14.12.02, O'Sullivan, ed., Glossae aevi carolini

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John J. Contreni

The Medieval Review 14.12.02

O'Sullivan, Sinéad. Glossae Aevi Carolini in Libros I-II Martiani Capellae De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii. Corpus Christianorum: Continuatio Mediaevalis, 237. Turnhout: Brepols, 2010. Pp. clxxxii, 472. ISBN: 9782503534534 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
John J. Contreni
Purdue University

Shortly after the turn of the ninth century, Martianus Capella's complex fifth-century allegory of the liberal arts in ways still not known entered the reading programs of Carolingian schools, never to leave. The tale of Philology and Mercury's marriage, attended by seven bridesmaids bearing their arts as gifts, was a bestseller. Some fifty ninth-century manuscripts survive (out of around 250 all told) along with at least three commentaries attributed to a mysterious Duncaht of Reims, John Scottus (Eriugena), and Remigius of Auxerre. What explains this surge in interest after centuries of relative non-interest in a difficult book conceived in the last days of pagan, classical antiquity? Mariken Teeuwen points to Carolingian fascination with Martianus Capella's "strange language with undreamed-of grammatical constructions, unusual words and neologisms, Graecisms and Greek words, its variety in the use of prose and metre, and the variety of metres used." [1] But it was not only the need to explicate difficult grammar and vocabulary that drove such intense and enduring interest in the allegory. Elite Carolingian scholars believed that the very obscurity of Martianus's language masked hidden truths that their own skills, insight, and investigative powers could unlock. [2] One suspects that their learning and creative juices ran more freely when confronting pagan wisdom than it did when working the more constrained fields of sacred wisdom.

The first and second books of De nuptiis set the cosmological and mythological scenes for the betrothal and marriage of Mercury and Philology. These are particularly dense chapters whose heavenly geography, host of strange deities, and systemic numerology undoubtedly confounded readers. The earliest Carolingian scholars launched their age's study of De nuptiis not by commenting on the text, but by providing it with a richly textured layer of glosses. Sinéad O'Sullivan's splendid edition of "the oldest gloss tradition on Martianus Capella's De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii," to use the title of her 181-page introduction, makes this rich material available to modern inspection and reflection for the first time. The oldest glosses date to the first quarter of the ninth century and survive in twenty ninth- and tenth-century manuscripts, which point in the directions of the Loire valley, north and northeastern France, and Cologne and Lorsch as early centers of intense study of Martianus Capella. What they do not point to is a single author, place of origin, or common archetype (xxviii). Such is the fate of glosses, which, after all, subordinate authorship to both the master text they accompany and the contributions and interests of generations of masters and their students. Although the oldest glosses on De nuptiis represent a "relatively stable and coherent body of glossing" (xxvii), various "families" of the tradition began to emerge as the glosses were copied and additions or omissions were made to them. In some cases, glosses were pulled from different manuscripts of the base text or a local source, such as Festus's De verborum significatu, was plumbed to add further explanations of Martianus Capella's language. Thus, while the oldest glosses were fairly stable across time and space, they were also dynamic. As a living text the glosses provide a rare view of "enthusiastic" (cxliv) Carolingian intellectual and pedagogical creativity.

Living texts are also notoriously difficult to edit. O'Sullivan decided wisely against trying to produce a definitive edition of an Ur-text, a text that never existed in fact. Instead, her edition presents all the glosses in all their variety from the fourteen principal manuscripts she selected for the edition. At first, the edition might appear difficult to follow on the page, but actually it is quite intuitive (and also explained in eleven pages of editorial principles, cxxxi-cxlii). The De nuptiis text appears first in larger font as, for example, "conubium diuum componens Calliopea" (13). Every word in this phrase from Book I,1 was glossed. The glosses follow the phrase in slightly smaller type, one gloss each for conubium (copulam) and diuum (deorum), but three different glosses for componens (construens; texens; i. exornans cantu suo). The gloss on Calliopea is the most complex. All masters agreed that it was a Greek name that means bona uox, but expressed their teaching in different ways. Some added the information that Calliope was the mother of Orpheus and others represented the Greek origin of the name in roughly equivalent Roman characters or in Greek characters. A source apparatus indicates that the gloss on Calliopea owed much to Fulgentius and to the Vatican Mythographers. A second apparatus alerts readers to textual variants among the manuscripts. While most of the glosses are lexical, many explore deeper themes prompted by Martianus Capella's allegorizing and Neoplatonism. Carolingian scholars were especially piqued by the author's assertion that his fables and fictions covered deeper truths. Rather than discounting the fabulous as not real and not worthy of study, they followed Martianus's trail by offering their own interpretations of what he meant and what his words signified at a deeper level. He taught the glossators that fiction is an adornment of truth and that fables reveal poetic truth. "Paradoxically falsehood is the ornament of truth." [3] This different way of appreciating truth in the Carolingian age is heady stuff in an intellectual culture that considered truth as revealed and a matter of fact. By uncovering these glosses from between the lines and in the margins of manuscripts and presenting them in a meticulous and eminently useful edition, O'Sullivan has opened exciting, new perspectives on Carolingian scholarship and intellectual curiosity.



1. Mariken Teeuwen, introduction to Carolingian Scholarship and Martianus Capella: Ninth-Century Commentary Traditions on De Nuptiis in Context, ed. Mariken Teeuwen and Sinéad O'Sullivan, Cultural Encounters in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages 12 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2011), 12.

2. See on this, Sinéad O'Sullivan, "Obscurity, Pagan Lore, and Secrecy in Glosses on Books I-II From the Oldest Gloss Tradition," in ibid., 99-121.

3. O'Sullivan, "Obscurity, Pagan Lore, and Secrecy," ibid., 114, apropos of 443,29 in the edition.

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John J. Contreni

Purdue University