14.06.04, Ruys, Ward, and Heyworth, eds., The Classics in the Medieval and Renaissance Classroom

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Jelena Todorović

The Medieval Review 14.06.04

Ruys, Juanita Feros, John O. Ward, and Melanie Heyworth. The Classics in the Medieval and Renaissance Classroom: The Role of Ancient Texts in the Arts Curriculum as Revealed by Surviving Manuscripts and Early Printed Books. Disputatio 20. Turnhout:Brepols, 2013. Pp. x, 420. ISBN: 978-2-503-52754-3.

Reviewed by:

Jelena Todorović
Unviersity of Wisconsin, Madison

The Classics in the Medieval and Renaissance Classroom is dedicated to the late Virginia Brown (1940-2009), "editor supreme, palaeographer extraordinaire, gifted teacher and supervisor, and great enthusiast for the Classics in later ages" (V). The editors and authors take upon themselves a rather complex task: to study how extant "codicological relics" (4) can help us in understanding better the ways in which the medieval and Renaissance classroom functioned. The essays trace the relationship between medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, incunables, and cinquecentine containing the works of the Classical authors on the one hand, and the exegetic texts (such as glosses and commentaries) written in these periods on the other.

However, rather than stop at the inquiry of textual and conceptual influences of classical authors on medieval and Renaissance exegetic texts, this volume investigates the ways in which the texts--both classical and contemporary--contained in these extant forms were employed in the classroom: how did the students and their masters use these manuscripts, incunables, and cinquecentine? What is the connection between these codicological objects and the actual situation in the medieval and Renaissance classroom? The answers, which come from different geographical areas--from Scotland, to England, to France, to Germany, to Italy--shed light on the medieval and Renaissance classroom that shaped the intellectuals and the intellectual life of the time, but of which we know so little. The essays are primarily concerned with the arts of the trivium, although Taylor concentrates on the seven liberal arts, and Davidson and, partially, Copeland, study the quadrivium as well.

Furthermore, The Classics in the Medieval and Renaissance Classroom proposes to advance the scholars' understanding of the ways in which the classroom practices equipped students for situations outside the classroom. This aspect of the volume speaks directly to similar questions raised in recent years and inspired by the crisis of the Humanities in our own day and age, and deals with the notions of 'pragmatic and utilitarian' elements of education on the one hand, and 'ornamental and antiquarian' on the other.

The volume opens with an Introduction by John O. Ward, who lays out the intentions of the volume and briefly introduces all the contributions separately, offering in the section that follows an overview of the ways in which the chapters interact and form a harmonious whole, even though it might seem that not all of the essays are necessarily concerned with the classroom realities.

The essays, organized chronologically, begin with a study on England by Gabriele Knappe, titled "Manuscript Evidence of the Teaching of the Language Arts in Late Anglo-Saxon and Early Norman England, with Particular Regard to the Role of the Classics." Knappe studies the manuscripts used in teaching of the arts of the trivium in England from the mid-tenth to the early twelfth centuries, concluding that paratextual elements in codices containing classical texts indicate that they were used for educational purposes, to teach the students "how to read and interpret the Latin authors correctly" (39). The appendix to this chapter, titled "List of Manuscripts Written or Known in England from the Eighth Century to c. 1130 Containing Works for Instruction in the Language Arts," is organized in four subject areas, within which the manuscripts are ordered by author or title, and chronologically (41-56). "Teaching Classical Rhetoric in Practice: Evidence from Anselm de Besate" by Beth S. Bennett takes us to the eleventh-century Italy, showing that Anselm indeed intended the Rhetorimachia as a didactic text. The chapter contains a table which lists Anselm's sources that suggest "a fairly generous schoolroom context" (77), which are divided into six categories: rhetorical, grammatical, dialectical, literary, scriptural, and legal (69-71). In "Thierry of Chartres and the Causes of Rhetoric: From the Heptateuchon to Teaching the Ars rhetorica," Rita Copeland stays in the realm of rhetoric, with the twelfth-century work by Thierry of Chartres and its reception. Copeland argues for an interpretation of the Heptateuchon as a "'relic' of classical teaching in the twelfth century," that "may be seen as the fullest, most ambitious elaboration of [his] pedagogical integrity" (85). Staying within the world of intellectual elites in the twelfth century, Karin Margareta Fredborg, in "The Grammar and Rhetoric Offered to John of Salisbury," studies the impact of Thierry's commentary on De invention, Petrus Helias's Summa on De invention, and William of Conches's Priscian glosse on the intellectual formation of John of Salisbury. Fredborg includes two appendices to her chapter, in which she offers an edition of two parts of Petrus Helias's commentary on De invention (I.29.45, and II.22.64), which contain evidence of Thierry's presence in the text. The edition is based on two codices: Cambridge, Pembroke Coll., MS 85, and Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS lat. Ottobon. 2993.

No study dealing with the classics in the medieval classroom is complete without an insight into the tradition of the accessus ad auctores. Birger Munk Olsen offers another valuable contribution on the twelfth-century accessus to Virgil, Horace, Lucan, Statius, Juvenal, Persius, and Ovid in his "Accessus to Classical Poets in the Twelfth Century." The analysis of the ever-fluctuating structure of the accessus that shows increasing number of topics and subtopics being introduced with time, testifies to a detailed attention that the teachers dedicated to making the classical texts more accessible to their students. "What Goes with Geoffrey of Vinsauf? Codicological Clues to Pedagogical Practices in England, c. 1225-c. 1470" by Martin Camargo deals with thirty-four manuscripts of Geoffrey of Vinsauf's Poetria Nova that offer "occasional glimpses of the way its doctrine might have translated into classroom practice" (146). Camargo concludes that it was used not only in teaching analysis and interpretation, but also in teaching the ars dictaminis. In "Progymnasmata and Progymnasmatic Exercises in the Medieval Classroom" Manfred Kraus studies progymnasmata--preliminary exercises in composition and rhetoric--and their role in the school curriculum and in the medieval pedagogical texts in the Middle Ages. Although progymnasmata's presence can be deduced from the extant manuscript sources, they do not necessarily derive or depend directly from the classical progymnasmata. A list of manuscripts of Priscian's Praeexercitamina dating from the eighth to the sixteenth centuries is also provided (177-179).

"Dreaming in Class: Aristotle's De sompno in the Schools" by Lola Sharon Davidson, based on the twelfth- and thirteenth-century manuscripts, focuses on the artes of the quadrivium and the curriculum followed by the physics students, looking specifically into the reception of Aristotle's De Sompno in the Latin, Arabic, and Jewish commentaries. In "Aristotle in the Medieval Classroom: Students, Teaching, and Educational Change in the Schools of Paris in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries," Steven J. Williams continues the discussion of Aristotle, concentrating his attention on the other side of the classroom: the students' perspective. This chapter argues that the students, indeed, played a fundamental role in establishing which works of Aristotle will be studied, and in which way.

Based on the manuscript evidence available to us mostly in Florentine libraries, Robert Black in "Teaching Techniques: The Evidence of Manuscript Schoolbooks Produced in Tuscany" studies the ways in which the students learned to read Latin in the Italian medieval and Renaissance curriculum, stressing specifically the modes of annotation (interlinear glossing, word-order signs, and inverted mnemonic verses) because "comprehension was synonymous with glossing" (246). Black traces one of the most notable changes in this system in the gradual introduction of vernacular glosses, used in order to make the teaching and learning of Latin more accessible to the students. With Lucia Calboli Montefusco's "George of Trebizond's De suavitate dicendi" the concentration of the volume remains in Italy in the fifteenth century. Calboli Montefusco focuses on one letter written by George of Trebizond to Girolamo Bragadin, in which the author of the letter assumes two roles: he is "both teacher and example" (283). However, concludes Calboli Montefusco, further research is needed to determine if and to what extent this approach to rhetoric penetrated the classroom. "Spreading the Word: Antonio Mancinelli, the Printing Press, and the Teaching of the Studia humanitatis" by Dugald McLellan studies the career and publications of Antonio Mancinelli. Around 560 volumes of either his texts or commentaries and editions, printed up to 1600, have reached us. McLellan explains this rich corpus by Mancinelli's understanding of the world he lived in, his students, their expectations and limitations. This chapter offers an invaluable insight in the teaching practices and the "market" in the world that had just been introduced to the new way of book production: the moveable printing press. Craig Kallendorf proposes to "see how the classics were treated in the Renaissance classroom" in his chapter titled "Virgil in the Renaissance Classroom: From Toscanella's Osservationi[...]sopra l'opere di Virgilio to the Exercitationes rhetoricae," especially interesting because the title of the work in question implies that it was used or was to be used in teaching. Poor reading and information that stood behind this work, concludes Kallendorf, make it a limited source of information, especially in its context of the humanist theory of education. But, if taken in its practical context--that of the actual classroom--this work most probably illustrates the realistic situation of the Renaissance classroom, where a limited number of texts was read and interpreted rather superficially.

Marjorie Curry Woods begins her chapter titled "What are the Real Differences between Medieval and Renaissance Commentaries?" with an invitation to think twice before passing judgment on ideas that derive from generalized notions that are not necessarily based on facts. Her conclusions suggest that a certain continuity exists between the medieval and the Renaissance periods; that many characteristics usually linked to the medieval commentaries do not necessarily apply to all medieval commentaries, but are applicable to some Renaissance commentaries; some of the crucial differences between medieval and Renaissance commentaries pertain to the material and technical production of texts; Renaissance introduced a better structured and graded clases; and, finally, some perceived differences between medieval and Renaissance texts are products of different approaches to the text. C. Jan Swearingen, in the chapter titled "George Buchanan's Revision of the 'St Andros' Curriculum: Ramism, Reformation Religion, and Ciceronian Humanism in Transition," traces "the foundations of our own modern cultural emphasis" (12) in Western Europe in the university classroom in Scotland in the sixteenth century. In spite of Buchanan's efforts, his reform remained unrealized, and the revival of Ciceronian humanism he tried to introduce at St Andrews (the oldest university in Scotland) had to wait until the eighteenth century to be implemented in the schools of Scotland. "'No Terence phrase: his tyme and myne are twaine': Erasmus, Terence, and Censorship in the Tudor Classroom" by Ursula Potter focuses on the presence of Terence--"the symbol of secular curriculum" (384)--in the Tudor grammar schools in the sixteenth century. Potter illustrates the opposition to teaching Terence (used mostly in teaching little boys the gestures, elocution, and impersonation) and the use in his stead of various substitutes, which eventually led to his disappearance from the curriculum.

Brian Taylor examines the German Mastersingers in the final chapter titled "Poetic Technique and the Liberal Arts in the Lay Schoolroom: The Singschule ('Singing School') of the German Mastersingers of the Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries." These masters--some of the last court poets--were succeeded by the poets who were roaming from town to town, looking for work, and who, like their predecessors, were focused on the seven liberal arts. As John O. Ward notes in his Introduction to the volume, this essay ties the entire volume together, "for the seven liberal arts were always the foundations of medieval and Renaissance attention to the classics of the past" (13).

Each of the essays contains footnotes with bibliographical references, which are also included under the section "Works Cited" at the end of every chapter. This section contains three sub-sections: "Manuscripts and Archival Documents," "Primary Sources," and "Secondary Studies." The volume also includes a handy index. In summation, this is a valuable contribution to the field that still faces many questions. It promises to, if not solve, then illuminate many of them through a series of high-level contributions covering a wide range of geographical and socio-cultural contexts from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries.

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Author Biography

Jelena Todorović

Unviersity of Wisconsin, Madison