Wednesday, March 21, 2018


Stephen M. Wheeler (ed.), Accessus ad auctores: Medieval Introductions to the Authors (Codex latinus monacensis 19475). TEAMS secular commentary series. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2015. Pp. xv, 279. ISBN 9781580441896. $24.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Justin Lake, Texas A & M University (

Version at BMCR home site

In the Middle Ages an accessus served as the formal introduction to a grammatical commentary on a classical author. The accessus could take various forms depending on which schema was adopted, but in every case it was designed to answer basic questions about the work, its author, and the manner in which it was to be understood. Initially, accessus were written as introductions to commentaries, but by the twelfth century they had begun to circulate independently and were sometimes combined together into anthologies. The earliest such anthology is found in Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 19475, a manuscript copied at the German monastery of Tegernsee in the middle of the twelfth century. In this volume Stephen M. Wheeler provides a critical edition, translation, and notes on the text.

In a superbly written introduction, Wheeler outlines a brief history of the accessus as a genre and describes the arrangement of the anthology in Munich Clm 19475, which contains 29 introductions to 26 different works, with a focus on Ovid (ten accessus to seven works). The interest in Ovid is noteworthy, since, as Wheeler points out, he was still suspect in the eyes of many schoolmasters as late as the first half of the twelfth century, when a student in Conrad of Hirsau's Dialogus super auctores referred to his elegiac poetry as 'morally defective,' to the approval of his teacher.

The anthology begins with paired introductions to Ovid's Heroides and the Psychomachia of Prudentius before proceeding through a set of introductory texts: the Distichs of 'Cato,' the fables of Avianus, the elegies of Maximianus, the Ilias Latina, the verse Physiologus, and the Eclogue of Theodolus, followed by the late-antique Christian poets Arator, Prosper, and Sedulius. There follow eight more introductions to Ovid, as well as Lucan, Cicero (the Paradoxa Stoicorum), Boethius, Priscian, Horace, Pamphilus (a comedy in elegiac couplets written ca. 1100) and Thebaldus. The texts beginning with Cato, as Wheeler points out, comprise a graduated curriculum that moves from the relatively simple to the more advanced. The focus on Ovid—rendered all the more surprising by the absence of Virgil, but also of traditional hexameter poets like Statius and Juvenal—demands explanation. Wheeler suggests that the texts included may have been chosen as models both for composition in elegiac couplets (which would also explain the appearance of Thebaldus's poem on quantitative verse at the end of the collection), and for the ars dictaminis, the medieval art of letter writing.

Wheeler's edition departs from the earlier editions of R.B.C. Huygens, who collated Munich Clm 19475 with two other related manuscripts (Vatican City, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, Pal. lat. 242, and Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 19474)—thus producing a hybrid text that was intended to approximate a hypothetical archetype.1 Given the nature of the accessus as a genre, however, in which additions and interpolations from outside sources tended to go hand-in-hand with the copying process, Wheeler's decision to print the text of a single manuscript with light editorial intervention makes more sense. The Latin text is accompanied by a facing-page translation, which is both readable and very accurate, and I found almost nothing to quibble with. At p. 45, in the translation of the accessus to the Eclogue of Theodolus, the phrase "se" male corripuit might more accurately be translated 'he wrongly shortened se' rather than 'he wrongly corrupted the quantity of se.'

The translation is followed by 150 pages of explanatory notes, which make up one of the most useful feature of the work. After summarizing the basic facts known about the texts and authors under consideration, Wheeler discusses the format and sources of each accessus. Useful comments are also made on grammatical irregularities to the text. On the whole, Wheeler adopts a conservative approach to emendation, preferring to find reasons to preserve the text found in Munich, Clm 19475 rather than to emend or adopt the readings of the two related manuscripts used by Huygens to produce his composite edition. This is a sensible approach, although there are places where one might disagree (e.g., the preference for the quasi-nonsensical manuscript reading utilitas est ut...superum maiestatem tam levi quam delicto timeamus offendere over the more logical tam levi quam gravi delicto found in Vatican, Pal. lat. 242. At the end of the commentary on each accessus Wheeler provides a list of editions and a brief bibliography.

To read Wheeler's text, translation, and commentary of the accessus collection in Munich, Clm 19475 is to plunge oneself into the world of the high medieval classroom, where works largely forgotten today, like the elegies of Maximianus and the Ilias Latina, enjoyed a privileged status, and Ovid could be read seriously as a source of ethical instruction. In addition to serving as a necessary companion to the composite accessus edition of R.B.C. Huygens, Wheeler's volume could also serve as an ideal reader for students transitioning from classical to medieval Latin, since the texts are short, fairly simple, and representatively medieval in their idiom. In sum, Stephen M. Wheeler has produced a scrupulously accurate edition and translation of the accessus anthology assembled in Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 19475, and a useful commentary that facilitates our understanding of the methods and priorities of the medieval classroom.


1.   R.B.C. Huygens Accessus ad auctores (Berchem-Bruxelles: Latomus, 1954); and Huygens, Accessus ad auctores. Bernard d'Utrecht. Conrad d'Hirsau: Dialogus super auctores (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1970).

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