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. [Read on for more on Professor Coulson’s talk] Continue reading
On September 30th, Katherine Briant of Fordham’s Center for Medieval Studies curated a viewing of medieval manuscripts and early printed books in the Mertz Library’s Rare Book and Folio Room as part of the first day of this year’s Biduum Latinum, which was hosted by the New York Botanical Garden. Consisting of thirteen books of botany and medicine that span the late 12th to mid-16th centuries, Katherine’s exhibit presented examples of some of the most influential scientific texts of the Middle Ages in forms and copies ranging from the startlingly beautiful to the equally startlingly practical.
Two Circa Instans copies were displayed, one from the late 12th century (QK 99 .P575 1190) and the other from the last quarter of the 13th century (QK 99 .P575 1275). The former, much more practical in its appearance and having been well-used, contrasted with the latter copy, which was obviously meant to be admired beyond the contents of its leaves.
The contrast gave the exhibit’s audience a more complete understanding of the space these texts inhabited in medieval intellectual culture and manuscript culture. While of a more practical nature than many other kinds of texts, medical and botanical books were still decorated, showing the simultaneous importance of both the knowledge that the book was meant to transmit and the presentation of that knowledge on the manuscript page.
Also of note were two other works Katherine presented and described. The first, a medical compilation from 13th-century France (R128 .C65), shows the ways in which recorded medical knowledge was expanded and commented upon by readers who added ample notes and marginalia over time to the text. Another text, a 1565 Venice edition of Mattioli’s Commentarii, was paired with an original woodblock used to create the illustration of Eruca Sativa (Rocket) for that plant’s entry in the book. The audience had the chance to compare the image produced in the text with the mirror image carved into the woodblock, imagining the action of pressing the inked block into the page and visualizing the physicality that early modern book production entailed.
This book viewing was a wonderful way to end the first day of the Biduum Latinum, and it provided participants with the opportunity to see the material objects that transmitted the botanical knowledge featured in the bootcamp’s second day. The Center would like to congratulate Katherine on her successful exhibition and would like to extend a grateful thanks to the New York Botanical Gardens for their warm welcome.
This past 30th of September, Dr. Robin Fleming gave a lecture in the New York Botanical Gardens’ Mertz Library as part of the first day of this year’s Biduum Latinum on the Roman importation of plants and animals to Britain during its brief time as a part of the Empire and the impact this practice had on Britain’s material history. Fleming began her “Vanishing plants, animals, and places: Britain’s transformation from Roman to Medieval” with a lament that the people she most often wants to learn more of in historical accounts and existing records are not actually mentioned by or visible in those very records. To find out more about those who are silent in the written record, she went to look to the physical, archaeological evidence of their actions and, specifically, what they did with Roman imports. We know from the written record that certain spices, fruits, vegetables, and even livestock were imported, but it is from the archaeological evidence that Fleming observed what these things were used for and by whom.
Looking to the period of Roman withdrawal from Britain in the 4th-5th centuries CE, Fleming put forward that the over-all impact this withdrawal had was a material one. Noting a trend in the study of the de-Romanization of Britain, which presents the Roman withdrawal as having only a political and social effect on the urban elite, Fleming presented ample archaeological evidence that the immediately felt impact of the lack of a Roman presence in Britain was tied specifically to the loss of consistent Roman imports, which had penetrated every level of British society. From the rural villager to the proud owner of a country villa and the urban elite, Roman imports formed a substantial, or, at least, noticeable portion of one’s diet. From chicken to coriander, Roman imports can be seen in the diets of peoples spanning every level of the social spectrum. Fleming bases this on evidence collected from excavated cesspits found across Romanized Britain. Fleming believes even some native plants such as strawberries, thought to be inedible by British Celts, were, via Roman influence and interest in this exotic new taste sensation, introduced to consuming these berries on a daily basis.
The Roman influence did not end with the expansion of the British diet. The Romans brought also such practices as grafting to the Isles, and Roman land-owning elite had constructed massive granaries to hold, in as conspicuous as way as possible, their vast wealth of food, harvested from ever-expanding fields of what were previously grasslands or floodplains. Showing that influence was not unidirectional, the Roman villa of Britain was itself constructed in a similar manner as a rural villager’s home, albeit at a much grander scale with some distinctly Roman decoration. The archaeological record shows thatched roofs, straw-covered pounded dirt floors, and sparse tiling display what it was the Roman landed elite called home, in a far cry from what their fellow citizens of a similar social standing would have known on the continent. We even see, in Kent, a small port attached to a brewery obviously meant to export British beer to the continent.
What, then, came of these Roman introductions after the withdrawal? From the archaeological evidence, Fleming believes most of the plants and animals imported died off without continuous Roman cultivation and husbandry and constant replacements being brought in by ship. Most of these alien flora and fauna were not kept in large enough quantities to spread naturally from the abandoned gardens or breed beyond the confines of Roman hunting grounds. In fact, we see a sharp spike in the consumption of foraged food after the period of Roman rule comes to an end in Britain. The plants and animals currently thought of as British staples were reintroduced in the Middle Ages with the reemergence of trade with the continent and the import of materials and people coinciding with the rise of monasticism (and monastic gardens) in the Isles. However, this should not be taken as indicative of a decline in the health of the average Britain, as, in lieu of landlords demanding the majority of what one produced, families were able to grow food entirely for themselves, adding what was foraged to that and resulting in a, generally, healthier individual, as shown by the larger, more robust skeletons we see dating to after the Roman withdrawal.
Noting the anthropological theory that, while people make things, things also make people, Fleming presented the Roman rule and withdrawal from Britain as signifying two major shifts in British material history. As the needs of cultivated plants and livestock require humans to alter their own schedules to provide the time to meet those needs, and humans often base their own social standing on their acquisition and holding of such things, shifts in material history inevitably denote shifts in political and social history. Fleming’s intertwining of textual sources and archaeological evidence provides a window into how exactly material changes alter every facet of human society and interrelations.
The Center would like to graciously thank Dr. Fleming for beginning the Biduum on an excellent note, and the New York Botanical Gardens for hosting the event and providing the perfect environment for our study of Roman and Medieval botany.
During Winter Break, Medieval Studies MA students Scotland Long and Anna Lukyanova spent December 27 to January 3 in Paris in the Paideia Institute For Humanistic Study’s “Living Latin” program in Paris. Their group, led by Dr. Michael McGowan of Fordham’s Classics department, co-founder of the Paideia Institute, Dr. Eric Hewett, and Claire Burgess, editor of Paideia’s art blog Loci in Locis , spent time immersing themselves in Medieval Latin both tangibly and intangibly, practicing the active use of Latin as a living language in the physical spaces in which the language was employed as the lingua franca of its time.
The program sought to nurture the participants’ understanding of the Latin language creatively by having the students re-word Latin sentences and phrases using synonyms and different structures of grammar, making them producers of the language rather than mere observers of past productions and compositions. Classes were held daily in the afternoons in rooms graciously lent to the program by the monks of the Congregation de St. Esprit, one of the last functioning monasteries in Paris’ Latin Quarter, after excursions to sites inextricably linked to the use and survival of the Latin language in the Middle Ages and prior. The Latin Quarter is so named for the medieval students of the nearby Sorbonne, who continued to use Latin for their classes well after most other universities of Europe began employing vernacular languages officially. Dividing the group into three divisions according to understanding and comfort with the language, the program ensured those of every level of understanding walked away with a greater comprehension of Latin vocabulary.
The Sainte-Chapelle, Saint Denis Basilica, Chartres Cathedral, and Notre Dame de Paris were but a few of the iconic sites visited by this year’s troupe, consisting of students seeking Latin enlightenment, teachers seeking new methods of bringing the language to life in the classroom, and those of other professions who wished to indulge their own interest in the language of theology, philosophy, and the chronicles of Roman and Christian histories. Letters exchanged by the infamous lovers Abelard and Heloise were read in the language in which they were written over their graves in the Père Lachaise, where the pair are ironically, if appropriately, buried side-by-side. An excerpt from the life of Saint Germain was read in the Parisian abbey church bearing his name. The group also visited an old Roman amphitheatre on the bank of the Seine and found it, like Latin itself, still seeing its fair share of use, filled as it was with soccer players and bocci ball enthusiasts. The Latin-speaking troupe did not go unnoticed in the city, however, as the occasional Parisian would make his or her way quietly up to the group to listen in for a few minutes before walking away, sometimes with noticeable confusion on their faces. A few others would casually make their way over to share what they knew of the site before walking away, disappearing like a surprisingly informative spectre.
Scot, having heard of the Paideia Institute’s “Living Latin” program in Paris during an event also hosted by Paideia in the New York Botanical Gardens during his undergraduate years, found time between these excursions to investigate the famous bookstores of Paris, the Collège de France, and the Sorbonne, taking in the proud intellectual traditions of the city. Anna spent a few extra days after the program concluded in Paris visiting, amongst other places, the marvels of the Louvre and strolling about Paris, taking in the timeless beauty of the City of Lights. The program began and ended with two large group dinners and celebrated the coming of the New Year with one also; all three of which included the recitation of popular Latin drinking songs. Who says one cannot mix work with play?
By Kevin Vogelaar