Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Karsten Friis-Jensen, Karin Margareta Fredborg, Minna Skafte Jensen, Marianne Pade, Johann Ramminger (ed.), The Medieval Horace. Analecta Romana Instituti Danici - Supplementum, 46. Roma: Edizioni Quasar, 2015. Pp. 229. ISBN 9788871406008. €32.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Tina Chronopoulos, Binghamton University – State University of New York (

Version at BMCR home site

This beautifully produced volume (including a lovely medieval image of Horace on the front, not often seen) unites between its covers the work done by Karsten Friis-Jensen on the study of Horace's poetry in the medieval period. It was published posthumously after the author's sudden death in 2012, which deprived the Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum of its Horace editor and many around the world of a dear colleague and friend. The editors' intention in publishing this book is to make more easily accessible Friis-Jensen's work on Horace, scattered as it is through journals, essay collections, and handbooks. Following a brief foreword by Stephen Harrison, the editors explain in their preface how Friis-Jensen became interested in Horace and highlight his contributions to the field, which lie primarily in charting and editing previously unknown medieval commentaries on Horace's poetry and encouraging younger scholars to pursue their own editions and studies. The essays are followed by a bibliography, an index of manuscripts and incunables, and an index of names. They have been arranged in the order in which they were originally published, allowing the reader to appreciate the development of Friis-Jensen's thoughts on the materials he was working with, although the unintended result is that thematically related items are separated.

The first essay ('Horatius Liricus et Ethicus: two twelfth-century school texts on Horace's poems') presents an edition of two anonymous twelfth-century commentaries on the Odes. The texts edited consist of headnotes to individual poems, that is to say, brief summaries of each poem. That a more thorough treatment (i.e. explications of individual words/phrases) was probably intended can be seen in the few marginal glosses in the manuscripts. The "Vatican Commentary" (Vatican City BAV, MS Pal. Lat. 1655) focuses on meter, a formulaic summary of each poem's content, and its addressee. In contrast, the "Oxford Commentary" (Oxford Magdalen College, MS Lat. 15) introduces a moral dimension to its explications of each poem.

The second essay ('The Ars Poetica in twelfth-century France: The Horace of Matthew of Vendôme, Geoffrey of Vinsauf, and John of Garland'), like the first, contains an edition and discussion of an anonymous commentary on the Ars Poetica from twelfth-century France, entitled "Materia Commentary". Friis-Jensen proposes it as the missing link between the new Arts of Poetry written by authors such as Matthew, Geoffrey, and John and Horace's Ars. The edition is based on a small number of manuscripts (Bern Burgerbibliothek, MS 266, s. xii/xiii; Munich Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, MS Clm 15962, s. xii/xiii; Paris Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS Lat. 8241, s. xiii; Paris BNF MS Lat. 5137, s. xii/xiii). Friis-Jensen shows that this commentary was written by one person on the basis of its author's consistent approach to the material, its structural uniformity, and cross-references. Its main characteristic is the long accessus in which the first 37 lines of the Ars are laid out as a fundamental doctrine on the six virtues and vices of poetic composition, taken up in turn by Matthew, Geoffrey, and John in their poetic and rhetorical treatises.

The third piece represents addenda to the previous essay, consisting of more manuscripts, although for an updated list, just shy of 30 in number, the interested reader will have to turn to an essay by Fredborg.1 Most of the manuscripts unknown to Friis-Jensen date from fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Italy, illustrating the "Materia Commentary's" continued importance there.

In the fourth item ('The Medieval Horace and his Lyrics'), Friis-Jensen aims to add depth to the ways in which medieval scholars understood Horace the man/poet by looking for what the accessus and commentaries reveal about how his personality and his poetry were understood. First, the author shows that medieval commentators took the order of Horace's works in the manuscripts to mirror the stages of his life, with the result that the Odes were written by a young Horace for the young, while the Epistles were the product of an old and wise poet for the old and wise. Unlike Vergil, "Horace does not place himself above this development; he undergoes it himself in full conscience of its significance." (p. 110). Second, Friis-Jensen homes in on the Odes to show that they were taught at school and widely read. By quoting extensively from twelfth-century commentaries (including some published in essays #1 and #11 in this volume), he illustrates how the pleasures and benefits of these poems were explored, culminating in the moral lessons extracted from each poem in the "Oxford Commentary". A brief sketch of poets writing in Horatian meters rounds off the essay (e.g. Metellus of Tegernsee or Alphanus of Salerno). Friis-Jensen even proposes that the Archpoet is Horatian in spirit although that is difficult to substantiate.2

The fifth essay ('Horace and the Early Writers of Arts of Poetry') is in some sense a continuation of the second in this volume, in that it discusses the "Materia Commentary" in greater length and detail and develops more fully the hypothesis that it stood at the helm of the new Arts of Poetry written in the twelfth century. Friis-Jensen explicates in detail the "Materia Commentary's" doctrine of the six faults and virtues of composition of poetry, as well as the way in which it advocates the careful characterization of individuals and choice of subject matter and style. These are important questions, taken up by Matthew of Vendôme and Geoffrey of Vinsauf in their own treatises and setting the standards for the ways in which poetry was discussed. The author emphasizes that Horace's Ars Poetica continued to be an important treatise on the writing of poetry, despite the proliferation of "new" Arts of Poetry. Commentaries and accessus on the Ars demonstrate its importance and reveal that the poem was understood as a didactic treatise, even if it needed to be given a more coherent and explicit structure by the commentators.

The sixth, very short, essay ('Commentaries on Horace's Art of Poetry in the Incunable period') sketches the fortune of commentaries on the Ars Poetica in the fifteenth century. Friis-Jensen starts by pointing out that Landino's and Badius' commentaries on Horace did not come out of thin air but were likely more indebted to the medieval tradition than they admit. The author acknowledges that an assessment of this relationship is hampered by the lack of knowledge for commentaries from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, but points to the possibility that an anonymous pupil of Guarino of Verona knew of or used the "Materia Commentary" on the Ars Poetica during the first half of the fifteenth century.

In the seventh essay ('Medieval Commentaries on Horace') Friis-Jensen surveys modern scholarship on medieval commentaries of Horace's oeuvre. The statement, current as it was in 1997, that no full medieval commentaries on the Lyrics or Satires have been published no longer holds true: a tenth-century commentary on the Odes and Epodes has been studied by Paulina Taraskin, and Roberta Marchionni has published a medieval commentary on the Satires.3 In the second part of the essay Friis-Jensen illustrates the kinds of approaches taken by commentators by focusing on one poem (Ode 1.20). His analysis reveals that, not unsurprisingly, they borrow from each other and/or use the same sources. Each poem is provided with a headnote while ordo glosses or id est glosses help the students get through the story of each poem.

In the eighth essay ('Petrarch and the Medieval Horace') Friis-Jensen turns to examining what, if anything, Petrarch's relationship was with Horace, the poet. On the basis of manuscripts owned by Petrarch, he shows that the latter had access to Pseudo-Acro's commentary, as well as knowledge of accessus on the Ars Poetica, the Epistles, and the Satires from the twelfth century. Accordingly, he posits that Petrarch likely knew about the idea of moral improvement brought about by ageing, a key concept in the medieval interpretation of Horace's poetry. Friis- Jensen proposes that Petrarch's Canzoniere has its counterpart in the Odes, at least in formal terms (variety of form and meter). Finally, in a detailed analysis, the author suggests that the Daedalus of Petrarch's Eclogue IV stands for Horace, with the result that "the opposition between France and Italy" (p. 187) in the poem "is very meaningful". It allows Petrarch to position himself as a direct Italian inheritor of Horatian lyric in contrast to the geographically removed French.

The ninth essay ('The reception of Horace in the Middle Ages'), written for inclusion in the Cambridge Companion to Horace, presents a survey of the field. Friis-Jensen presents the commentaries and their approaches on Horace's works in the order in which they were thought to have been written in the medieval period (Odes/Epodes, Ars Poetica, Satires, Epistles).

The penultimate essay ('Humanist use of medieval commentaries on Horace's Art of Poetry') picks up from the sixth in the collection and develops ideas mentioned there, namely by focussing on the commentary on the Ars Poetica written by Guarino of Verona's anonymous pupil in the middle of the fifteenth century. Through a close reading, Friis- Jensen illustrates that this commentary is indebted to the medieval tradition exemplified by the "Materia Commentary", even though it is ultimately impossible to say how much is the pupil's own work and how much he inherited from his predecessors..

The final piece ('The St Gall accessus to the Odes of Horace') presents an edition of the accessus to the Odes in St Gall SB MS 868 (the subject of Bernhard Bischoff's 'Living with the Satirists')4 and acts as a supplement to essays #4 and #7 in this volume. The Latin text is followed by a brief discussion in which Friis-Jensen suggests that the accessus to the Odes and the Satires in this manuscript were the product of the same teacher.

The essays collected here remain as fresh, important, and useful as when they were first published, especially those that contain editions of texts. But even some of the more discursive pieces are still helpful for those seeking to get an overview of the still bewildering amount of material that can assist in illustrating how Horace's poetry was studied in the medieval period. The one drawback, and this lies in the nature of such a collection, is that some of the information is repeated at several points – —this is especially true in the case of the so-called "Materia Commentary", which Friis-Jensen discusses in various essays, without ever adding much to his initial observations. Moreover, this reviewer cannot help but feel that, despite the fact that this volume does not pretend to be anything other than a collection of Friis-Jensen's published essays, a more up-to-date bibliography would have been extremely welcome. In listing only items referred to by the author, the editors miss the opportunity to bring to a wider and interested audience more recent work done on the study of Horace in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. This is especially remarkable since one of the editors, Margareta Fredborg, has in the last years written important essays on the topic.5


1.   'The Ars Poetica in the 11th and 12th centuries: from the Vienna Scholia to the Materia Commentary', Aevum 88.2 (2014), 440-42.
2.   See also Peter Godman, The Archpoet and Medieval Culture, Oxford, 2014, 111-12.
3.   Paulina Taraskin, "Reading Horace's lyric: a tenth-century annotated manuscript in the British Library (Harley 2724)" (PhD thesis, King's College London 2012). Roberta Marchionni, Der Sciendum-Kommentar zu den Satiren des Horaz, Munich, 2003.
4.   R.R. Bolgar ed., Classical Influences on European Culture A.D. 500-1500, Cambridge, 1971, 83-94.
5.   'The Ars Poetica in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries: from the Vienna Scholia to the Materia Commentary,' Aevum 88.2 (2014) 399-442. 'The Introductions to Horace's Ars Poetica from the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries: Didactic Practice and Educational Ideals,' Analecta Romana Instituti Danici 39 (2014) 39-76. 'Sowing Virtue: Commentaries on Horace's Epistles from the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries,' Journal of Medieval Latin 25 (2015) 197–244.

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