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The transmission and reception of Graeco-Roman mythology in Anglo-Saxon England, 670–800

  • Michael W. Herren (a1)


Rhetoricians, orators, and public speakers of all stripes, if asked the question, which Greek or Roman deity they should invoke in case of need, would surely answer ‘Hermes’ or ‘Mercury’. Members of this profession who also read early Latin-Old English glossaries might therefore be surprised to learn that the deus oratorum was none other than Priapus! This came as good news to me as one who occasionally looks for novel ways to arouse an audience. However, as I reflected further on the meaning of Épinal Glossary 10v32, my expectations wilted. Oratorum must be a simple error for hortorum, ‘of gardens’. Priapus may be fecundus, but he is not facundus.



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1 This article is a revised and expanded version of a paper presented at the meeting of the Medieval Academy of America in Toronto, , 171904 1997.

2 Beda. Opera Didascalica. Pars I, ed. Jones, C. W., CCSL 123A (Turnhout, 1975), 60114; cf. in general Palmer, R. B., ‘Bede as Textbook Writer: a Study of his De arte metrica’, Speculum 34 (1959), 573–84. For the specific problem of Bede's use of Vergil and his attitude towards the pagan classics, see Wright, N., ‘Bede and Vergil’, Romanobarbarica 6 (19811982), 361–79; repr. in his History and Literature in Late Antiquity and the Early Medieval West (Aldershot, 1995), no. XI.

3 See generally Herren, M. W., ‘Die Anfänge der Grammatikstudien auf den Britischen Inseln: von Patrick bis zur Schule von Canterbury’, ScriptOralia 43 (Tübingen, 1992), 5779; repr. in his Latin Letters in Early Christian Ireland (Aldershot, 1996), no. II.

4 See, in general, Funaioli, G., Esegesi virgiliana (Milan, 1930).

5 Fabii Planciadis Fulgentii V.C. Opera, ed. Helm, R. (Leipzig, 1898); translation in Whitbread, L. G., Fulgentius the Mythographer (Columbus, OH, 1971).

6 See the new edition in the Belles Lettres series of ‘the First Vatican Mythographer’ by Zorzetti, N.: Le premier mythographe du Vatican (Paris, 1995), esp. p. xi. The editor situates this recension between Remigius of Auxerre and the Ecloga Theoduli.

7 The standard edition is still that of Lindsay, W. M., Isidori Hispalensis Episcopi Etymologiarum sive Originum Libri XX, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1911). A new multi-volume edition, with modern language translations, is being produced in the Belles Lettres series, Paris, under the general editorship of J. Fontaine.

8 De universo libri XXII, PL 111, 9614; see esp. XV.6, ‘De diis gentium’ (ibid. cols. 426–36). A new edition of this work is being prepared by W. Schippers, Memorial University, Newfoundland.

9 See especially Fontaine, J., ‘Le “sacré” antique vu par un homme du Vile siècle: le livre VIII des Étymologies d'Isidore de Séville’, Bulletin de l'Association Guillaume Budé, Lettres d'humanité 48 (1989), 396405; further, MacFarlane, K. N., ‘Isidore of Seville on the Pagan Gods (Origines VIII.11), Trans. of the Amer. Philosophical Soc. 70.3 (1980), 340.

10 The use of Vergil by Christian writers from late antiquity onwards is particularly striking. See the detailed study by Courcelle, P., Lecteurs païens et lecteurs chrétiens de l'Enéide (Paris, 1984).

11 Incerti de Sodoma, ed. Peiper, R. in Cypriani Galli Poetae Heptateuchos, CSEL 23 (Vienna, 1881), 217–18, lines 99–113; Ovid, , Met. II. 19400.

12 Ep. I, ed. Ehwald, R. in Aldhelmi Opera, MGH, Auct. antiq. 15 (Berlin, 1919), 475–8; Lapidge, M. and Herren, M. W., Aldhelm: the Prose Works (Cambridge, 1979), pp. 152–3.

13 Ep. II, ed. Ehwald, , p. 478; Lapidge, and Herren, , Prose Works, pp. 153–4.

14 Ep. I, ed. Ehwald, , p. 477: ‘… quomodo videlicet ipsius metricae artis clandistina instrumenta litteris, logis, pedibus, poeticis figuris, versibus, tonis, temporibus conglomerentur’; Lapidge, and Herren, , Prose Works, p. 152.

15 See the Index Locorum in Ehwald's, edition, pp. 544–6. For a detailed study of the knowledge of Juvencus and Sedulius in Anglo-Saxon England, see Lapidge, M., ‘The Study of Latin Texts in Late Anglo-Saxon England’, in his Anglo-Latin Literature, 600–899 (London, 1996), pp. 470–83.

16 Ehwald, ibid.

17 See esp. no. XCV, ‘Scylla’, cited and discussed below, pp. 95–6. If Aldhelm knew Ovid directly, such knowledge would have been unique in his period. There are no full manuscripts of the Metamorphoses prior to the eleventh century, with only fragments and scattered quotations surviving from the Carolingian period. See Tarrant's, R. J. entry in Texts and Transmission: a Survey of the Latin Classics, ed. Reynolds, L. D. (Oxford, 1983), pp. 276–84. Manitius, M., Geschichte der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters, 3 vols. (Munich, 19111931) I, 137, points out that examples of verses drawn from Ovid are wholly lacking in the metrical portions of the Epistola ad Acircium (i.e. the De metris and the De pedum regulis).

18 Porsia, F., Liber monstrorum: Introduzione, edizione, versione e commento (Bari, 1976), p. 64; Lapidge, M., ‘Beowulf, Aldhelm, the Liber monstrorum and Wessex’, in his Anglo-Latin Literature, 600–899, pp. 271312, at 289.

19 For Aldhelm's early use of Priscian, see Law, V., The Insular Latin Grammarians (Woodbridge, 1982), p. 21.

20 Priscian manuscripts of the Carolingian period, especially those associated with the schools of north-eastern France, are rich in mythological glosses. These will be listed and discussed in a forthcoming study on the transmission and reception of Graeco-Roman mythology in western Europe in the period 600–900.

21 Bischoff, B., ‘Die europäische Verbreitung der Werke Isidors von Sevilla’, in his Mittelalterliche Studien: Ausgewählte Aufsätze zur Schriftkunde und Literaturgeschichte, 3 vols. (Stuttgart, 19661981) I, 171–94, esp. 180–6.

22 Herren, M. W., ‘On the Earliest Irish Acquaintance with Isidore of Seville’, Visigothic Spain: New Approaches, ed. James, E. (Oxford, 1980), pp. 243–50; repr. Herren, , Latin Letters, no. III, pp. 243–50.

23 Carley, J. P. and Dooley, A., ‘An Early Irish Fragment of Isidore of Seville's Etymologiae’, The Archaeology and History of Glastonbury Abbey. Essays in Honour of the Ninetieth Birthday of C. A. Raleigh Radford, ed. Abrams, L. and Carley, J. P. (Woodbridge, 1991), pp. 135–61. The manuscript was certainly at Glastonbury in the later Middle Ages (ibid. pp. 136–7).

24 Howe, N., ‘Aldhelm's Enigmata and Isidorian Etymology’, ASE 14 (1985), 3759.

25 Lapidge, M., ‘An Isidorian Epitome from Anglo-Saxon England’, Anglo-Latin Literature, 600–899, pp. 183223, at 190–1.

26 See Porsia, , Liber monstrorum, p. 67 and app. font., passim.

27 Bonifatii (Vynfreth) Ars Grammatica, accedit Ars grammatica, ed. Gebauer, G. J. and Löfstedt, B., CCSL 133B (Turnhout, 1980), 109–13.

28 Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, lat. 1750; Lowe, E. A., Codices Latini Antiquiores, 11 vols, and Supp. (Oxford, 19341971; 2nd ed. of vol. II, 1972) [hereafter CLA], Supp. no. 1674. For a full discussion, see Lapidge, , ‘An Isidorian Epitome’.

29 See the entry by Marshall, P. K. in Texts and Transmission, ed. Reynolds, , p. 385.

30 Herren, M. W., ‘Classical and Secular Learning among the Irish before the Carolingian Renaissance’, Florilegium 3 (1981), 118–57, at 136; repr. Latin Letters, no. I, p. 35.

31 Lapidge, , ‘An Isidorian Epitome’, p. 195.

32 ‘Quid Probus atque Focas, Donatus Priscianusve,/Servius, Euticius, Pompeius, Comminianus’, Versus de patribus regibus et sanctis Euboricensis ecclesiae, ed. Dümmler, E., MGH PLAC I, 204, lines 1555–6; see also the discussion in the edition by Godman, P., Alcuin: the Bishops, Kings and Saints of York (Oxford, 1982), p. 127, n. to line 1557.

33 Formerly Spangenberg, Pfarrbibliothek, s.n. (CLA Supp. no. 1806). This manuscript should now be identified as Marburg, Hessisches Staatsarchiv 319 Pfarrei Spangenberg Hr Nr. 1 (s. viii1); Bischoff, cf. B., Brown, V. and John, J., ‘Addenda to Codices latini antiquiores (II)’, MS 54 (1992), 286307, at 307; Lapidge, , ‘An Isidorian Epitome’, p. 195 and n. 43.

34 Herren, , ‘Classical and Secular Learning’, p. 133; repr. Latin Letters, no. I, p. 27.

35 Pheifer, J. D., Old English Glosses in the Epinal—Erfurt Glossary (Oxford, 1974), p. xlvii; idem, Early Anglo-Saxon Glossaries and the School of Canterbury’. ASE 16 (1987), 1744, at 28–9 and 44.

38 Ed. Ehwald, , p. 167.

39 Lapidge, , ‘Beowulf’, p. 288.

40 For a summary of what is known about this writer, see the introduction to the edition by Prinz, O., Die Kosmographie des Aethicus (Munich, 1993), pp. 184. (I am preparing a new edition for the Oxford Medieval Texts series.)

41 Ed. Prinz, , pp. 178–81; see also the Index Locorum, pp. 327–8.

42 Porsia, , Liber monstrorum, pp. 66–7.

43 Sometimes explicitly by author and work, as at De virginitate, c. IX (ed. Ehwald, , p. 237): ‘… siquidem beatus Augustinus in libro civitatis Dei…’

44 For a brief biography of Aldhelm and list of his writings, see Lapidge, and Herren, , Prose Works, pp. 519.

45 See especially Lapidge, M., ‘The Hermeneutic Style in Tenth-Century Anglo-Latin Literature’, in his Anglo-Latin Literature, 900–1066 (London, 1993), pp. 105–49.

46 Manitius, , Geschichte I, 138.

47 Ep. 3, ed. Ehwald, , p. 479. ‘What, pray, I beseech you eagerly, is the benefit to the sanctity of the orthodox faith to expend energy by reading and studying the foul pollution of base Proserpina, which I shrink from mentioning in plain speech; or to revere, through celebration in study, Hermione, the wanton offspring of Menelaus and Helen, who, as the ancient texts report, was engaged for a while by right of dowry to Orestes, then, having changed her mind, married Neoptolemus; or to record — in the heroic style of epic — the high priests of the Luperci, who revel in the fashion of those cultists that sacrifice to Priapus …’ (Lapidge, and Herren, , Aldhelm: the Prose Works, p. 154).

48 Ed. Ehwald, , p. 100. ‘In the writings of the ancients I am conceived as the child of Thaumas’ (Lapidge, and Rosier, , Aldhelm: the Poetic Works, p. 71).

49 See Lapidge, and Rosier, , Aldhelm: the Poetic Works, p. 248, n. 4, where it is suggested that Aldhelm knew the ‘African Anthology’.

50 Ed. Ehwald, , pp. 101–2. ‘The stupid ancients said that we were the offspring of Atlas’ (Lapidge, and Rosier, , Aldhelm: the Poetic Works, p. 72).

51 Ed. Ehwald, , p. 72.

52 Ed. Ehwald, , p. 109: ‘I am two-shaped, being different with respect to my face and my limbs: I am armed with horns, but my other limbs constitute a terrifying man. I am known by report through the fields of Cnossos, having been born a bastard of an unknown father in Crete. My name is taken from that of man and beast together’ (Lapidge, and Rosier, , Aldhelm: the Poetic Works, p. 75).

53 Ed. Ehwald, , p. 117. ‘I was born in the forest, green on a leafy bough, but fortune changed my condition in due course, since I move my rounded shape twirling through the smooth-spun thread; from this is made the royal covering of a robe. No hero (anywhere) is girded by a belt as long as mine [scil. the distaff]. They say that the Parcae decree the fates of men through me’ (Lapidge, and Rosier, , Aldhelm: the Poetic Works, p. 79).

54 Ed. Ehwald, , p. 123. ‘Although deceitful poets might sing in their verses (that I am) the weapon-bearer of unlucky Jove and the abductor of Ganymede, I was not that bird by whom the youth [i.e. Ganymede] was carried off; rather I chase fleeing swans high in the air…’ (Lapidge, and Rosier, , Aldhelm: the Poetic Works, p. 82).

55 Ed. Ehwald, , p. 142. ‘Look, the Fates gave me the name of dogs — thus does the language of the Greeks render it in words — ever since the incantations of dread Circe, who stained the waters of the flowing fountain with her words, deceived me. Weaving words, the cruel witch deprived me of thighs together with shins, and calves together with knees. Terrified mariners relate that, as they impel ships with oars and cleave the sea, sweeping along the mighty waves while the tempest rages, where the broad blade of the oar runs through the water, they hear from afar the howling offspring that barks about my loins. Thus the daughter of Titan [scil. Circe] once tricked me, so that I should live as an exile — deservedly — in the salt waves’ (Lapidge, and Rosier, , Aldhelm: the Poetic Works, p. 91).

56 Cf. Lapidge, and Rosier, , Aldhelm: the Poetic Works, p. 254, n. 85; cf. above, pp. 89–90 and n. 17.

57 Ed. Ehwald, , p. 143: ‘Flowering earth bore me, black, from her body; and I produce nothing fecund from my sterile womb, even though the poets, telling in their verse of the Eumenides, claim that I gave birth to the race of Tartarus’ (Lapidge, and Rosier, , Aldhelm: the Poetic Works, p. 92).

58 For the attribution, see Lapidge in Lapidge, and Herren, , Aldhelm: the Prose Works, pp. 1617.

59 Ed. Ehwald, , p. 526. ‘And likewise, the beautiful constellation of the Pleiades, offspring of Atlantis, with its seven gleaming lights lies hidden’ (Lapidge, and Rosier, , Aldhelm: the Poetic Works, p.178).

60 Carm. rhyth. I.23, Ed. Ehwald, , p. 525: ‘Cum fracto vend federe’ (Lapidge, and Rosier, , Aldhelm: the Poetic Works, p. 177); cf. Vergil, . Aen. I.50141.

61 Ed. Ehwald, , pp. 528–37.

62 See below, pp. 100–1.

63 For a list of manuscripts of the ‘Leiden family’ of glossaries, see Lapidge, M., ‘The School of Theodore and Hadrian’, Anglo-Latin Literature, 600–899, pp. 163–8.

64 Ibid. pp. 153–4.

65 There is as yet no complete critical edition of this work. The Old English glosses only are ed. Pheifer, , Old English Glosses. For the complete glossary one must still consult Goetz, G., Corpus Glossariorum Latinorum, 7 vols. (Leipzig, 18811923) V, 337401. There is a diplomatic edition by Schlutter, O. of the Épinal copy only (cited below, p. 98, n. 67), and a facsimile edition by Bischoff, B. et al. , The Épinal, Erfurt, Werden and Corpus Glossaries;, EEMF 22 (Copenhagen, 1988).

66 Épinal, Bibliothèque municipale, 72 (2) and Erfurt, Amplon., Fol. 42. The Épinal copy has recently been redated to c. 700: see Brown, T. J., ‘The Irish Element in the Insular System of Scripts to circa A.D. 850’, Die Iren und Europa im Frühmittelalter, ed. Löwe, H., 2 vols. (Stuttgart, 1982) I, 109, n. 12. See Pheifer, , ‘Early Anglo-Saxon Glossaries’, p. 44.

67 Schlutter, , Das Epinaler und Erfurter Glossar. I. Teil. See above, p. 97, n. 65.

68 Pheifer, , Old English Glosses, pp. xli–lvii.

69 See Philippson, E. A., Germanisches Heidentum bei den Angelsachsen, Kölner Anglistische Arbeiten 4 (Leipzig, 1929), 113–23. (I wish to thank Roberta Frank (Toronto) for this reference.)

70 CLA II, no. 122; Ker, N., Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon (Oxford, 1957), p. 49 (no. 36).

71 I follow the edition of Lindsay, W. M., The Corpus Glossary (Cambridge, 1921). There is an older edition by Hessels, J. H., An Eighth-Century Latin—Anglo-Saxon Glossary Preserved in the Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (MSN°. 144) (Cambridge, 1890). For the position of this glossary in the complex of Old English glossaries, see Pheifer, , Old English Glosses, pp. xxviiixxxi.

72 Philippson, , Germanisches Heidentum, pp. 67–8.

73 Ibid. pp. 136–41.

74 Ed. Hessels, J. H., A Late Eighth-Century Latin—Anglo-Saxon Glossary Preserved in the Library of the Leiden University (Cambridge, 1906).

75 CLA X, no. 1585.

76 Pheifer, , Old English Glosses, p. xliii; Lapidge, , ‘The School of Theodore and Hadrian’, pp. 150–68.

77 For an overview of euhemeristic interpretations in the Middle Ages, see Cooke, J. D., ‘Euhemerism: a Medieval Interpretation of Classical Paganism’, Speculum 2 (1927), 396410.

78 See the edition by Porsia, cited above, p. 90, n. 18.

79 See esp. Lapidge, ‘Beowulf’, as well as Lendinara, P., ‘IlLiber monstrorum e i glossari anglosassoni’, L'immaginario nelle letterature germaniche di medioevo, ed. Cipolla, A. (Milan, 1995), pp. 203–15.

80 Liber monstroram, ed. Porsia, , p. 72.

81 ibid. p. 64; Lapidge, , ‘Beowulf’, p. 289.

82 Liber monstrorum, ed. Porsia, , pp. 70–1.

83 Ibid. pp. 81–2.

84 Ep. IX, to Nihthard, ed. Tangl, M. et al. , Bonifatii Epistulae, Willibaldi Vita Bonifatti (Darmstadt, 1968), p. 26.

85 Ep. XIII, ed. Tangl, et al. , p. 50.

86 I am grateful to the Killam Foundation and the Humanities and Social Sciences Research Council of Canada for providing leave time and support money to enable me to carry out the research required for this paper.


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