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22.01.19 Wetherbee (trans.), Johannes de Hauvilla, Architrenius

22.01.19 Wetherbee (trans.), Johannes de Hauvilla, Architrenius

Winthrop Wetherbee’s translation of Johannes de Hauvilla’s Architrenius marks the third volume of twelfth-century poetry that he has published in Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series, following Alain of Lille’s Literary Works (vol. 22, 2013) and Bernardus Silvestris’ Poetic Works (vol. 38, 2015; reviewed by Winston Black: That these three authors are joined in this way is hardly surprising as they are often discussed in comparison to one another, taken as significant examples of the learned school-poetry of the twelfth century, and even evince some similarities in terms of style and subject matter. With these translations, Wetherbee, one of the great scholars of medieval Latin literature, has made readily available to current and future scholars not only highly readable translations but has also shared his tremendous expertise and erudition about these texts in an easily accessible format. This is particularly the case for Architrenius, which, as he remarks in the conclusion to his Introduction, he has “been wrestling with for fifty years” (xxiii).

Architrenius is a difficult text: pedantic, cumbersome, and excessive. In his review of Wetherbee’s first translation of the poem published in 1994 by Cambridge University Press, A. G. Rigg remarked that “The Latin is often very hard: the syntax is complex and the expression very compressed (ornatus difficulis), needing laborious exposition in English.” [1] Petrarch did not particularly care for the poem, describing it as “tedious and inept” (xxii), but nevertheless seems to have been influenced by it (xxvi, n. 49). Perhaps this negative judgement of Johannes de Hauvilla’s style and the composition itself could be summed up best in the words of Charles Homer Haskins who described it as “more thoroughly mediaeval” than the Anticlaudianus of Alain of Lille. [2] Nevertheless, it remained popular, surviving in “twenty-six known manuscripts” (470) and was printed in 1517 by the famous Parisian printer Jodocus Badius Ascensius (469).

Johannes de Hauvilla, a teacher in the cathedral school of Rouen, composed the poem in 1184 (vii). It recounts the journey of Architrenius, the “Arch-weeper,” who is shocked and despondent to learn that his life is dominated by vice. He determines that this is the fault of Nature and embarks on a journey to find and confront her. This occurs in the nine books of the poem comprising 4000 lines of Latin verse, which Haskins described as “a long dirge upon the evils of the world.” [3] Along the way he describes the excesses of the wealthy and privileged; encounters the personification of the vices; listens to the speeches of many philosophers, including Plato, Cicero, Boethius, and Pythagoras; meets Nature who explains to him the order of the cosmos; and finally takes a wife, Moderation, who will keep him safe from vice. This is a rather unsatisfying, practical, conclusion to what one might have thought would have been a more theoretical (philosophical) or even theological problem and seems to contradict the biting satire with which he describes the overindulgence and abuse present in his contemporary society. In the brief Introduction to the poem, which considers its contents, its author, its major themes, its structure, its sources, and its legacy, Wetherbee sketches the lines of the scholarly debate concerning the poem’s interpretation. He concludes: “In the end, I abandon the search for a coherent reading of the Architrenius and see the poem instead as it presents itself to its hero: a collection of vivid tableaux framed by the eloquence of the poet, the philosophers, and Architrenius himself, concluding with his passive participation in the pageant of the wedding feast” (xvi).

It would seem then that the popularity of the poem therefore derived precisely from the difficult style criticized by Rigg (and Petrarch). Indeed, Johannes crafts images and passages of striking complexity and even beauty. One could choose many examples, but here I will draw attention to the description of dawn in Book III chapter 10 after the poor scholar has fallen asleep because he failed to stay awake while studying. “Ecce sopor, Phoebo vigili cessurus, ocellis / philosophi cedit, somno nutantibus astris / iam vigilante die, stellis citus insilit hospes, / hospite mutato. Miser ecce excitur ocellus, / Luciferi clamante tuba...” (144.227-231). Wetherbee renders this into English as: “Lo, sleep, giving way to wakeful Phoebus, withdraws from / the philosopher’s eyes, while the stars nod off to sleep as the / day awakens, and the swift traveler, leaving his place of rest, / leaps forth among the stars. Lo, an unhappy eye is jarred / open by Lucifer’s clamorous horn” (145.227-231). Many can no doubt sympathize with the image of being unwillingly pulled from long-deferred rest.

As mentioned above, this is the second translation that Wetherbee has made of Architrenius. As was true in that volume, he has used and reprinted the Latin text from the critical edition by Paul Gerhard Schmidt. [4] Wetherbee describes his use of Schmidt as “standing on the shoulder of a giant” (xxiii) and so he has found it hardly necessary to alter the text. The few instances in which he did make a change are listed in the “Notes to the Text” (471). Of these eight corrections, only four of them indicate Wetherbee’s emendations. Since these are cited by Book and line number, with no corresponding indication in the main text, they will probably be overlooked by most readers.

The other four instances of a corrective reading against the edition of Schmidt are from Milena Minkova who in 2012 published “Some Textual Suggestions on ‘Architrenius’ by Johannes de Hauvilla.” [5] In addition to his own improvements to his translation, Wetherbee drew from, or at least responded to, the suggestions made by Rigg, Minkova, and Antonio Placanica, who published a review in 1999 of Wetherbee’s first translation. [6] These criticisms or corrections are cited in his informative and indispensable “Notes to the Translation” in which he explains many of the figures and images in the poem, especially those drawn from classical antiquity. For example, again in Book III’s description of the starving student, Wetherbee states in his Notes (487) that Minkova had proposed substituting unguibus for ignibus (134.131), which would indicate that the young scholar was drawing blood on his face from his fingernails in an act of anxiety rather than his face reddening from being too close to the candle while trying to read at night. Wetherbee dismisses this correction because the variant reading is found in only one (later) manuscript, keeps the reading as printed in Schmidt’s edition, and translates the text in the same way as he had in 1994. By contrast, nine lines later Minkova suggested a correction to Wetherbee’s translation of segnior occursus as “imperfect understanding,” because the phrase refers to the lack of motion characteristic of the “fixed” stars and not their comprehension by the observer. [7] In this instance, Wetherbee clearly accepted Minkova’s criticism and rendered the phrase as “their slower advance” (137.139) in his translation.

Wetherbee does an admirable and noble service in his notes, printed as endnotes, which clearly reflect his deep understanding of the text, the culture that produced it, and the sources upon which it derives. This will be an inestimable help to the reader, especially considering that Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series, which does a wonderful job producing handsome volumes of important and interesting texts, has as its intended audience not just scholars but also the informed general reader. This is a laudable goal but it means that information that one might want, such as bibliographic references to the more direct sources that Johannes de Hauvilla incorporates, paraphrases, or quotes, which are typical of a critical edition, are often not included because of the necessities of space and format. Wetherbee, however, strives to overcome this limitation, even including some information that is present in the glosses to the poem in certain manuscripts, referring to them by their sigla as in Schmidt’s edition. Unfortunately, when he cited two of the manuscripts in the Vatican Library, he forgot to include the specific collection to which these manuscripts belong (470). These are: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, and BAV,

Winthrop Wetherbee has done heroic labor in translating Architrenius and making it accessible to so many readers, not only those who do not know Latin but also those who are “somewhat competent in the language,” as A. G. Rigg put it nearly twenty-five years ago. There can be no doubt that this volume will be the place to begin for those interested in the popular and influential Architrenius by Johannes de Hauvilla.



1. W. Wetherbee (trans.), Johannes de Hauvilla, Architrenius (Cambridge Medieval Classics 3; Cambridge 1994); Rigg’s review appears in Speculum 72.2 (1997): 497-498.

2. C. H. Haskins, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (Cambridge, MA 1927), 166.

3. Idem, Ibid.

4. Iohannes de Hauvilla, Architrenius, ed. P.G. Schmidt (München 1974).

5. Filologia mediolatina 19 (2012): 375-393.

6. Studi medievali 40 (1999): 739-754.

7. Minkova, “Some Textual Suggestions”, 384.