Monday, January 30, 2006

The Survival of Classical Texts (2)

Previously, we noted the importance of Carolingian strongholds in the revival of the copying of ancient texts. But what of England’s part? Reynolds observes that, due to wars and invasions, England had lost most of its collection of literature even as such collections were starting to grow on the Continent.. When England began to rebuild her libraries in the 10th century, it is a sign of the extent of the Continental revival that connoisseurs were aided by texts that had migrated across the water, probably as a result of the influx of Europeans caused by the invasions :

'But crossing the English Channel is always something of a bore, and the gradual restocking of English libraries is one indication of the vigour and success with which classical learning was able to expand its orbit’ (xxxi-xxxii).

Evidence indicates that much more ancient poetry than prose was acquired at this time. Moreover, classical learning continued to pick up steam and rapidly expanded in the century following the Norman Conquest (xxxiv).

As one moves into the 11th century, German and Italian contributions overshadow those of France (xxxii). This trend is especially noteworthy at the Italian monastery of Montecassino:

‘The most remarkable phenomenon is of course the copying at Montecassino within the course of a few decades [of the eleventh century] of a whole clutch of hitherto totally unknown texts’ (xxxiii).

The trend of the revival (though one must take some ups and downs into account) continued upward, especially as another sort of renaissance began in the 12th century. During this time, one may observe a great increase in the amount of books circulating (xxxv). France now again moves (probably) into a position of dominance, ‘though there is strenuous competition from the monasteries of Bavaria and Austria....The Cistercians were a vigorous order and their scriptoria were particularly busy’ (xxxv). The increased volume, however, brought problems of its own: textual corruption. Reynolds points out that

‘[e]ditors do not necessarily look upon the manuscripts of the later Middle Ages with any great enthusiasm. In the case of some authors they will have had a long copying tradition behind them, with its inevitable accumulation and compounding of error and conjecture, and there is now a marked propensity towards arbitrary alteration’ (xxxv).

And, remembering the Norman Conquest, one must not forget the increased activity in England. Reynolds illustrates this point by referring to ‘the breadth of reading of such a writer as William of Malmesbury, who was totally dependent on the books which he could obtain in England’ (xxxvi).

Naturally, such revivals gave birth to an increase in literacy, previously the province, for the most part, of clergy and the powerful (xxxvii). Reynolds states that

‘[t]he putting into circulation of newly discovered works of Latin literature could have a wider impact on taste and culture now that books were coming withing the reach of a reading public’ (xxxvii).

Finally, there are a couple of more things worth remarking upon in the run-up to the capital-r Renaissance. The first is the development of the convenient florilegium, which made a greater amount of Latin literature available in circulation; this occurred at the same time as Latin translations from Greek and Arabic gave access to Aristotelian philosophy and science (xxxvii-xxxviii).

Secondly, the importance of the development of printing cannot be overstated:

‘Although the change was gradual–some of our late manuscripts are copies of printed editions–most Latin authors were available in print by the end of the fifteenth century’ (xlii-xliii).

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