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22.04.23 Hanna, Malachy the Irishman, On Poison

22.04.23 Hanna, Malachy the Irishman, On Poison

Who but that great and indefatigable rummager through manuscripts, Ralph Hanna, would have the eye to see that the relatively unknown De veneno needed a modern edition, let alone a translation? While he does acknowledge that Richard Newhauser and Richard Sharpe also were aware of that need, it is he who has carried out the project with his usual erudition, thoroughness, seasoned judgment, and flair, developed over his decades of editing Middle English and Latin texts. He makes the case for an edition on two related grounds: the large number of extant manuscripts (115, with 23 attested to, in addition) and its representativeness. De veneno, he argues, popularized learned theological and scientific material for preachers and, thus, for the auditors (and readers) of their sermons. Moreover, Malachy’s method of presenting the vices as poisons injected by animals and then of prescribing remedies (the virtues) exemplifies neatly the pastoral technique of arousing detestation for sins through vivid metaphors of threats to the body and of bodily decay. Hanna has recently examined how pastoral metaphors work in the treatises of John of Wales and in Piers Plowman, where the poet, he argues here, borrowed some of Malachy’s material. He might also mention, as a reason to edit De veneno, its length, 1653 lines in his edited text, a tad more manageable than Guillelmus Peraldus’s Summa de vitiis, which, at roughly 250,000 words, is taking a team of Newhauser, Siegfried Wenzel, Bridget Balint, and me to edit. De veneno is, indeed, a handbook, often found as a pamphlet within manuscripts.

“Who was Malachy of Ireland?” most readers of the Review are bound to ask. For all his sleuthing and that of earlier scholars, Hanna has only been able to conclude that he was likely a Franciscan active after the middle of the thirteenth century. One of Hanna’s discoveries, primed by his early project editing the translations of John Trevisa, is that Malachy’s language ties his natural lore to De proprietatibus rerum, that massive compilation of the earlier Franciscan, Bartholomew the Englishman. Hanna also alerts us to Malachy’s occasional practice of tying sins and virtues to specifically Irish social conditions, like the habit of Irish thieves to lavish hospitality on others with their stolen goods, rather than to hold on to all of them.

Readers of TMR are also likely to wonder, given the number of manuscripts, how Hanna made his basic editorial choices. That was no small matter, and he presents the textual evidence, his analysis, and his reasoning with characteristic fullness and explicitness. Six manuscripts from before 1350, all likely insular productions, are described; a stemma of three groups is constructed; all six are then posited as fourth-generation (at least) manuscripts. Hanna’s study and edition offers us a “full report” of the textual transmission of the six, plus the single printed edition (Paris: Étienne, 1518), which the printer based on a later manuscript in one of the three lines of transmission. Since Malachy compiled a treatise on the vices and remedial virtues to be mined by preachers, users who produced the manuscripts not only varied grammar, syntax, and forms of citation but also added, as so often with pastoralia, what they deemed useful or interesting related material, and excised what they did not care for. Moreover, all six early manuscripts, Hanna demonstrates, have variations both “compelling--and disastrous” (33), due to scribal error or preference and a host of other reasons. So, instead of choosing a copy text from among them, Hanna settles on editing from the printed text. The print, he has discovered, requires little emendation, roughly what the prime candidate among the manuscripts, preserved among the sermons and preaching materials of the Franciscan William Herebert, would require. In this, Hanna follows the principle he set out in Editing Medieval Manuscripts (2015): an editor should choose “a ‘good(ish)’ copy, one generally accurate and requiring a relatively minimal amount of correction” (31). Discarding routine variations, he records at the bottom of the page all the significant variants of all seven witnesses, adjudicating between them often on the basis of Malachy’s quotations from works like De proprietatibus or Gregory the Great’s Moralia. (He assumes Malachy would have taken pains to copy from originalia as accurately as he could.) Then he explains that he will be able to sort out the likely additions to Malachy’s authorial text in the print by using his own sense of Malachy’s practices as a writer, placing them, too, at the bottom of the page or, if long, in an appendix. Such a practice invites readers to judge for themselves the validity of each excision. In short, Hanna has worked out a “hypothetical” authorial text of De veneno based on the print version that he has corrected and carefully pruned, with an extensive apparatus that sets forth the variations between the seven witnesses.

In setting forth his main choices between variants and in justifying his sense of what material is interpolated, Hanna’s editorial notes give us a hoard of codicological and paleographic lore. He tells us, for example, that the location of the writing board or desk beneath the vertical reading stand can cause mechanical errors in copying from an exemplar, like omitting a line because the eye returns to the page at an ending similar to that of the word last copied, but further in the text. He reminds us of what may generate untenable variants, like the scribal practice of joining prepositions to objects, as well as the more common sources of error, like attraction to similar words and misconstrual of abbreviations. In the following section, he identifies the great majority of Malachy’s sources, explaining at times how errors in copying material arose. Finally, his edition indexes these sources, first biblical references and then other fontes, with a list of Malachy’s citations from each one. A third index (in Latin) of Malachy’s similitudes derived from nature closes off the edition.

Hanna’s translation is invariably interesting and readable--the latter no small feat given the often-clunky Latin connectives and syntax. He attains fluency by not adhering slavishly to the syntax and by rendering formulaic insertions idiomatically (Hec ille, referring to a quotation, as “So he says”). He is unafraid of drawing on a capacious reservoir of English, from Latin-derived words (“malice” for malitia) to the colloquial (“piss”). The translation frequently has a pleasing exactitude: the verb for how wrath affects the image of God in a person, uiciatur, is given as “is dissipated,” instead of “is corrupted” or “is damaged,” a choice that conveys a continuous process that may end in total loss, but need not (98 and 99). Sometimes, however, Hanna drains out some of the force or particular significance of Latin words, apparently to create cohesion. In a section on the prudence of ants, he translates sollertia, as well as prudentia, as “prudence,” instead of “ingenuity” or “resourcefulness,” which seem to be suggested by the phrase instinctu naturalis sollertie (114 and 115). I imagine that he would like to retain all these senses of the Latin word, but was forced to make a hard choice in which the import of the whole passage prevailed.

De veneno, as Hanna has edited it, offers medievalists a good introduction to pastoral rhetoric on the vices and virtues. First of all, as Hanna declares in his introduction, the treatise presents a wealth of natural lore and metaphor rooted in the basic clerical assumption that animals provide a model for human conduct because of their common creator. The king of bees (yes, king) has no stinger, or if he has, nature denies him the power to attack others, signifying that judges and prelates should avoid wrath, which might lead to unduly harsh judgments on others. Beyond those similitudes, readers can find in De venenothe usual pastoral array of diverse moral authorities, like Seneca, Aristotle, and Augustine. It also ties sins in the usual way to certain statūs, like taking bribes to ecclesiastical lawyers or lying to flattering minstrels. Above all, it contains a wide range of pastoral commonplaces, including ones that may be surprising: that, for example, death entered the world because Eve, persuaded by the serpent, gluttonously ate the forbidden fruit before she felt natural appetite.

Perhaps the greatest gift a longtime editor and skilled Latinist can leave for less experienced successors is a reliable edition and accurate translation of an influential text that they may not have encountered and cannot read as fluently. Hanna has given his colleagues exactly that. And, one hopes, he is far from finished doing so.