors of the editio princeps of the commentary in 2011 (Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis 244). This familiarity with William's Latinity and the details of this particular work have combined to give us a fluent and subtle reading of the text, but one which is close enough to the original that it can be used for the scholarly study of William. Winterbottom notes the difficulty of William's Latin, describing it as a Latin of "baroque elegance and sometimes tortured obscurity" (7), but has given us a text that brings out the meaning while leaving us, as it should, with those problems in the text that are indicative of the quality of William's own work. The Introduction is somewhat short (9-21), but is the stepping off point for anyone who now wants to take the translation and mark a detailed study of William's work.

My third review is of the style of this book as a book, and a representative of this new series from Brepols. It has been the bane of those teaching medieval theology that while in scholarly Latin editions one was presented with a wealth of material on the page--lemmata clearly distinguished from commentary, biblical citations given for allusions as well as citations, and a complete apparatus fontium--when one turned to translations, all one had was 'raw' text. Here, at last, is a translation which offers as much as a translation can! Lemmata are clearly indicated by small capitals, and they are reference in bold; quotations are identified in line in (); the footnotes point out sources, allusions, cross- references, and provide comment where needed--such as to his use of sources (e.g., p. 251 d), to the problems of William's Latin (e.g., p. 231 a), or to the variant readings in the witnesses (e.g., p. 269 d)--while in the margins there are an internal referencing system and a key to the pagination of the Latin edition. This makes the book both user-friendly and thoroughly useful. All involved are to be congratulated.

This is a book that should be in the library of any institution which see medieval theology as part of intellectual and cultural history, or where biblical studies is taught while taking the reception of the text seriously.



1. H. Farmer, "William of Malmesbury's commentary on Lamentations," Studia Monastica 4 (1962): 283-311.

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Author Biography

Thomas O'Loughlin

University of Nottingham