The start of a new university semester means many things: reconnecting with friends, working out a class schedule (including when to get in a snooze), and, of course, the last-minute dash to the campus bookstore to track down back-ordered textbooks for the first week’s reading. Student life probably looked a lot different in the Middle Ages—although there were likely still some naps—but then as now, textbooks played an important part in college education. One of the most important such manuals in 15th-century England was Tria sunt, whose title was given to it by medieval users and taken from its opening words: “The crafting of any work is concerned with three things: namely, the beginning, the development, and the end.” Most likely written around 1400 by a Benedictine monk preparing pupils for study at Oxford University, the text is now available with English facing the Latin for the first time in a new volume from the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series, translated by Professor Martin Camargo of the University of Illinois (Harvard University Press, 2019).
The mysterious and gilded Empire of Trebizond has for centuries cast a spell on observers. Cervantes called up the city and its emperors in the same breath as serpents, monsters, swashbuckling women, and “enchantments of every kind” as examples of the exotic and fantastical fare to be found in the chivalric tales deluding his hero Don Quixote—equal parts impossibility and allure. The capital city of a Byzantine successor state founded after the sack of Constantinople in 1204, Trebizond (modern Trabzon in Turkey) sits on the southern coast of the Black Sea and was a trading center on the medieval Silk Road.
Trebizond’s mystique, both in Cervantes’s time and now, lies partly in the lure of the unknown, enhanced by the scarcity of surviving works by Trapezuntine authors. Most of what we know about the empire’s history comes from two sources: a short chronicle of the ruling dynasty attributed to Michael Panaretos (fl. 1349–1390), the emperor’s personal secretary, and a highly rhetorical panegyric in praise of the city by the influential cardinal and philosopher Bessarion (ca. 1403–1472). Former junior fellow Scott Kennedy (2017–2018), now an assistant professor at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey, has translated both these sources into English in Two Works on Trebizond (Harvard University Press, 2019), a new volume in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series.
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
Magee’s first full translation in English of Calcidius, together with his introduction and the notes, is a major contribution to the field of philosophy in late antiquity and will greatly enhance future research on Calcidius. The author accomplishes the considerable feat of both locating Calcidius in the context of ancient philosophy and addressing his influence on the Middle Ages. Traditionally, and since Waszink’s edition, Calcidius has been ranked among the Latin Christian Neoplatonists, but Magee’s introduction makes amply clear how careful one has to be with these labels. The precious few indications of Christian notions are not claimed by Calcidius in his own authorial voice, and most of the material from the commentary hearkens back to an earlier, pre-Plotinian phase of Platonism.
It should become clear from my brief remarks how significant Magee’s contribution is. His translation, introduction, and notes settle so many thorny issues in Calcidius’s rendering of Plato’s Timaeus and his commentary that one can finally move on to a richer understanding of all the complexities of this work that played such an important role in the tradition.
The Carmina Burana (“Songs of Beuren”) is unquestionably the most famous collection of medieval poetry in the modern imagination, in no small part because of the industry of the composer Carl Orff (1895-1982), who in 1937 put twenty-four of these poems to music for chorus and orchestra. His arrangements have subsequently enjoyed immense success in concert halls, television commercials, and film soundtracks. Given the enduring popularity of Orff’s compositions, it is surprising that the enterprise of translating the entire manuscript of the Carmina Burana into English has proven elusive until very recently. Many scholars have translated excerpts from the collection in anthologies of medieval verse over the past hundred and thirty years, but never the Songs of Beuren as a whole. David A. Traill’s prose and verse translation of the entire corpus of the Carmina Burana is thus reason to celebrate. In these two handsome volumes, he presents the text of over two hundred and fifty poems (most of them in Latin with a handful of Middle High German and a smattering of French) with lucid facing-page translations, making available for the first time the complete contents of the largest anthology of poetry to survive from the Middle Ages.
Scott G. Bruce
The Medieval Review
Neilos, who died in 1004, was a Greek monk who lived in southern Italy under the Byzantine Empire. The Life of Neilos offers a snapshot of a distinctive time when Greek and Latin monasticism coexisted, a world that vanished after the schism between the churches of Rome and Constantinople in 1054. The translation was edited by Dr. Ines Angeli Murzaku Professor of Church History and Director of Catholic Studies Program at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, Dr. Raymond Capra, Assistant Professor of Greek and Classical Studies at Seton Hall University, and Father Douglas J. Milewski, Associate Professor of Theology, at Seton Hall University. They spoke to Charles Camosy about their new work:
How did Greek and Latin monks co-exist for 15 years being so different?
Milewski [describing a visit by Saint Neilos and his followers to Monte Cassino, the birthplace of Benedictine monasticism]: “We are told in chapter 73 that St. Neilos and his monks were greeted at the foot of the mountain by the whole community and escorted to the abbey with full pomp and regalia as though this were a feast day or the arrival of St. Anthony of Egypt or St. Benedict himself. Anyone remotely familiar with Monte Cassino would appreciate the honor of the escort by the effort of the climb! Further, there is the great contrast in the monastic traditions represented here. The order and stabilitas of the Benedictine life is far removed from the ‘peripatetic’ asceticism lived by St. Neilos. Nevertheless, he is greeted not merely as an esteemed guest but is treated as a recognized master of the spiritual life.”
Charles C. Camosy