Classics, Italian Literature, Latin language and Literature, Manuscript Studies

Frank Coulson Lectures on a Fragment of an Ovid Translation by Giovanni de Virgilio in the Walsh Library

This past 27 April, Dr. Frank Coulson of Ohio State University gave a lecture on a manuscript he discovered in the Walsh Library.  Coulson believes that Walsh Library MS Item 14, a 15th century manuscript fragment listed by Digital Scriptorium as a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses with marginal commentary, is actually a 14th century copy of the Metamorphoses with a marginal translation written by Giovanni de Virgilio.  Giovanni de Virgilio was a 14th century Paduan scholar who was educated in Bologna and who was commissioned by the Studium of Bologna to lecture on Lucan, Statius, Ovid, and Virgil (for whom he had a particular love, as one can surmise from his chosen name.)  Only his Ovid lectures survive, along with a few of his other translations and commentaries.  We’ve some insight into Giovanni’s personal life, including his friendship and extended correspondence with Dante Alighieri.  Indeed, Giovanni even wrote an epitaph for Dante’s tomb.

The Walsh Ovid fragment, Coulson believes, is part of a lager Oivid commentary and translation Giovanni produced.  Coulson has been hunting down these fragments for the last few years, and has expanded our awareness of them exponentially.  Of the total number of fragments we are aware of, this is the 12th.  Prior to Coulson’s project, we were only aware of a single fragment of this commentary and translation.

What is so interesting about this particular fragment is how it breaks from the standard translation/commentarial methods of the time.  While most translations and commentaries in the 14th and 15th centuries were incorporated into the main text as one continuous block, with alternating segments of text and translation/commentary, this fragment has the translation and comments wrapping around the Latin text.  What’s more, this marginal translation does not even correspond to the text it wraps around: the marginal Italian text and the Latin text are from two different books of the Metamorphoses.  Also, the script of this fragment of this translation is in a textualis hand, meant to be easily read and understood for its formal, proper style.  This would be opposed to a cursive hand, which was more common for documents and university notes and textbook copies.  Coulson believes this is indicative of the intended patron of the translation, being someone who likely did not understand Latin well, if at all, and just wanted to be able to engage with Ovid through the vernacular.

The Center would like to thank Dr. Coulson for his sharing his invaluable expertise and insights with students and faculty alike.