Skip to content
IUScholarWorks Journals
22.03.23 Baker et al. (eds.), Traire de latin

22.03.23 Baker et al. (eds.), Traire de latin

Over the last twenty years or so many collections have appeared that deal with the reception of Ovid in the Middle Ages, many of them mentioned in the volume under review, which features fourteen essays by a group of scholars connected in many ways through research projects funded by various European entities. This type of intense collaboration is unfortunately much more difficult in the United States where these kinds of often state-funded international projects--essential for wide ranging efforts such as the complete listing of medieval manuscripts of Ovid’s Metamorphoses at the University of Huerta in Spain (see web information on 266n.26) or the OEF (Ovide en français) project several contributors to the volume belong to--are all but impossible to mount and sustain. The fourteen essays use different approaches and range in length from a few pages to over forty. Most of them do not offer systematic translations of quotes, so unless you have a good reading knowledge of Latin, Old and Middle French, Catalan, Italian, and modern French you may not be able to follow the often-intricate arguments presented in these essays. Philology and codicology are the main tools here; the theoretical concerns that inform so much of recent American medievalists’ work are absent. The essays for the most part display an impressive erudition to which my summaries cannot do justice.

The first part titled “Apprivoiser Ovide” (Taming Ovid) opens with Lisa Ciccone’s examination of manuscript Vatican lat. 1479 which contains a commentary on the Metamorphoses from the first half of the fourteenth century and which Ciccone is currently editing. Extremely long notes on the first few pages list just about every work that has dealt with Ovid in the Middle Ages over the last century or so. Because many of these works are again listed in other contributions, resulting again in enormous footnotes, it might have been better to have short titles only and offer a bibliography at the end of the volume. Vatican lat. 1479 strives to interpret the Metamorphoses on the four traditional levels of the literal, the historical, the allegorical, and the moral. Ciccone focuses on the functioning of the exegetical system of the commentary, showing that it uses the glosses of Arnulf of Orléans and John of Garland, as well as some anonymous ones which are in dialogue with the Ovidian text and even take center stage in the manuscript layout (an illustration would have been useful here). Key words often lead from text to the glosses, many of which are etymological with information drawn from Isidore of Seville and Huguccio of Pisa. Hypertechnical pages take us through a series of scribal errors. The author then touches on the commentary’s purpose as a source for preaching and finally analyzes briefly the author’s stance toward truth and falsehood, myth and allegory. Alessandro Lagioia (in one of two articles written in English) treats “sensitive topics” (such as rape, incest, and pederasty) and censorship in the same manuscript. But the author never defines what he means by censorship. Who would have been the censor? What was actually censored? He analyzes the two different approaches he sees in the commentaries to Ovid: the allegorical one that interprets away sexual transgressions, and the objective/rationalizing one that presents transgressive behaviors but assures readers of God’s forgiveness for them. It would have been useful to place their transgressions into the context of medieval canon, natural, and criminal law illustrating the risks of presenting such topics. As it is, the article comes to the rather weak conclusion that “the interpretation is in accord with the ideas of the times” (53), but without having given us a clear sense of what the attitude of these times was toward the “sensitive topics” of his title. An appendix provides editions from Vatican lat. 1479 of several of the myths Lagioia deals with. Gioia Paradisi analyzes an anonymous thirteenth-century French prose translation of Ovid’s Ars amatoria, composed and glossed by two different authors. In several well-designed tables Paradisi presents the different functions of the glosses, such as supplying paraphrases and explanations; proverbs and lyrical excerpts offering advice on love; and erudite information on ancient history. In part two the focus is on the myths of Byblis and of Daedalus and Pasiphae, the latter supplemented with material from the Metamorphoses, painting a misogynistic portrait of women’s nature. Francesco Montorsi considers the attitude towards pagan rituals in the fourteenth-century translation of the Metamorphoses, the 72,000-line verse Ovide moralisé, by analyzing the translator’s lexical choices and textual modifications. Montorsi points out that, while the vocabulary of military arts saw a continuity between antiquity and the Middle Ages, that of religious practices did not. Thus, the medieval poet, an anonymous Franciscan, often struggled with scenes of pagan sacrifices: he cut some and heaped blame on others, but on the whole showed little interest in them and did not allegorize them. In the Vulgate Commentary we find a different attitude, a more antiquarian one supplying explanations for such Roman habits as eating while stretched out on couches. In only one case, concerning the definition of the liver versus veins, do we find an influence of the commentary on the Ovide moralisé(96).

Part two “Quel Ovide?” (Which Ovid?) opens with Laura Endress’ search for the manuscript that may have served as the basis for the Metamorphoses translation found in the Ovide moralisé. More than 500 Latin manuscripts of this poem and some fragments have been inventoried so far at the University of Huerta. Endress’ fine-grained and lengthy technical analysis offers many pages of detailed studies of variants of specific words that she traces through a total of forty-seven manuscripts of the Vulgate commentary and Arnulf of Orléans’ glosses, as well as anonymous and composite commentaries and paratexts. Six tabulated appendices offer lists of variants. While Endress cannot identify the exact model, she can narrow it down to a group of manuscripts. But the goal of learning more about the “contexte de genèse de l’Ovide moralisé” (119) still eludes us. Gemma Pellissa Prades takes a two-pronged approach in her article on “Innovation, Auctoritas, and Tradition in the Medieval Versions of the Metamorphoses.” She considers the Ovide moralisé and several Italian translations (Simentendi, del Virgilio, and Bonsignori), all from the fourteenth century, and then zeroes in on the Transformacions, the 1472-1482 Catalan translation by Francesc Alegre. In part one, six mythological examples are test cases for supposed vernacular innovations that in fact originate in earlier Latin glosses. In an extremely intricate analysis, she shows for example that Ovid’s cat in the story of Diana (Met. 5.330) becomes a doe in various Latin glosses prior to del Virgilio’s 1322-1323 translation. Alegre, about whom we learn some biographical details only in the next article, called on Boccaccio’s Genealogia deorum and a support group of interpreters (such as Macrobius, Pliny the Elder, Pomponius Mela, and many more--all dispatched by Virgil) for help with the construction of his Al·legories. But Alegre, using Bonsignori and del Virgilio as helpers for his translation from Ovid’s Latin, also adds to Boccaccio’s text and reveals himself as “an author in his own right who plays a creative role” (148). In the volume’s longest article (45 pages) Irene Reginato uses the myth of Actaeon to examine Alegre’s sources and original contributions. Triangulating the French Middle Ages, the Italian Renaissance, and Catalan humanism, the author builds on Prades’ conclusion that the Ovide moralisé had no influence on the Catalan translation, while Alegre made ample use of the Italian translations, which is demonstrated on many, many pages by comparisons of examples in Ovid, the Italian texts, and Alegre’s as-yet unedited translation. A stylistic analysis, questions regarding the influence of Leonardo Bruni, the observation that Alegre created a new genre, that of the “ficción sentimental” (182), and an edition of Alegre’s version of the Actaeon myth close the article.

In Part three “Les translations vernaculaires dans l’histoire” (The vernacular translations in history) Prunelle Deleville studies the Z family of four Ovide moralisé manuscripts to show that one group was copied without the moralizing allegories and the other with. Problematically, Deleville misidentifies one of her major manuscripts, Z2, as Bibliothèque nationale de France français 874 instead of 374 (197n.2, the only identification provided). Although this is undoubtedly a typo, it means that throughout readers have the impression of dealing with an early sixteenth-century manuscript that also contains an Ovidian text, namely the translation of Ovid’s Heroides by Octavien de Saint-Gelais. Most authors in this volume do not pay much attention to who may have owned or commissioned a given manuscript, so Deleville’s remarks on the manuscript Z2’s first owner Louis Périer are most welcome. Apparently, Périer had a predilection for historical and allegorical texts and therefore owned the version of the Ovide moralisé that featured the spiritual allegories omitted in two members of the Z family. More generally, the author concludes that the presence or absence of allegorical interpretations in fifteenth-century texts was often determined by the “horizon d’attente” (208) of the people who commissioned them. Elisa Guadagnini provides an overview of Ovidian textsin the medieval Italian tradition. She surveys their use as a source for brief mentions or quotes or as a base for full translations, such as the anonymous translations of the Ars amatoria, the Remedia, and the Heroides. She also considers the translation of the Metamorphoses by Simentendi and Bonsignori who used the Expositio of del Virgilio after Met. 1.625, choosing to emphasize the allegorical framework. Cosimo Burgassi offers a lexical study of the term Chaos as found in Met. 1.7. The different meanings of “abyss” and “confusion” demonstrate that in glosses there is a bifurcation between the Ovidian meaning of confusion and the Greek (based on Hesiod) and biblical meaning of chasm, gulf, or abyss. In the Italian tradition we find both meanings, including the learned term “caos,” a learned lexical reacquisition in Bonsignori’s 1375 translation (248) with a different meaning than Dante’s use in Inferno 12.43. By the sixteenth century the term is used in a political sense, denoting conflict, disorder, and violence.

In Part four “Les formes qui muées furent/en nouviaus cors” (The forms that were changed into new bodies), Mattia Cavagna’s substantial article focuses on the fragmenting of Ovid’s texts in florilegia and encyclopedias, specifically the anonymous twelfth-century Florilegium Gallicum, one of ninety-four known manuscripts of Ovidian florilegia (266), and the famous thirteenth-century Speculum historiale by Vincent of Beauvais. Both genres offer excerpts and sometimes draw upon each other. The first provided stock phrases for teaching, preaching, and literary texts, while the second employed Ovidian excerpts in contexts such as natural history or magic. Cavagna’s in-depth study, with great attention to individual manuscripts presented in several synoptic tables, considers Ovidian excerpts mostly from book 7 of the Metamorphoses and shows that the use of the text was always partial and usually completely estranged from the source text (289), whether fragmented in florilegia or used out of context in encyclopedias. Thibaut Radomme takes us into different territory with his study of satirical elements in the Ovide moralisé and some of this text’s Franco-Latin glosses, centered on the myth of Lycaon and rapacious wolves that exploit the “menue gent” (ordinary people, 295). Through a subtle analysis of the influence of satirists like Juvenal, the French poet Rutebeuf, and the Roman de la Rose Radomme shows that the anti-mendicant propaganda of the latter two is not maintained in the Ovide moralisé since it was composed by a Franciscan friar. Supported by biblical prophecies that are abundant in the glosses and which are often an effective tool of satire, the Ovide’s new target is the secular clergy instead. Marco Maggiore takes us back to Italy and Boccaccio’s Teseida as well as three vernacular commentaries. A detailed examination of Boccaccio’s glosses, his “auto-exégèse” (319), and those of Piero Andrea del Bassi, demonstrates that in the early fifteenth-century moralizations of Ovidian materials had fallen out of fashion, at least in Northern Italy. By contrast, they are still en vogue in the South as Maggiore’s analysis of the Scripta super Theseu re (edited by Maggiore in 2016) shows. Fed in part by Pierre Bersuire’s Ovidius moralizatus,this Salernitan author provides a thoroughly misogynistic interpretation of the incestuous Ovidian character of Myrrha, with Maggiore suggesting that the passage in question could provide precious material for gender studies (326)--as indeed it has, but one wouldn’t know it from this article or from anywhere else in this volume, which as I indicated above, is devoid of any theoretical approaches such as gender studies. Chloe McCarthy’s excellent comparison of the Ovide moralisé and the Roman de la Rose moralisé by the Burgundian chronicler Jean Molinet closes the volume. Molinet’s prose version of the Rose from around 1500 is divided into 107 chapters, each containing a moralization with a “sens mystique” (329). Here, the Lover’s quest is also for a rose, but this rose is God. McCarthy uses ten Ovidian fables as test cases and shows how the layout and paratexts of both works influence our reading of the moralizations. Molinet gives us the moral meaning of a given myth before telling it, while the Ovide moralisé for the most part first tells the whole fable and then leads into the moralization with some introductory formula. And unlike the Ovide moralisé poet, Molinet does not pile one interpretation upon another but mostly limits himself to one, which is original to him, and is not always spiritual but could also be natural or euhemeristic. Interestingly, Molinet’s text opens itself to contemporary history and politics by referring to the assassination of Louis of Bourbon by William de la Marck, the “Sanglier des Ardennes” (351), in 1482. After a fine-grained and extensive analysis, McCarthy concludes that no influence of the Ovide moralisé on Molinet’s Rose can be detected.

On the whole this is an extremely learned but uneven volume. None of the authors show any interest in manuscript illustrations which often provide important interpretive clues. The lack of translations for most passages in Latin, Catalan, Old and Middle French, or medieval Italian will be problematic for many readers. In several articles vast amounts of documentation lead to very limited conclusions, showing us the mechanics of scaffolding more than the finished building. At the same time, the copious textual materials offered in this volume will enable other scholars to build on some of the results obtained here. For me, one of the positive aspects of the book was being made aware of all the teamwork that is going on in Europe around Ovid’s survival in the Middle Ages. Many web resources are now available that save scholars from having to reinvent the wheel for every project. The scholars represented here generously shared their knowledge and their resources.