The Medieval Review 17.01.04


Kwakkel, Erik, ed. Manuscripts of the Latin Classics 800-1200. Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Book Culture. Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2015. pp. 224. $49.50 (hardback). ISBN: 978-9-087-28226-4 (paperback).



Reviewed by:


John J. Contreni
Purdue University (emeritus)
contreni@purdue.edu

Erik Kwakkel's introduction to this collection promises that its six essays will "demonstrate the variety of ways in which medieval individuals engage with classical material: yearning for a deeper understanding of ancient texts, they exhibit an array of strategies to produce, transmit, and apply ancient knowledge" (20). In other words, medieval scribes, scholars, and teachers, long-praised for saving Latin classical culture from total loss, appear here as agents who engaged classical learning and applied it to their contemporary concerns. This shift from viewing medieval book people essentially as passive transmitters of the classical heritage to crediting them as active and curious manipulators of it has been long in coming. The essays and abundant images in this slim, handsome volume add additional evidence uncovering how classical learning became Europeanized and a constituent part of the amalgam that made up Western European culture until the nineteenth century.

Mariken Teeuwen's "Carolingian Scholarship on Classical Authors: Practices of Reading and Writing" focuses on how manuscripts of the classics were copied and read by directing attention to "textual practices" that took place in the margins of classical texts. Attentiveness to these "voices in the margin" (47) uncovers personal engagement with the page's text that ranges from correction, to queries, to scholarly debate. Teeuwen detects three voices in the marginal choir. The first are technical signs, symbols that scribes and readers used as they moved through a text or revisited it. We have tended to overlook these signs, drowned out as they seem to be by more explicit verbal annotations. Yet the technical signs, asterisks, crosses, chrismons and a host of others that are just now getting the attention they deserve, constitute "systems of signs" (34) that communities of scholars used to reflect on their reading. The use of technical signs in a Lucretius manuscript and by Lupus of Ferrières in a Macrobius manuscript nicely illustrate Teeuwen's point. Commentary traditions are a more familiar marginal voice, but one which upon closer inspection is richer and more complex than first thought. Comments were considered such a constituent part (a "paratext") of a classical text that manuscripts were ruled to accommodate them. Teeuwen insists that commentaries were never static. Generations of scholars added freely to them, in effect layering comments upon comments. They added a third voice to their lively margins, often in the form of personalized stenographic, or tironian, notes, that recorded further analysis, disagreement, and consultation with other authorities. In Teeuwen's view the spontaneous activity in the margins of classical manuscripts makes them not so much schoolbooks, but rather "books of scholarship, scholarly discussions, and dossiers for scholarly disputes" (46). Robert G. Babcock's "The Transmission of Tibullus in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries" takes his readers on a fascinating exploration of just how one classical author was read. Tibullus, whose complete poems survive only in a manuscript of the 1370s (53), was not well-known in the Middle Ages. His work is listed in the late-eighth century booklist in the Codex Diezianus and his verse appear in various florilegia from the twelfth century on. Given this patchy record of transmission, Babcock's discovery that Tibullus was studied at Liège during the in-between period comes as an exciting one indeed. The works of Heriger of Lobbes (late tenth century) and especially of Egbert of Liège (eleventh century; first half) fill in the gaps. Babcock suggests that both teachers knew Tibullus from a lost tenth-century Lobbes manuscript and that that book, rather than the one listed on the Codex Diezianus, accounts for interest in Tibullus during this early period. (59) Egbert cited Tibullus copiously and creatively in his Fecunda ratis (Well-laden Ship), a collection of edifying stories put into verse and drawn from a wide variety of sources. Babcock is the first to detect Tibullus as one of those sources. Tibullus offered the monk language and situations that he could weave into his collection and use to attack wealth and praise poverty. Egbert recognized these perennial Christian themes in other writers, notably Gregory the Great (590-604) and the Scriptures, and did not blanch from melding his pagan and Christian sources to support his teaching. Tibullus's rural setting and his Epicureanism could easily be tailored for learners in rural Christian monasteries (71). Modern readers would not read Tibullus this way, but monks did, confirming their comfortable familiarity with the classics and their creativity in the face of "authority." They could adapt and change their classical texts to fit the needs of their audiences. Medieval masters used diagrams as well as words to elicit meaning from classical texts. Irene O'Daly's "Diagrams of Knowledge and Rhetoric in Manuscripts of Cicero's De inventione" builds on a research base of about sixty manuscripts of De inventione and Rhetorica ad Herennium that come accompanied by diagrams. The diagrams have little to do with Cicero's doctrine, but are features added by medieval educators to provide at-a-glance synopses of the divisions of rhetoric, on the one hand, and similarly immediate comprehension of rhetoric's place in the overall classification of knowledge. Daly compares the diagrams to the accessus ad auctores. They provide in graphic form an overall introduction to a text just as the accessus does with words. The intent seems to have been to provide learners with a general orientation to the subject matter before diving into its particulars or, as Daly put it, diagrams provide a "metaphoric visualisation of the intellectual landscape of rhetorical study" (100). Masters were ingenious in crafting their diagrams. Five diagrams share space with the opening paragraphs of De inventione in a tenth-century Fleury manuscript. The diagrams were lifted from a Carolingian source, Alcuin's Disputatio de rhetorica, to help understand a classical text. An eleventh-century fragment attached to a ninth-century Horace manuscript bears a Carolingian text that divides Philosophia among its branches, theorica, practica, and logica. The fragment also bears a text from Origen that divides spiritualis among its branches, tropology, anagogy, and allegory. The juxtaposition of secular and sacred schemes obviously did not faze masters or learners for whom classical wisdom comfortably complemented Christian wisdom. O'Daly's takeaway is that anyone who would understand medieval engagement with Cicero's rhetoric must also consider the diagrams and texts that enrich it.

Erik Kwakkel's contribution, "Classics on Scraps: Classical Manuscripts Made from Parchment Waste," confronts directly Birger Munk Olsen's observation (13) that medieval copies of the Latin classics do not constitute a distinct category of manuscripts. Kwakkel argues instead that at least in one respect manuscripts of classical texts do constitute a distinct genre, one characterized by "the notably high number of lower-grade copies. That is to say, a relatively large number of classical texts from these centuries have been copied in a lower-grade script and on medium to poor quality parchment" (107). This statement seems counter-intuitive given the high esteem accorded the Latin classics. Kwakkel's original and interesting research, however, is compelling. He begins by examining a case study, the composite MS Leiden, Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit, Voss, lat. O. 92, that focuses on its third booklet (fols. 122-55), a commentary on the works of Prudentius with excerpts from Rufinus and Marius Victorinus. The booklet has been dated to the tenth century and credited to a main scribe's efforts, which were interrupted eight time by other scribes. Kwakkel's meticulous analysis of the script concludes that a principal scribe produced the booklet, but that he wrote in such haste and in such a careless manner that the inconsistencies of his script obscured its fundamental consistencies. He also proposes dating the booklet to the first half of the eleventh century, a dating still early enough to qualify the Leiden booklet as the earliest example of an "offcut manuscript" (110). Kwakkel's discussion of offcuts, "superfluous strips of parchments that were left over when animal skins were turned into sheets" (113), is fascinating and goes to the heart of the collection's promise to illuminate strategies used to produce ancient knowledge. Cutting out regular slices of parchment from animal skins (is it certain that scribes [113] did this?) left irregular pieces of waste around the edges and in the areas of the animal's neck, rump, and legs. The irregular cuts of parchment outside the areas of the "prime cut" also suffered from added defects, holes and dimples, introduced during the drying process. The Leiden booklet bears overwhelming evidence of discoloration, round concavities, broad gaps, missing corners, gaps in the inner margins in or near the gutter that identify it for the first time as a book made from offcuts (120). The Leiden booklet measures barely 150 mm (just under six inches) in height, which makes sense if we imagine that the goal in preparing usable parchment was to maximize the area of the prime cut. The search for additional offcut manuscripts might well begin with that simple marker. Kwakkel was actually able to identify similar manuscripts based on dimensions reported in catalogue descriptions, which he followed up by examining online facsimiles. Munk Olsen reported that a "considerable number," forty-nine to be precise, of classical manuscripts survive from the tenth to twelfth centuries with page heights less than 150 mm (120). His tally suggests that "the offcut manuscript is a category of its own in the transmission of classical literature during the eleventh and twelfth centuries" (122). But why copy classics on scraps? One obvious reason, Kwakkel suggests, is to economize on commercial book production by using material that might otherwise go to waste. Another reason with broad cultural implications is that increasingly offcut books filled growing demand for personal use. Scraps had always been used for notes, letters, drafts, and various other ad hoc purposes. Now, scraps abetted the production and dissemination of ancient wisdom. David T. Gura's "Living with Ovid: The Founding of Arnulf of Orléans' Thebes" explores how the format of Arnulf's (c. 1175) work was adapted to different needs for succeeding generations. Arnulf's commentary remained influential through the fifteenth century, testifying to his skill and thoroughness as a teacher. Arnulf composed a three-layered commentary for each of the fifteen books of the Metamorphoses. The first layer, glosulae, explained the grammar and philology of Ovid's Latin for students still learning the intricacies of the language. The second layer, mutationes, listed the changes at the heart of each book of Ovid's tale. In the third book, the case study chosen for Gura's essay, there were three metamorphoses to report: Cadmus the king becomes an exile; the serpent's teeth become seeds; the seeds become soldiers. The commentary's third layer, allegoriae, considers the changes from historical, allegorical, and moral perspectives. Arnulf's commentary circulated in two formats as catena and as scholion. The catena format is virtually a free-standing commentary whose elements are linked by Ovid's lemmata. The scholion format squeezes Arnulf's comments into the margins and interlinear spaces of Ovid's text. Gura detects a shift from the catena to scholionformat in the thirteenth century, which he plausibly connects to "a utilitarian shift from oral lecture to reading strategy" (140). The two formats were not rigid nor mutually exclusive since, as Gura points out, the manuscripts show that later masters rearranged the order of the catena freely and transferred elements from the catena format wholesale into the scholion format. Arnulf's commentary was made to conform to local pedagogical strategies, surely an index of its utility. Gura, who is preparing a critical edition of Arnulf's commentary, ends his essay with a critical edition of Arnulf's comments on Metamorphoses 3.1-126 (155-62). The collection itself concludes with Rodney Thomson's "William of Malmesbury and the Classics: New Evidence." Here, Thomson burnishes William's "stature as a reader, editor, and interpreter of ancient Latin literature" (169). Synthesizing his own recent work and that of Robert Kaster, Ermanno Malaspina, Michael Reeve, and Michael Winterbottom, Thomson updates William's acquaintance with the classics under three headings. "Quotations from unusual texts in unlikely places" reveals that William cited Apuleius and Ausonius in a biblical commentary and a set of Marian miracles. "William as possible author of learned introductions to some ancient texts" makes the case that William composed an accessus to the works of Sidonius Apollinaris, Symmachus, and Fulgentius Mythographer. In what may well be the most significant finding of all, "William as editor of ancient texts" analyzes a series of "aggressive unauthoritative textual emendations by a master of Latin, among them some excellent readings anticipating guesses made centuries later by respected classical scholars" (178) that suggest William's editorial skills at work in manuscripts of Pliny, Naturalis Historia, Suetonius, De vita Caesarum, and Cicero, Lucullus. An appendix (180-83) lists thirty-nine additions and corrections to the roster of William's reading in Thomson's magisterial William of Malmesbury (2nd ed., 2003).

Manuscripts of the Latin Classics, 800-1200 joins its predecessors as a worthy companion in the Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Book Culture series, Turning Over a New Leaf: Change and Development in the Medieval Book (2012) and Writing in Context: Insular Manuscript Culture 500-1200 (2013). Each of the essays has something new and thought-provoking to say about book culture from its particular perspective. There are overarching themes as well. The collection underscores how important it is to go to the manuscripts directly when assessing medieval engagement with classical culture. The "voices in the margins," the waste scraps of parchment, the arrangement of commentaries on the page, the addition of diagrams are the tell-tale evidence of minds thinking about and reacting to the classics. Also striking in the collection's six essays is how porous and how promiscuous were the boundaries between classical learning and Christian wisdom. One can also detect in the essays the tilting scales of auctoritas. Teachers, supervisors of scriptoria, scribes, and readers appropriated classical authors and their texts for their own ends, manipulating them and meddling with their integrity as they saw fit in myriad ways. The learned elite of the ninth to twelfth centuries were the new authorities.



Copyright (c) 2017 John J. Contreni



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