Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Charles Burnett and Nicholas Mann (eds.), Britannia Latina: Latin in the Culture of Great Britain from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century. Warburg Institute Colloquia 8. London/Turin: The Warburg Institute; Nino Aragno Editore, 2005. Pp. x, 230. ISBN 0-85481-137-0. £24.00
Reviewed by Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford University Press (aulus@gellius.demon.co.uk)

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The present valuable volume contains papers delivered (with two absences and one accretion) at the 'Britannia Latina' conference sponsored by the Fondazione Cassamarca and held at the British Academy and the Warburg Institute in 2003; it is dedicated to the memory of the Institute's former President J. B. Trapp. As the editors state, it was never intended 'to provide a comprehensive chronological account of Latin in Great Britain'; to the admitted lacunae, Roman Britain and the twelfth century (even William of Malmesbury achieves no more than a single passing mention), may be added the influence of Latin on the vernacular tongues, at its most extreme in the aureate style of Middle Scots. A paper on Scottish Latin was delivered but not published; indeed Scotland furnishes only one chapter against Wales's two. Irish Latinity has been excluded, geography trumping history.

In the first chapter Michael Lapidge searches for 'linguistic criteria which would help to identify an anonymous Latin text as "English"', and finds none despite trying f for Latin v, h treated as a consonant in quantitative verse, volo as an auxiliary of the future, and the hermeneutic style. As to the first, the substitution of /f/ is also found in Irish and continental Germanic (p. 5).1 Lapidge strangely writes (p. 4) 'Old English did not have a voiced sound which corresponded precisely to the Latin semi-vowel /w/', i.e. the initial sound of modern English wet; how else was the Old English wynn pronounced? The second he also finds in Walahfrid Strabo and Hrabanus Maurus; 2 indeed, it goes back to late-antique misinterpretation of caesural lengthening at Verg. Aen. 9. 610. Bede knew better, but justified the usage out of Christian poets. On the examples of volo paraphrasing the future Lapidge is a mite over-cautious; they are all in the first person singular, representing Old English 'ic wille' used of what the speaker will do by choice, not merely what he wishes to do: 'I will' not 'ich will'. 3 On the other hand, a thorough search of other Latinities is needed to find whether the use (which after all gave rise to the Romanian future, and can be found elsewhere in Romance) really is confined to English in the relevant period. Lapidge cites parallels for the strange words in the hermeneutic style from Continental authors, notably Abbo of Saint-Germain-des-Prés; but the point is less to track down individual words like arcisterium (Abbo's corruption of asceterium) than to compare the bloated ampullosity of the Bella Parisiacae urbis with that of (say) late-tenth-century English charters.

Unfortunately, Lapidge appears to have taken too literally the exclusion of Irish Latinity. Even if 'the first Latin teaching in England was done by the Roman [and Frankish?] monks who accompanied Augustine to England' (p. 3), they were swiftly followed by the Irish monks from Iona, whose mission was far more successful; it was certainly they and not Romans (or Franks) who imparted the Latin alphabet as the Anglo-Saxons wrote it. Had they really no influence on the way in which the language was used, even in the earliest years? After all, Lapidge himself in an earlier essay implicitly allowed Hibernian influence on the syllabic verse of Aldhelm, 4 before Theodore introduced a different model; and the Hisperica famina (distributed from even if not concocted in Ireland) made their contribution to the hermeneutic style, even if its scraps were stolen from other feasts of languages as well.

Peter Dronke writes on 'Arbor eterna: A Ninth-Century Welsh Latin Sequence', which he regards as older than Notker's productions, being written in a late-ninth-century hand and exhibiting more than one level of corruption; most startling is sensiaes for centies, taken down uncomprehendingly from a French-speaker who rendered both c and t as /ts/ in a word that a Welsh scribe would pronounce almost in classical fashion. Despite its difficulties of text and diction, Dronke extracts from it a sense in praise of Ecclesia, like that of the more disciplined Winchester sequence Gloria resonante cimbalarum. He also takes issue with an assertion of Erich Auerbach's, exhaled from the grave of Romanticism, that Carolingian Latin was a dead language written according to ancient models; that is not necessarily a bad thing to be, as the best achievements of Renaissance Latin show, but it simply does not apply to these sequences.

Maria Amalia D'Aronco examines the Latin background to the Old English vernacular medical treatises collectively known as the Leechbook. They represent the same practical dissemination of ancient knowledge (or what passed for knowledge) as may be found in contemporary Continental texts, from which however they differ in the use of the vernacular; they also sometimes derive from better texts of their Latin sources than we possess. Particular praise is lavished on the compiler's 'extraordinary competence in the subject matter', his 'lucid capacity for synthesis', and above all the 'strong awareness of [his] own national identity' visible in his aim of enlightening the non-Latinate. (Others, no less romantically, would speak of oneness with the people; perhaps rather he was loyally obeying instructions that in all likelihood came ultimately from King Alfred.) One would still like to know, however, how many of the remedies were likely to do the patient any good, and how much of the materia medica was identifiable despite scribal corruptions ('se monian' for 'scamonian', p. 29 n. 15) or indeed available.

David Luscombe considers Roger Bacon's approach to language. In order to understand both Christianity and the beliefs and intellectual achievements of those who were to be converted, it was necessary to know the languages in which they had been expressed--and not merely to speak those languages but to know their grammar. For his time, he shows an impressive command of biblical languages, knowing for instance that Jer. 10: 11 is in Aramaic (which like Jerome he calls Chaldee); 5 indeed, despite his desire, shared with others, for a more correct text of the Vulgate, and his interest in expository semiotics, his interest in the Hebrew Bible and Jewish exegesis was distinctly less than that in the Hebrew language. Was Bacon, whatever he might profess, really one of those who (in Jakob Grimm's dichotomy) studied the things for the words' sake rather than vice versa? or was he even more bent on demonstrating his superiority? 6

John Marenbon re-examines the account of Robert Holcot's views on virtuous pagans propagated by Middle English scholars: so far from holding that they had been allowed to attain the knowledge needful for salvation by natural reason, he maintained that no-one, Christian or pagan, had ever attained that knowledge by natural reason, that such pagans as had attained it had done so through learning of its revelation, and that most even of those had failed to act on it. The consequences for Chaucer and Langland are left for others to draw; but at least Holcot allows that some pagans went to heaven.

David Rundle considers the complexity of English reactions to fifteenth-century humanism, which were not confined to acceptance or rejection of Italian development in style; to be sure he seems to confuse the genus humanistic classicism with the species Ciceronianism, for by no means all humanists felt called upon to eschew words and constructions found in other ancient authors but not in Cicero, fashionable as that firm basis for composition became in the decades around 1500, but nevertheless there was a clear distinction between even the most liberal humanistic Latin and the florid style of medieval England, which took time to recede before it. Thomas Chaundler (who styled himself M.T.C.) fused matter from Leonardo Bruni and Pier Candido Decembrio into his Libellus de laudibus civitatum; others collected texts and compiled (not always accurate) glossaries. Moreover, even if for Henry VII, like other princes, humanists were prestigious collectables like 'Burgundian tapestries, Venetian glass, and exotic animals', 7 they were recognized to be purveying worthwhile values as well as stylistic change.

Richard Sharpe, in by far the longest chapter, examines the motivation and achievement of four English bibliographers, Henry of Kirkestede in the fourteenth century, John Leland and John Bale in the sixteenth, and Thomas Tanner in the eighteenth. Whereas the high proportion of works by or ascribed to British authors in Henry's Catalogus was due to compilation from English monastic libraries, above all that of Bury, the other three all produced consciously national bibliographies such as only Trithemius had attempted on the Continent; Leland and Bale, despite their talk of Britain, primarily focused on the manuscripts revealed and endangered by the dissolution of the English monasteries and moved by the English patriotism of the age, Tanner, in the early years of Great Britain, incorporating not only their work but that of their seventeenth-century successors in England, Ireland, and Scotland and of Edward Lhuyd on Wales. Particularly interesting is Sharpe's study of the relationship between Leland and Bale, with particular reference to Alberic of London (anonymized by Cardinal Mai as the Third Vatican Mythographer); notable too are his concluding pages on the difference between Insular and Continental bibliography.

Ceri Davies studies the Latin works of two Welsh cultural patriots, John Prise, nephew by marriage to Thomas Cromwell, and John Davies, reviser of the Bible and Prayer Book. The former in his Historiae Brytannicae defensio sought to vindicate Geoffrey of Monmouth's fables with the aid of old Welsh poetry, which he paraphrased in Latin verse, elegant like his prose despite occasional false quantities, 8 the latter wrote a Welsh grammar in Latin notable for its attention to the language as actually used by the poets, 9 and a dictionary of the two tongues, to each of which he prefixed a learned preface, in the grammar magnificently defending not only his own work but the Welsh language with particular reference to its value for preaching the Word of God.

Philip Ford examines the outburst of Scottish patriotism in a writer who had elsewhere bestowed his praises on France, George Buchanan, apparently in riposte to the preening tone of French epithalamia for the Dauphin with Mary Stuart; in his own poem on that theme, not content with celebrating the Scottish contribution on the field to the Auld Alliance, he will have it that the Scots thwarted the advance of Roman arms and helped Charlemagne bring culture to the Franks. (Alas, from his Latin history of Scotland it appears that he took for Scots not only the Irish monks known by that name, but--misled by 'Alba' and 'Albany'--the king's teacher Albinus, the Englishman Alcuin of York.) Although he wrote one work in Scots, and was conversant with Spanish as well as French, Ford suggests that his real homeland was not Scotland or even France but the Latin language itself.

Stella P. Revard considers the political messages of Latin poems addressed to Elizabeth I and Mary II, mostly by university poets from Oxford and Cambridge, but beginning with two rather more accomplished authors, Paulus Melissus and Janus Dousa. Melissus, praising Elizabeth for her love of peace, 10purchased enough goodwill to permit the inclusion of an ode to Gregory XIII, who was even less her friend than Revard observes, 11 having given support in word and deed to the Geraldine rebellion in Ireland and encouraged plots against her life; Dousa urges her to support the Dutch rebellion against Philip II, which she reluctantly did. As to domestic eulogists, whatever their poetic demerits the bards of Academe were true heirs of Horace in their vicarious zeal for war: when Elizabeth died, many in their lamentations besought her successor James I to continue the struggle with Spain, which he did not; on the other hand those who, somewhat imaginatively, likened Mary II to her were pushing at an open door when they bade William III fight the French.

There follow three articles on the decline in the status of Latin amongst the educated. First, James Binns surveys its course from the early eighteenth century, when it was still the natural language not only of learning, but of polite letters intended to be read in other countries, to the later decades (the turning-point is placed about 1750), when its use provokes self-consciousness in authors, and when the canon of Latin writers becomes more strictly classical; Binns looks ahead to the reborn Ciceronianism that persisted even into my schooldays, when I was told that et did not mean etiam and nec did not mean ne...quidem. However, I miss a comparison with the comparable contests and outcomes between Latin and the vernacular in France and Germany; contests and outcomes taken too much for granted when compared with the long persistence of Byzantine Greek, literary Arabic, classical Chinese, and Sanskrit.

E. J. Kenney, whose title refers to the special place of Horace in English hearts, devotes the first part of his chapter to the narrow grammatical education and the thrashings by which it was imparted; again I long for more comparisons than with the Canadian school of p. 181 n. 14 to which these practices had been exported. 12 But we may relish the account of Horace as remade by the English in their own image, lovable and clubbable (though in which clubs was a matter of dispute), his interest in the ladies discreetly overlooked, and regret the decline in the ability to quote him from memory once displayed even by men (the correct word) of practical life, as not only Latin but the gentleman scholar retreated. Has any other ancient author been so widely loved in any country where the Greek and Roman classics are studied?

Christopher Stray also examines the schoolroom, though his outrages are committed by boys not masters, and the decline of the amateur, symbolically silenced when the dreadful English pronunciation of Latin, which surpassed even the French for unintelligibility to alien ears, was finally suppressed; but he also traces the dissolution of the authority the language had enjoyed, not merely as a mark of superior education, but as a test of mental health, 13 and (even in non-Latinists' eyes) a guarantor of level-headed self-control. In addition, he considers the standing of Latin in relation to Greek, of which little is said in other chapters, 14 and recent attempts to teach the language in relation to Roman life, which indeed are showing promise of making it a thing one wishes to learn now that no other motivation will preserve it. 15

In one matter, however, I must take issue with Stray, namely his description of Housman's famous death-notice for the great English age of scholarship (borrowed with improvements from Wilamowitz) 16 as 'a grotesque travesty of the truth'. His reason is that the Classical Museum was edited by a naturalized immigrant and that Continental scholarship was published in translation; but what does that tell us about the native production? We may admire Grote the historian and Smith the lexicographer; but what, between the fatal year of 1825 and Munro's Lucretius, did Britain produce to compare, I will not say with the exact scholarship of the great Germans, of Cobet and van Herwerden the Dutchmen, of Madvig the Dane, but with the literary criticism of Sainte-Beuve's Étude sur Virgile? What, in short, should we go back and read?

The book ends with a view from across the Channel, Jean-Noël Guinot's account of the political, spiritual, and intellectual impact made on the wider world by Latinate churchmen from Britain down to 'le haut Moyen-Âge', which evidently extends to das Hochmittelalter: his earliest case is St Patrick in Ireland, his latest Baldwin of Forde. His definition of Britannia Latina is broad enough to include the Irishman John the Scot; but the only Scot in the modern sense mentioned is King David I, at whose court Aelred of Rievaulx had been a page. Observing that clerical exchanges between England and France were not all one-way, he notes (212) that two eleventh-century archbishops of Canterbury, Lanfranc and Anselm, though both of Italian origin, came by way of France; he might have remarked Lanfranc's predecessor but one was Robert of Jumièges, ingloriously as he departed.

Interestingly, given the stultifying assumptions of monoglottia so often imposed by Anglophonic publishers, this chapter is suffered to remain in French, whereas D'Aronco's Italian is translated. Moreover, as if to emphasize the loss of Latin, most contributors who quote it feel obliged to append English versions, which indeed in the case of Dronke's sequences may not be unwelcome even to the learned; some give both Latin and English in the main text, but Luscombe and Marenbon relegate the original to the notes, whereas D'Aronco adopts the inverse scheme for both Latin and Old English. Lapidge translates most but not all, but Rundle only his first quotation; Davies and Ford translate the shorter passages but not the long, Davies not even the medieval Welsh citations embedded in Prise's Defensio. It is impossible not to be amused.

Authors and titles:

1. Michael Lapidge, 'How "English" is Pre-Conquest Anglo-Latin?', 1-13.

2. Peter Dronke, Arbor eterna: A Ninth-Century Welsh Latin Sequence', 14-26.

3. Maria Amalia D'Aronco, 'How "English" is Anglo-Saxon Medicine? The Latin Sources for Anglo-Saxon Medical Texts', 27-41.

4. David Luscombe, 'Roger Bacon and Language', 42-54.

5. John Marenbon, 'Robert Holcot and the Pagan Philosophers', 55-67.

6. David Rundle, 'Humanist Eloquence among the Barbarians in Fifteenth-Century England', 68-85.

7. Richard Sharpe, 'The English Bibliographical Tradition from Kirkestede to Tanner', 86-128.

8. Ceri Davies, 'Two Welsh Renaissance Latinists: Sir John Prise of Brecon and Dr John David of Mallwyd', 129-44.

9. Philip Ford, 'Scottish Nationalism in the Poetry of George Buchanan', 145-55.

10. Stella P. Revard, 'The Latin Ode from Elizabeth I to Mary II: Political Approaches to Encomia', 156-69.

11. James Binns, 'The Decline of Latin in Eighteenth-Century England', 170-7.

12. E. J. Kenney, '"A little bit of it sticks": The Englishman's Horace', 178-93.

13. Christopher Stray, 'Scholars, Gentlemen and Schoolboys: The Authority of Latin in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century England', 194-208.

14. Jean-Noël Guinot, 'Importance culturelle et politique de la Britannia Latina dans l'antiquité tardive et le haut Moyen-Âge', 209-22.


1. Long before the English learnt Latin, classical /w/ had been spirantized to /β/, as is shown both by epigraphic confusion with <b> and by Greek transliterations with /β/ instead of /ου/; this sound was in turn converted to /v/ by the Franks and to /f/ by the Irish, who had already substituted it for Celtic /w/ (which in Welsh became /gw/) in such words as fer 'man' (modern fear, Welsh gw^r) and fi/r 'true' (modern fi/or, Welsh gwir). The Germanic and Celtic peoples had learnt of wine while the Romans still called it /wi:num/; accordingly the name was adopted as /wi:n/ in Germanic, and became gwin in Welsh and fi/n (now fi/on) in Irish. But, having their own poetic traditions, they felt no need to borrow versus till they engaged more seriously with Latin culture, by which time the initial consonant was no longer /w/ but a sound that did not exist word-initially in Germanic and only by lenition in Irish; the nearest equivalent in both Irish and Germanic was /f/, which in Old Irish fers perpetuated the graphic correspondence of Latin initial <u> and Irish <f>. Hence, if Old English fers does not come from Old Irish as it well may, it comes from Gallo-Roman like fann or fon (modern English fan with changed sense) from */vans/ (= French van), itself from Latin vannus, the substitution of /f/ for /v/ being further commended by the allophonic relationship of e.g. hrof [hro:f] ~ hrofas [hro:vas].

2. Cf. too the numerous examples in Waltharius, above all in barbarous names (e.g. et Hunos 5, primatum Heriricus 35, nomine Hiltgunt 36) but in Latin words too (e.g. sed haud 107, stantem hinc 406, ensem hac 1160).

3. In the Old English Genesis, line 1296, God says to Noah 'Ic wille mid flode folc acwellan' ('I will kill people with a flood'), representing Vulg. Gen. 6. 17 adducam diluvii aquas . . . ut interficiam, for God does everything by choice. In none of Lapidge's examples is volo an appropriate translation.

4. Michael Lapidge, 'Theodore and Anglo-Latin Octosyllabic Verse', in id. (ed.), Archbishop Theodore: Commemorative Studies on his Life and Influence (Cambridge, 1995), 260-80 at 262-4.

5. Luscombe states (47 n. 26) that 'This passage', sc. Jerome's prologue to Daniel, 'is not in the Vulgate'; it is in (for instance) Weber's edition.

6. His sneers at Willem van Moerbeke ('Willielmus Flemingus, qui nihil novit dignum neque in scientiis neque in linguis', Opus maius, ed. Bridges iii. 472) were not endorsed by others then or later, though we no longer look to Willem's translations for Aristotle's meaning, but for the exact text that they reveal; but what possessed him to claim (ibid. 473) 'Quinquaginta enim libros fecit [sc. Aristoteles] de animalibus praeclaros, ut Plinius dicit octavo Naturalium [8. 44], et vidi in Graeco; sed Latini non habent nisi decem nouem libellos misere imperfectos'? As well he did not know that Antigonus of Carystos had stated the number as seventy (fr. 60b Giannini).

7. Whether or not they could understand them (for which see p. 79); cf. Trajan to Dio of Prusa: 'I do not know what you are saying, but I love you as myself' (Philostratus, VS 1. 7, 479).

8. Twice in two lines he scans navium with short a (unless he allowed himself a synizesis typical of early medieval Celtic Latinity), in another passage he makes the first syllable of Brytonum short and makes cui a postclassical iambus.

9. Of this grammar Sir John Morris Jones was to say in his own Welsh Grammar (itself made a pleasure to read by the poetical illustrations): 'the author's analysis of the Modern literary language is final; he has left to his successors only the correction and amplification of detail' (p. v).

10. And even professing himself her slave, an abjection she declined in an epigram more elegant than that which it answered; the reference is given by Revard at p. 158 n. 5.

11. Nor, in her comments on Melissus' use of the swans on the Thames to praise the Queen, does she remark that, as royal birds, they belonged to Elizabeth literally and legally.

12. The sadism reported of certain Christian Brothers schools would appear to leave the English birching academy looking almost humane, but I speak without experience of either.

13. Dr Johnson's writing of Latin verses after a mild stroke is mentioned, but also a delightful story about F. W. Schneidewin, for Stray is not narrowly Anglocentric.

14. It was in the nineteenth century, even as Latin was slipping down (both Oxford and Cambridge found it necessary to appoint a professor of the language), the educated Englishman, and indeed Englishwoman, was likeliest to read and draw sustenance from Greek authors in the original.

15. In his Conclusion, Stray offers the aphorism 'As Constantine saw the sign of victory in the heavens, so did classicists see the sign of Latin's decline when Sputnik passed overhead in 1958' (sic for 1957) and states that 'even in the law courts, Latin is officially prohibited in favour of the everyday simplicity of the vernacular'. Not all will allow that legal English is characterized by everyday simplicity; but let that pass, for he ends with the approving remark of a journalist: 'Res ipsa loquitur.'

16. Euripides: Herakles, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1889), i. 227: 'von Bentleys brief an Mill bis zu dem unseligen jahre 1825, wo Peter Dobree in das grab sank, das sich kaum über Peter Elmsley geschliessen hatte'.

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