Tuesday, September 8, 2009

2009.09.26

Version at BMCR home site
S. Barnish, L. Cracco Ruggini, L. Cuppo, R. Marchese, M. Breu, ALSO SEEN: Vivarium in Context. Vicenza: Centre for Medieval Studies, Leonard Boyle, 2008. Pp. 140. ISBN 9788890203528. $25.00 (pb).
Reviewed by James J. O'Donnell, Georgetown University

The four studies gathered here resemble one another by the distinction of the authors, the learning and care of the argument, and the connection to the work of Cassiodorus, whose monastery near Squillace gives the book its title. It is handsomely produced, with 32 dazzling color illustrations of the textiles discussed in the fourth study. The two latter pieces by Cuppo and Marchese and Breu are more specialized in content and deal with topics indirectly related to Cassiodorus through argued lines of influence that pass through his monastery or his circle.

Barnish and Cracco Ruggini are more ambitious here. Barnish, whose complete translation of Cassiodorus' Variae is eagerly awaited (following an abridged volume in the Liverpool Translated Texts for Historians in 1992, and of course many other important studies), continues the work of the last generation in "naturalizing" Cassiodorus and the culture of the late Latin west in general to the evolution of the empire as a whole by showing how the letters Cassiodorus wrote for the Gothic kings instructed their audience (as well as perhaps the nominal royal writers) in kingship and Christianity and the appropriate deployment of both. Cracco Ruggini captures well Cassiodorus' interest in the practical sciences -- water clocks and engineering works -- by contrast to his contemporary Boethius. Cassiodorus may be the highest ranking Roman senator we know to take such a low interest and give it literary representation.

The assortment is diverse and the interest of the volume will be to specialists working in distinct areas. If Cassiodorus is invoked as a "bifronted Janus between antiquity and the Middle Ages", it is a lapse into conventional thinking in an otherwise learned and interesting volume.

Contents:

S.J. Barnish, "Roman Responses to an Unstable World: Cassiodorus' Variae in Context"

L. Cracco Ruggini, "Cassiodorus and the Practical Sciences"

L. Cuppo, "The Other Book of Pontiffs: A View from Lombard Italy (MS. BAV, Vat. Lat. 1348)"

R. Marchese and M. Breu, "Images of the Divine: Sacred Embroideries from the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul"

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