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Birger Munk Olsen on the Roman classics in the Middle Ages (9th-12th cent.)

Lars Boje Mortensen interviewed Professor Emeritus Birger Munk Olsen

To mark the completion of a major contribution to the study of the Roman classics in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Europe (1982-2020), CML’s director (LBM) interviewed the author, Professor Emeritus Birger Munk Olsen.


In the five large volumes (two of them divided into two volumes each), Munk Olsen has catalogued and analyzed all extant Latin manuscripts by the 57 most attested classical Roman authors (up to c. 200 CE). This is not only a systematic analysis of manuscripts and texts or parts of texts (volumes 1-2), but also a comprehensive study of the history of libraries of the period (volume 3), and of the copying practices and philological study of the texts (volume 4). The newly published volume 5 completes the study and updates it up to 2017. The work will remain an indispensable starting point for anyone interested in the period's intellectual culture, literary inspirations, book and library history, the history of classical philology, studies in the individual authors’ reception, and more.


[1) • LBM: Can you explain a little about how you got the original idea for the work? I know you wrote about John of Salisbury as early as the late 1960s, so I suppose the idea of a systematic study of all relevant copies of the classics was an extension of an interest in illuminating the 12th-century Renaissance, especially in France, perhaps? Was the idea then developed in the course of the 70s, and did the cataloguing start already in the early 1970s?


BMO: In the 60s, I actually dealt a lot with John of Salisbury and was fascinated by his exquisite language and style and by his thorough knowledge of the ancient literature that he quotes and comments on at any given occasion in his works. This made me interested in examining in greater detail the role of classical Latin writers in the cultural life of the time. The best point of entry seemed to me to be the preserved manuscripts, which could provide valuable knowledge about their circulation and about how they were studied. In the late 1960s, Robert Dale Sweeney launched a large-scale project for a Catalogus Codicum Classicorum Latinorum. This was to be based solely on the existing manuscript catalogues and arranged according to the contemporary libraries, in the order the material was excerpted. This would, of course, save time for philologists in search of manuscripts of a particular author. But this method hardly contributed anything new, and the information, especially in older catalogues, is often incomplete or flat-out incorrect, for example, when it comes to the dating of manuscripts. It therefore seemed to me more expedient to go directly to the manuscripts wherever possible and to arrange the material according to authors and possibly works, so that each section begins with a bibliography of the transmission of the texts and a list of incipits and explicits, which can be referenced in the descriptions. With this arrangement, however, there is a problem, since many manuscripts contain texts by two or more classical authors. In such cases, one must distinguish between two types of manuscripts. Some can be homogeneous, copied in the same scriptorium and at about the same time. Here you can have a main entry that gives an overall codicological description of the manuscript, and subordinate entries that refers to the main entry. Others are so-called composite manuscripts, which consist of codicological elements, defined as units that could have been independent and which most often probably were. If they are homogeneous, they are treated as homogeneous manuscripts, unless they involve different authors. Many of these composite manuscripts are, moreover, assembled on a purely arbitrary basis, since later librarians in particular, in order to save money, took pride in joining together random manuscripts and fragments, often but not always because they have the same format.

Of course, there was no reason to compete with the libraries' manuscript catalogues, which include everything related to the manuscript, regardless of chronology. The only relevant matter was to proceed archaeologically by, as far as possible, describing the manuscript as it appeared before the 13th century, and by eliminating all later accretions that are of no interest for a synchronic study. So as not to confuse the unsuspecting reader, however, I have made a few exceptions, all indicated with angled brackets; this involves mostly quires or folia that were later added and information that may help to locate the manuscript, such as ex libris and provenances. In the descriptions of the manuscripts, I have placed special emphasis on the information that cannot be deduced from a microfilm or a digitized reproduction: the dimensions and layout, and the structure of the manuscript in quires and folia. In addition, I have marked with the √ sign the beginning of a codicological element; this can be useful, for example, when identifying a manuscript with an entry in a library inventory, as it is not uncommon to change the order of the elements in later bindings. A great advantage of an archaeological approach is that one can gather and describe membra disiecta conjointly, which are often spread over several libraries, even in different countries. Each membrum is thus indicated by a Greek letter, included with all folia indications.

Library history is also an indispensable complement to illuminating, albeit very partially, what classical manuscripts were available during the period. Max Manitius has made a great effort in his Handschriften antiker Autoren in mittelalterlichen Bibliothekskatalogen from 1935, where for each author, country by country and in chronological order, he reproduced all relevant references in inventories from the entire Middle Ages. In my approach to the subject, I preferred to take the libraries one by one in alphabetical order. On the one hand, I catalogued the manuscripts that a library has owned or that, according to the latest research, a scriptorium has copied; on the other hand, when there is an inventory, I have quoted the relevant articles and identified the extant manuscripts that correspond to the descriptions.


[2] • LBM: What was the relationship at that time between your training in Romance studies and the interest in classical philology and in palaeography and medieval book history? Was it something you developed out of self-interest already while you were studying? Was there any particular inspiration for you in specializing in 11th- and 12th-century palaeography?


BMO: In fact, I only studied Romance Studies in part. After graduating in 1954, I studied for two years at the University of Copenhagen with French as a major and Latin as a minor and ended up taking the preliminary exam in French. When I found it more appropriate to study French in France, I was fortunate enough to be sent to the Lycée Malherbe in Caen, then housed in the Abbaye aux Hommes, one of the few old buildings that had been spared during the bombings in World War II. Here I went to the Première supérieure, also called Khâgne, which is a preparatory class for the entrance competitions to Les grandes écoles in the humanities. In France at that time it was only possible to study French at a higher level together with Greek and Latin, as the three disciplines weighed equally. In 1957 I was admitted to the prestigious École Normale Supérieure in the Rue d'Ulm, where under the best conditions and with an excellent library at hand, I followed the obligatory study course and ended up in 1961 taking the “aggregation,” which is a nationwide competition for certain positions in the French education system. However, I chose to return to Denmark. Here I got one of the first amanuensis positions in French and taught especially the French Middle Ages and Renaissance. Along the way, I wrote my dissertation on an Old French subject that I defended at the Sorbonne in 1963. From 1964 to 1966, I was a research assistant at the Danish Institute in Rome, which at the time was located in Via Zanardelli, near Piazza Navona. Here I learned Italian and took the opportunity to study at the Jesuit Pontificia Università Gregoriana, where all instruction at the time took place exclusively in Latin, and where I was granted a dispensation from wearing priestly dress, which was otherwise mandatory. I studied medieval church history, theology, diplomatics, palaeography and rhetoric and ended up getting a diploma as a papal interpreter and translator in Latin, a degree that I unfortunately never needed since the Catholic Church at that time switched to the vernacular. I also worked a lot at the Vatican Library and was admitted to the Scuola vaticana di paleografia, which was headed by the nestor in the field Giulio Battelli and where all the Vatican manuscripts were at our disposal. In 1974 I received a professorship in Romance languages and literature, but in 1983 I was transferred to the Department of Greek and Latin Middle Ages and later, due to consolidation, to the Department of Classical Philology.


[3] • LBM: The chronology of the study is very precise, and it is of course one of its great strengths - a synchronic perspective on textual history, as you write in volume 1, in contrast to the long chronology that single studies of classical reception usually deal with. The focus is clearly on the 11th and 12th centuries, but the reader is equally well supplied with information about manuscripts and auxiliary texts from the 9th and 10th centuries, which means that the chronology can really be described as 800-1200. Is the border at 1200 originally due to an interest in shedding light on the 12th-century Renaissance, or was there also a more practical aspect, e.g, a clearer palaeographic, book-historical or literary-historical demarcation here (e.g., that after 1200 translations of the classics become a much more important source of reception history)? With regard to the two chronologies - 800-1000 + 1000-1200 - I would also like to ask you whether you think it is reasonable to talk about a “rediscovery” of the classics in the long 12th-century – e.g., in the period c. 1050-1200? Without the Carolingian copies, we would hardly have possessed most of the classical texts, but without the flourishing of the late 11th and 12th centuries, could this Carolingian legacy have also easily been lost?


BMO: Right from the start, I opted for a synchronic study of the 12th century, but thought that the 11th was so closely connected with it that it also had to be included. Hence the title of the work L’étude des auteurs classiques latins aux XIe et XIIe siècles. Later I also realized that it was impossible to treat the 11th and 12th centuries adequately without taking into account the entire previous period. Apart from the old palimpsest manuscripts, which could not be deciphered and which were preserved due to the texts in the surface layer, the manuscripts had been diligently used by the following generations who had copied them, annotated them, inserted accessus, corrected the texts and supplemented those that had become mutile. It thus became a long period of time for a synchronic study, but I have tried to distinguish between the different main periods. I treated the Codices latini antiquiores, described in detail in Lowe's catalogue, more summarily and gave them an independent numbering with a preceding A, while manuscripts after 800 have a consecutive numbering marked with B for the first main period and C for the second, respectively. The B group is also marked with a smaller font up to volume III, 2. I had no idea that the material would prove so extensive and that I would end up having over 3,500 manuscripts, codicological elements, and fragments. But once you begin, it is necessary to see it through. Incidentally, it is impossible to prepare a complete catalogue, as new material constantly appears, such as fragments that are found during restorations of bindings or manuscripts in private collections that go unnoticed. There are probably also some manuscripts that are incorrectly dated to the 13th or even to the 14th century, especially in older catalogues, but although I have checked a large portion of the parchment manuscripts with such dates, it is impossible to include everything.

When I conclude with the 12th century, it is due to several reasons. First of all, the material would have swelled up to the unmanageable if I had continued, so I leave that task to future generations if they think it is relevant. Then, from the 13th century onward, there is a radical change in the educational system with the increasing importance of universities and a radical change in the form and content of teaching, far from the previous era’s ideal of a general humanistic education. Finally, I must confess that I find greater aesthetic pleasure in the beautiful and easy-to-read Carolingian and Pre-Gothic writing than in the Gothic that characterizes the manuscripts of the 13th century.

                      I'm not sure if one can talk about an actual rediscovery of the classics in the 12th century. Thanks to the efforts of previous centuries, almost all the texts were found everywhere in reasonable quantities, so that their survival was ensured. In this connection, the 9th century must be considered the most significant. In the 6th and 7th centuries, interest in the classical texts and in copying them seems to have been greatly reduced, at least we do not have a single manuscript preserved from this period. There have probably also been great losses, and it is symptomatic that many of the texts go back to a single archetype. The Carolingian scholars therefore had to make great efforts to find the interesting texts and those they found were often in a very poor condition: they lacked the beginning or the end, which are the most vulnerable, or they had internal gaps, since quires or folia were often rearranged. Thus, in many cases, a significant textual-critical effort was required to bring the texts into a readable condition. One must, for example, admire the corrections made in the two oldest manuscripts of the Corpus Leidense, a collection of a number of Cicero's philosophical writings. From a hopelessly messy archetype that apparently was quickly lost, they had to identify the works, re-establish the sequence, and supplement the Topica, which lacked some folia. As for the mutile manuscripts, they looked everywhere for complete copies and sometimes they were successful. For example, Lupus of Ferrières succeeded in filling the two large lacunae in his own copy of Cicero’s De inventione, but with great difficulty and by erasing passages, adding folia, and using the margins. But often one had to wait a long time for a complete copy to appear, and in many cases the texts have remained mutile to this day. Another difficulty was that not all exemplars were copied in capitalis or in uncial, but in unfamiliar scripts, which were difficult to decipher, so that the scribes often made mistakes or had to leave blank passages in the hope that a more knowledgeable scribe could fill them in. Either way, all of these texts were copied in the beautiful and easy-to-read Carolingian script, which made them easy for posterity to use.

A good criterium for measuring the impact of classical literature is its role in school teaching. It gave the students a cultural baggage, which inevitably influenced them and which they could draw on throughout their life. After the elementary stage, which included the reading of the Disticha Catonis and, from the 11th century onward, of Homerus Latinus, the tradition of artes liberales had been adopted from antiquity, which consisted of two parts: the trivium and quadrivium. From the classical perspective, grammatica was the most important discipline in the trivium. Here, in addition to grammars such as Priscian’s Institutiones grammaticae, literary works were read to teach students mastery of the Latin language and to prepare them for the study of the Bible and the Church Fathers. The 9th century had a distinct predilection for the Christian poets such as Arator, Juvencus, Prosper, Prudentius and Sedulius. The only classical exception was Virgil, who in turn played a central role and was found in almost all school libraries of the time. To a much lesser extent, a few progressive teachers tried their hand at other classical poets. From the 10th century there was a gradual expansion of the classical school canon (curriculum), which reached its peak in the 12th with all the ten auctores maioresrepresented, the eight poets: Horace, Juvenal, Lucan, Ovid, Persius, Statius, Terence, and Virgil, and the two prose writers: Cicero and Sallust. They were all copied in large numbers; however, Cicero's moral writings (De amicitiaDe senectute, and De officiis) had a more difficult time breaking through. On the other hand, the Christian poets lost their significance and were rarely copied, but many libraries obviously had a larger repository from earlier periods. From the preserved manuscripts it is possible to glimpse certain changes in taste: while Juvenal and Persius reached their peak in the 10th and 11th centuries, Lucan, Statius, and especially Sallust had a marked flourishing in the 12th; Ovid also made a name for himself, but it seems to have been private teachers in particular who contributed to his popularity from the 11thcentury onward. It was, of course, totally unrealistic to have to read all these works, especially with the meticulousness one usually employed, so the teacher had to make a choice either among his favorites or based on what was available in the library. Judging by the preserved inventories, in the 12th century there were only three libraries in which all ten auctores maiores were represented among the literary works: Michelsberg in Bamberg, Christchurch in Cambridge and St Cuthbert in Durham. Moreover, it was rare to read a text from end to end; as can be seen from the glosses, people were content with the beginning and with selected passages.

                      To be able to use the classical texts in teaching, it was necessary to have commentaries that explain linguistic problems and realia. As was the case with the texts themselves, the Carolingian scholars succeeded in dusting off a considerable number of ancient and late antique commentaries covering all auctores maiores except Sallust and Ovid. The more original contributions are less conspicuous: the most notable commentators were Heiric of Auxerre, of whose work we unfortunately only have an indirect knowledge, and his student Remigius of Auxerre, to whom several commentaries have been attributed, most likely a commentary on the Disticha Catonis and an accessus to the same text. However, significant activity centered on Virgil, that, among other things, led to the formation of the so-called Corpora Vergiliana. In addition to argumenta and vitae, they contain excerpts from commentaries and poems of all kinds, especially from the Anthologia latina, which shed light on Virgil and his works. Servius was also successfully copied as a marginal commentary, although it was not without difficulty to get the two texts to fit together. In the 12th century, interest in the ancient and late antique commentaries declined somewhat; at any rate, they were less frequently copied, but libraries still had many older copies to rely on. By contrast, from the end of the 11th century onward there came a host of new, more or less original commentaries on all auctores maiores. Most are anonymous, but we have decent information concerning several prolific commentators such as Manegold (of Lautenbach?), Anselm of Laon, Arnulf of Orléans, and Fulco of Orléans; the last two specialized in Ovid. At the same time, the so-called accessus ad auctores flourished, which had previously been known mainly through Servius’ introduction to his commentary on the Aeneid. They typically provide the student with information about the author and work that is necessary before reading the text, according to a specific structure, as with Servius. They were written and copied in the hundreds and were used partly as introductions to the commentaries and partly as independent texts, which were often added to older manuscripts to bring them up to date. We also have large collections of accessus ad auctores, especially from southern Germany and northern Italy, where a work is sometimes subject to two or more different treatments.

The 12th century is also marked by other innovations. The denser layout and the smaller script that emerged during this period made it possible to copy a large number of texts in a single volume of reasonable size. Among other things, this aided efforts to collect all the texts one could find of a prolific writer. For Cicero there are several anonymous collections, but we also know the large corpora made by Wibald of Stavelot, whose activities we can partly trace through his correspondence with Rainald of Dassel, and William of Malmesbury, whose collection is unfortunately first transmitted in a manuscript from the 15th century. Ovid had to wait until the end of the century before nine and ten of his poems, respectively, are collected in two French manuscripts. The inventory of the monastery of Le Bec from the middle of the century describes a volume that contains “Omnes libri Ouidii excepto magno [The Metamorphoses] et de fastis,” but it is difficult to know what the librarian has understood by “Omnes libri.” The most notable case is probably Seneca. While in the three preceding centuries at most a few works had been compiled, from the beginning of the 12th century came, in line with his growing popularity, a multitude of great corpora senecana, which combine his philosophical writings, the apocryphal texts, and the Controversiarum excerpta by Seneca Rhetor, either as a whole or in excerpts.

A similar tendency to accumulate learning is expressed in the large florilegia such as the Florilegium GallicumFlorilegium Angelicum, and Florilegium Duacense, which have been preserved in several copies and versions and which continue to be copied and expanded in the following centuries. They combine excerpts from Christian and pagan texts to varying degrees, and especially the first two stand out by including excerpts from little-known works. They have often been categorized as school anthologies, but although the auctores maiores are also richly represented, the preserved manuscripts do not bear the mark of having been used in a classroom; rather, they are intended to impart to the inquisitive readers a general education and above all an elegant style, as is explicitly stated in the preface to the Florilegium Angelicum.


[4] • LBM: Another aspect in which your project clearly stands out is the extensive European geography. You have tirelessly sought out the smallest relevant fragment in the most insignificant, poorly documented or difficult-to-access collection, and the whole work therefore becomes a rare and admirable record and analysis of a shared Latin European heritage. You explore a world of books that in principle encompassed the whole of papal / Latin Europe - that is, more than “Western Europe.” But having said that, the vast majority of your study material comes from the richest and most populous part of Europe in a line from the south of England across northern France, the Rhineland to northern Italy (all in a broad sense). There are also glimpses from the Iberian Peninsula, the Levant, northern and eastern Central Europe, southern France and southern Italy, but would you agree to say that your studies clearly document that it was the “rich line” from Canterbury to Rome that was the center of Latin learning in the 11th and 12th centuries?


BMO: Cultural centers arise for demographic, political, economic or religious reasons or also because prominent personalities have had a decisive influence. They can be more or less long-lasting and cover a larger or smaller area. They are distinguished by an intense literary, intellectual and artistic production and their dynamics are sometimes reflected in a faster development of the vernacular and of the art of writing, which, for example, was far more advanced in Normandy in the 11th and 12th centuries than in the rest of France.

Common to the Western European countries and territories was the Catholic religion, which meant that they were subject to the Pope in Rome and the papal administration. This resulted in a huge circulation of clergy at all levels. Thus, there were plenty of opportunities to make contacts and to build useful networks. This circulation is also manifested by exchanges of manuscripts, including the classical ones, which not infrequently ended far from their place of origin. Thus, it is difficult to study a single country or area without including the whole of Western Europe. The contact is of course strongest in areas adjacent to each other, which can lead to chains of cultural areas such as the line you mention.

The material we have available seems to show that the cultural currents only reached the peripheral areas to a lesser extent, even though they were part of the Catholic Church with all that this entailed and even though there must have been some kind of teaching of artes liberales. For the Nordic countries, for example, we do not have a single classical manuscript produced there. Denmark can, however, offer a Justinus and a Valerius Maximus from the 12thcentury, which belonged to Absalon, archbishop of Lund, and which he bequeathed to the Cistercian monastery Vor Frue in Sorø, but the first is demonstrably copied in a northern French Cistercian monastery and the second, which burned in 1728, probably had the same origin. For Hungary, the only tangible evidence is a library inventory in a late 11th-century diploma from Pannonhalma. It mentions “III Catones,” “Inuectiue Ciceronis” and “Lucanus,” but none of these copies have been preserved. In his book Latin Classics in Medieval Hungary: Eleventh Century from 2004, however, Elöd Nemerkényi has presented several indirect testimonies about the presence of classics in Hungary, so it is possible that there were extensive losses.

However, a geographically peripheral area does not have to be culturally backward. This is true, for example, of southern Italy, where many classical manuscripts were copied, especially in Bari and the surrounding area at the end of the 11th century, and where there were many significant monasteries, not least Monte Cassino, which has a special place. In the second half of the 11th century and in the beginning of the 12th, under the abbots Desiderius and Oderisius, just as in the 9th century, searches for manuscripts were conducted in the area’s old libraries that must still have existed, and they found a number of unique works by authors such as Apuleius, Frontinus, Seneca, Tacitus, and Varro. But strangely enough, these works do not seem to have reached outside the walls of the monastery, at least they were not copied elsewhere until long after the 12th century, perhaps because Monte Cassino was quite isolated, perhaps because they, apart from Frontinus’s De aquis urbis Romae, were copied in Beneventan script that might have deterred the uninitiated. Other more widespread classical works also have distinctive readings that make it difficult to place them in a stemma and to trace them back to known archetypes.


[5] • LBM: The delimitation and method were established as early as the 1970s, I suppose, so it would be interesting to hear both whether this “mold” was subject to adjustments along the way, and first of all, what results surprised you the most? The overview you have managed to create must be different in many respects from what you could have imagined when the project began?


BMO: Before I embarked on a major study, it was obviously necessary to devise a detailed plan. I determined the chronological framework and selected 57 classical authors, who are partly the oldest, partly those whom the Middle Ages considered to be the oldest. I also had to determine what was important to look for in the manuscripts and how the descriptions in the catalog should be structured. Along the way, there have been no changes so far, except that from volume III, 2 onward I placed greater emphasis on glossaries that were useful aids for the study of the texts.

What has surprised me most is probably the large number of manuscripts that have been preserved and the diversity of commentaries and accessus, a large part of which had previously gone unnoticed.


[6] • LBM: As I said, the work is a fantastic documentation and study of a special European cultural heritage, but it is also a global cultural heritage today, as at least a small part of the manuscripts is outside Europe and is preserved in non-European institutions; but first and foremost because Vergil, Ovid, Cicero, etc. are now a global cultural heritage, and we can thank scholars from the period c. 800-1200 for being able to read them at all today. What is your view - is it mostly a European or more of a global heritage we are dealing with here?


BMO: It was probably first a cultural heritage in Italy and to some extent in the Romanized countries. From the Carolingian period it gradually became a Western European cultural heritage and the sporadic traces of classical learning we find outside Western Europe are probably mainly due to Western Europeans who for various reasons stayed in the places in question. Byzantines, however, seem, though to a lesser extent, to have maintained a close relationship with Roman literature, and in the 13th century Maximus Planudes translated, for example, several classical works into Greek, including two poems by Ovid. Gradually, interest in ancient culture spread to virtually all countries in the Western cultural sphere: they introduced teaching Latin and Greek at both school and university level, and their authors were largely inspired by classical themes. Also, a large number of classical manuscripts, copied in Western Europe and preserved in the Middle Ages in Western European libraries, have been scattered to the winds, including outside Europe. This is due in large part to wealthy bibliophiles, such as Sir Thomas Phillipps, who over the years bought up almost everything that was available on the free market and who sold or most often donated their collections to public libraries. It is especially the United States that has benefited from this, and almost 50 of the manuscripts included in my corpus are now found in American libraries. The classical cultural heritage has thus become global in every way. Unfortunately, in the last half century there has been a gradual reduction in the role of the classical subjects in school and university education, but this decline is strangely compensated by a more intense research in the field. While since its inception L’année philologiquehad been able to make do with a single volume a year, from 2016 it has been necessary to switch to two large volumes to accommodate the 15,141 notices of contributions written, for example, in 2018 by researchers from almost all countries - and even then it is not complete.


[7] • LBM: For those who are not medieval scholars, but interested in the history of classical philology, it may be volume 4 - with its two very substantial parts about the philological labor on the texts and the production of introductions, commentaries, illustrations, etc. - that will come as the biggest surprise. There is probably still a tendency to skip the Middle Ages and go directly to humanism in the 14th and 15th centuries when studying classical reception. But with your studies, it has become clear how much we owe to the scholars between c. 800 and 1200, even though they worked in difficult conditions, and actually spent a lot of effort on texts that were not strictly necessary for their primary interests. Do you think it is possible on this basis to rewrite the standard narrative that many still repeat from the humanists themselves - that the classical textual heritage had been neglected until their own heroic efforts?


BMO: It is striking that there has been a tendency to skip the Middle Ages, at least the earlier Middle Ages. Rudolf Pfeiffer’s History of Classical Scholarship, for example, goes from the Hellenistic period (1968) to Petrarch (1976) and Thaddäus Zielinski in his great book on Cicero im Wandel der Jahrhunderte (1897) even states that there is no reason to deal with the Middle Ages, since nothing worth noting happened. On the other hand, there is a wealth of intriguing specialized studies that I, along with what can be deduced from the manuscripts and from contemporary testimonies, used to produce a synthesis in Volume IV, 1 that could fill the gap. It includes the textual interpretation, textual criticism, and problems of attribution.

It is well known that the Renaissance regarded the Middle Ages as a dark and barbaric period that stood in stark contrast to its own luminous time. However, this did not prevent it from searching for ancient texts in the libraries of monasteries and cathedrals and by imitating the Caroline minuscule, especially as it appeared in the manuscripts of the 11th century, to create its own humanist script. However, the Middle Ages ended up being rehabilitated and having its renaissances, albeit with lowercase initials. It was probably Jean-Jacques Ampère who was the first, in the middle of the 19th century, to make the case for a Carolingian renaissance and a renaissance beginning in the late 11th century. The Carolingian renaissance has later been divided into several: in their book Maîtres et élèves au Moyen Âge from 2006, for example, Pierre Riché and Jacques Verger employ three: 8th-9th c., 9th c., and 10th-11th c.; the latter has also been called the Ottonian renaissance and has Gerbert of Aurillac as its standard bearer. Ampère’s second renaissance was firmly established by Charles Homer Haskins in his landmark book The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century from 1927. The four centuries from the 9th to the 12th thus become a steady stream of renaissances that make it difficult to find a period that is not included. Especially from contemporary pessimistic statements, however, Riché and Verger identified a downturn in the middle of the 11th century, marked by a negative attitude toward pagan literature, but this downturn does not seem to be fully reflected in the number of copied texts.


[8] • LBM: I cannot help but think that your project could be a model also for the medieval tradition of Greek texts, where the picture is quite similar, with a flourishing in the 9th century, and an intensification and growing interest in more texts during the 11th and 12th centuries. Should some specialists not be found to do the same for the Greek classical textual heritage as you have done for the Latin? How could it be organized? The number of extant manuscripts is certainly smaller, and a dividing line around 1200 is probably less obvious for several reasons?


BMO: It would undoubtedly be very useful, but one must realize that the conditions in the two areas are vastly different, at least for the period before the 13th century. There are thus far fewer classical manuscripts from Byzantium than from the West. While there are 25 Latin texts by 12 different authors that are transmitted in more than 50 copies, the minimum threshold must be reduced to three to reach 25 Greek texts and there are only four preserved in more than ten copies. The development is also different, since the number steadily increases in the West and reaches its peak in the 12th century, while most of the Greek manuscripts date to the 10th century, slightly fewer to the 11th, and far fewer to the 12th. However, it is difficult to date manuscripts from this century accurately, especially since in previous catalogues and studies it was thought that paper manuscripts must have been later, but paper appeared in Byzantium as early as the 11thcentury and was widely used in the 12th century. It is remarkable that poetic texts, which played a major role in the Western school canon, are so sparsely transmitted. Only Homer’s Iliad reaches 19 copies, but this is far less than the almost 200 copies we have of Virgil’s Aeneid. It is an open question why there are so few Greek classical manuscripts. An important reason is probably that the monasteries, which played a decisive role in the West, dealt with the teaching of pagan authors only to a limited extent - if at all. There are references to private schools, which probably were not very numerous. The collections of classical books were thus assembled by learned teachers, such as Arthas in the 9th century, who obtained books by loan or through professional copyists. It is also possible that there were greater losses than in the West due to wars and looting, not least in connection with the Crusaders’ conquest of Constantinople in 1204 and the Ottoman invasion in 1453. It is thus significant that of the 99 pagan works analyzed in Photius’s Bibliotheca, 60 were lost or only transmitted in incomplete copies. However, this did not prevent Christian literature, which likely for the most part was copied in the scriptoria of monasteries, from having a far more extensive transmission. We have, for example, hundreds of copies of John Chrysostom's works from the period. The following centuries are likely to offer far richer material, but I have not studied that far.

[9] • LBM: Since the first volume was published in 1982, the availability of manuscripts has changed radically, with many of them now available in more or less good online reproductions. At the same time, it has probably become more difficult to be allowed to see the manuscripts in situ, so you are definitely the one who - in the past or in the future - will have studied the vast majority in person. Of course, this gives your documentation a very special weight, but the development has also put your readers in a better situation, as you can often see and compare manuscripts online, with guidance from your catalogue and your analyses. How do you see your work in such a media historical perspective?


BMO: That’s true enough. In the beginning, libraries were generally very generous in making their manuscripts available to researchers, and if there was a maximum number per day, it was usually very reasonable and matched the needs of study. Gradually, however, there were increasing restrictions. For example, when one asked for fragments of a particular author at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich, they would be given the whole package and had to locate the fragments on the basis of brief handwritten lists. Later, only a single fragment could be handed out at a time with a maximum of ten per day. Since there are over a hundred fragments included in my corpus, it would thus require more than two weeks, especially since many of the older dates had to be verified. It must be said, however, that things have gotten better organized with Hermann Haukes and Wolfgang Valentin Ikas’s large three-volume catalogue, which, however, only came in 2013, when the work was completed. As libraries began microfilming their collections and later digitizing them on CDRom or online, it became more and more complicated to access the originals, which is absolutely necessary for a codicological study. Detailed and well-founded applications had to be submitted or submitted beforehand, which were not always accepted. I have been so lucky that it has only happened twice that I have been denied access to an original. The first was even at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, where a zealous librarian had discovered that I had seen the manuscript in question once several years before and thought I had worn it out enough. The second time was at the Arxiu de la Corona de Aragó in Barcelona, which had just moved to its new location and had a new director. He strictly informed me that a detailed application had to be submitted long before and that a maximum of two or three permits were granted per year. Luckily, a few years before, I had been able to study all the manuscripts I wanted under a more liberal direction in the old Palacio del Lloctinent.

As the study is largely based on the manuscripts, it is of course important to study as many as possible by one’s own examination. I have been so lucky that a very large part of the collection of the material occurred in the good times. In addition to longer stays in Paris, Rome, and of course Copenhagen, I have undertaken a significant amount of travel: in part because I participated in a number of conferences and symposia, including at the European Science Foundation, and because I was a member of a large number of international organizations, and in connection with each meeting I arranged, if possible at my own expense, some extra days for library visits. Furthermore, from 1972 to 1974, I was an interpreter in French and Italian for the European Common Market, and that took me far and wide. For example, at the time, the European Parliament had its conference venues in Brussels in a building directly opposite the Bibliothèque royale Albert 1er, so I could take every opportunity to slip out across the street, and when suddenly my presence was required, colleagues were kind enough to wave a white piece of cloth from the window. I thus succeeded in studying practically all relevant manuscripts in the ten libraries which have the largest classical collections and which account for more than half of my material, in decreasing order they are: Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, Biblioteca apostolica vaticana, Bayerische Staatsbibibliothek in Munich, the British Library in London, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, Universiteitsbibliotheek in Leiden, Burgerbibliothek in Bern, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna, and Bibliothèque royale Albert Ier in Brussels. For the manuscripts that I have not had the opportunity to see, I have been able to make use of the rich microfilm collections provided by the Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes in Paris and in Orléans. But, of course, a small percentage of manuscripts remain, for which I have had to resort to secondary literature and printed or unprinted catalogues. You will probably be able to blame me for not systematically referring to the digitized reproductions on the web, but on the one hand a large part of the work was done before these became common, on the other hand the web addresses change surprisingly frequently and new ones are constantly appearing. One solution would be to create a separate list on the web that could be continuously updated.

[10] • LBM: Finally, I have to ask you about the Roman classics themselves. You have spent a lot of energy on Cicero, who is represented by so many texts, copies, commentaries, etc., and Vergil, Lucan, Horace, Seneca, and Statius have also left extensive and complex traces in the 11th and 12th century. I wonder if you have had any particular pleasure from one of these writers - either because you like the authorship or because it has been particularly exciting to follow their fate in the 12th-century Renaissance?

BMO: Personally, I think I have the most affinity for Horace, who is always a pleasure to read. The most exciting oeuvres are probably those that have had the greatest influence and which received the most attention in the Middle Ages, and here Virgil has definitely won first place.

Editing was completed: 26.05.2021