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Bede and Cicero

  • Roger Ray (a1)

Extract

A great weight of authority supports the view that Bede was averse to pagan rhetoric and had never read anything of its formative literature. I have briefly questioned this opinion elsewhere, and should like now to investigate it more fully. The evidence, of Bede's biblical commentaries in particular, suggests first, that his attitude toward Roman rhetoric was ambivalent, as was that of Augustine and Cicero; secondly, that his knowledge of it reached into the theory of invention; and finally, that he had access to Cicero's De inventione.

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1 Especially that of Roger, M., L'Enseignement des lettres classiques d' Ausone à Alcuin (Paris, 1905), pp. 394400, who argued that Bede's disdain for eloquence all but quashed its study in eighth-century England; and Laistner, M. L. W., ‘The Library of the Venerable Bede’, most recently repr. in his The Intellectual Heritage of the Early Middle Ages, ed. Starr, C. G. (Ithaca, NY, 1957), pp. 117–49, who makes it seem that he knew no Roman textbook on rhetoric. Other scholars have taken one or both of these position. See, for example, Riché, P., Education and Culture in the Barbarian West, Sixth through Eighth Centuries, trans. Contreni, J. J. (Columbia, South Carolina, 1976), p. 389Blair, P. Hunter, ‘From Bede to Alcuin’, Famulus Christi: Essays in Commemoration of the Thirteenth Centenary of the Birth of the Venerable Bede, ed. Bonner, G. (London, 1976), pp. 239–60, at 252–3 and Jones, C. W., in Bedae opera didascalica, ed. Jones, C. W. et al. , CCSL 123 A (Turnhout, 1975), xii. Some sholars suppose that in the age of Bede the study of Latin prose effectively excluded pagan rhetoric. Among these see Brown, T. J., ‘An Historical Introduction to the Use of Classical Latin Authors in the British Isles form the Fifth to the Eleventh Century’, Settimane di studio del Centro italiano di studi sull' alto medioevo 22 (1975), 237–99, at 272–7Murphy, J. J., A History of Medieval Rhetroic (Berkeley, 1974), p. 79 and King, M.H., ‘Grammatica Mystica: A Study of Bede's Grammatical Curriculum’, Saints, Scholars, and Heroes: Studies in Medieval Culcture in Honor of Charles W. Jones, ed. King, M. H. and Stevens, W. M. (Collegeville, Minnesota, 1979) I, 145–59.

2 Bede's, Vera Lex Historiae”,’ Speculum 55 (1980), 121, at 610‘What Do We Know about Bede's Commentaries?’, Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 49 (1982), 520 at 1516 and ‘The Triumph of Greco-Roman Rhetorical Assumption in Pre-Carolingian Historiography’, in The Inheritance of Historiography, 350900, ed. Holdsworth, C. J. and Wiseman, T. P. (Exeter, 1986), pp. 684, at 75–7. A few other publications credit Bede with some positive appreciation for pagan rhetoric but not with knowledge of its textbook literature: Carroll, M. T. A., The Venerable Bede: His Spiritual Teachings (Washington, 1946), pp. 41–2Davidse, J., Beda Venerabilis' Interpretatie van de historische Werkelijkheid (Groningen, 1976), pp. 170–3 and Bonner, G., ‘Bede and Medieval Civilization’, ASE 2 (1973), 7190. In two helpful studies C. B. Kendall has discussed Bede's rhetorical skill as if it derived entirely from grammatical and Christian sources: ‘Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica: The Rhetoric of Faith’, in Medieval Eloquence, ed. Murphy, J. J. (Berkeley, 1978), pp. 145–72, and ‘Imitation and Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica’, in Saints, Scholars, and Heroes, ed. King and Stevens, I, 161–90. D. K. Fry (‘The Art of Bede: Edwin's Council’, ibid. I, 191–207) links Bede's inventional practices to at least the spirit of Greco-Roman rhetoric, while West, P. J., ‘Liturgical Style and Structure in Bede's Homily for the Easter Vigil’, American Benedictine Rev. 23 (1972), 18, concludes that the sermon profits from pagan eloquence at second hand, via the Church Fathers.

3 De doctrina christiana, ed. Martin, J., CCSL 32 (Turnhout, 1962), 117 the translation comes from Augustine, , On Christian Doctrine, trans. Robertson, D. W. (New York, 1958), pp. 118–19.

4 In primam partem Samuhelis libri IIII, ed. Hurst, D., CCSL 119 (Turnhout, 1962), 119–21.

5 ibid. p. 120: ‘Et nobiles saepe magistri ecclesiae magnorumque uictores certaminum ardentiore quam decet oblectatione libros gentilium lectitantes culpam quam non praeuidere contrahebant adeo ut quidam eorum se pro hoc ipso scribat in uisione castigatum obiectumque sibi a domino inter uerbera ferientia quod non christianus sed Ciceronianus potius esset habendus.’

6 ibid.: ‘Intinxit autem Ionathan fauo siluestri uirgam qua uel ad equum uel ad uiandi praesidium utebatur et sic eam manu ad os conuertit suum. Et magister quilibet non numquam auctoritatem potentiae qua uel subditos regere uel se ipsum sine offensione gerere curabat argumentis siue sententiis gentilium credit adiuuandam mellitoque ut ita dixerim ex his ore illuminantur quidem quasi fauosa compositione uerborum oculi mentis adenuntiandum quae recte mouerint acutius sed retardantur plerumque mentis eiusdem incessus recordata sensuum uanitate a persequendis prauorum siue actuum siue dogmatum cultoribus.’

7 ibid. p. 121: ‘…turbat acumen legentium et deficere cogit qui eos a legendis saecularibus litteris omnimodis aestimat prohibendos quibus ubilibet inuenta utilia quasi sua sumere licet alioquin nec Moyses et Daniehel sapientia uel litteris Aegyptiorum Chaldaeorumque paterentur erudiri quorum tamen superstitiones simul et delicias horrebant nec ipse magister gentium aliquot uersus poetarum suis uel scriptis indidisset uel dictis. Sed multo cautius necesse est acutis rosa in spinis quam mollibus lilium colligatur in foliis multo securius in apostolicis quam in Platonicis quaeritur consilium salubre pagellis.’

8 ibid.: ‘Videtis, inquit, quia efficacior sum factus et acutior promptiorque ad peroranda quae decent eo quod gustauerim paululum de flore Tullianae lectionis; quanto magis si didicisset populus christianus sectas et dogmata gentillium, nonne multo confidentius et certius eorum derideret simul et conuniceret errores multo deuotius de sua sana fide gauderet patrique luminum pro hac gratias redderet. Neque enim aliam ob causam putandum est Moysen uel Danihelem sapientiam uoluisse discere saecularem quam ut cognitam destruere melius et deuincere possent.’

9 Epistola xxii. 2930, in Jerome: Select Letters, ed. and trans. Wright, F. A. (London and New York), p. 124.

10 In primam partem Samuhelis, ed. Hurst, , p. 119: ‘“Adiurauit autem Saul populum dicens, Maledictus uir qui comederit panem usque ad uesperam”, et cetera … Haec lectio doctores ueritatis instruit sicut a ceteris mundi illecebris sic etiam ab appetenda saecularis eloquentiae dulcedine temperare nec non et eos quos imbuunt in petra fidei ab omni prioris uitae corruptione mactare. Adiurauit igitur Saul populum fugientes Phillistheos persequentem nepanem quisquam nisi completa de hoste uictoria comederet qui timens iuramentum et pane sedulus et melle quod fluens in saltu uidit abstinuit … Siue enim caro aduersus apiritum et spiritus aduersus carnem concupiscat siue hereticus catholico siue Iudaeus aut gentilis christiano contradicat seu quilibet immundus spiritus obsistat cuncta temptationum molimina melius continentiae superantur industria cuius adeo late patet uirtus ut etiam a diligenda nimium sequendaque saecularis eloquentiae suauitate qua superbus inclutusque philosophorum quasi saltus fluit abstinere conueniat.’

11 Wright, N., ‘Bede and Vergil’, Romanobarnarica 6 (1981), 361–79, has now restored the works of Vergil to Bede's library, their place having been previously brought into doubt by Hunter Blair, ‘From Bede to Alcuin’, pp. 244–50.

12 In primam partem Samubelis, ed. Hurst, , pp. 262–3.

13 ibid.: ‘Torrens Besor qui interpretatur adnuntiatio siue caro uel carnalem hereticorum sensum perdifficilem ad corrigendum uel redundantiam significat eloquentiae saecularis et ipsam. aeque violenti fluxu rapidam nec facile nisi perfectis quibusque doctoribus superabilem … Comitantibus autem in uia ueritatis dominum sanctis eius ubi ad articulum disputandi et hereticos reunicendi uentum fuerit non nulli saepe etiam magni uiri non quidem a credendi puritate sed tamen a peritia dicendi lassati subsistunt. Non enim omnes qui recte credere norunt etiam eos qui contraria rectae fidei sapiunt ratiocinando deuincere norunt … Quod in Nicena maxime synodo patuit ubi tot ac trantis de toto collectis doctoribus non facile quisquam primitus praeter Athanasium Alexandrinae ecclesiae diaconum poterat inueniri qui cum Arrio confligere et omnes eius tergiuersationes ac dolos statim reprehendere traducere et deuincere nosset … Non ergo torrentem huiusmodi transire docendo sufficiunt nisi qui uel eximia spiritus gratia in fide roborati uel maiore disputandi sunt industria praedocti.’

14 In Proverbia Salomonis libri III, ed. Hurst, D., CCSL 119B (Turnhout, 1983), 93: ‘Multi pereloquentiam possunt amantibus et fauentibus suaujter pronuntiare bona quae ipsi non amant, ea autem solum uerba ad sanitatem ossuum tuorum, hoc est ad virtutum tuarum spiritalia crementa, proficiunt quae ex interna animae tuae dulcedine procedunt.’ See in this vein a slightly later passage (p. 97) on the beneficent force of skilful language, which is likened to a ‘torrentem redundantem’. The orthodox too can set rolling a mighty river of words.

15 In Cantica Canticorum libri VI, ed. Hurst, D., CCSL 119B (Turnhout, 1983), 167.

16 In Proverbia, ed. Hurst, , pp. 71–2.

17 ibid. p. 24: ‘“Et detur”, inquit, “paruulis astutia.” Haec etenim rudibus est et incipientibus necessaria per quam sophismatum dinoscere et cauere versutiam possint ne falsorum fraudibus argumentorum abducantur a simplicitate uerae sapientiae quae ducit ad uitam.’ For further texts in which Bede warns against the allure of heretical rhetoric, see ibid. pp. 48, 58 and 83. See also In Ezram et Neemiam libri III, ed. Hurst, D., CCSL 119A (Turnhout, 1969), 285–6 and 391 and In primam partem Samubelis, ed. Hurst, , p. 148.

18 De inventione I.iv.5, ed. and trans. Hubbell, H. M. (Cambridge, Mass. and London, 1949), pp. 1013.

19 Institutio oratoria II. i. 4.

20 See, for example, King, ‘Grammatica Mystka’.

21 De schematibus et tropis, ed. Jones, C. W., CCSL 123A (Turnhout, 1975), pp. 142–3. On Bede's grammatical knowledge and writings see the important recent study of Irvine, M., ‘Bede the Gramrnerian and the Scope of Grammatical Studies in Eighth-century Northumbria’, ASE 15 (1986), 1544.

22 De schematibus et tropis, ed. Jones, , p. 149. After quoting some words from Gregory the Great, Bede says, with some hesitation, ‘Et huiusmodi orationes esse reor, quas Hieronimus concinnas rethorum decalmationes appellat.’ Jerome, Cf., Commentariorum in Esaiam libri IXI, ed. Adriaen, M., CCSL 73 (Turnhout, 1963), 315: ‘Qui si flumen eloquentiae et concinnas declamationes desiderant, legant Tullium, Quintilianum, Gallionem, Gabinianum, et ut ad nostros ueniam, Tertullianum, Cyprianum, Minutium, Arnobium, Lactantium, Hilarium.’ Bede knew something of the writings of Cyprian, Arnobius, and Hilary: see Laistner, ‘Library of the Venerable Bede’, and, for Cyprian, Bonner, ‘Bede and Medieval Civilization’.

23 See the texts cited above, nn. 4 and 13. In the second reference, ‘saecularis eloquentia’ seems to thrive on dialectic and disputation. In neither is there any thought of style; eloquence is argumentation.

24 Alcuin, , Disputatio de rhetroica et de virtutibus sapientissimi regis Karoli et Albini magistri, in The Rhetoric of Alcuin and Charlemagne, ed. Howell, W. H. (New York, 1965), p. 66.

25 Bede's, Ecclesiastical History of the English people, ed. Colgrave, B. and Mynors, R. A. B. (Oxford, 1969), pp. 296308.

26 See my ‘What Do We Know about Bede's Commentaries?’, pp. 19–20.

27 HE III. 25 (ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 296): ‘Defuncto autem Finano … grauior de obseruatione paschae necnon et de aliis ecclesiasticae uitae disciplinis controuersia nata est’; cf. ibid.: ‘Mota ergo ibi quaestione de pascha uel tonsura uel aliis rebus ecclesiasticis …’ (p. 298).

28 In Bedae opera de temporibus, ed. Jones, C. W. (Cambridge Mass., 1943), pp. 307–15 for the background, see Jones's comments ibid. pp. 132–5. I cite the text from this edition, even though it is now repr. CCSL 123C (Turnhout, 1980), pp. 617–26.

29 See above, n. 9. Roman vituperatio was practised in a number of writings certainly known to Bede, mainly polemical works of Jerome and Augustine, but also the De excidio Britanniae of Gildas. On Gildas's use of classical rhetoric, see Lapidge, M., ‘Gildas's Education and the Latin Culture of Sub-Roman Britain’, in Gildas: New Approaches, ed. Lapidge, M. and Dumville, D. (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1984), pp. 2750.

30 PL 23, 206.

31 De inventione II. lix. 177–50.

32 Bedae opera de temporibus, ed. Jones, p.307: ‘Venit ad me ante biduum, frater amantissime. nuntius tuae sanctitatis, qui pacificae quidem salutationis a te laetissima verba detulit. Sed haec tristi mox admixtione confudit, addendo videlicet quod audires a lascivientibus rusticis inter hereticos per pocula decantari.’

33 De inventione II. xxiv. 71 and xxix. 8694.

34 ibid. I. lii. 98. lvi. 109. For Bde's use of peroro see above, n. 8.

35 Bedae opera de temporibus, ed. Jones, p.314: ‘Et si enim mihi quis dixerit ecce hic est Christus aut ecce illic, id est hoc vel hoc tempore futurus ad iudicium, nequaquam audio neque sector illum. Scio enim quia “sicut fulgur coruscans de sub caelo in ea quae sub caelo sunt fulget, ita erit fillius hominis in die sua”. Agnoscas etiam qua opinione vulgus in sex vel septem millium venerit annorum et qua ipse auctoritate assertionem meae computationis astruam: hebraica videlicet veritate, per Originem, per Hieronimum edita, per Augustinum laudata, perlosephum confirmata. Quibus ego in rebus talibus non ullos invenio doctiores. Neque autem mirandum laudabilem virum Eusebium, quamvis miro sapiendi dicendique ingenio testam ferrumque, ut dicitur, conglutinare valeret, non valere tamen quod non didicerat, hoc est hebream scire linguam.’

36 De inventione I. lv. 106–9.

37 Expositio Actuum Apostolorum, in Bedae Venerabilis expositio Actuum Apostolorum et retractatio, ed. Laistner, M. L. W. (Cambridge, Mass., 1939), pp. 32–3. This edition is now repr. CCSL 121 (Turnhout, 1983), 3–99.

38 De inventione I. xxi. 19.

39 This comes out in his doctrine of probable argument: ibid. I. xxix. 46-xxx. 50.

40 Retractatio in Actus Apostolorum, in Bedae Venerabilis expositio Actuum Apostolorum et retractatio, ed. Laistner, M. L. W., CCSL 121 (Turnhout, 1983), 118: ‘Sed notandum quanta utatur arte loquendi; sic etenim “ad suos persecutores cocepit loqui, quasi timeret eos: viri fratres et patres, audite. Quid lenius, quid clementius conciliabat auditorem ut commendaret salvatorem? Blande coepit ut diu audiretur …”.’ The internal quotation is from one of Augustine's sermons.

41 For a penetrating recent discussion of this unremitting utilitarianism see Wiseman, T. P., Clio's Cosmetics, Three Studies in Greco-Roman Literature (Leicester, 1979), pp. 353 cf. also my ‘Rhetorical Scepticism and Verisimilar Narrative in John of Salisbury' Historia Pontificalis’, in Classical Rhetoric and Medieval Historiography, ed. Breisach, E. (Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1985), pp. 61102.

42 De doctrina christiana, ed. Martin, , pp. 116–19.

43 On these origins see Hagendahl, H., Augustine and the Latin Classics (Göteborg, 1967), pp. 558–9.

44 Explanationes in Ciceronis rhetoricam, in Rhetores latini minores, ed. Halm, C., (Leipzig, 1863), pp. 206–7 and 232–3.

45 PL 23, 187.

46 In Canticum Abacuc Prophetae, ed. Hudson, J. E., CCLS 119B (Turnhout, 1983), 378 for other evidence see my ‘Bede, the Exegete, as Historian,’ in Famulus Christi, ed. Bonner, , pp. 125–40, at 128–9.

47 See my ‘What Do We Know about Bede's Commentaries?’, pp. 16–18.

48 See the evidence in Hagendahl, Augustine and the Latin Classics, pp. 157–9, and the apparatus fontium in De doctrina christiana, ed. Martin, , p. 269, which reveals even less knowledge of the De inventione than Hagendahl claimed to see.

49 Alcuin: The Bishops, kings, and Saints of York, ed. and trans. Godman, P. (Oxford, 1982), p. lxvii.

50 Aldhelm's Prose Style and Its Origins’, ASE 6 (1977), 3676, esp. 64 and 70.

51 HE IV. 2 (ed. Colgrave and Mynors, p. 332). After praising these men, Bede mentions certain subjects which they taught: metre, astronomy, and ecclesiastical arithmetic. The list must be taken as selective, unless one is prepared to believe that at Canterbury the study of literature had shrunk away to verse, Bede, elsewhere (ibid. p. 514, speaks admiringly of Aldhelm's great learming and of his ‘sermo nitidus’, ‘cultivated style’.

52 For Biscop's connections with Canterbury and his trips to the Continent, six in all, see Bede's, Historia abbatum, in Venerabilis Baedae opera historica, ed. Plummer, C., 2 vols. (Oxford, 1896), I, 363 and 373.

53 It is a principal source of his Disputatiode rhetorica, which was written at Charlemagne's court. In his poem on the treasures of York, also composed after he went to the Continent, Alcuin claims that the cathedral library held Cicero's rhetorical works. Godman (Alcuin, p. 125) doubts the claim, apparently because outside of Alcuin's poem there is no trace of these works in eighth-century England. If this be the test, then the evidence of Bede's writings suggests that Alcuin is likely, to have been telling the truth.

54 For their helpful comments on this study I am grateful to George Brown, Ann Freeman, Martin Irvine, and Paul Meyvaert.

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