BMCR 1998.12.03

Medieval Latin. 2nd edition. Revised by Joseph Pucci

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In the mid 1920’s a burgeoning interest in medieval Latin resulted in the publication of several anthologies of medieval Latin literature: Stephen Gaselee, An Anthology of Medieval Latin, London, 1925; Charles H. Beeson, A Primer of Medieval Latin, Glenview IL, 1925, and K. P. Harrington, Mediaeval Latin, Boston, 1925. Beeson and Harrington have remained in print, and more recently other anthologies have appeared, notably F. E. Harrison, Millennium. A Latin Reader/374-1374, Oxford, 1968 and Keith Sidwell, Reading Medieval Latin, Cambridge, 1995. Compared with these two collections, and even with Beeson, Harrington’s Mediaeval Latin was looking increasingly dated. The University of Chicago Press might have taken the easy route and prolonged the book’s life by making some cosmetic changes—replacing the plain orange cover with something a bit snappier, clarifying the type face, and doing something about the grainy photographs which served as the book’s illustrations. Still, more serious problems would have remained: Harrington’s introduction was inadequate, especially given that this was a text most likely to be used in an introductory course on the subject; the introductions that he wrote for the individual authors were generally too brief to be of much interest or of much use to the student encountering medieval Latin for the first time; and the notes, whatever their merits in 1925, did not meet the needs of many of today’s students. Nevertheless, Mediaeval Latin had much to recommend it, and it is welcome news that the University of Chicago Press has now published a second edition, edited by Joseph Pucci. It preserves much of what made the original a good anthology while eliminating many of its defects. This past summer I used the new edition in an introductory course in medieval Latin for first and second year graduate students, and it proved an excellent choice. I always liked the original Harrington, but Pucci’s new edition improves considerably upon the original.

Harrington’s Mediaeval Latin (hereafter H.) was an anthology of selections extending from Egeria in the fourth century to Milton in the seventeenth. It contained 87 sections, each of which consisted of selections from a single author or collection (e.g. Carmina Burana). Pucci (hereafter P.) has made such extensive changes to both the content and the supplementary material that it is hardly too much to say that he has produced a new book rather than a revised edition. That is not say that the reader familiar with H. won’t find some old favorites in P., but only 27 of the original 87 sections remain unchanged (although for many of the 27 P. has made use of more recent editions of the texts than were available to H.). By my count, some 42 authors or collections have been eliminated entirely, mostly from the last third of the first edition: a number of selections from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and all post-thirteenth century selections have been removed. As regrettable as the loss of such authors as Dante, Petrarch, Erasmus, and Milton might seem, they and their contemporaries are better left for a post-medieval anthology. P. has added a number of authors as well (I count 14), strengthening three important periods, the fourth, ninth, and twelfth centuries. To the fourth century (a crucial one for understanding the development of medieval Latin), P. has added Ausonius, Paulinus of Nola, Prudentius, and Proba. In the period extending from 750 to 900, there is one new author, Dhuoda, and a sizeable increase in the number of selections for Alcuin, Theodulf, Hrabanus Maurus, and Sedulius Scottus. P. has also strengthened the late eleventh and twelfth centuries, adding seven authors (St. Anselm, Gregory VII, Adam of St. Victor, Bernardus Silvestris, The Archpoet, Hildegard of Bingen, and Walter of Chatillon), and he has increased the readings for others. P. also devotes considerably more space to the writings of women. To the three women writers in H. (Egeria, Hrotsvitha, and Heloise) P. has added Proba, Dhuoda, and Hildegard of Bingen. Women are better represented here than in other anthologies of medieval Latin although they still account for a small part of the whole.

All told, there are 60 authors and collections anthologized here, considerably fewer than H.’s original 87, but this is still a big book—well over 600 pages. The history, epic, travel narratives, drama, religious writing, and poetry of the new Medieval Latin span 900 years; those who want an introduction to a wide variety of medieval Latin literature (secular and religious) will find plenty here of interest to them. (A list of the works in the anthology by genre such as is found on pages xv-xvi of the first edition would be useful, however).

The second edition of Medieval Latin is organized in the same way that its predecessor was but with some important improvements. H. arranged his book chronologically, but he did little to help his readers understand the relationship of the writers in his anthology to their predecessors, contemporaries, and successors. P. has done much to correct this. He has divided his material chronologically into five sections, and he has prefaced each of these sections with a three to four page essay discussing the development of medieval Latin literature during that particular period. Beyond this he has expanded the introductions to each author or collection in the anthology (whereas H.’s introductions were often not even a page in length, P.’s run from one to three pages). In addition to giving biographical information and to introducing the selections in the anthology, each essay discusses how the author in question relates to his or her contemporaries and to authors of other periods writing in the same genre. My one criticism of these essays is that although they provide a good general discussion of the work from which a particular passage has been taken, they occasionally fail to give the reader enough background information to begin reading the accompanying text with understanding. As is to be expected in a book of this sort, a great many selections have been excerpted from longer works, and it is sometimes difficult to pick up the thread of the story in medias res. The editor excerpts a passage from Book 9 of the Alexandreis of Walter of Chatillon, for example, but he gives no help other than “Craterus is speaking to Alexander in the following lines” (p. 635, n. 53). There is no explanation of who Craterus is or what he has been speaking about (the opening lines of the speech have been omitted). In a case like this more help either in the introduction or in the notes would be useful. With this exception, which is no more than an occasional problem, I have nothing but praise for P.’s handling of the introductory material. His essays are lucid, and each one contains a considerable amount of information in a small space. There are about 150 pages of introductory material in the book, and anyone who reads them straight through without stopping to translate the Latin will have had a good basic introduction to the development of medieval Latin literature.

As useful as the introductory material is, however, it is the notes that are the most important feature in a book of this sort. P.’s notes are considerably better than those found in H., who for the most part confined himself to brief definitions of words not likely to be found in a classical Latin dictionary and to references to his four page grammatical introduction. P. does considerably more for his readers. H., for example, had 13 lines of notes for Notker Balbulus’ account of the martyrdom of St. Lawrence, while P. has 29; H. has 16 lines of notes to the Dulcitius of Hrotsvitha compared to 63 lines in P. This sort of comparison could be made in P.’s favor from virtually anywhere in the book. Although some deal with content, most of the notes deal with the Latin itself. P. addresses both medieval peculiarities (or at least what might seem peculiar to someone trained in classical Latin) and those points of classical grammar that he feels might be troublesome to students. The notes, however, aren’t always as useful as they might be. Much of the problem, I think, stems from their lack of focus. It is not very clear, to me at least, for whom they are intended. According to the publisher’s blurb on the back of the paperback edition of the book, the grammatical notes are “geared toward students of classical Latin who may be reading medieval Latin for the first time.” In fact, many of the notes seem to be aimed at people without a lot of experience in reading classical Latin, let alone medieval. A considerable number are devoted to basic points of classical Latin grammar: e.g. venturo is a future active participle modifying die in ablative of time (p. 107, n. 20); dissice, rumpe, solve, and ingere are imperatives (p. 110, n. 97); septem is indeclinable (p. 176, n. 3); utor takes an ablative object (p. 223, n. 20); causa + genitive = for the sake of (p. 326, n. 7). Sometimes, the notes become repetitive. For example, on p. 107 successive notes point out negative purpose clauses (n. 32 & n. 34); on p. 471 (n. 28) signasset is parsed fully, and immediately afterwards clamasset is as well; on p. 496 (n. 10), it is explained twice that Terentia is Cicero’s ex-wife. I realize that a class might start anywhere in a book of this sort and therefore it is not practical to include a lot of notes in the early sections and then taper off over the course of the book, but students would probably be better served in the long run if the editor limited any particular explanation to one time per selection. There are other notes aimed at more mature scholars: P. includes a number of citations to scholarly works on late and medieval Latin, and at one point (p. 383, n. 5) we learn that Haefele translates famidicus as Gerüchteerzäler. Those who find this sort of note and the citations to scholarly works useful will want more of them and won’t be interested in notes of the ” utor + the ablative” variety. The opposite is also true, of course. In short, P. has tried to include something for everybody in the notes, but that approach often leads to dissatisfied users at all levels. No doubt the publisher wanted the book to appeal to as wide a Latin-reading audience as possible (which is understandable). I can only say that my own graduate students, who seemed to me to be the right target for this book, felt that too much space in the notes was devoted to explaining the basics, and I am inclined to agree with them. There is certainly nothing wrong with providing that sort of help, but I wonder whether students who need much of this sort of assistance are really ready for a book like Medieval Latin. Unlike Beeson, say, there are not many “easy” selections here, and my impression is that many of the selections included would be difficult for students who still need a fair amount of help with the basics.

The notes might also make better use of the book’s grammatical introduction. The four pages devoted to medieval Latin grammar in H. have been replaced by a 51 page introduction to medieval Latin orthography, vocabulary, and syntax, written by the late Alison Goddard Elliott. This is a very good short introduction to the differences between medieval and classical Latin and is by far the most complete of any of those in medieval Latin anthologies in print (although it would be helpful to have its contents included in the book’s index). P.’s notes would be more useful if they referred to the grammatical introduction more frequently. Too often, he gives an explanation in the notes when he might simply have given a citation to the relevant section of the grammatical introduction. This type of citation saves some space in the notes which can be put to other use (such as providing more information about the content of the passage), and it directs students to a place where they might find a fuller explanation than one can provide in the notes.

The notes are accurate for the most part, but there are more little mistakes in them than one would like to see: e.g. on page 77 (n. 3), the reader is referred to Löfstedt 111 rather than to pp. 124-25; conplicaverat means had bent, not picked up (p. 178, n. 8); Pridie Nonas Iunii is June 4th, not June 3rd (p. 330, n. 4); absorberi and revomi are not governed by videntur but are verbs in indirect speech (p. 394, n. 8); Carmen 35 of the Cambridge Songs is not written in dactylic hexameters (p. 409) but in ambrosian strophes; the orthographical change from classical aerumnam to medieval erumnam is not an example of the inclusion of a parasitic consonant (p. 536, n. 142). Little mistakes of this sort plus a few misprints (e.g. patrem for partem [p. 82, l. 10]; prevenisset for pervenisset [p. 181, l. 14]; fatum for factum [p. 410, l.19]) mar but certainly do not overwhelm the many fine qualities of the book.

Despite my criticisms of the notes, the positive qualities of the new edition of Medieval Latin far outweigh the negative. I will certainly use it again in future introductory medieval Latin classes, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants a book for a course in which a broad selection of medieval Latin is to be read. The introductory material, the diversity and quality of the selections, and Elliott’s grammatical supplement make this book an excellent choice for a graduate survey. A strong group of undergraduates could use P. as well and enjoy it; a weaker group might be better off with something like Beeson, who begins with a fair number of fairly easy selections, or Sidwell. In any case, my guess is that those who have used H. in the past and liked it will like P. even more; those who have tried H. and did not like it ought to consider P. It is a much better book than its predecessor.