Here it is, the flos florum, the mother of all Latin anthologies, and in David Traill’s superb new presentation it deserves a Pindaric victory ode. At nearly 1,400 pages and gorgeously produced, this two-volume edition of the “the Beuern Abbey poems” is a magnificent achievement. It is a model of translation-as-interpretation and concise commentary, and it opens the Carmina Burana up to extensive as well as close reading and to aesthetic as well as textual criticism. Before getting to specifics, I salute the entire editorial board for making these masterpieces of medieval Latin lyric so attractive and available to lovers of literature everywhere.
These poems are the glory of the Middle Ages, and they come from many different hands. Around AD 1230 in or near the monastery of Novacella in Brixen (Bressanone), they were gathered into a huge manuscript anthology that is now held in Munich. The poems deal with themes both topical (medieval society, student life, the Church, courtly life) and timeless (love, lust, and sex; the return of spring; indignation at hypocrisy, greed, and corruption; personal vice or sin; pessimism, disillusionment, and death).
At the risk of sounding as florid as a medieval poet, I’ll sum up my respect for Traill’s Dumbarton Oaks edition of the Carmina Burana by quoting poem 77: “When I saw what I had always longed for, / I was filled with indescribable joy.”
Bryn Mawr Classical Review