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21.02.13 Hadavas, Songs from the Carmina Burana

The Medieval Review

21.02.13 Hadavas, Songs from the Carmina Burana


As Constantine Hadavas explains in his Preface, this volume is intended for those with at least an intermediate knowledge of Latin. While much of the vocabulary is translated in the apparatus, an understanding of Latin grammar is required for reading and appreciation of the poetry. Selections included cover three of the four genres found in the Carmina Burana: satire and morality, love and nature, and tavern songs. Grammatical and linguistic features of the edition are explained clearly and in useful detail.

Further introductory material provides useful context for readers. For those coming to the book with a background in Classical Latin, a two-and-a-half-page overview of medieval Latin helps to situate the language and its evolution. The provenance and history of the Carmina Burana manuscript (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibiothek, Clm 4660/4660a) is covered, along with an overview of its contents, concluding with an explanation of its four generic categories and fragmentary texts.

The introductory material also contains brief paragraphs on each of the poems chosen for the edition, identified by both CB number and the number designated for each poem in the volume, although the latter number may seem superfluous, given the accepted and easily recognized CB numbering tradition. Following this section is a brief discussion--just over a page--of Carl Orff’s musical setting of selections from the Carmina Burana and some of its subsequent uses and adaptations. A substantial and detailed explanation of rhetorical, literary, and grammatical terms and a list of abbreviations used in the edition round out the introductory section.

Each of the twenty poems included is presented with the text on the verso page with notes below and vocabulary and translations on the recto page opposite. The verse is numbered every five lines to aid navigation and locate glosses, although the vocabulary items do not have line numbers. The textual notes for each section identify the meter and, where known or posited, the author, while a third detail for each is a summarizing tag line, sometimes witty, as in the nod to ABBA for the first selection, CB 11: “Money, money, always sunny, in the rich man’s world” (2). When space permits, Hadavas includes further discussion of certain poems’ sources, reception by readers, and varying scholarly interpretations in boxed sidebars.

As a tool for language learning and literary study, this volume is thoughtfully laid out. Readers can find translations and syntactic notes for terms unfamiliar to them without turning away from the poem and can learn more about certain passages and their interpretations. Those looking for a fuller overview of each selection will need to turn back to the introductory portion of the volume.

The typesetting is almost error-free, outside of the misspelling of backgammon on page xiv, “Sam Gimignano” for San Gimignano on page 80, and occasional missing punctuation. Some notes include multiple parenthetical digressions that some readers might find confusing: for example, the summary of CB 211 explains, “The only problem (if it is a problem--the text seems somewhat [intentionally?] ambiguous on this point) is that Stomach itself believes such excessive ingestion of food and alcohol is deleterious to sleeping and resting in peace” (xix). Another aspect that some readers may find challenging is the explicit mention of sex acts and sometimes assault accompanying some of the poems.

This handy and affordable volume will be useful for students of medieval Latin and those wishing to expand their knowledge from Classical to medieval texts. It will also be appreciated by those who are looking to expand their knowledge of secular Latin poetry of the European Middle Ages. Finally, the popularity of Orff’s musical setting of parts of the Carmina Burana may make this edition of some of its Latin selections of interest to choral directors, singers and instrumentalists, and musicologists. Hadavas should be commended for creating a tool for a range of readers that is both accessible and scholarly.