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22.04.19 Turner/Debiais (eds.), Words in the Middle Ages

22.04.19 Turner/Debiais (eds.), Words in the Middle Ages

Collecting fourteen contributions from various fields and approaches to lexis in medieval studies, Words in the Middle Ages arises from a 2016 colloquium in Paris. Contributors, as the editors note in the brief introduction, cover a broad range of disciplinary perspectives and research objects, beholding words in their paleographical, epigraphic, codicological, archaeological, intellectual-historical, and ontological contexts. While the studies do not venture often to the peripheries of the medieval European world, the geographical range covers most of Germanic and Romance Europe and the chronological span, narrow in some and sweeping in others, is collectively long. The resulting volume manages to overcome most of the challenges such breadth can pose and, depending on the disciplinary interests of the reader, will likely provide suggestive and useful connections between words, objects, and disciplinary perspectives for a wide audience. Three chapters are written in French and the remainder in English.

The first four chapters address words according to their graphic, codicological, and paleographic properties. Adrian Papahagi, “Words with Masks: A Note on the Nomenclature of Some Late Medieval Initials” (5-20), illuminates the confused state of codicological vocabulary surrounding a type of initial found in late medieval manuscripts and incunabula, primarily in musical manuscripts, and suggests a broader term. Dominique Stutzmann, “Words as Graphic and Linguistic Structures: Word Spacing in Psalm 101 Domine exaudi orationem meam (Eleventh-Fifteenth Centuries)” (21-59), investigates the spatial dimensions of handwriting in Latin over time, revealing through a corpus-based, electronic analysis of space (in pixels) that grammatical categories and meanings may influence spacing and that spacing is not binary. Anne Rauner, “Managing a Living Book: The Planning and the Use of Page Surface in Parish Obituaries in the Late Medieval Diocese of Strasbourg” (61-88), details the size, structure, rubrication, and usage (e.g., pre-planned layouts versus running entries) in necrologies and obituary texts, as well as the changing codicological and scribal circumstances of preserving information about the departed over time. These three essays, particularly the first two, provide extensive figures and data after the text. Arthur Westwell, “Correction of Liturgical Words, and Words of Liturgical Correctio in the Ordines Romani of Saint Amand” (89-107), shows scribal adaptations in a series of liturgical texts to belong to a set of concerns situated in space and time that cannot be subsumed under a hegemonic rubric of Carolingian correctio.

Moving to historical semantics, Jennifer M. Feltman, “Aligning Word and Deed: The Emergence of Confessor as a Priest Who Hears Confession” (109-30), traces the development of three senses of Latin confessor through to the eventual dominance of the titular sense, which seems to have incorporated earlier senses in a matrix of human and divine verba. A series of essays on literature follow, including Lucas Wood, “The Origin of the Text and the Authority of the Word in Robert de Boron’s Joseph d’Arimathie” (131-44), who examines the high medieval development of a notion of “authoritative” and true historical text outside of--and as a means of comparison to--gospel texts. Morgan Boharski, “Kisses on Stitches: Words of Active Fetishisation of Cloth Bodies in Old French Romance” (145-59), explores the semantic field of touch-based romantic vocabulary applied to “cloth(ed) bodies” as a means of navigating courtly love. Liam Lewis, “Quacktrap: Glosses and Multilingual Animal Contact in the Tretiz of Walter of Bibbesworth” (161-79), discusses a thirteenth-century list of imitative animal sounds glossed in English and French as part of a treatise on estate management, revealing one interpretative process of determining similarities and differences in cross-linguistic onomatopoeia and the human/animal divide.

Inscriptions and epigraphy motivate the rest of the contributions. Morgane Uberti, “Un règne sans roi: Le non-dit du temps dans quelques inscriptions de la Gaule du haut Moyen Âge” (181-208), ponders a series of early medieval regnal inscriptions unattached to the names of sovereigns as lacunar signification, a “non-writing” or ellipsis with syntactic and semantic ramifications. Estelle Ingrand-Varenne, “Nommer, couper, incorporer: Quand le nom rencontre le corps de l’image” (209-28), studies inscribed names with caesurae in medieval images, arguing for a didactic reading of the pictorial splitting of names that grants them iconicity in the Christian sense. Katja Airaksinen-Monier, “Mirror Writing in Devotional Texts and Images” (229-51), examines a fifteenth-century Dutch prayer book from Utrecht with backwards text and explores the phenomenon of mirrored writing in depictions of the Annunciation from perspectives of paleography (as well as the physiology of left- and right-handed reverse inscription), patronage, and devotional culture in the Renaissance. Caroline Schärli, “Encircling Inscriptions in Early Byzantine and Carolingian Sacral Buildings” (253-84), compares four examples of monumental encircling inscriptions and concludes that the churches in which they appear may reference the architectonic and spiritual significance of the Dome of the Rock as an image of Solomon’s Temple, listing also various shared characteristics of encircling inscriptions. Francisco de Asís García García, “Épigraphie et création artistique à l’époque romane: Le paysage monumental du Haut-Aragon autour de 1100” (285-306), charts the influence of Gregorian reforms on regional Romanesque ecclesiastical architecture in the form of inscriptions and the relationship between text and image in sacred space. Finally, Jörg Widmaier, “Between Written and Spoken Words: The Use and Function of Inscriptions on Medieval Baptismal Fonts” (307-28), investigates the liturgical functions, motivations, and forms of inscribed baptismal fonts, primarily in German-speaking Europe, from the perspective of conceptual blending and mediation before--as design and execution--and during the sacrament of Baptism.

The ubiquity of the phrase “uneven” in reviews of collected volumes possibly reflects more the sheer quantity of publications in recent decades than it does an overall decline, but Words in the Middle Ages thankfully resists this designation in terms of quality. While a few chapters remain rather underdeveloped, i.e., at the stage of the revised but not significantly expanded presentation, none are superfluous, and this criticism reflects only the desire for more engagement with stimulating materials. Tantalizingly related but avoiding full coherence (e.g., the first four and final five chapters alone would have formed a sound and consistent volume), the essays nevertheless suggest numerous points of connection between material objects and words in their various linguistic and graphic properties.