Monday, 21 April 2014

My research examines the transmission of learning in the early Middle Ages. My principal focus is on glosses, that is, marginal and interlinear notes ubiquitous in medieval manuscripts. In particular I am interested in how glosses helped shape the inheritance of classical and late antique learning in the early Middle Ages and how they furnish a window to early medieval intellectual and cultural history.

Greek and the Carolingian Reception of Martianus Capella

A current interest is in the function of glosses. In my article on “The sacred and the obscure” in print in The Journal of Medieval Latin, I look at how glosses encoded and obscured as well as explained, thus recovering their creative role in the transmission of knowledge. Early medieval scholars, for example, paid considerable attention to the Greek found in the highly influential work, Martianus Capella’s De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii (On the marriage of Philology and Mercury), a late antique Latin work full of obscurities in language and imagery.

In this paper, I demonstrate that a range of material was available to ninth-century scholars to elucidate Martianus’s Greek and that Greek seems, at times, to have served as a means to obscure. I argue that this interest in obscurity reflects a widespread epistemology and strategy of concealment. For ninth-century readers, the Greek in the glossed Martianus manuscripts, however decorative it may have been, also operated at the core of medieval hermeneutics. This challenges the traditional view that glosses are devices that merely clarify a text.

In their glosses on Martianus Capella, glossators clearly went beyond pragmatic elucidation of a difficult text. As we can see from the example below, scribes often wrote the Greek letters in majuscules as was standard in the Latin West and sometimes coloured the Greek, thus lending a visual prominence to the letters.

Trier, Bibliothek des Bischöflichen Priesterseminars, Ms. 100, fol. 67r.     

Quite often, glossators explained loanwords from Greek with the help of Greek and Latin words, as in the case of thalamus:

thalamis: ΤΗΛΗΜΑ Grece uoluptas, inde dicitur thalamus
Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, Vossianus Latinus Folio 48, fol. 2r

Problems in Editing Glosses

Another current interest is in the difficulties faced by the modern editor when confronted with a gloss tradition. Glosses present many challenges, particularly their textual fluidity. In a forthcoming paper, commissioned for The ‘Ars Edendi’ Casebook, I draw attention to specific problems that emerged when editing Carolingian glosses on Martianus Capella. I suggest ways of dealing with the following challenges: (a) organization of the glosses; (b) identification of the lemma (i.e. the word in the text to be glossed); (c) variation and corruption of the lemma; and (d) accretion and correction.

One problem in particular which fascinates me is the difficulty of establishing the lemma. Generally, the lemma is identified through graphic symbols known as signes de renvoi, which link text and gloss or through placement of the marginal and interlinear glosses that were written close to or directly above their lemmata. For example, the following gloss is linked by a signe de renvoi to its lemma:

draconem: nomen draconis ΞΕΤ

The signe de renvoi comprises three dots which appear over the lemma draconem and again in the margins beside the gloss. Such methods of identification, however, incur problems. Symbols that connect glosses to individual words in the text do not clearly identify lemmata that consist of phrases, sentences or long passages. Moreover, the correlation of gloss and lemma often became confused in the transmission process. And sometimes a scribe or scribes provided different lemmata for a gloss.

Servius in the Carolingian Age

For well over a year now I have been transcribing glosses on Virgil found in ninth- and tenth-century manuscripts. Below an example of dense scribal activity found in one Carolingian Virgil manuscript:  

Montpellier, Bibliothèque interuniversitaire, Section Médecine, H 253, fol. 8r

My work on Virgil has led me to Servius, the most important and most complete surviving late antique commentary on Virgil’s three major works that circulated as glosses and as an independent text in ninth- and tenth-century manuscripts. 

In the last six months I have studied one such manuscript, London, British Library, Harley Ms. 2782 which transmits Servius as an independent work together with a Life of Virgil. Originating in Northeast France, Harley 2782 is a standard Servian manuscript produced in the Frankish world in the third or fourth quarter of the ninth century. For the Georgics and Aeneid, we find the vulgate Servius and for the Eclogues a variorum commentary comprising a mixture of Servius and comments from the so-called Bern scholia, a collection of glosses on the Eclogues and Georgics which derives its name from three manuscripts currently housed in Bern. 

What makes the variorum commentary in the Harley manuscript interesting is that we find the same notes in two other manuscripts: Trier, Stadtsbibliothek Ms. 1086 and Valenciennes, Bibliothèque municipale Ms. lat. 394, manuscripts originating in Central and Northeast France. The following comment in Harley 2782 appears in the Trier and Valenciennes manuscripts:

Alligorice dicit hic Cornificius Virgilium furte et iniuste caprum, id est agrum, ab Augusto recepisse; reclamante Lycisca, id est plebe Mantuana (Eclogues 3, 17)

Trier, Stadtbibliothek, Ms. 1086, fol. 3v

Harley 2782 reflects wider trends found in other ninth-and tenth-century codices. It also bears witness to the importance of Servius and to collections such as the Bern scholia. Crucially, the manuscript makes evident that late antique scholarship informed Carolingian reading of Virgil. Servius, in particular, was vital to the reception of Virgil. Above all, Harley 2782 furnishes evidence for the vigorous appropriation of the most complete surviving Virgil commentary in the early Middle Ages.