17.05.08, Wheeler, Accessus ad auctores

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Scott Bruce

The Medieval Review 17.05.08

Wheeler, Stephen M. Accessus ad auctores: Medieval Introductions to the Authors (Codex latinus monacensis 19475) . TEAMS Secular Commentary Series . Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2015. pp. xv, 279. ISBN: 978-1-58044-189-6 (paperback).

Reviewed by:
Scott Bruce
University of Colorado at Boulder

Primary education in medieval monasteries began with the study of Latin grammar. Under the watchful eye of their instructors, young monks practiced reading and interpreting a wide range of late ancient texts--Christian and pagan, prose and poetry--to gain proficiency in spoken and written Latin. The brethren rarely studied these works in a formal setting without the aid of ancillary texts that provided an introduction to the author and a guide to the value of his work for Christian readers. From the eighth century onwards, grammarians composed introductions to those authorities, whose works were fixtures in the monastic curriculum. These introductions (accessus) provided specific information about the life of the author, the genre of his work, his intention as an author, and an explanation of the text for a Christian readership, in short, a sanitized commentary that steered monks toward the safe harbor of a proper understanding of potentially dangerous texts. While these accessus were originally written as prologues to works of Latin literature, by the twelfth century grammarians excerpted and collected them into anthologies, which modern scholars have called "Introductions to the Authors" (accessus ad auctores). Gathered in this way, accessus were in effect convenient handbooks for teaching the grammatical arts.

In the volume under review, Stephen M. Wheeler has edited and translated one of the oldest and most comprehensive witnesses to the accessus tradition: Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Codex latinus monacensis 19475, a twelfth-century manuscript from the Benedictine abbey of Tegernsee. This manuscript is well known to historians of medieval education and the reception of classical literature in the Middle Ages, in no small part due to the compiler's unabashed interest in reclaiming Ovid as an author suitable for Christian readers. In 1911, Gustav Przychocki singled out for study the introductions to the works of Ovid from this and other related twelfth-century accessus collections and thereby inaugurated the study of this important genre. Decades later, R.B.C. Huygens hypothesized a stemma based on these manuscripts. In 1954 he produced a critical edition for the series Collection Latomus, but his reconstruction of the manuscript tradition did not win over Bernard Bischoff, whose criticisms prompted Huygens to produce a revised edition of the text in 1970. Even so, as Wheeler argues, Huygens' editorial method and his habit of moving around the contents of the collection to give more coherence to its arrangement, has produced "a hybrid accessus" (15) that appears in no medieval manuscript. The goal of the present volume, then, is to present a single-text edition of an important witness to the accessus tradition that takes seriously the medieval ordering of its constituent parts, accompanied by a facing-page English translation that makes the text available to students and general readers.

Wheeler's book has three parts: an introduction (1-24), the Latin edition and translation of the accessus (26-101), and explanatory notes for each separate text in the collection (103-254). Admirable for its clarity, the introduction begins with a short history of the accessus genre and a discussion of the contents of Clm 19475 and the pedagogical intentions behind their arrangement (with a helpful chart comparing its contents to other near contemporary accessus manuscripts). With a tacit criticism of Huygens' edition, Wheeler argues that "the order of these authors follows a graded course of study from simpler to advanced reading [beginning] with elementary pagan and Christian poets and [leading] to the reading of Ovid's elegiac works" (8). The dominance of Ovid in the collection--ten of the twenty-nine entries deal with Ovidian texts--raises some questions. The sexual content of his poetry aroused suspicions among contemporary monastic readers, like Conrad of Hirsau, who questioned his suitability for Christian consumption, but the compiler of Clm 19475 had no such reservations. Wheeler proposes that the emphasis on Ovidian elegy in the collection hints at the purpose of the collection as a grammatical program aimed at teaching students how to write poetry. The introduction concludes with a description of the manuscript, a statement of editorical principles, and discussion of previous editions of the text.

The facing-page Latin edition and English translation follows the introduction. This accessus ad auctores features twenty-nine distinct texts that provide introductions to many works of Christian and pagan poetry. It begins with two prologues to Ovid's Heroides, followed by two prologues to Prudentius' Psychomachia. There follows a curriculum of elementary verse texts from the Disticha Catonis, the Ilias Latina, and the Physiologus, to late antique Christian poets like Arator, Prosper, and Sedulius, to the elegiac works of Ovid. Thereafter the collection presents a miscellany of ancient authors of increasing difficulty: Lucan, touted as an authority on ancient history; Cicero's Paradoxa Stoicorum; Boethius' Consolatio philosophiae, the grammarian Priscian, and Horace. A lengthy school commentary on Ovid's Heroides (not included in this edition) follows the accessus on Horace, but the compiler has appended the prologues to two "modern" works to the end of the manuscript: the anonymous Pamphilus, an early twelfth-century poetic comedy in an Ovidian mode, and Thebaldus' eleventh-century poem on the metrical quantity of initial syllables.

The second half of the book presents Wheeler's learned and expansive commentary on each of these texts, in which he provides the modern scholarly equivalent of an accessus prologue for every medieval work included in Clm 19475. Here the reader will find an introduction to the text in question along with references to other medieval witnesses and modern editions of the work, followed by a selected bibliography, a overview of the structure and content of each prologue, and a line-by-line commentary on any difficulties raised by the text. These pages contain a wealth of information on the medieval reception of classical literature. Scholars will applaud Wheeler's industry in mastering so many disparate bodies of scholarship and in marshalling the reception history of each of these ancient authorities through the twelfth century and beyond.

Accessus ad auctores is a splendid addition to scholarship on the repurposing of classical literature by medieval scholars. Medieval Institute Publications has produced a handsome Latin edition, English translation, and robust commentary on the accessus texts in Codex latinus monacensis 19475 at a very reasonable price, a welcome achievement that other presses would be wise to emulate. Scholars are sure to adopt this volume for classroom use, as students will benefit as much from access to this important text in English translation as they will from Wheeler's formidable erudition. Moreover, Accessus ad auctores boasts a thorough bibliography on the medieval reception of classical authors and an attentive index, both of which add to the value of the book as a tool for further research.

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