18.03.09, Veyrard-Cosme, La Vita Beati Alcuivini (IXe s.)

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David Ganz

The Medieval Review 18.03.09

Veyrard-Cosme, Christiane. La Vita Beati Alcuini (IXe S.): Les Inflexions d'un discours de sainteté. Moyen Age de Temps Moderne. Paris:Institut d'Études Augustiniennes, 2017. pp. 361. ISBN: 978-2-85121-287-0 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

David Ganz
Cambridge, UK

Christiane Veyrard-Cosme has published many articles on Alcuin, an edition of his hagiographical prose works, and a study of the language and composition of his letters. She is preparing a new edition of the letters for Sources chrétiennes. This volume contains an edition and an excellent French translation of the anonymous ninth century life of Alcuin of York, based on a ninth-century Reims manuscript which was used by André Duchesne in 1617, but then disappeared. Duchesne's edition was reprinted by Surius, Mabillon, Henschen (for the Acta Sanctorum) and Frobenius Forster in his edition of the works of Alcuin, which was reprinted by Migne. Mme Veyrard-Cosme makes no mention of the edition by Phillip Jaffé in his Monumenta Alcuiniana (Berlin 1873) published after Jaffé's suicide by Wattenbach and Duemmler, which contained some emendations and brief notes. Jaffé's edition was used by Arndt for his edition in the MGH Scriptores in Folio 15.1 (1887). Mme Veyrard-Cosme acknowledges that Arndt offered "un texte satisfaisant"; she has corrected one misprint and preferred to keep the readings of the Reims manuscript in two places. On page 49 she states that the text was edited twice, by Mabillon and Arndt, but on page 191 she lists the other editions, except for Jaffé's.

This book begins with detailed descriptions of the contents of the Reims manuscript (the opening folio is illustrated in colour on an unnumbered page before the start of the book) and of the other manuscript witness, Troyes BM 1712, copied in the thirteenth century, which breaks off in Chapter 23 of the vita. Both manuscripts place the life in a hagiographic context well analyzed here: in the Reims manuscript the life of Alcuin is accompanied by lives of Remigius, Martin of Tours, Bishop Ambrose of Cahors, St Andrew and several women martyrs, and in the Troyes manuscript it is with saints' lives linked to Martin of Tours. The account of the Reims manuscript is sometimes unsatisfactory. I do not know why we are told that the manuscript is not in Bischoff's Katalog der festländischen Handschriften des neunten Jahrhunderts, vol. 3, for it is number 5307 (274). Veyrard-Cosme never mentions Donald Bullough's discussion of the Reims manuscript in his monograph of Alcuin (120-121), which reveals that it was rediscovered by Bruno Krusch, who published his find in Neues Archiv 18 (1893), p. 603. Bischoff and Bullough (who relied on him) state that the Reims manuscript was copied at Reims in the early years of Hincmar's archiepiscopate. Veyrard-Cosme implies this, but never states where she believes that it was copied. She edits the original contents list of the manuscript, but she has left out several lines (25), and she has not spotted the traces of numbering on the first folio of the contents list. (The manuscript has been digitized and may be viewed on the Gallica website.) The textual apparatus does not mention the corrections to the Reims manuscript. At the end of the vita she edits Alcuin's verse epitaph, mentioned but not included in the text, but she has no reference to the edition in MGH Poetae 1, p. 350. She also provides a French translation of Alcuin's letter 250.

It was Jacob Burckhardt who noted that in the reign of Charlemagne there was little talk of contemporary miracles and personal asceticism. The lives of Alcuin, of Benedict of Aniane and of Adalhard of Corbie all describe this different sort of sanctity, and Mme Veyrard-Cosme begins by explaining how the vita presents Alcuin as a modern saint, comparable to Benedict of Aniane. She has an excellent account of the influence of the Rule of Benedict and Gregory's Dialogues on the vita and there are further chapters about the treatment of Louis the Pious, Alcuin as miles Christi, Alcuin as pupil and teacher, the account of Bede, visions and dreams in the Vita, the treatment of Virgil, the nature of Alcuin's sanctity as presented in the vita, and its influence. The story of how Alcuin recognized that Louis, because of his humility, was the son who was destined to succeed Charlemagne is linked to other texts celebrating Louis's humility and his penitence. For Veyrard-Cosme this episode presents a parallel between Louis and Alcuin. The Vita Alcuini may have influenced Asser in his biography of Alfred the Great (a suggestion, recorded by Keynes and Lapidge in their translation, which comes from Pierre Chaplais, but he gets no credit here). Veyrard-Cosme has discovered that the Vita Maioli, the life of the abbot of Cluny composed in 1033, echoes the opening words and also contains a rejection of Virgil, and a healing miracle similar to a passage in the Vita Alcuini.

The introduction proposes a "nouvelle approche" and suggests that the vita was written at Tours rather than at Ferrières. But at Tours the author would have easily been able to make use of Alcuin's letters, which play no real part in his text. At Corbie Paschasius Radbertus did refer to them in his Vita Adalhardi. The suggestion that Siguulf, a pupil of Alcuin who supplied information to the author, was abbot of St Martin at Tours as well as abbot of Ferrières is unlikely. Her repetition of Anna Lisa Taylor's assertion that medieval readers of Book VI of the Aeneid saw it as an allegory of education, in which readers of pagan literature had to descend to the underworld, is fanciful. Veyrard-Cosme discusses the literary features of many sections of the vita, but the vita is rare among Carolingian hagiographical works in its use of material which must have come from stories told by Alcuin about his youth in York. I am not clear why "Alcuin devient personage de fiction" (17).

Veyrad-Cosme suggests that her study offers possible itineraries for the discovery of a complex hagiographical universe deployed in the reign of Louis the Pious. More could have been made of the account of Alcuin in the Life of Benedict of Aniane, but we rarely move away from the Vita Alcuini. There is a good discussion of Alcuin's attitude to the Gospel of John, though I am not sure that quoting Eriugena to assemble evidence for a particular insular attitude to that Gospel is convincing. The treatment of references to the liturgy in the vita would have benefitted from consultation of Bullough's article on Alcuin and the Kingdom of Heaven. Also, Veyrard-Cosme discusses how the Annals of Fulda, Ardo, Hrabanus and Hincmar treated Alcuin as a saint, but she does not mention the Chronicon Laurissense breve which was the source for the Annals of Fulda (the reference is in Bullough's biography).

The edition and translation are heavily annotated, and Mme Veyrard-Cosme has provided a truly excellent set of scriptural passages which influenced the author. She demonstrates how far the work is a product of a prolonged rumination on the Bible. In addition to references to the Rule of Benedict and to Gregory's Dialogues, discussed in one of her chapters, she has references to Sulpicius Severus's works on Martin of Tours. It is a pity that she did not know of the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England (PASE) database, which includes Alcuin's York students, or of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: both more recent and more detailed than the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England which she used as a reference.

Veyrard-Cosme does not always use the best editions of the texts she cites. The lives of Benedict of Aniane and of John of Réomé by Jonas of Bobbio are cited from the Patrologia and not the MGH editions. Amalarius is cited from the Patrologia and not the Hanssens edition (Studi e Testi 138-40; Vatican City, 1948-50). Zimpel's ediciton of Hrabanus de clericorum institutione and McCulloch's edition of Hrabanus's Martyrologium are in the bibliography, but she used the Patrologia, and for Cuthbert's letter on the death of Bede she refers to the 1848 edition by Giles (158) though she cites the Colgrave and Mynors edition (237-238).

Minor errors display carelessness: "l'historien allemand Walter Berschin" was Professor of Medieval Latin Philology. On p. 49 we are told that Bullough discusses the Vita Alcuini on pages 21-22 of his Alcuin, but that discussion continues on pp. 27-30. Boniface did not play a role in the diffusion of Gregory's Regula Pastoralis and his Homilies (81). The Vita Eligii is not an eleventh-century text (131): it can be found in a ninth century manuscript, Brussels BR 5374-75. On p. 271 Alcuin's students Ragnardus and Waldramnus are said not to be in any MGH volume, but on p. 61 they are identified in the list of monks of Tours in the St Gall confraternity book, poorly edited for the MGH by Paul Piper in 1894. The MGH edition of the Vita Eligii was published in 1902, not 1841. The Annales Fuldenses and the Annales Regni Francorum were edited for the MGH by Friedrich Kurze and not by Pertz. Cuthbert was buried with the Gospel of John, not the Prologue to John (158). Alcuin's York poem is in Reims BM 426 and not in Paris BN Lat 9347as Veyrard-Cosme asserts (177). The account of Virgil cited from the "manuel de Reichenau" (a schoolbook in Irish script) on p. 171 is not a gloss but a quotation from Augustine's De Civitate Dei1.3 included in a life of Vergil.

This volume provides a fine edition and translation of the Vita Alcuini, with a fine investigation of the scriptural and literary references in the text, but at times it seems to have gone to the publisher before a final revision.

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