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.

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Manuscript Studies, Medieval Studies

Rebecca Bartels Recounts A Lecture Given by Consuelo Dutschke at Colombia University

On October 28th, students of Dr. Hafner’s Manuscript Culture class attended a lecture at the Butler Library in Columbia University in order to hear a private seminar from Consuelo Dutschke, curator of the Medieval and Renaissance rare book collections. The Rare Book Collections seminar room stood behind a secret door which at first glance looked like a wall. The Rare Books Collection has under its control a locus of incunabulum; namely books and documents printed from early Western Europe up until January 1, 1501.

Once we were all ensconced in the lecture room, Consuelo brought to our attention approximately twenty documents and books laid out over a long wooden table. “Keep an open mind,” Consuelo said as we leaned forward to survey the documents, “or you’ll never find what’s out there.” With these words in mind, we began to participate in an interactive lecture that involved answering questions, translating passages, and experiencing the privilege of holding the documents and books themselves.

Since manuscript scholars can’t rely on colophons or script types to give us the place, date, and author necessarily, we must rely on nuances within decoration and textual format to give us some context. Consuelo highlighted and demonstrated the importance of decoration as a way of localizing each book, in some cases identifyingdown to its very city of origin. Before even opening some of the texts, Consuelo described how the original book bindings hinted at a book’s region of origin. For instance, if a book had clasps (do you recall what it was about the clasps that made them specifically Italian? I think it had to do with their being closed toward the back of the book, but I’m not sure), it was likely to have been made in Italy. With Consuelo’s tutelage, we were enlightened on the uses of decoration and the history of the manuscripts and books.

Consuelo shared with us the importance of manuscript culture history. In 1953, French Paleographers created the CIPL (Comité International de PaléographieLatine), an establishment that aspired to solve a fundamental question about manuscript culture: how do we go about studying these manuscripts? Though the CIPLlost momentum, their work was not in vain. Today, the most used book on manuscript identity is Tuscany’s version of the CIPL, which includes a method of dating the documents by means of comparison and contrast. In the United States, Columbia works alongside UC Berkley to produce the Digital Scriptorium. The strengths of a digital database include the use of vibrant color, a vast library, and the ability to correct inaccurate cataloguing and classification information.

As for Columbia’s Plimpton Manuscript collection, Consuelo described why so many manuscripts were broken off in scrappy segments instead of being retained as whole books. George Plimpton, the founder of the Plimpton collection, bought a myriad of cheap little items from 1925 to 1965. One hypothesis as to why these manuscripts were sold folio by folio instead of by book was because of their cheapness. Consuelo offered another imposing hypothesis: that libraries often accept and recognize volumes of one work, having difficulty classifying and describing a book containing multiple works or texts. Due to this, many manuscripts have portions in several localities.

The class was certainly an enlightening one. Not only did we learn about manuscripts and documents by reading and holding them, but we learned about manuscript culture history and how conservationists and curators locate the time and place of the manuscript. In addition, Consuelo’s generosity and warmth culminated in an exciting and welcoming experience that shall not be forgotten. On behalf of the Centre of Medieval Studies, I wish to thank Consuelo Dutschke and Columbia University for hosing such an enlightening class, for it provided indelible inspiration towards our quests to study manuscript culture.

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Latin language and Literature

Scot Long and Anna Lukyanova return from the Paideia Institute’s “Living Latin” Program in Paris

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Living Latin in Paris students read at the grave of Héloïse and Abélard (January 2016).

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.

PaideiainstitutelogoScot, 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

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