Seminars XCVI, XCVII & XCVIII: lectures and learning in Oxford

Returning the story of my academic life to these shores, there is a triennial lecture series here in Oxford established in the name of Elias Avery Lowe, the man behind Codices Latini Antiquiores, which if you’re a certain sort of scholar is a second Bible (and with nearly as many books) and if you’re any other sort of scholar you may never use.1 He was a palæographer, and the lectures are about palæography, and so it was a good sign of, I don’t know, something, that this year they were given by Professor David Ganz. I had hoped to make it to these because David is always erudite and interesting and has often been a great help to me, but I was thwarted in this by various factors of timing and I was only able to get to the second one, “Latin Manuscript Books Before 800, 2: scribes and patrons”, which was given on Monday 16th May. This is to say, as you may have spotted, that it was the day after Kalamazoo ended, and so I was there on the back of a few hours bad sleep on an airliner and a five-hour time-shift, but I was there.

Letter from Jerome to Pope Damasus IV on the correction of the Bible, in Codex Sangallensis 48

Letter from Jerome to Pope Damasus IV on the correction of the Bible, in Codex Sangallensis 48 (via Wikimedia Commons)

The sad result of this is that my notes, while quite entertaining where legible, I think don’t always have much to do with what David was saying, as my subconscious was clearly getting the upper hand of my listening ear at some points. Nonetheless, I feel fairly safe in telling you that David talked about:

  • copyists, starting with the kinds of errors and corrections that we know about because they were faithfully copied over (apparently St Jerome excused himself in one manuscript from fourteen different sorts of scribal error, which is proof if any were needed that pedantry does not bar one from Heaven);
  • about the diffuseness of this sample and the very small number of scribes we have who show up more than once, which shows the vast number of books there must once have been if there was even occasional employment for all these people that we only get one glimpse of (like die-links in numismatics, this, I like it so I hope David actually said it);
  • about the authority for changes, and the respect for manuscript integrity that leads to colophons telling us who copied a manuscript’s exemplar being carried over into the therefore anonymous copies that we have, which happens in four ninth-century manuscripts of things copied by Bœthius whose actual scribes we have no idea about;
  • and about how difficult it was, when only 8% of manuscripts (taking Lowe’s CLA as an inventory) of this period even name scribes, of working out who was employing them. Almost all of those 8% are churchmen, so ‘the Church’ would be a simplistic answer, but as long as one of them is a notary (and Vandalguis (sp?) who wrote our manuscript of the Laws of the Alemans claimed so to be) there must have been other structures.

I am guessing that David will call me out on any errors here, in fact I entreat him so to do as I’m sure there must be some and I don’t want to copy them over…

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, where Professor
Sarah Foot is a lay canon by right of her post

Then two days later a rather different occasion, involving more gowns and gilt and fewer images, when Sarah Foot, who is Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History in these parts, gave her long-delayed inaugural lecture, “Thinking with Christians: doing ecclesiastical history in a secular age”. In checking the date I find that the Theology Faculty evidently recorded this and already have it online as a podcast, so you could listen to it yourself, but what you will get if you do is quite a clever balancing act between the interests of various parts of her audience, the Anglo-Saxonists who know Sarah’s work,2 the theologians and canons who are her new colleagues, and the University’s old hands who will turn out for any event where lots of people will be wearing gowns in public and there will be free wine. Thus there is much about the history of the Chair to which Sarah has now succeeded and the denominational politics of the English Church that have sometimes dictated what the theologians of the University thought were the important things for a church historian to be working on (viz. the origins and basis of their denomination), and about the increasingly social basis of the discipline since the 1970s (in a kaleidoscopic barrage of citation that included Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Robert Moore, Clifford Geertz and Jacques le Goff to name but a few) and the threat she perceived in it that ecclesiastical history per se might become (as with so much else) just a particular flavour of cultural history. Sarah suggested that having had a ‘cultural turn’ now it might be good to have a ‘religious turn’, linking faith and thought as a theme of study. If that sounds like an interesting manifesto, you could go listen to how she argues it.

Psalm 23 in the St Hubert Bible, one of the manuscripts of Theodulf of Orléans's corrected text of the Bible (British Library MS Additional 24142)

Psalm 23 in the St Hubert Bible, one of the manuscripts of Theodulf of Orléans's corrected text of the Bible (British Library MS Additional 24142)

After that, to my shock, I seem not to have been to any kind of academic public speaking for a week and a half. Perhaps I was full up, or perhaps (more likely) teaching and deadlines collaborated to keep me from it. Either way, I resumed with Laura Carlson’s presentation of a paper called “An Encyclopedic Theology: Theodulf of Orléans and the Carolingian Wiki-Bible” to the Oxford Medieval Seminar on the 30th May. I don’t want to say too much about this, because I notice that Ms Carlson has what looks like a related paper coming up at the Institute of Historical Research and so to do so might constitute spoilers. Broadly, however, she was drawing out the difference between two different Bible-editing projects running simultaneously at the high point of the Carolingian Renaissance, Alcuin‘s single authoritative text as found in the Tours Bibles, and Theodulf’s comparative version, which drew as she sees it on a considerable range of texts, Italian and Anglo-Saxon themselves drawing on Greek, Vulgate, Cassiodorian and Irish traditions, and tried to incorporate the useful bits of all of them, as well as occasional Hebrew readings, slices of Patristic theological commentary, Visigothic Law and Spanish spellings (because, as we have discussed, Theodulf thought he was a Goth). Now, whether all this justified the title “Wiki-Bible” or not would be a vexed question (`citation needed’!) but it does go to show once more that the idea that the entire mission of the Carolingian intellectual court was standardisation needs questioning. Not least because, as Ms Carlson pointed out in questions, neither Alcuin or Theodulf ever cited their own versions of the Bible when doing other sorts of study!


1. E. A. Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores: a palaeographical guide to Latin ms. prior to the 9th century (1934-1971), 12 vols, with various subsequent addenda by others. Lowe’s lesser work is largely assembled in a very handsome two-volume collection, Palaeographical Papers, ed. Ludwig Bieler (Oxford 1972). I’m assuming that David Ganz’s publications need no introduction here but if you didn’t realise quite how voluminous they are then this list on the Regesta Imperii OPAC will give you an idea. More than can easily go in a footnote!

2. Very lately added to with her Æthelstan, the first King of England (New Haven 2011) but perhaps so far more famous for her work on female religious, such as Veiled Women: the Disappearance of Nuns from Anglo-Saxon England (Aldershot 2000), 2 vols, or on the development of the idea of England, classically in “The making of ‘Angelcynn‘: English identity before the Norman Conquest” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 6 (Cambridge 1996), pp. 25-50, repr. in Roy M. Liuzza (ed.), Old English literature: critical essays (New Haven 2002), pp. 51-78, as well as of course much more here also.

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2 responses to “Seminars XCVI, XCVII & XCVIII: lectures and learning in Oxford

  1. I’ve only just noticed that this post had comments disallowed! That wasn’t my intent, and has now been fixed, so if you have anything to say do say it!

  2. Pingback: Seminar CVI: Carolingian men of the Word « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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