Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.09.39

I. Ramelli, Tutti i commenti a Marziano Capella. Scoto Eriugena, Remigio di Auxerre, Bernardo Silvestre e Anonimi.   Milano:  Bompiani, 2006.  Pp. 2524.  ISBN 88-452-5739-8.  €42.00.  

Reviewed by Mariken Teeuwen, Huygens Institute, Den Haag, Netherlands (
Word count: 1740 words

In October 2006, a remarkable book was published by Bompiani in their series Il Pensiero Occidentale. The book is a collection of reprinted editions and translations into Italian of commentaries on Martianus Capella, and forms the second part of a set. The first part was Marziano Capella. Le nozze di Filologia e Mercurio, edited by Ilaria Ramelli (Milano: Bompiani, 2001). In this first book, Martianus Capella's De nuptiis was reprinted in Latin, largely following J. Willis' edition in the Bibliotheca Teubneriana series (1983).1 The text was translated by Ramelli into Italian on opposing pages, and amply introduced and annotated by the same author. In the second book, Tutti i commenti a Marziano Capella, the commentary tradition on this text, which was particularly rich in the earlier part of the Middle Ages (9th - 12th centuries), is treated in a similar manner: published editions are reprinted, translated into Italian on opposing pages, introduced and annotated by Ramelli. The first book had 1177 pages, the second is printed on even thinner paper and has 2524 pages. Together, they form a contribution of more than 3700 pages to our knowledge of Martianus Capella and his medieval Nachleben. It is a formidable work, not only in the quantity of the pages, but also in the vastness of the field of learning. Martianus treats the whole of the Seven Liberal Arts in his De nuptiis, and presents specialized knowledge of, for example, astronomy, as well as dialectic, grammar and mathematics. His late-antique, mannered Latin has often been described as an example of the most difficult Latin there is. His style is at times incomprehensible for those not fully imbued with classical mythology, philosophy and religion. All these areas of learning are not usually combined by individual, modern-day scholars. The sheer fact that Ramelli completed the two works is, to my mind, reason for admiration. The Tutti i commenti volume certainly goes beyond the boundaries of my own knowledge of and experience with the commentary tradition on Martianus Capella, which is limited to the earliest period (the 9th century) and has focused on the quadrivium. This review will, therefore, concentrate on just the first part of Ramelli's vast work, and leave other parts to other reviewers.

Focusing on the Tutti i commenti volume, it seems useful to first describe the layout of the book, since it is quite complicated if one is not familiar with the material included. The volume opens with a short preface from the editor of the series, Giovanni Reale, in which the structure of the volume is explained. Three parts follow. Roughly speaking, the first is dedicated to the 9th century (John the Scot and, in an appendix, "Dunchad / Martin of Laon", anonymous glosses, and the alternative John the Scot commentary); the second is dedicated to the 10th century (Remigius of Auxerre), and the third to the 12th (Bernardus Silvestris, and, again in an appendix, anonymous commentaries which have been attributed to the "School of Chartres"). Each part starts with detailed introductions to the authors (if identified), their context, their works and the place of the commentary in question amongst them.

In the case of John the Scot's commentary, that is, the one found in a late 9th century MS from Corbie (Paris, BnF, Lat. 12960) and edited by Cora Lutz in 1939,2 a typical page is divided into two sections. In the upper section, the Italian translation of Martianus Capella's text is found. Phrases to which annotations have been added are printed in bold, and marked with a note-number. In the lower section, the annotations themselves are found: first, in italics, the Latin text, and then, in roman type, the translation into Italian. Annotations that need editorial comment are marked with an endnote number and asterisk, the endnotes being found right after the edition / translation of the Eriugena commentary. The lay-out of the page takes some getting used to, but works well, to my mind. It manages to squeeze all the elements -- text, commentary and translation -- into the two dimensions of the printed page while still remaining understandable, which in itself is quite an accomplishment. The translation works best, of course, for longer annotations. The act of translation becomes quite silly, though, with the short glosses that offer a synonym, or add an explanation of just one word.

The inclusion of the (translated) text of Martianus Capella in the upper half of the page offers the advantage that the reader is able to immediately consult the context of the glosses, and does not have to surround him/herself with two or three extra books. This set-up has been abandoned, however, for the other commentaries in the book, probably for the obvious reason of avoiding the repetition of the same main text (with perhaps minor alterations) over and over again. The decision, however, costs the presentation of these other commentaries part of its user-friendliness.

In the appendix to Part I, three texts have been included. The first is the incomplete edition, published by Lutz in 1944,3 of a 9th century commentary attributed first to Dunchad, then to Martin of Laon. (Both attributions have been rejected by later scholarship.) Lutz based her edition on a single manuscript, and since her publication many other sources have been discovered. The text of the commentary is presented in Latin and, on opposing pages, translated into Italian. Lemmata are printed in capital letters.

The second text is a translation of my own edition of annotations belonging to the same commentary tradition, taken from my study of the ars musica in the commentary tradition on Martianus Capella.4 The Latin text is not included. This edition, however, is based on a group of manuscripts which share material but also vary a great deal. The distinction and identification of the individual sources is lost in the present format, which simply lists annotations, separating them with forward slashes.

The third text is a second, and substantially different version of a part of John the Scot's commentary, found in an Oxford manuscript by Labowsky shortly after Lutz's 1944 edition. The part that differs the most (book I) was edited separately by E. Jeauneau in 1978,5 and forms the basis for the Italian translation in Ramelli's book. Here too, the Latin is not included.

The order of the texts included in this first part of Ramelli's book is, to my mind, misleading. The oldest commentary tradition is not John the Scot's Annotationes, but the commentary tradition edited by Lutz under the name Dunchad, attributed to Martin of Laon by Préaux, but now considered to be the work of a group of scholars working together in the second or third decade of the 9th century. The manuscript evidence shows the "growing pains" of this commentary tradition, and shows many features which place the birth of the commentary well before the middle of the 9th century. Both John the Scot's Annotationes and Remigius' commentary firmly rest on this oldest commentary tradition (albeit in very different ways), which was attached to Martianus' De nuptiis from its very first circulation in the Carolingian world.6 To my mind, the texts of Part I should have been arranged in the following order: Lutz's edition of "Dunchad", my edition of the glosses from the same commentary tradition, John the Scot's Annotationes as edited by Lutz, and the second version of these as edited by Jeauneau. This would have had the additional advantage of presenting the two versions of John the Scot's commentary consecutively, which would make more sense if one wanted to compare the two versions.

The decision to present only translations in the appendices to Part I and Part III is also open to question. Perhaps it was made rather to avoid copyright problems than out of interest for the book. First, the translation of a commentary very often produces a text that is hardly readable. One needs the context of the main text, and, in the case of the oldest commentary tradition, the annotations are often written in telegrammatic style, saving space by using the minimum number of words. More importantly, however, the value of an edition of these texts lies not, to my mind, so much in the readability of these texts, but in the act of making them available for comparison -- with their possible sources, with other commentary traditions on, for example, Horace, Virgil, Servius, Persius, Boethius, etc. The editions of commentary texts would become even more valuable if we could assemble them into a(n electronic) corpus, and make their overlap, their relations to each other, visible. In the case of the oldest traditions, I do not feel that the main importance of the analysis of these texts lies in their translation into modern languages.

These, however, are the only criticisms I feel obliged to make about this remarkable book. The second part treats the commentary by Remigius of Auxerre, and is based on the edition by Lutz.7 Contrary to her two previous editions of John the Scot's Annotationes and "Dunchad's" Glossae, the Remigius edition is not based on a single manuscript, but on a group of manuscripts from the 10th to 15th centuries. Ramelli presents Latin text and Italian translation on opposing pages.

The third part concerns the commentary attributed to Bernardus Silvestris (edited by Westra),8 and, in an appendix, an anonymous commentary from the same intellectual environment (edited by Westra and Kupke).9 As in the previous appendices, just the translation is presented.

The book ends with an extended bibliography10 and short indices on Latin and Greek proper names and place names.

Despite the large number of pages, the title of the book, Tutti i commenti a Marziano Capella, is not quite correct. Other commentaries on Martianus Capella have been found, such as, for example, an anonymous eclectic commentary from 10th century England, or the commentary by the 16th century scholar Johannes Dubravius, bishop of Olomouc 1546 - 1553.11 More commentaries will certainly come to light when the wealth of Martianus Capella manuscripts, stretching from the 9th to the 16th centuries, are further explored. However, even if Ramelli's book is not as definitive as it sounds, it is a tremendously useful tool for the study of this overwhelmingly rich commentary tradition. Martianus Capella's De nuptiis, scorned by so many modern scholars, certainly occupied and inspired some of the greatest minds of the Middle Ages. Anyone who wants to find out who, when, where, how and why, will find this book invaluable.


1.   For book VII, On Arithmetic, she included the work done by L. Scarpa, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii liber VII, Padova: CLEUP, 1988.
2.   Cora E. Lutz, ed., Iohannis Scotti Annotationes in Marcianum, Cambridge, Mass.: The Medieval Academy of America, 1939.
3.   Cora E. Lutz, ed., Dunchad Glossae in Martianum, Lancaster, Pa: American Philological Association, 1944.
4.   Mariken Teeuwen, Harmony and the Music of the Spheres. The ars musica in ninth-century commentaries on Martianus Capella = Mittellateinische Studien und Texte 30, Leiden / Boston / Köln: Brill, 2002.
5.   Édouard Jeauneau, 'Le commentaire érigénien sur Martianus Capella (De nuptiis, lib. I) d'après le manuscrit d'Oxford (Bodl. Libr. Auct. T.2.19, fol. 1-31)', in his Quatre thèmes érigéniens (Conférence Albert-le-Grand 1974), Montréal / Paris: Institut d'études médiévales Albert-le-Grand, 1978.
6.   This was argued already by Jean Préaux, 'Les manuscrits principaux du "De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii" de Martianus Capella' in G. Cambier, C. Deroux and J. Préaux (edd.), Lettres latines du Moyen Age et de la Renaissance, Bruxelles: Latomus, 1978, pp. 76-128. See also my Harmony and the Music of the Spheres (above, note 4), esp. pp. 145-150, and 'The study of Martianus Capella's De nuptiis in the ninth century', in A. A. MacDonald, M. W. Twomey and G. J. Reinink (edd.), Learned Antiquity. Scholarship and Society in the Near-East, the Greco-Roman World, and the Early Medieval West, Leuven / Paris / Dudley, Mass.: Peeters, 2003, pp. 185-194.
7.   Cora E. Lutz, ed., Remigius Autissiodorensis commentum in Martianum Capella: vol. I, Libri I-II, Leiden: Brill, 1962; vol. II, Libri III-IX, Leiden: Brill, 1965.
8.   Haijo J. Westra, The Commentary on Martianus Capella's "De nuptiis Philologogiae et Mercurii" attributed to Bernardus Silvestris = Studies and Texts 80, Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1986.
9.   Haijo J. Westra, ed., The Berlin Commentary on Martianus Capella's "De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii" Book I = Mittellateinische Studien und Texte 20, Leiden / Boston / Köln: Brill, 1994; Haijo J. Westra, Tanja Kupke (edd.), The Berlin Commentary on Martianus Capella's "De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii" Book II = Mittellateinische Studien und Texte 23, Leiden / Boston / Köln: Brill, 1998.
10.   Unfortunately, the bibliography contains quite a lot of small mistakes and typing errors.
11.   See Cora Lutz's article in P. O. Kristeller and P. E. Cranz (edd.), Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum. Medieval and Renaissance Latin Translations and Commentaries, vol. II (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1971), pp. 367-380; and the Addenda et Corrigenda in the following Volumes.

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