BMCR 1991.03.06

Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages Again

, Classical Review 41 (1991). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. 206-208 pages.

Response to B.C. Barker-Benfield. Rev of Bernhard Bischoff, Latin Palaeography. Classical Review 41 (1991): 206-208.

The book was reviewed by me in BMCR 1991.02.03: 74f. Barker-Benfield’s review is much harsher on the translation and concludes “[a]t best, the 1990 version may have some marginal value as an occasional crib, with plates for English reader to use alongside the 1986 German edition.” Since there is little likelihood that a better manual will appear shortly, I think it proper to address the objections of Barker-Benfield Otherwise, we will be throwing out the baby with the bath-water, for few indeed are the students in Great Britain and America whose German is good enough to use this version to check the original.

Since I (with R. Halporn) made a provisional translation of this work for use by my own students in Latin palaeography, I think it only fair to observe that Bischoff’s German with its idiosyncratic use of technical terms is, as Barker-Benfield admits, a formidable challenge. To my understanding, Professor Bischoff was involved in the published English translation as he had been in the French version. It is true, however, that a preface explicitly stating this does not appear in this version as it does in the French one.

The authors of the English translation certainly used the French translation as slight changes from the 1986 edition indicate. Thus, a sentence that receives high praise from Barker-Benfield which opens the section on humanistic script reads: “When, at the very end of the fourteenth century, Coluccio Salutati and, with a wider audience, Poggio Bracciolini inaugurated a new era in the history of writing with the imitation of early medieval minuscule, a stimulus that went back to Petrarch brought forth its first fruits.” The German reads: “Es war die Verwirklichung einer auf Petrarca zurückgehenden Anregung, wenn Coluccio Salutati und, mit breiterer Wirkung, Poggio Bracciolini am Anfang des XV. Jahrhunderts mit der Nachahmung frühmittelalterlicher Minuskel ein neues Zeitalter der Schriftgeschichte eröffneten.” The French: “On assista à la réalisation d’une idée émise par Pétraque lorsque Coluccio Salutati et, avec une audience plus large, Poggio Braccicoli ouvrirent, vers 1400, une ère nouvelle dans l’histoire de l’écriture en imitant la minuscule du haut Moyen Age.” Notice inter alia how the beginning of the fifteenth century has gradually turned from around 1400 to the “very end of the fourteenth century.”

Barker-Benfield may note that the “French translation seems far more carefully done,” but that’s because his French is not native. My translation was completed before the French appeared, and I was pleased to note that the French fudged difficult places in much the same way as I and my collaborator did.

There are indeed some misprints in the English version, which can easily be corrected in a reprinting. So, too, the problems with the footnote numbering. Barker-Benfield needs himself to be corrected here, however. He states (207) that the “French translators inserted an additional footnote as n.72a… This was copied into 1990 (63) … but renumbered ’73’ with consequent changes to all the later footnote-numbers in the chapter, the alterations did not extend to the corresponding footnote-numbers in the text, so for the next twenty pages all footnotes (nn. 74-215) are out of phase.” This is not correctly stated. What happened is that the original footnote called 73 (now 74) which appeared at line 10 on page 63 was omitted, and the references continue as if there had been no intercalation. I realize that the English editors did not write 72a (as they should have) because their word-processor did not allow them this privilege of mixing number and number + letter footnotes.

Other omissions and errors suggest hasty comparison and hurried reading of the galleys. Barker-Benfield’s suggestion of a feeble translation on p. 127 is correct, but his improvement is no better. The sentence should read (with a correct understanding of the German adverbs) “The script of private charters is at first generally a book script (I dislike Buchschrift = bookhand throughout the English version; the metaphor is all wrong) … later an increasingly narrower script….” Barker-Benfield like the English translators gets caught by giving the wrong gender to Schrift or at least offering an ambiguous English (“in general bookhand” can be understood, I suppose, as adverbial, but the position suggests an adjective).

While Barker-Benfield is right to make merry over the translation of Buch(Schrift)-wesen as “book-making” (the French translation omits it altogether), he is too severe in rejecting “registers” for “indices,” since both Webster’s and the OED offer “index” as a synonym of “register.”

Finally, the example he cites from p. 129 as “almost a parody,” does after all represent some especially crabbed German.

The German reads: “Im Unterschied von den gegabelten Oberlängen … kommt für die mittellangen Schäfte schon im XII. Jahrhundert die Tendenz auf, die Gabelung des Ansatzes zu einer kantigen Verstärkung zusammenzuziehen.

The French is, as expected, wordy: “A la différence de ce qui se passe dans les hastes montantes fourchues … on observe, dès le XIIe siècle, dans les traites de hauteur moyenne, une tendance à transformer les fourches formées par les traits d’attaque avec des renforcements anguleux.”

The English, which Barker-Benfield laughs at: “In contrast with the forked ascenders … there appears already in the twelfth century the tendency, in the case of the medium length shafts (minims), to contract the forking of the addition to form lozenge-shaped reinforcement.”

My own attempt runs as follows: “Diverging from the bifurcated ascenders … there is already in the 12th century a tendency for medium-long strokes to transform the bifurcation formed by the attack strokes by an angular intensification.”

I suspect that Bischoff’s version came out of his palaeography lectures, and with a slide and a pointer a speaker using any of these versions can make eminent sense.

I suggest that readers of the English Bischoff mark the corrections noted by Barker-Benfield in their copies and urge the Cambridge UP to add a page of corrigenda to the next printing. No, the translation is not by Ralph Mannheim, and the book, as I indicated in my own review, is very much faute de mieux. When Barker-Benfield’s manual of Latin palaeography for English scholars appears we can perhaps safely put this one aside. Until then, this version is still, in my view, a useful guide and a necessary research instrument .