The Medieval Review 16.08.13

Grévin, Benoît and Anne-Marie Turcan-Verkerk, eds. Le dictamen dans tous ses états. Perspectives de recherche sur la théorie et la pratique de l’ars dictaminis (XIe-XVe siècles). Bibliothèque d'histoire culturelle du Moyen Âge, 16. Turnhout: Brepols, 2015. pp. 610. €95.00 (hardback). ISBN: 978-2-503-55304-7 (paperback).

Reviewed by:

Ronald Witt
Duke University

Since the 1980s knowledge of the medieval prose form known as ars dictaminis, its character, chronology of development, geographical extent, and its manuscript tradition has expanded almost geometrically. This collection of essays represents an excellent summary of current work on various aspects of these subjects. Benoît Grévin's introductory essay provides a concise panoramic view of the issues involved in reconstructing the history of the discipline.

In contrast with earlier tendencies to view dictaminis as a literary art or a form of practical rhetoric crafted in the chanceries of burgeoning medieval states, the approach of the authors here is to bridge this division by stressing the complexity of the ars as a whole. While accepting the common view that dictaminis was primarily concerned with writing a letter in ornate Latin, part of the burden of the book is to present the ars as a "doctrine of global language" synonymous with medieval rhetoric generally.

The essays also reflect the temporal disparity of the diffusion of dictaminis throughout Europe from c. 1080 down through its last years in the fifteenth century. The first three divisions of the studies are largely devoted to the chronological development of the ars in Italy and France, while the last division covers its spread to the rest of Western and Eastern Europe. A number of the essays trace the effect of the Latin forms of dictaminis on vernacular prose in the last centuries of the Middle Ages. Others trace the interrelationship between dictaminis and other rhetorical genres such as the ars arengandi and the ars notarie as well as that with poetry. Ultimately, in Grévin's words, the essays endeavor to "free us from the classical heritage, as omnipresent as it is inhibiting, to recognize another, long ignored heritage: that of medieval rhetoric in its most original aspects." (25)

The opening essay, Filippo Bognini's "Ancora sulla diffusione del ‘Brevarium' di Alberico di Montecassino," analyzes the presence of Alberico's work in two manuscripts: Trier, Bistumsarchiv, Abt 95, Nr. 16, originating in northern Germany and Luxembourg, Bibliothéque nationale, 26, a French manuscript. The early thirteenth-century Trier manuscript from Hildesheim demonstrates that, descended from an early (1092?) subarchetype β that innovated significantly in Alberico's text, Alberico was circulating not only in southern but also in northern Germany by this date. His study of the roughly contemporary Luxembourg manuscript shows that Alberico was also circulating in France at the time. Derived from β, however, this text reflects the interposition of a lost intermediary έ that at points also contaminated versions of β's counterpart ά.

In his study of early Bolognese ars dictaminis, "Il dictaminis e i valori comunali nell'Italia di inizio XII secolo," Florian Hartmann argues convincingly that a number of model letters appended to the manuals of Bolognese dictatores were specifically chosen to express their opinions on current political and religious issues. As the earliest documents to reflect ideas about communal government and its worth, these model letters assume historical importance.

Anne-Marie Turcan-Verkerk's brilliant study of the career of Nicolas de Montiéramey in "L'Introduction de l'ars dictaminis en France: Nicholas de Montiéramey, un professionnel du dictaminis entre 1140 et 1158" establishes definitively that Nicholas had the pioneering role in introducing France to the ars. From his first sojourn in Italy in 1141 he brought back to France knowledge of Bernard of Bologna's work and of the Aurea gemma (AGB), which he copied in his manuscript (1141-1145/46) along with many of his own letters, now Berlin, SBPK, Phillipps 1732 (Rose 181: 2nd half XII cent.). In Rome again before 1145 and between 1156 and 1158, he gained knowledge of the dictaminal practices of the curia as shown by Phillipps 1719 (Rose, 184: early XIII cent.), a book of letters he designed for his personal use. Pat. lat. 196, an edition of a now-lost third manuscript of Nicolas, follows largely the order of Phillipps 1719, but the more elaborate language of the letters suggests that it was designed for use as a book of models.

In "I Modi dictaminum di Maestro Guido," Elisabetta Bartoli offers an analysis of the works of maestro Guido contained in Verona, Capitolare, CCLXII 234, the only known text of his Modi dictaminum. Due to Anne-Marie Turcan-Verkehr, the work of the once shadowy figure of Bernard of Bologna's disciple has been largely distinguished from that of his master and Bartoli's study increases our knowledge of the extent of Guido's writings and its character. Organizing the model letter into nine levels according to a hierarchical succession of addressees, the Modi demonstrates a new interest in composing love letters and contains a historically important correspondence connected with Guido Guerra II and III.

Vito Sivo's "La poesia nel dictaminis: prosa e versi nel Registrum di Paolo camaldolese" focuses on the last of Paolo's works in BnF lat. 7517. Divided into three books of letters the Registrum employs both poetry, classical, medieval, and presumably the author's own, along with citation of auctoritates to give support for the writer's position and enhance the letter's aesthetic appeal. Sivo interprets Paolo's view of dictaminis as involving quantitative and rhythmic poetry as well as prose, thus reflecting the influence of Bernardo of Bologna, who in the 1140s revived Alberico of Montecassino's broad view of ars dictaminis.

Charles Vulliez's "De la théorie à la pratique: Les recueils de lettres rattachés au nom de Bernard de Meung" employs statistics to characterize the major manuscripts of Bernard's collection of letters found in the minor compilatio and the major compilatio. The numbers show that while the minor contains a majority of letters written and received by clerics, the percentage is greater for the major. Many letters in the major, moreover, reflect the literary milieu of late twelfth-century Orleans as well as hostility to the encroachment of secular powers on the Church. While Bernard may have compiled both versions, the major may well be the work of a disciple.

In his criticism of the sharp distinction between authentic and fictive letters often made by specialists, Francesco Stella in "Recuperare una fonte storica: I modelli di lettera" argues that many letters, especially letters of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries regarded as fictive were originally sent or designed to be sent to an addressee. His essay offers an excellent discussion of alternative ways of assessing the historical value of the content of these letters.

Paolo Garbini's "ars dictaminis e storiografia" cites Boncompagno da Signa's Liber de obsidione Ancone as the earliest Italian example of the application of dictaminis to historiographical writing and to oratory. He extends his examination to the twelfth-century Portuguese De expugnatione Lyxbonensi and Rolandino da Padova's Cronica in factis et circa facta Marchiae Trivixane in the generation after Boncompagno.

Although the leading writers in the papal chancery in the thirteenth century were largely from the Terra di Lavoro, Fulvio delle Donne's "Le dictaminis capouan: École rhétoriques et conventions historiographiques" rejects the conception of a Capuan school of rhetoric. Rather than being the product of a major school, the high level of epistolary artistry was reached through occasional courses taught locally and by frequent exchanges of letters between masters. He stresses rather "a socio-rhetorical network" of writers, which produced a steady flow of dictators.

In his "Les grandes collections de lettres de la curie pontificale au XIIIe siècle: Naissance, structure, edition," Matthias Thumser discusses the origin, purpose, and the publication fortune of four major collections of letters connected with the papal curia in the thirteenth century. According to Thumser, although Tommaso di Capua's Summa dictaminis may have had some form during the cardinal's life time, it along with letter collections attributed to Richard of Pofi, Berard of Naples, and pseudo Marinus of Eboli were systematically organized during the papal vacancy from 1268 to 1271.

Tanja Broser's "Les régles de l'ars dictaminis à la curie pontificale durant le XIIIe siècle" confronts the problem of establishing the relationship between papal letters written at the curia in the thirteenth century and the instructions of ars dictaminis manuals. A detailed analysis of the collection Epistole et dictamina Clementis pape quarti demonstrates a striking concordance between the style and format of these letters and the dictates of ars dictaminis.

The eleven love letters of Queen Kunhuta found in Vindebonensis 526 (xiii) constitute the principal subject of Francesca Battista's "Il formulario della regina Kunhuta e la retorica epistolare in Boemia." Either dictated by the queen or written on her behalf, the letters written to her absent husband, while possibly influenced by the lyrics of Minnesänger, clearly reflect knowledge in Bohemia by the third quarter of the thirteenth century of the correspondence of Pietro della Vigna, Tommaso di Capua, and particularly of the florid and emotional style of Pietro d'Isernia.

Martin Camargo's article, "La déclamation épistolaire: Lettres modèles et performance dans les écoles anglaises médiévales," examines the use of dictaminis as the basis for oration in the Middle Ages. While the rules of composition serve either for letter writing or oratory, instruction in oratory, as in the ancient world, went beyond dictaminis proper to emphasize practice and imitation. The author illustrates his argument by analyzing a speech taken from Geoffrey de Vinsauf.

Partly because of the scholarly focus on the precocious use of the vernacular in Spain, the study of Latin dictaminis has been relatively neglected. Benoît Grévin's pioneering "Théorie et pratique du dictaminis dans la péninsule ibérique (XIIIe-XIVs)," however, lays the foundation for a fresh examination of the history of the ars in Castille and Aragon. Throughout the centuries the history of dictaminis was one of reception rather than invention. The earliest manual, heavily dependent on French dictaminis, appeared in Castille ca. 1222, but by the 1270s the influence of Italian teachings introduced by notaries who had worked in Italy came to dominate. By the last decade of the thirteenth century Grévin establishes that the collection of Pietro della Vigna was available at both the Castilian and Aragonese courts. The final section is devoted to a discussion of the lives of notaries who played a key role in both Castille and Aragon down to the fifteenth century.

Dario Internullo's "A proposito di dictaminis fra regno angioino e Roma nel primo Trecento" examines a manuscript, Biblioteca Angelica, 514 (olim D.8.17), binding two dictaminal collections together. The first, consisting of letters and royal formularies from the 1280s to 1310 along with extracts from dictaminal manuals, illustrates the notarial milieu of a lordship in the territory of the Abruzzo. The second, a Roman collection of letters composed between 1268 and 1331 for school use, furnishes rare evidence of the teaching of dictaminis in the Roman area.

The formularies used by episcopal and royal chanceries in fifteenth-century Poland form the subject of Maria Koczerska's "Le role politique des lettres fictives dans les formulaires polonaise". Given the poverty of Polish sources surviving in this century, the letters, largely reworking of letters actually sent, are a precious resource for the country's history.

Anna Adamska's "L'ars dictaminis a-t-elle été possible en langue vernaculaire: Quelques sondages" assesses the possibility of a vernacular manual guiding vernacular letter writing in its first stages down to 1340. Her basic response is a qualified affirmative although her study of the documents in Germanic areas and Eastern Europe indicates a structural incompatibility of the vernacular with the Latin rules. With the exception of northern Italy, she sees a considerable time lag between the initial use of the vernacular in chancery documents and the development of rules for letterwriting. Limiting her study to Germanic lands and Eastern Europe, the author maintains, however, that by the first half of the fourteenth century German language manuals dominated. She considers the development of vernacular rhetoric as indicating a broadening lay public.

The last third of the volume contains two invaluable tools for dictaminis research; the first, "Les artes dictandi latines de la fin du XIe siècle à la fin du XVe siècle: Un état des sources" by Claudio Felisi and Anne-Marie Turcan-Verkehr, offers a repertoire of all known manuals for the period; and the second, Benôit Grévin's "Bibliographie des études sur la théorie et la pratique de l'ars dictaminis (XIe-XIVe siècles)" cites some seven-hundred entries dealing with the theory and practice of ars dictaminis.

The volume is absolutely indispensable for any scholar interested in medieval letter writing.

Copyright (c) 2016 Ronald Witt

Give Now

ISSN: 1096-746X | Administrator Login