BMCR 1996.01.04

1996.1.4, Archive of Celtic-Latin Literature

, , , , Archive of Celtic-Latin literature : ACLL-1 : Royal Irish Academy dictionary of medieval Latin from Celtic sources. Turnhout: Brepols, 1994. 1 computer optical disc ; 4 3/4 in. + 1 user's guide (45 pages ; 21 cm). ISBN 9782503504100. Pricing Varies by type of purchaser..

To survey the list of authors whose texts are contained on this new CD database is to recognize afresh the variety and richness of the Celtic, esp. the Irish, contribution to medieval Latinity and, lingering to this day, its marginalization. This CD grants access while in a curious way still reinforcing marginalization.

The disk embraces a striking diversity of writers (for there are few bulky corpora here) from Patrick to Geraldus Cambrensis. Of particular value and interest are the numerous lives of saints: Irish hagiography has been a rich subject of interest throughout this century, recently heightened by the publication of Richard Sharpe’s Medieval Irish Saints’ Lives (1991). In total number of titles, approximately 40% of what is here (counting from the list supplied) are anonymous or insecurely-attributed works, including liturgical texts, church canons, penitential rules, and charters of princelings. There is no true “canon” here, though there are a few major figures (Patrick, Columbanus, Eriugena—but it is not clear why the first two books of his Periphyseon are missing), and indeed it is one of the strengths of Celtic Latinity that it comes with no predigested canon of authors, but rather a canon of saints, long since called into question. The “author” died a long time ago in this field, with anonymity, pseudonymity, and polyonymity almost the rule rather than the exception. Since Sharpe and Michael Lapidge published their Bibliography of Celtic-Latin Literature, 400-1200 in 1985 and with the ongoing publication of the journal Peritia from 1984, the field has come of age.

This CD began as part of a larger dictionary project sponsored by the Royal Irish Academy. The decision to make the corpus of texts available is an important and praiseworthy one. The format here will be familiar to anyone who has used the CETEDOC CD of patristic Latin texts: same publisher, same software. The differences are few and fairly transparent. First, the collection of data has gone on over a long period using various technologies. Much of what is here is still in a primitive form using all capital letters (and asterisks to mark “real” capitalization). Second, an unusually candid discussion in the accompanying manual makes it clear that the accuracy of texts across the database is variable, and anecdotal usage turns up a higher percentage of typographical errors than are in the CETEDOC data base.

As with CETEDOC, this is not meant as a definitive artifact: it is the “First (Preliminary) CD-ROM Edition” and a total of three editions are promised. One difficulty with this approach is that, though upgrades are provided at costs substantially below that of the first purchase, it is still difficult to know how expensive the whole thing will be when finished. When the original is published in this truly preliminary stage, more users will notice and object to the pricing.

The CD is remarkably easy to install and the instructions are fairly transparent. I have not seen anyone have trouble doing a rudimentary search on first acquaintance with the disk, though more complicated searches are (as is often the case) somewhat challenging purely from the software point of view; doing intelligent searches from the point of view of content and using the material wisely is another matter. (The CETEDOC manual has an intelligent few pages of advice on that score, lacking in the manual here.) But any student of the field will immediately feel that she has been turned loose in a familiar but enriched playground of authors and texts, many of them hard to locate or published only in large corpora. Simply for ownership of this much text, the purchase price is a bargain. (I do not know of anyone who has successfully gotten this or the CETEDOC disk to run on a Macintosh system where essentially you need a DOS-emulator program like “SoftPC”. Under Windows, it can also be a bit buggy and for safety’s sake, I usually leave Windows and run it under old DOS. It will be necessary for later versions to be upgraded appropriately.)

There are some further drawbacks to the Brepols CD’s, however. Chief among them is a nervous fear of downloading. It is not possible to extract from one of their disks a complete text of anything unless you are both quite clever and willing to endure almost hopeless tedium—at any rate, the ordinary user will not be able to do so. The text can then be read consecutively on-screen in the software supplied, but not cut/pasted or quoted extensively elsewhere. (A download feature will let you take away selected citations from search results, but the output format is often quarrelsome when it encounters a standard word processor.)

Finally, the most notable handicap is the inability to search for a specific citation. If you are told that Eriugena says something striking at Periphyseon 3.43 but are not given specific Latin words to search for, you cannot find it easily here and you are left browsing the whole of the third book. This is true of both ACLL and CETEDOC and a major handicap; but the information is already in the database, for search results that hit upon Periph. 3.43 will tell you that information. This requires a readjustment of the search software and should be an urgent priority with Brepols. By comparison to that painful lack, the want of an apparatus criticus and (urgent for Christian Latin texts) an apparatus scripturisticus is only a nagging ache.

I said at the outset that the project managed to remarginalize Celtic Latin. Though it is quite clear that with this disk, the interested searcher the world over has new power to control this body of literature, the production of a separate CD is what re-ghettoizes the subject. Given that Brepols is publishing the CETEDOC disk with at last count well over 20 million words of Christian Latin, it would surely make more sense for the ACLL to be incorporated in the one larger database than kept separate here. I have and use both databases and find it irksome to have one question about Latinity and need to swap disks in a CD drive to get there. There may come a point at which the expansion of the two databases would require CETEDOC to think of a two-disk format, but (1) disk capacity will probably grow faster than text can be input, and (2) the obsolescence of CD as anything other than a transportation medium will impinge on us all soon enough. (I have already begun transferring a couple of crucial CD’s to my new vast hard disk, forasmuch as they can be searched at much higher speeds. CETEDOC and ACLL are set up in such a way as to discourage this, another mild drawback.) Eriugena, e.g., and Geraldus Cambrensis clearly belong in the CETEDOC database as well as ACLL and it would be far more efficient to introduce “Celtic” as a tool for limiting searches on an expanded CETEDOC disk than to require it be treated as a separate category. When that reunification takes place, Hiberno-Latinists can begin afresh the task of luring colleagues who customarily work in continental settings to take this remarkable material seriously.