18.05.12, Ashdown, Latin in Medieval Britain

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Robert Gallagher

The Medieval Review 18.05.12

Ashdown, Richard, and Carolinne White, eds. Latin in Medieval Britain. Proceedings of the British Academy 206. Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2017. pp. 380. ISBN: 978-0-19-726608-3 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Robert Gallagher
St Cross College, Oxford

Latin in Medieval Britain originates in a conference held in Oxford in December 2013 that was organised in order to celebrate the completion of the monumental Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources (DMLBS). This dictionary in its printed form stretches to seventeen volumes and--as the two editors of the present volume, Richard Ashdown and Carolinne White, stress--its origins can be traced all the way back to 1913. It is a resource, therefore, that has been a long time in the making and it is one that is now indispensable for anyone wishing to engage with the Latin literature of medieval Britain. The editors of this volume have taken the opportunity of this momentous achievement to publish what collectively serves as a powerful reminder of the size, diversity, richness, complexity and, indeed, importance of this corpus. This is encapsulated nicely in the extensive introduction, in which the two editors provide an excellent methodological and conceptual introduction to Medieval Latin from Britain, interrogating what might be meant by "medieval," "Latin" and "Britain," and placing the corpus within its multilingual historical context. The introduction also serves as a call to arms for greater engagement this material, noting its relative neglect compared to interest in contemporary vernaculars and in Latin from elsewhere in medieval Europe. Furthermore, perhaps most importantly, the editors rightfully stress that the sustained use of Latin in medieval Britain should not be taken for granted and that a move towards more holistic approaches--considering Latin in all its guises, shapes and contexts--is needed to understand fully the place of this language in the history of medieval Britain.

The remainder of the volume comprises fourteen chapters of varying size and focus by leading scholars from the fields of Celtic studies, diplomatic, history of science, linguistics, literary studies, musicology, and ecclesiastical, legal and political history. Twelve of these chapters derive from papers that were presented at the associated conference, while chapters by Leofranc Holford-Strevens and Carolinne White allow for greater representation respectively of music-related texts and of literature emanating specifically from ecclesiastical contexts. That the volume closely follows the model of the conference is underlined by the structure: as the editors state in their preface, the volume is divided into three parts in the same manner in which the conference was organised. Thus, Part I, which contains four chapters, examines uses of Latin in different time periods; Part II, also comprising four chapters, seeks to represent different functions for the employment of Latin; while the six chapters of Part III have been brought together because of their shared focus on the relationships between Latin and other contemporary languages. As is perhaps inevitable, some chapters appear to have undergone greater development from their conference-paper origins than others and indeed, some would have benefitted, for example, from more extensive citations of secondary literature. Overall, however, the quality is extremely high.

Turning to Part I, this opens with an overview by David Howlett, the former long-standing editor of the DMLBS, of "The Start of the Anglo-Latin Tradition." This is the only chapter dedicated exclusively to the earlier medieval period and it is somewhat disappointing, therefore, that this is one of the shortest chapters in the volume: it represents, as Howlett notes, the first part of a public lecture delivered the evening before the first full day of the conference; the remainder of this lecture comprises the final chapter of the volume (for more of which, see below). Within this chapter, Howlett sketches out a rough chronology for the early medieval corpus, peppering it with interesting observations about certain authors and texts and stressing the international and multilingual nature of literary activity, though this is by no means a comprehensive survey. This is followed by another short chapter, by Neil Wright, who offers a succinct but fascinating exploration of the classical intertextual allusions of two twelfth-century Anglo-Norman authors, William of Malmesbury and Joseph of Exeter. Wright's deep knowledge of Classical and Medieval Latin is a real joy to behold and is particularly valuable here in demonstrating the qualities of Joseph of Exeter's literature, which as Wright notes, deserves far greater critical attention than it has hitherto received. The final two chapters of Part I, respectively by Wendy Childs and Robert Swanson, together provide excellent, accessible overviews of uses of Latin in the later medieval period. Childs focuses on the "long fourteenth century" and includes case studies that nicely demonstrate the wide variety of functions, vocabulary and literary registers of Latin material from the period. Swanson's chapter, one of the highlights of the volume, then covers the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. In doing so, Swanson offers a discussion of the various dimensions to and variables of engagement with Latin literary culture that should be of interest to readers interested in multilingualism and Latinity in any historical context.

Part II begins with an engaging and accessible chapter by Paul Brand, who charts the development of Latin legal vocabulary distinct to English royal courts from the late twelfth century until around the year 1300, much of which emerged due to interaction between Anglo-Norman French and Latin. Further Latin vocabulary peculiar to English contexts and authors is highlighted in the following chapter with Leofranc Holford-Strevens' survey of Latin treatises on music theory composed by English and England-based authors from the mid twelfth to fifteenth centuries. Attention then moves in chapter eight away from one specific field of literature to one specific event, namely the murder of Thomas Becket, which Carolinne White uses effectively as a case study for demonstrating the richness of the Latin language and the diversity of Latin texts produced in ecclesiastical contexts in Britain in the late twelfth century and beyond. As well as being a good demonstration of the impact of the written word on the legacy of Becket's murder, White's discussion, much like the chapters by Childs and Swanson, would also be particularly valuable for students new to Medieval Latin who wish to get a sense of the range of surviving Latin material. In chapter nine, Charles Burnett then provides an introduction to Arabic words in scientific writings produced in Britain in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. It is particularly pleasing and interesting to see Arabic being brought into view here and, in doing so, Burnett offers a clear and useful methodology that could be applied to other linguistic contexts, dividing the evidence into five categories of assimilation: words retained in Arabic script; transliterated Arabic words separate from the main body of Latin syntax (e.g. marginalia); transliterated but not declined Arabic words within a body of Latin text; Arabic words declined as if Latin; and Arabic words imitated with a Latin calque.

With Part III attention turns first to the dynamics between Latin and the Welsh vernacular with a chapter by Paul Russell that examines three cases studies from the late twelfth and first half of the thirteenth centuries, namely Latin texts associated with the death of the Lord Rhys in 1197; Welsh translations of Latin texts; and Latin versions of Welsh laws. What emerges is a range of lexical and syntactic evidence to suggest influence moving in both directions between the two languages, as well as Latin intertextual allusions comparable with Wright's earlier discussion. This is then followed by Richard Sharpe's incisive survey of Latin words denoting certain offices and social ranks in eleventh- and twelfth-century England. The interface between Latin and a vernacular--this time, Old English--is again a significant aspect of discussion. Moreover, by looking at evidence across the Norman Conquest, Sharpe demonstrates the fundamental need to be sensitive to the precise ways in which individual authors, in their individual historically specific contexts, employed individual vocabulary. Laura Wright then moves us into the fourteenth-century trilingual world of the accounts of London's St Paul's Cathedral, which were composed in a Latin-matrix interspersed with unintegrated English and French vocabulary. Wright's careful analysis--accompanied by an extensive appendix¬--demonstrates the complexities of the evidence and raises the important question (which is often frustratingly difficult to answer with certainty) of how consciously such mixed-language systems were developed by those who employed them.

Part III continues with a chapter by the late David Trotter. Drawing on his expertise as the long-term chief editor of the second edition of the Anglo-Norman Dictionary, Trotter has contributed a fine chapter on the presence of words of Germanic origin in DMLBS. These Germanic words raise challenging etymological and semantic questions that demand comparative approaches, but should be celebrated since they are, as Trotter states, "at once part of a multilingual heritage in Medieval British Latin" (299). Further lexicographic expertise follows in chapter fourteen, collaboratively written by Philip Durkin and Samantha Schad of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The two authors provide an overview of the ways in which the DMLBS has assisted in the revision of the OED and has ultimately contributed to our understanding of English lexical history. As such, it serves as a testament to the power of academic collaboration--both between individuals and between projects. This leads on nicely to the final chapter, with which we return to David Howlett, who reflects on "Making the DMLBS." Here we are provided with an enjoyable overview of the development of the DMLBS, as well as personal reflections on editorial decisions made during the dictionary's compilation and, furthermore, on how the resource has informed Howlett's own perception of Medieval Latin from Britain.

These last three chapters are not alone in engaging directly with the DMLBS itself; in fact one of the greatest strengths of this collection is the way in which so many of the chapters do so. The evidence of specific Latin vocabulary lies at the heart of many of the contributions and the DMLBS is often cited as a resource in this research. Moreover, this engagement is not uncritical panegyric. In particular one might note here the prudent observations by Sharpe, a former assistant editor of the DMLBS, concerning the limitations of dictionaries as a resource for research, stressing that while they are useful guides, we must still go back to the texts and their specific authors and contexts to understand them accurately and fully. Elsewhere, for example, Russell opens his chapter by reminding us of the somewhat inconsistent division of material between the DMLBS and the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from Celtic Sources. The volume editors should be commended for honestly and willingly embracing such critiques, which help make this volume not just a fine advertisement for the riches of Medieval Latin from Britain, but also a valuable methodological and theoretical aid for researchers who want to utilise DMLBS more effectively.

Further praise is due in terms of the ways in which so many of the chapters seek to place their Latin evidence within a wider multilingual context. This is found not only in Part III, which is specifically dedicated to relations with various vernaculars, but is a theme that flows throughout the heart of the volume as a whole. These language dynamics ground the material in its specific historic setting and reflect the richness and complexity of the corpus.

Where further texture and alternative perspectives could be added most obviously is with more geographic and chronological diversity. As is often the case with edited volumes, coverage is somewhat uneven: most chapters are occupied with English material and most focus on the twelfth century or later. Early medievalists will be somewhat disappointed by this, as will those interested in Celtic-speaking areas. That said, in many other ways what is within this volume excellently demonstrates the breadth and value of the corpus of Medieval Latin from Britain. Individual contributions on the whole are exemplary and will be of great use to a wide readership, while the editorial standards of the volume are high. Although not exhaustive in its reach, this collection is a fine tribute both to the DMLBS and Medieval Latin studies more generally.

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