The Medieval Review 16.02.23

Klein, Thomas, ed. Matheus von Boulogne, Lamentationes Matheoluli. Quellen und Untersuchungen zur lateinischen Philologie des Mittelalters, 17. Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 2014. pp. xiv, 414. €196.00 (hardback). ISBN: 978-3-7772-1407-8 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Linda Burke
Elmhurst College

The Lamentationes Matheoluli (1290-1291, hereafter "the Latin Lamentations") by Matheus of Boulogne is one of the classics of the late medieval literary tradition, especially the extended debate on the nature and status of women and marriage. Crafted from a dazzling range of sources--biblical, classical, patristic, medieval, popular, and personal--the work went on to play a role in several important literary discussions in the decades following its completion and into the beginning of the sixteenth century. Along with Jean de Meun's Roman de la Rose and Juvenal's "Satire 6," among others, it served posterity as a treasury of outrageous attacks on women and marriage, to be raided both as matter for imitation, and/or as a pretext for profeminine counterargument.

For all of these reasons, the superb new edition by Thomas Klein is cause for celebration. This is the first edition of entire poem, over 5600 lines, not only complete in all four books, but based on all surviving manuscripts, including two discovered by the editor. While Klein provides a shining example by giving full credit to previous editors of the work, his book contains a thorough update in all areas, including the scholarly introduction and abundant textual annotations. Clear format and reader-friendly choices make this a comfortable volume to consult as a reference or read in full. Only a bibliography is lacking.

Caveats: I have had no opportunity to examine the manuscripts of the Latin Lamentations. All discussion of manuscripts is based on secondary sources. I have kept notes to a minimum by rarely repeating information also found on the pages cited parenthetically from Klein's edition.

Matheus introduces his misogynistic tour de force with what he presents as his own life story, told in graphic and often scandalous detail. As recounted in his Lamentations, our only source for his biography, Matheus was born in Boulogne, studied at Orléans, achieved the rank of Magister, and was a prosperous canon lawyer in Thérouanne until he married Petra, a beautiful young widow. This rash action rendered him "bigamous" according to the edict ratified by Pope Gregory X in 1274, which called for all "bigamous" clerics to be laicized with no dispensations allowed (6-10). Beyond the trauma of losing his social position and successful career, the life of a husband is a torment to Matheus, now styling himself "Matheolulus" to reflect his pitiful condition. His marital household with children is misery and chaos; worse still, Petra/Petronilla is now old, ugly, and quarrelsome. Matheus generalizes his disgust for his wife into rage at all categories of women, especially widows who remarry. He writes the Latin Lamentations with the express purpose of dissuading other men from entering into the lifelong servitude of marriage (50, ll. 70ff. et passim.) In Book 4, the final book of the poem, Matheus recommends his work to a series of church officials in his home city of Thérouanne, including Archidiaconus Jacques d'Étaples, who was probably a relative (315, nn. 258-299). Each dignitary is addressed with an encomium of 40-plus lines followed by a request for prayers, and by implication for patronage. From the biographical details in Book 4, Klein agrees with earlier editor Alfred Schmitt's conclusion that the poem must have been finished between 15 February 1290 and January 1291 (13.) Outside of his poem, there is no information on what happened to Matheus or how his work was received, if at all, in the author's lifetime (10).

Of the four books in the poem, the first two are the most exclusively concerned with denigrating women and attacking marriage. In Book 1, Matheus describes the tortures of his life in bondage to a shrew, in vivid circumstantial detail, together with hostile generalizations on women as the ruin of men. In Book 2, he resumes an exhaustive rehearsal on all the alleged vices of women (e.g. they are cruel, disloyal, quick to remarry, envious, greedy, and unable to keep their husbands' secrets), followed by an attack on every possible reason for marriage (or remarriage) as a set-up for catastrophe.

Books 3 and 4 are more digressive, although complaints against Petra and women in general are interspersed throughout. Book 3 recounts the author-persona's debate with God on matters including not only the trials of marriage, but clerical greed, the suffering of the poor, and the justice of damnation for a single fault. At the end of the book, Matheus is granted a vision of Paradise, where married men enjoy a higher rank than celibate clerics on account of their greater suffering in this world. Book 4 is mainly devoted to the personal encomiums described above. It also concludes with a vision of Paradise, where Matheus would be happy to be reunited with Petra--as long as she will stop her quarreling!

It was the fate of the Latin Lamentations to achieve fame and influence, but mainly in the French translation by Jehan Le Fèvre (ca. 1380, hereafter "the French Lamentations), and in works that responded in rebuttal to the notorious text in its French incarnation. Often known simply as Matheolus, a variant on its Latin title, the French Lamentations in effect supplanted the memory of the Latin original, which was much less copied. Many arguments from the original Books 1 and 2 received another airing in Le Fèvre's own retraction and rebuttal to his earlier Lamentations, titled Le Livre de Leesce/Book of Gladness. [1] In this poem, often called a "palinode," the author quotes or summarizes seriatim Matheus's hateful allegations, intercalated with his own original counterarguments sympathetic to women. Appropriating and often enhancing the profeminine polemic of Le Livre de Leesce, Christine de Pizan produced a thorough rebuttal to "Matheolus" in her Book of the City of Ladies, as did Martin le Franc in his Champion des Dames.

The history of the Latin manuscripts, as updated by Klein (1-6, 31-40), presents a fascinating saga of loss and recovery. The latest manuscript dates from 1481 (3). By the seventeenth century, the work was believed to have disappeared, if it ever existed at all. It was not until 1888 that a manuscript of the Latin poem was discovered in the Utrecht university library by Romance philologist Anton-Gerard Van Hamel, who quickly published an article on his find (5). As experience would prove, the Utrecht MS (MS U) is the best and most complete of the surviving witnesses and is heavily relied upon by Klein (35), although he does not appear to have used a single base MS for his edition.

Armed with his discovery of MS U, Van Hamel spent the following years producing a bilingual edition of the complete Latin poem, formatted on page with a new edition of the French Lamentations based on the majority of manuscripts we know today, followed by Le Livre de Leesce, and accompanied by a detailed introduction and copious annotations. [2] More discoveries followed. In 1926, Paul Lehmann reported four additional MSS of the Latin poem (6 n.18, unrecognized in Pacchiarotti's useless edition of 2010). In 1974, Alfred Schmitt published his new edition of the first two books only, newly annotated and with a helpful introduction and index of names. [3] A necessity for students of the Latin Lamentations as well as its posterity, Schmitt's edition has long held a treasured place in my collection of volumes photocopied in full for permanent possession once obtained through interlibrary loan.

Enter Thomas Klein's edition under review. As explained in the author's foreword, he used all the materials in Schmitt's edition, mutatis mutandis, and a transcript of Books 3 and 4 done by Thomas Rubel with corrections by the editor. Being familiar with Schmitt's edition, I agree that Klein has appropriated his predecessor's valuable material, often word for word, and with a duly respectful approach throughout.

However, while assimilating the work of earlier scholars, Klein's edition is substantially updated in all areas. I will begin with his discussion of the manuscripts (31-40). Klein has provided an independent description of all five MSS known to Van Hamel and Lehmann, none earlier than the fourteenth century, two of them in England, and one, MS W, evidently a copy of MS E. He has also discovered three additional MSS, a Strassburg MS destroyed in 1870 (34), and two MSS (B and K) consisting of excerpts, in the latter case only 4.411-440 (31, 34). None of these findings revolutionize our understanding of the poem, but one is especially important. Before Klein's discovery of MS B, it appeared that Le Fèvre has inserted into Book 2 a lengthy passage of his own composition, graphically describing a wife's bedroom sexual enticements contrived to worm a secret out of her husband (122-26.) [4] However, a two-line excerpt from MS B, hitherto unknown, has a counterpart in the French translation, 2.1185-1186 (124-125 with notes). This fact demonstrates that both Le Fèvre and the MS B scribe had access to a manuscript of the Latin that included the original version of the passage, now lost--will it yet be discovered? This new information also caused editor Klein to modify the stemma for the MSS (40), compared to its prototype in Schmitt's edition.

Among his editorial choices friendly to readers, Klein has restored the subject headings and marginal rubrics from the manuscripts in their original positions, thus making the text far easier to skim for information by subtopic. He has followed Schmitt in providing two systems of lineation, Van Hamel's continuous line numbers on the right-hand margin (generally used in this review), and Schmitt's lineation by book and line number on the left, with minor modifications to the latter. This choice makes it easy to compare his text with Van Hamel's bilingual editon, still worthy of consultation and appropriately cited by Klein. He has also provided the first-ever photographic reproductions of the original to be published, showing the opening lines of the poem in all five MSS where they appear.

Regarding the poet's ideas, both introduction and textual annotations are greatly expanded by Klein, to excellent effect. At times, his introduction enhances what we partially know. Klein has more thoroughly explored Matheus's engagement with the school of Chartres, especially Alan of Lille; he notes that the Anticlaudianus is the work most often appearing in his source notes at about 100 citations (20). Book 3, he explains, has a journey to heaven resembling a counterpart in the latter poem, while the visionary experience described at the end of Book 4 was influenced by a similar passage in the De Planctu Naturae (20). The encomiums of Book 4 are largely inspired by Alan's description of ideal "Menschen" in the Anticlaudianus (23). Klein has broken new ground in explicating Matheus's appropriation of Ovid's exile-persona as inspired by the Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto, the latter also modeling a work arranged in four books (20ff.). While it is unclear whether Matheus was literally forced to leave Thérouanne, he relates his emotional distress by channeling all the Ovidian tropes of exile: the barbarians he now finds around him, his bodily changes for the worse, his life a miserable process of waiting for death, the friends from happier days who have abandoned him, etc. (21).

Conveniently formatted on page, the textual notes incorporate the excellent research of Schmitt's edition, but thoroughly enhanced and updated, with additional source notes and citations to relevant scholarship up to 2013. From hundreds of new and improved annotations on all aspects of the poem, impossible to treat in full, I will single out an example most enlightening to my own research on material held in common with Le Fèvre's French Lamentations and his retraction/rebuttal, Le Livre de Leesce. In 2013, I published an article with a translation into English of a passage from the Latin poem excoriating women religious as lustful, roaming the countryside despite their vows, and addicted to fleecing men (139-141, ll.1221-1148). [5] This I followed with my English translation of the corresponding passage from the French Lamentations and the counterargument in defense of nuns from the author's "palinode." Had Klein's edition been published at the time, I could have more fully explicated Matheus's scientific argument for women's inferiority (140, 1227 ff.) as based on quotations from the Latin Aristotle, Albertus Magnus, and Geoffrey of Vinsauf (140, nn. 575-578); I would have learned of updated scholarship on the pornographic use of "quoniam" and "quippe" (120, nn. 370-372); and I would have produced a more accurate translation of "fallace globo fili" (1242) as "a string of fake pearls," with substantive documentation (141 n. 590). This brief example is typical of the editor's groundbreaking scholarship throughout, on (among other topics) the poet's wide-ranging proto-humanist erudition, his graphic and misogynistic depictions of sex, and the colorful vagaries, indeed the obscurities, of his Latin style.

Even a magisterial work such as Klein's must have a few lapses in diligence. He appears relatively uninterested in Le Fèvre's French Lamentations and obviously has not done his homework on this text. He cites Karen Pratt and me (1 n. 2) as supporting Van Hamel's dating of the French translation at 1370 or 1371, when we both place it around 1380, following Geneviève Hasenohr's more recently documented terminus post quem for the sequel poem. Not noticing the present location of Prague MS, as discussed in the Appendix to my book, he cites it by its former location (5 n. 17). He faults the Blamires/Pratt anthology for failure to acknowledge Matheus (7 n. 23), when in fact it does (op. cit. below, 177). These few deficiencies can easily be remedied by consultation with other scholarly works on the French posterity of the Latin. Van Hamel's still-useful bilingual edition allowing close comparison between the Latin and French is easily available online, and my Book of Gladness provides a review of the scholarship through early 2013 on Le Fèvre's poems, including Christine de Pizan's revisionist responses to his work, some discovered by me. Karen Pratt is at work on a new edition of Le Livre de Leesce based on all the manuscripts, which is sure to provide enlightenment on matters including the French tradition.



1. Linda Burke (trans.), The Book of Gladness/Le Livre de Leesce, A 14th Century Defense of Women, in English and French, by Jehan Le Fèvre, Translated, Annotated, and with an Introduction (Jefferson, NC: 2013).

2. A.-G. Van Hamel (ed.), Les Lamentations de Matheolus et Le Livre de Leësce, 2 vols. (Paris, 1892, 1905).

3. A. Schmitt (ed.), Matheus von Boulogne: "Lamentationes Matheoluli" (Bonn, 1974).

4. Translated into English by Karen Pratt, in A. Blamires, ed., with K. Pratt and C. Marx, Woman Defamed and Woman Defended, an Anthology of Medieval Texts (Oxford, 1992), 188-190.

5. Linda Burke, "'She is the Second St. Clare': The Exemplum of Jehanne de Neuville, Abbess of Longchamp," Franciscan Studies 71 (2013): 349-530.

Copyright (c) 2016 Linda Burke

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