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23.02.11 Bruce (ed.), Litterarum dulces fructus

23.02.11 Bruce (ed.), Litterarum dulces fructus

“The sweet fruits of literature” is truly an appropriate description both of the works of Michael Herren and for the volume at hand that honors his work. The list of Herren’s work in the Appendix demonstrates his commitment to the study of the Latin literature of the Middle Ages. The essays in the book renew that commitment with close readings of late antique and early medieval texts. The analysis of and the reminder of the importance of texts is perhaps one of the greatest contributions this volume makes to the discipline more widely.

Leaving aside Scott Bruce’s statement of appreciation that opens the volume, for the moment, the first substantive essay by Alexander Andrée takes up the much-debated topic of medieval encounters with the classical tradition. The argument here is that monks who copied the Classics did not do so as mere transmitters but rather as interpreters who took an active interest in the materials they were considering. Drawing on Liudprand’s references to various classical texts, different medieval readings of the Aeneid, and Comestor’s reading of Lucan, Andrée is able to successfully argue that “sometimes the medieval reading of the Classics helps us to understand them beyond whatever guidance late antique commentators may give” (21). The most valuable component of the essay may well be the technical analysis of the reading of Virgil, which can help any student or scholar of the classics in the Middle Ages understand the material and develop a method for study of any text.

The first of three essays in German examines the role of intercultural exchange in the intellectual development of one particular thinker: John Scottus Eriugena. Here, Walter Berschin finds evidence of Neoplatonic thought in his so-called Clavis physicae. He argues that without the works of certain early Byzantine thinkers such as Maximus the Confessor, this brand of natural philosophy would not be possible in the work of John Scottus, demonstrating how important the intellectual exchange of ideas was in the ninth century.

In his contribution, Scott Bruce tries to answer the question of why a text written by the first-century Roman Jewish historian Flavius Josephus was widely copied and read in early medieval monasteries. His answer is that it was the result of Cassiodorus’s attempts to reframe Josephus as a contributor to Christian salvation history. These attempts were met with resistance, but monks read the work nonetheless. This conclusion is of value in and of itself, but Bruce also examines the modern scholarship concerning the “Latin Josephus” corpus, which has great utility for scholars. This is one of many examples in the volume where the conclusions of the essays, and their methods, approaches, and historiographic sections, carry great value and potential for future work.

In the second of the German essays, Brigitte Bulitta concerns herself with the topic of glosses, as many of the contributors in the volume do. Bulitta examines the Fuldaer Legendar, in particular the section that contains the witness to the Vita Wilhelmi confessoris. In it, the word glisis is glossed. By comparing the usage of the word here to that in the Gellone version of the life, Bulitta is able to identify a textual tradition that she feels is worth further exploration, making the essay a nice jumping off point for future scholars.

Next, Carmen Cardelle de Hartmann reintroduces the reader to Aldhelm’s De metris et enigmatibus ac pedum regulis. The author comments that most medieval readers looked at the various sections of the work in isolation and not the work as a whole. This essay does exactly the opposite. An analysis of the entire work allows the author to draw connections between the individual sections and address the issues of metrics and grammar, sources for the poetry, and hidden meanings in the text. In the end, Aldhelm addresses King Aldfrith at both the beginning and end of the work, and these bookends remind us that reading many medieval works as a whole can be just as enlightening as addressing each segment.

Scott Gwara does not perform a comprehensive source analysis as many of his fellow contributors in the volume do; nonetheless, his essay provides an important insight into the way scholars are provided access to the texts they use. Gwara describes the means by which Rev. Henry Scadding donated five medieval and Renaissance manuscripts to the University of Toronto in 1901. The essay’s value is found in the way it examines the phenomenon of “pioneering ownership” of manuscripts and the way archives started and grew their collections. It is a reminder to scholars that the texts they analyze have a modern history that is just as much worth keeping in mind as their medieval context.

Justin Haynes turns the reader to the Cosmography of Aethicus Ister, a work that Herren edited and translated in 2011. Haynes remarks that the work has received limited and liminal attention in the modern academy, a fact supported by his short bibliography. The manuscript transmission of the work, according to the author, seems to indicate that the text was accessible to many medieval readers and of more interest to them than to recent scholars. Haynes’ goal in the essay is to provide one scenario of how the work was used by writers in the Middle Ages. His test case is Roger Bacon, who made extensive use of theCosmography in his own Opus maius. He demonstrates through close reading and careful analysis that Bacon treated the work seriously. This practice is in contrast to many modern scholars who see the text as humorous parody or satire. This reading of Bacon’s treatment of the Cosmography allows Haynes to further his argument, seen in other places, that Bacon was the actual author of the Pseudo-Ovidian De vetula, another forgery that can been seen to have similar characteristics to the work at the center of the essay at hand.

The importance of form in Late Antique and Early Medieval Latin verse is the center of Michael Lapidge’s contribution to the volume. In his piece, Lapidge highlights the existence of a particular poetic compound that was composed of a tetrasyllabic choriamb, which consists of a long, short, short, long pattern. The value of this contribution does not lie in any in-depth analysis of the compound’s usage or importance (Lapidge states there is not space for that here); but rather, in the comprehensive list he provides of all the examples of its usage between 300 and 900. The list provides the words and the texts in which they are each used. The lists, and both accompanying appendices, are invaluable to scholars of verse in this period and should form the basis of the kind of analysis that cannot be exercised here.

Next, Patrizia Lendinara turns to a different category of words: animal sounds. The author examines lists, widely circulated, that paired the names of animals with verbs indicating their sounds. The earliest lists were in prose and many derived from a section of the Laterculus of Polemius Silvius, which was written in 449 C.E. Lendinara traces how the list become versified over time. There appears to be enough lists of “voces variae animantium” in verse to demonstrate that they were an educational tool. Yet their importance seems to go beyond a didactic role. The complex and effective analysis in the essay leads the reader to the figure of Godfrey of Winchester, who in the twelfth century praised the voice of animals because it does not change, which is unlike the duplicity and disguise of human speech. In the end, these popular verse lists helped to distinguish between the vox articulata and the vox confuse, and by extension help readers to better understand human language.

The study of particular aspects of Latin literature continues with Tristan Major’s essay that examines a topic of interest to Anglo-Latin authors: the number seventy-two. Major notes that the symbolic and typological use of numbers was incredibly common in literature from England that was written in Latin in the early medieval period. He then proceeds to trace the appearances of the number seventy-two in the so-called Canterbury Commentaries, the works of Aldhelm, Bede, and Alcuin, and finally in the question-and-answer texts. Through an impressive analysis, Major not only shows that the number was quite important to these authors, but that discourses on this number, and numbers in general, were rarely stable and consistent across literary periods or even with in the works of individual authors. The implications of this study are not just for the study of Anglo-Latin literature, but for all medieval literature.

Turning from Latin to the vernacular, Haruko Momma examines the construction of words in Old English as found in glosses and glossaries. Momma pays homage to another of Michael Herren’s accomplishments, co-founding the Journal of Medieval Latin, at the beginning of the essay, and then jumps from the importance of that work to asking questions that could be found in a similar periodical on the vernacular. The author examines “element by element” words, loan translation, and calques to show that those glossing medieval texts were creating new Old English words. Two major points of significance stand out in regard to this essay: first, that argument that layers of meaning and nuance can be seen in individual items as well continue to examine lexical treasures; and second, in the realization that Momma makes that we must consider the current historical moment that we make our scholarly inquiries within. The work certainly echoes and builds upon that done in the Journal of Medieval Latin, and the essay truly honors Herren in that regard.

Joseph Falaky Nagy seems to take a different approach with his essay in the volume. His piece reads like a review of an article Herren wrote in 1986 that focused on the early medieval Irish saga Tain Bó Farích and the Hisperica Famina, a series of “Hisperic” Latin poems. Nagy’s work here serves to remind the reader of the skilled analyses of Herren and the great breadth and depth of his interests. Nagy’s own contribution is to extend the argument to demonstrate that the saga, in the end, demonstrates a reflexive sophistication that rivals that of the Hisperic poetry, an assertion that would be worth further examination.

The idea of “alignment” in medieval texts is the focus of Sinéad O’Sullivan’s essay. This practice was basically the attempt to establish connections and correspondences between events, persons, or places in order to create a more unified historical narrative. Tracing the origins of the practice in the Greek world up to Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, O’Sullivan is able to conclude that alignment was not merely an antiquarian flourish, but rather gives scholars insight into the historical understandings of different parts of the medieval West. In particular, O’Sullivan argues that the Irish employed the practice to place Ireland, their kings, and their traditions into a larger community and to make sure others saw them as important participants on the world stage.

Next, Jennifer Reid examines two texts believed to be written by St. Patrick of Ireland: the Epistola ad Coroticum and the Confessio. Reid’s purpose is to make an argument as to what these works tell us about social identity in Ireland in the fifth century. It is clear from them and from archeological findings that Ireland was “a heterogenous frontier zone at the end of Roman Britain” (393). With this as context, Reid looks at the spatiotemporal thinking in the language used by Patrick to conclude that he describes domus-relations as an attempt to show that social identity resulted from three conditions: (1) freedom; (2) citizenship; and (3) family. Relying on this, Reid argues that Patrick was able to attempt to set up Ireland as a new outpost of Christianitas and Romanitas. This conclusion is certainly important both for studies of early medieval Ireland and for frontier studies more generally.

In the last German article, Peter Stotz picks up on the theme of poetic verse found in many of the essays with his focus on Ms. Monte Cassino, Archivio dell’Abazia 418, pp. 342-43. The text is a poem to the Virgin Mary. Stotz argues that the work is not a hymn, properly speaking, but rather a Horace-inspired ode. Aside from the conclusion that we can see parallels with Humanistic poetic practice here, the great value of the contribution is that Stotz provides an edition and translation of, as well as a commentary on, the poem: a tool that may well prove useful to others studying the text and the subject more generally.

Glosses return to the fore as Mariken Teeuwen closely examines the marginal and interlinear notes of two manuscripts that both concern the “art of music.” The glosses are believed to have been written by a student of John Scottus Eriugena who is known as I2. I2 has been seen by many scholars as a dull scribe working in John’s workshop, who was in need of consistent supervision. By looking at Leiden, UL, BPL 88 and Paris, BnF, Lat. 13908, Teeuwen argues that I2 was not really interested in art of music itself, but in the relationship between music and the nature of knowledge; he saw the liberal arts as part of a lost perfection of human knowledge. Thus “his interest is not musical, but rather quadrivial” (456). This conclusion leads the reader to a portrait of I2 which is more complex that formerly assumed and certainly worthy of further consideration.

Benjamin Wheaton notes that many late antique texts contain many riddles for scholars. The one he focuses on is a letter from Nicetius of Trier to Justinian scolding the emperor for departing from the orthodox faith. The letter is a riddle because it seems to refer to beliefs associated with Nestorianism, which Justinian clearly opposed. Wheaton solves the conundrum by arguing adeptly that it actually refers to the Aphthartodocetic Controversy. Aside from a clear summary of this heresy, the value of the article lies in reminding us of the challenges facing scholars using these types of texts, and in the homage it pays to Herren, who “has long been the master of solving them [such riddles]” (474).

Dylan Wilkerson takes as his topic the mid-ninth-century manuscript known as the Corpus Glossary. By isolating the places where the Corpus-compiler used the interpretive strategies of emendation, augmentation, alteration, and recombination from the archetypal manuscripts, Wilkerson is able to demonstrate that text bears the signs of thoughtful editorial intervention. As a result, it provides evidence of the intellectual culture of ninth-century Canterbury, primarily the intellectual legacy of Archbishop Theodore and Abbot Hadrian decades after their deaths.

The volume as a whole is very much reflective of the scholar it honors. It demonstrates the great value of examining Latin literature and reintroduces readers to texts that they might have forgotten about or never were exposed to. The methods and the topics here will serve future scholars well. Yet, in the end, the volume is a memorial to what Bruce calls, in the opening appreciation, “a spark of inspiration kindled” by Herren’s insights and scholarship, and that comes through clearly in all of the contributions.