Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Maria Guagnano (ed.), Adomnano di Iona, I luoghi santi. Bari: Edipuglia, 2008. Pp. 285. ISBN 9788872285473. €30.00 (pb).
Reviewed by John Higgins, The Gilbert School

Table of Contents

Maria Guagnano has produced a new edition of the De Locis Sanctis by the great Hiberno-Latin author Adomnan of Iona. It is a description of a trip to the Holy Land in the seventh century by a certain Arculf, otherwise unknown, described as " episcopus Gallus." The text includes descriptions of places and buildings famous from biblical history, from both the Old and New Testaments, and several stories of miraculous events that happened there. The author does not limit himself strictly to the Holy Land, but includes descriptions of Alexandria, Constantinople and Sicily. The De Locis Sanctis demonstrates scholarship of the highest level and is a major monument of the literary culture of seventh century Ireland.

Guagnano's book is the first to give an overall survey of the De Locis Sanctis. The book consists of a lengthy Introduzione divided into six chapters dealing with various aspects of the work; the Latin text and a translation, the first into Italian; and finally, a full commentary.

The De Locis Sanctis has needed this treatment for some time. While it has not attracted the same level of attention as that given to Adomnan's De Vita Columbae, the De Locis has not been totally neglected. It was edited in Scriptores Latini Hiberniae by Denis Meehan in 1958, with a critical text by Ludwig Bieler. Bieler's text was reprinted in the CSEL series in 1965. Meehan includes a considerable scholarly apparatus, including a "Topographical Analysis," a discussion of the textual tradition, an English translation and several indices. More recently, Thomas O'Loughlin has done considerable work on the theology of the text, its literary qualities and its value as evidence for the intellectual climate of the Ireland of the seventh century.1

I can not judge the translation into Italian and will not try.

The Latin text presented here is in no sense critical and has no apparatus of any sort. We discover in the Introduzione (pp. 97-98) that Guagnano has simply reprinted Bieler's text; she notes that there are errors in Bieler and so has compared it with the earlier Geyer text, and notes where they differ. There is, therefore, nothing new in this text, nor in the discussion of the text in the introduction. Certainly the De Locis Sanctis is in need of a new critical edition, but we do not get it here.

The introduction as a whole is full and very good. Guagnano discusses the major issues and provides a summary of previous scholarship. Little is really new. Guagnano depends a lot on Meehan's edition (sometimes virtually or actually reproducing Meehan's words in Italian, as in pp. 41 and following) and O'Loughlin's exegetical work, but this is reasonable: O'Loughlin has been doing the most work in this area, and Guagnano is serving as a conduit for his work to an Italian readership.

In Chapter 1 of the Introduction (9-22), Guagnano gives an overview (see p. 13 in particular) of the multiple literary and scholarly interests of Adomnan, his functions as leader of the paruchia of Columba, and his work as a legislator promulgating the Cain Adomnain ("the Law of Adomnan"). The chapter is as full a biography of Adomnan as we are likely to be able to have.

In Chapters 2 (23-40) and 3 (41-56), Guagnano discusses the sources of Adomnan's text and its literary value. There is information about earlier pilgrimages to the Holy Land, putting Arculf's journey into context. Here, too, we get a thorough discussion of "Arculf." Adomnan attributes his knowledge of the Holy Land to Arculf, with whom he talked about his trip. Is Adomnan simply a stenographer recording, in the main, Arculf's own account of his experiences, or should we see "Arculf" as a literary construct, so that Adomnan can attribute his own interpretation of biblical texts to a supposed, but actually fictitious, observer? Guagnano gives a thorough discussion of the issues, and sees the situation thus: Arculf was a real pilgrim, but Adomnan is a creative writer who uses Arculf as an "espediente letterario" (37), a guarantor of the accuracy of his scholarship. Her summary on 37-40 is sensible and solid; also, see pp. 54 and 60, emphasizing the reality of Arculf's evidence along with Adomnan's scholarly literary elaboration of it.

Chapter 4 discusses the content, including archaeological and geographical matters and also the maps and charts that form part of the MSS, reproduced in four plates at the end of the book. This in itself is a great advance over Meehan, who has only one page of plates from a single manuscript. The charts are part of the De Locis Sanctis, and should be part of the text. Guagnano includes comments on Adomnan's accounts of non-Christians and of miracles associated with places and relics. Of greatest importance, though, is her discussion of the way Adomnan takes his theme, the "Holy Places," as biblical exegesis and theological statement. For instance, the account of the miracles of St. George and the image of St. Mary in Book 3 are not simply marvels, but reflect the theology of sin and repentance found in the Irish Penitentials. Adomnan had his own agenda in telling these stories -- theological, moral, and conceivably political.

Chapter 5 on Adomnan's language and style covers the same ground as Meehan, but in more detail. It is therefore more useful. Guagnano summarizes and gives full examples of Adomnan's typically Hiberno-Latin style, his "hisperic" vocabulary and especially his extreme use of hyperbaton.

The commentary (pp. 179-261) is the most original part of the book and answers a real need. It is a definite advance on Meehan's rather exiguous notes, especially in lexical matters. The notes deal with all aspects of the text: information about the monuments that Adomnan discusses, comparison of the De Locis Sanctis to similar works, notes on the sources, exegetical notes, and notes on the language and style. Guagnano also discusses places where she prefers a reading different from that of Bieler. From now on, everyone working on Adomnan will have to consult Guagnano's commentary, and take what she says into account. The notes are in many cases models of what a commentary should be. In the notes on Adomnan's preface, for instance, she sets out all the important issues fully and concisely (179-83).

A few examples of comments will suffice. The note to 1.1.10, pp.187-88, discusses the reading diversarum vectores rerum in Bieler, instead of vectorum or vectarum. Guagnano cites all the relevant evidence, both other MSS readings and the arguments of earlier scholars, and compares this passage to other places in Adomnan's work. The notes on the sources quote them in extenso. At 2.30.10-11, for instance, in Adomnan's account of the harbor of Alexandria the entire parallel passage of Hegesippus (4.27, CSEL 66, p. 285, 11ff.) is quoted, with a note of Hegesippus' probable dependence on Josephus (BJ 4.613). This is typical, and very helpful. The notes on the monuments themselves, aside from discussions of sources, rely largely on modern guides to the Holy Land, detailing the current state of the sites. This is as it should be; these notes validate the general accuracy of Adomnan's work and correct him when necessary.

A couple of topics are treated repeatedly. There are lexical notes of great usefulness, clarifying the shades of meaning of Adomnan's word choices, for example the distinction between monumentum and sepulchrum at 1.2.9, p. 194. There are notes on Adomnan's style as exemplifying Hiberno-Latin literature. A good example is the note to 1.2.7 (p. 194), cuius exterius . . . sustentat crucem, an example of the rhetorical fullness of Adomnan. It is the nature of the commentary that many comments are more broadly applicable to the text as a whole; the cross references provided are helpful.

The book's shortcomings and blemishes do not affect its usefulness. Most importantly, Guagnano appears not to know of the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from Celtic Sources, in process for the last 40 years. Any study of a Hiberno-Latin author should use the resources that are part of that effort. The The Non-Classical Lexicon of Celtic Latinity (NCLCL), I A-H should be cited for all words in the commentary (e.g., the typical Hiberno-Latin word craxare; the note on p. 19 is good, but should cite the NCLCL). A commentator should also know that the text of Adomnan's works is now on line and fully searchable in Royal Irish Academy Archive of Celtic-Latin Literature (RIA-ACLL).2 Citation of the standard reference work, A Bibliography of Celtic-Latin Literature 400-1200 by Michael Lapidge and Richard Sharpe (1985), should include the item number (De Locis is #304). Likewise, references to Kenney's The sources for the early history of Ireland, should include the item number (for De Locis Sanctis, #112). The Latin dictionary cited is Lewis and Short, rather than the now-standard Oxford Latin Dictionary (although this can be defended: Adomnan is a source for Lewis and Short).

The bibliography is very well done, although a few things need correction. There should be material on Adomnan's Vita Columbae, since it is of some relevance to his position as a literary figure. In the Bibliography p. 277, under "Pullen", read "Representation" for "Rapresentation."

The production of the book is very good. In a spirit of helpfulness I note some small errors in case there is a second printing.3

This book has met a serious need in Hiberno-Latin studies, despite a few minor shortcomings. It is now an essential tool for scholars of Adomnan.


1.   There are 21 items by O'Loughlin in Guagnano's bibliography, including his major book, Adomnan and the Holy Places 2008.
2.   For these resources and fuller information about the DMLCS, see the website.
3.   The reference to "O’Loughlin 2000" in several footnotes (30, p. 13; 65 and 69, p.71), is incomplete. Guagnano refers to Cummian’s De Controversia Paschale (p. 15) without citing the now-standard edition by Walsh and Ó Cróinín: Cummian's Letter 'De controversia paschali' and the 'De ratione conputandi'. M. Walsh, D. Ó Cróinín (eds.), 1988. On 1,1,8 (p. 186), for the headword innumera moltitudo, read multitudo following the text. The citation of "Herren 1984" on p. 250 does not appear in the bibliography; it refers to Herren’s "Old Irish lexical and semantic influences on Hiberno-Latin". in Próinsias Ní Chatháin and Michael Richter (edd.), Irland und Europa die Kirche im Frühmittelalter / Ireland and Europe: the early church (Stuttgart 1984), 197-209. Lipinski is cited on 277 as "Lipi ski." Wilkinson’s book on Christian Pilgrims in Jerusalem is listed (p. 278) in its first edition of 1976 but is cited throughout from its 2002 second edition. There should be a citation, at least, of the recent A New History of Ireland: Prehistoric and Early Ireland Volume I (2002), ed. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín.

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