Bryn Mawr Classical Review


Readers of BMCR will recognize the category of "ALSO SEEN" that we have used for short notices of books to which we cannot give a full review. There are many reasons for this inability: lack of a review copy, lack of a qualified reviewer, conflict of interest where the editor(s) have been closely involved in a publishing project, etc. We think it is a useful category nonetheless for calling attention at least to the existence of work of apparent interest, of giving basic bibliographical information, and of providing at least a sketchy sense of what sort of work it is. Contributions in this vein are always welcome, and we particularly value contributions calling attention to work published abroad, which is the hardest segment of our coverage to develop from scratch in a new review journal. At any rate, in an end-of-summer archaeological exercise designed to confirm that there is a layer of wood on this desk beneath all the paper, three interesting titles merit mention.

Robert G. Babcock, Reconstructing a Medieval Library: Fragments from Lembach. New Haven: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Pp. 124. ISBN 0-8457-3125-4.

Robert Babcock is curator of manuscripts at Beinecke and has quickly distinguished himself for learning and energy. This volume is published in conjunction with an exhibition now showing there in which a large collection (150 or so) fragments of MSS that all come from the same Benedictine house in Upper Austria are brought together and analyzed for what they can show about the overall makeup of a given library. The volume has 65 b/w plates. The contents are by and large predictable (biblical, theological, liturgical, grammatical), though not without at least one eye-opening surprise (a 13th century German-origin folio page of the Babylonian Talmud in Hebrew), and it is the detailed distribution of contents -- which texts, which emphases -- that repay study.

Cork, n.d., Peritia: Journal of the Medieval Academy of Ireland. Volumes 6 - 7, 1987-88. Date: [1993]. ISSN 0332-1592.

The volume and year numbers are correct, and the issue is just published. Peritia first appeared in the early 1980s and in five yearly volumes set a new standard and offered a new forum for medieval Irish studies, emphatically including both Latin and vernacular. A generation of scholars that I remember from the early 70s in Dublin as young and promising had by then come to maturity and offered articles of dazzling erudition that would have a hard time finding a home in less specialized journals; to read this journal and its extensive book reviews was to receive a swift and inexpensive education in the current state of Irish medieval studies. Then came silence. The challenges of editing and publishing such a journal proved considerable. The good news is that this volume, now long in press and held up by various roadblocks, betokens a re newed and refreshed effort that holds out good hope of returning now to yearly publication. At $30 a year including postage to individuals (for 360 pages and 15 plates), it is a bargain.This issue includes an important lead article on the Ruthwell crucifixion poem, articles on insular Latin, computistics (a particularly insular delight), as well as archaeology -- I shall quote my favorite paragraph, by Kathleen Ryan:

"It would appear therefore that the large holes in manuscripts cannot be blamed on the much maligned warble fly or indeed on any speciic parasite or disease. It is, however, possible that poor nutrition of the cow during the winter months, when the fetus was developing its skin cover, may have resulted in calfskins vulnerable to damage during processing. Scarcity of salt, especially at the point of slaughter, may have caused delays in salting or inadequate salting, allowing bacteria to grow and damage the skin. It has already been noted that young skins are particularly vulnerable to bacterial damage and the slaughter of animals during the warm summer months would have exacerbated the problem." (Pp. 256-7)
Little that I have read so vividly reminds me that the pages of our old books were once living things in more ways than one!

Peter Brown, Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity: Towards a Christian Empire. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992. Pp. x, 182. ISBN 0-299-13340-0.

Finally, Peter Brown at the top of his form. This volume comprises the Curti Lectures at the University of Wisconsin from 1988 and gives us quintessential Brown: concise, incisive, precise -- in short, ideas and prose carved to a filigree of rare delicacy and beauty. What was it like to be an aristocrat, or to associate with them? So what then was the educational system really producing? So what then (and it is pressing the question this far that turns an excellent book into a great one) was it like to be a Christian bishop, member of an aristocracy both disdaining and emulating old aristocracies, shaped by and rejecting the old educational system, eschewing traditional political power and at the same time keeping a firm grip on the scruff of a society's neck? As always, Brown has read everything and is the best possible rapporteur and synthesizer of an extraordinary diversity of work done today more often, alas, in Europe than in the States in a wide range of late antique studies.