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Bede, Isidore, and the Epistola Cuthberti

  • William D. McCready (a1)


The observation has been made frequently enough in the recent and, indeed, not so recent scholarly literature to have assumed the status of a received truth: the Venerable Bede, esteemed for both his saintliness and his scholarship, simply did not like Isidore of Seville. Although Bede knew Isidore's major works, at least, and used them extensively, he was less respectful of Isidore, we are told, than he was of his other authorities. On only three occasions does he refer to Isidore by name, and each time it is to correct him. Part of the explanation, it has been suggested, lies in their sharply differing attitudes towards antique literary culture. Whereas Isidore was a product of the ancient world, says Riché, Bede decisively turned against its cultural and educational legacy, rejecting the approach, sanctioned by both Augustine and Gregory the Great, that enlisted the liberal arts in the service of Christian thought. He also, Riché goes on to say, was distrustful of the broadly-based scientific curiosity evinced in Isidore's works. Despite his acknowleged accomplishments, Bede's own scientific interests were, like those of other educated Anglo-Saxons, strictly limited. Natural philosophy writ large was suspect because of the irreligious aberrations to which it might lead. To C. W. Jones and a number of more recent commentators, the crux of the matter is Isidore's incompetence, not his excessive zeal. In Bede's view, Isidore simply did not work to a high enough standard. Hence he turned to other authorities, scarcely containing his disdain of the Sevillian. “The weakness of Isidore's treatment of cycles is manifest to the elementary student,” Jones points out; “it would be more than irritating to Bede.”



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1 Cf. Laistner, M. L. W., “The Library of the Venerable Bede,” in Bede: His Life, Times, and Writings, ed. Hamilton Thompson, A. (1935; repr. Oxford, 1969), 237–66 at 256; Jones, Charles W., ed., Bedae opera de temporibus (Cambridge, Mass., 1943), 131–32; Fontaine, Jacques, ed., Isidore de Séville: Traité de la nature, Bibliothèque de l'Ecole des hautes études hispaniques, fasc. 28 (Bordeaux, 1960), 79–80; Paul Meyvaert, “Bede the Scholar,” in Famulus Christi: Essays in Commemoration of the Thirteenth Centenary of the Birth of the Venerable Bede, ed. Bonner, Gerald (London, 1976), 40–69 at 58–59; Roger D. Ray, “Bede's Vera Lex Historiae,” Speculum 55 (1980): 1–21 at 16–17. Bede's dislike of Isidore is now widely assumed. See, for example, A. Holder, “New Treasures and Old in Bede's ‘De Tabernaculo’ and ‘De Templo’,” Revue Bénédictine 99 (1989): 237–49, who refers casually to “Bede's well-known distrust and lack of reverence for the Bishop of Seville” (248).

The following abbreviations are used throughout. Bede DNR = Bede De natura rerum, ed. Jones, Charles W., CCL 123A: 173–234. Bede DT = Bede De temporibus, ed. Jones, Charles W., CCL 123C:579–611. Bede DTR = Bede De temporum ratione, ed. Jones, Charles W., CCL 123B. Cuthbert Epistola = Cuthbert Epistola de obitu Bedae, ed. and trans. Colgrave, Bertram and Mynors, R. A. B., Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Oxford, 1969), 579–87. Isidore DNR = Isidore of Seville De natura rerum, ed. Fontaine, (see above). Isidore Etym. = Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae, ed. Lindsay, W. M., Isidori Hispalensis Episcopi Etymologiarum sive Originum libri XX, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1911). [A new edition of the Etymologies is being published in the series “Auteurs latins du moyen âge.” To date, however, only four volumes have appeared: Book II, ed. and trans. (into English) Peter K. Marshall (1983); Book IX, ed. and trans. Reydellet, Marc (1984); and Books XII and XVII, ed. and trans. André, Jacques (1986 and 1981 respectively).] Pliny Nat. Hist. = Pliny: Natural History, Loeb Classical Library, vols. 1–2 (London, 1938–1942).

2 Riché, Pierre, Education and Culture in the Barbarian West, Sixth through Eighth Centuries, trans. J. J. Contreni (Columbia, S.C., 1976), 384–93. Cf. Manuel C. Díaz y Díaz, “Les arts libéraux d'après les écrivains espagnols et insulaires aux VIIe et VIIIe siècles,” in Arts libéraux et philosophie au moyen âge (Montréal, 1969), 3746 at 45–46.

3 Jones, , Bedae opera de temporibus, 131. Cf. Meyvaert, “Bede the Scholar,” 58–59; Ray, “Bede's Vera Lex Historiae,“ 16–17.

4 Epistola, Colgrave and Mynors, 582–83.

5 See, for example, J. A. Giles, The Miscellaneous Works of the Venerable Bede, 6 vols. (London, 1843), 1:lxxxi; C. Plummer, Venerabilis Baedae Opera Historica, 2 vols. (1896; repr. Oxford, 1969), 1:lxxv–lxxvi; W. Levison, “Bede as Historian,” in Bede: His Life, Times, and Writings, 111–51 at 134; idem, England and the Continent in the Eighth Century (Oxford, 1946), 42; E. S. Duckett, Anglo-Saxon Saints and Scholars (New York, 1947), 332. It has also been claimed that only the Gospel was being translated, not the selections from Isidore. See, for example, C. E. Whiting, “The Life of the Venerable Bede,” in Bede: His Life, Times, and Writings, 1–38 at 33–34. See below, n. 58.

6 Plummer, , Opera Historica, 1: lxxv, n. 6, maintains that in Cuthbert's text rotarum needs to be amended to notarum, an error repeated by Alan S. C. Ross, “A Connection between Bede and the Anglo-Saxon Gloss to the Lindisfarne Gospels?” Journal of Theological Studies n.s. 20 (1969): 482–94 at 494n. On this matter, however, see van Kirk Dobbie, E., The Manuscripts of Cœdmon's Hymn and Bede's Death Song (New York, 1937), 101–02. That some medieval scribes were also puzzled by rotarum is evident from the frequency with which notarum appears in the manuscripts of the Insular Version of the text (see below, n. 10). It is clear, however, that rotarum was the reading in the hyparchetype, and in Cuthbert's original. Although the word is missing in the Continental Version, its presence in the Hague MS confirms the reading.

7 Jones, , Bedae opera de temporibus, 131; Meyvaert, “Bede the Scholar,” 59–60; Ray, “Bede's Vera Lex Historiae,“ 16–17. Cf. T. J. Brown, “An Historical Introduction to the Use of Classical Latin Authors in the British Isles from the Fifth to the Eleventh Century,” in La cultura antica nell'occidente latino dal VII all'XI secolo, Settimane di studio del Centro italiano di studi sull'alto medioevo 22 (Spoleto, 1975), 1:237–93 at 262; and Michael Lapidge, “The Anglo-Latin Background,” in A New Critical History of Old English Literature, by Stanley B. Greenfield and Daniel G. Calder (New York, 1986), 537 at 16.

8 W. F. Bolton, “Epistola Cuthberti De Obitu Bedae: A Caveat,” Medievalia et Humanistica n.s. 1 (1970): 127–39 at 130–31, 133.

9 A. K. Brown, “The English Compass Points,” Medium Aevum 47 (1978): 221–46 at 244, n. 78. Cf. H. D. Chickering, Jr., “Some Contexts of Bede's Death-Song,“ PMLA 91 (1976): 91–100 at 99n. See also Meyvaert, , “Bede the Scholar,” 68, n. 71, who promises a paper on the manuscript tradition showing that Bolton's objections are “groundless”; and Ray, “Bede's Vera Lex Historiae,“ 16n, who announces simply that “Bolton's case against the Epistola is not convincing.”

10 Dobbie, , Manuscripts, identifies a “Continental Version” preserved in twelve manuscripts that date from the ninth century to the sixteenth, and an “Insular Version” recorded in thirty-three manuscripts of the twelfth century and later. The stemma that he constructs for the Continental Version (67) shows two branches descending from the archetype, one containing three manuscripts, the other nine. In Dobbie's judgment, the three-manuscript branch is superior because of the authority of two of its members: the ninth-century MS, St. Gall, Stifts-bibliothek 254, and the eleventh-century MS, Bamberg, Staatliche Bibliothek A.1.47 (Bibl. 22). The other ten manuscripts date from the twelfth century or later (61–62). The manuscripts of the Insular Version can be divided into the “Digby Group,” the “Symeon Group,” and the “Burney Group” (5, 49). Because of the “hopeless complexity of the transmission” (98), Dobbie does not venture a stemma. However, he regards the “Digby Group” as the earliest of the three (95). In Appendix 1 (117–27) Dobbie provides critical texts of the two versions on opposite pages. As his base texts he adopts the Bamberg manuscript for the Continental Version, and a manuscript of the “Digby Group” — MS Digby 211 — for the Insular Version. Despite some virtues in the latter version, he argues that the Continental Version is earlier and is therefore to be preferred (104–05).

Since Dobbie's writing, many additional manuscripts have surfaced. See Laistner, M. L. W. and King, H. H., A Hand-List of Bede Manuscripts (Ithaca, 1943), 120; R. Brotanek, “Nachlese zu den Hss. der Epistola Cuthberti und des Sterbespruches Bedas,” Anglia 64 (1940): 159–90; and most recently, K. W. Humphreys and Alan S. C. Ross, “Further Manuscripts of Bede's ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’, of the ‘Epistola Cuthberti de Obitu Bedae’, and Further Anglo-Saxon Texts of ‘Cædmon's Hymn’ and ‘Bede's Death Song’,” Notes and Queries 220, n.s. 22 (1975): 50–55. Humphreys and Ross list twenty manuscripts not recorded by Dobbie, plus one additional manuscript to which he did not have access. Undoubtedly the most important is The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek 70.H.7, a tenth-century manuscript first identified by N. R. Ker, “The Hague Manuscript of the Epistola Cuthberti de Obitu Bedae with Bede's Song,” Medium Aevum 8 (1939): 40–44. Ker regards it as holding “a position intermediate between [Dobbie's] two versions, combining the merits of both and affording important evidence for the authority of their readings” (40). He prints the manuscript as it stands, expanding the abbreviations. Colgrave and Mynors have corrected obvious errors in adopting it as the basis for their edition.

The most recent study of the text of the Epistola Cuthberti is that of David R. Howlett, “Biblical Style in Early Insular Latin,” in Sources of Anglo-Saxon Culture, ed. Szarmach, Paul E. et al. (Kalamazoo, 1986), 127–47. Howlett argues that, like “nearly every extant monument of British-Latin and Anglo-Latin literature from the fifth century to the eighth” (146), the Epistola Cuthberti was composed in what he calls “biblical style.” It was a style characterized by the use of parallelism and chiasmus in varying combinations, and by mathematically fixed forms. “In a tightly knit composition like Cuthbert's,” he argues, “it is very difficult either to omit or to interpolate without doing violence to the syntax and the narrative sequence” (146). Consequently, “the changes from his original words are easily detected by comparison of the variants and the original text easily restored” (147). While Howlett's confidence is not easily shared, he does point to some interesting features of the text, and his stylistic analysis has the potential to illuminate some textual problems. He offers a complete version of the Latin text (134–38) accompanied by an English translation (139–41). His reconstruction is based upon the Bamberg manuscript, with emendations drawn from other Continental manuscripts, the Hague manuscript, and Bodleian MS Digby 211 (133).

11 Bolton states, correctly, Dobbie's belief that “the history of the two versions is one that includes long separation after the original, presumably insular, composition” (129). However, he goes on to argue that “it is on the whole probable that CV [the Continental Version] was ‘worked up’ from IV [the Insular Version]” (129), mistakenly enlisting Dobbie in support of the notion that “everything points … to the priority of IV” (130).

12 Meyvaert, “Bede the Scholar” (n. 1 above), 58, 60–61.

13 Fontaine, , Traité de la nature (n. 1 above), 74.

14 See Bede, DTR, Praef., CCL 123B:263.

15 Cf. Alessandra Di Pilla, “Cosmologia e uso delle fonti nel De natura rerum di Beda,” Romanobarbarica 11 (1991): 129–47 at 129–31.

16 Duhem, Pierre, Le système du monde, vol. 3 (Paris, 1915), 16.

17 This analysis is based on an examination of the sources mentioned by Jones in the apparatus to his critical edition of Bede's DNR. Bede's dependence on Isidore is not always highlighted by his editor. Hence in DNR 3 (CCL 123A:194), the sentence “Mundus est universitas omnis quae constat ex caelo et terra….” is a direct quotation of Isidore DNR 9.1 (Fontaine 207), unnoted in the apparatus; and in DNR 7 (CCL 123A: 197–98), much of the paragraph is a quotation, not fully acknowledged in the notes or highlighted by italics in the text, from Isidore DNR 13.2 (Fontaine 225). Further, in DNR 24 (CCL 123A:216), Bede derives from Isidore DNR 26.13 (Fontaine 273) information that is not in Pliny, despite the notation “ex Plinio” in the apparatus; and in DNR 39 (CCL 123A:224–25), in addition to the use of Pseudo-Isidore and Pliny identified by Jones, Bede is also verbally dependent on Isidore DNR 40.1 (Fontaine 307). In the latter case Duhem (Système du monde, 3:18) suggests that Bede was making direct use of Ambrose Hexameron 4.7.30 (CSEL 32.1:136), which was Isidore's source. On a close comparison of the texts, however, that seems unlikely. A counter-instance is Bede DNR 51 (CCL 123A:233–34), where Jones identifies Pliny Nat. Hist. 3.1.3 and Isidore DNR 48.2 (Fontaine 325) as Bede's sources. Bede's use of Isidore's DNR here is uncertain. See below, at n. 33.

18 See Díaz, Manuel C. y Díaz, Liber de ordine creaturarum, Un anonimo irlandés del siglo VII: Estudio y edicion critica (Santiago de Compostela, 1972). Díaz y Díaz concludes that the work was clearly not by Isidore, but was of Irish provenance, and was written sometime between 680 and 700 (27). According to C. W. Jones, manuscript evidence with which Díaz y Díaz was not familiar suggests that it could have been written in Northumbria, in either Lindisfarne or Whitby. See Cróinín, D. O., “The Irish Provenance of Bede's Computus,” Peritia 2 (1983): 229–47 at 241n. Díaz y Díaz argues further that in the earliest stage of its transmission the text appeared anonymously. It was only in the second half of the eighth century, with its circulation on the continent, that the attribution to Isidore begin to appear (23). However, he also raises the possibility that “Isidore” was a nom de plume assumed by the monastic author of the treatise and associated with the work from the outset (28). What likelihood is there, then, that Bede had a manuscript that identified the author of the treatise as Isidore, an Isidore whom he would have understood to be Isidore of Seville? The matter is simply uncertain.

19 Bede DNR 28 (De tonitruo), CCL 123A:219. Bede's source is Isidore DNR 29.1 (Fontaine 279), with one final clause taken from Etym. 13.8.2.

20 Bede, , DNR 29 (De fulminibus), CCL 123A:219–20. Most of this chapter comes from Isidore DNR 30.1–2 (Fontaine 281); Pseudo-Isidore De ordine creaturarum 7.9–10 (Díaz y Díaz 132); and Etym. 13.9.2. The basic explanation is provided by Isidore's DNR. However, Bede also borrows a third possible explanation of thunder from Pseudo-Isidore: “Quidam dicunt, dum aer in se vaporaliter aquam de imis et ignem caumaliter de superioribus trahat, ipsis confligentibus horrisonos tonitruorum crepitus gigni.” On Bede's uncertainty here, see Eckenrode, T. R., “Venerable Bede as a Scientist,” American Benedictine Review 22 (1971): 486–507 at 495–96.

21 Bede DNR 49 (De Terrae Motu), CCL 123A:232. The first half of this chapter, and the part containing the basic explanation of earthquakes, is from Isidore DNR 46 (Fontaine 319–21). The latter half is from Pliny Nat. Hist. 2.81.192 and 2.86.200, Loeb 1:322–24, 330.

22 Bede DNR 50 (Incendium Aetnae), CCL 123A:233. This chapter is patched together with words and phrases from Isidore, DNR 47 (Fontaine 321–25).

23 Bede DNR 24 CCL 123A:216: “Comets are stars with tails of hair-like flames, suddenly arising and signifying the change of a kingdom, pestilence, or wars, or winds or heat. Some of them move like the planets; others are fixed and stationary. Almost all of them appear towards due north, not in any particular part of it, but chiefly in the luminous area called the Milky Way. The shortest period of visibility on record is seven days, the longest eighty days. Planets and other stars also occasionally have spreading hair. But a comet never appears in the western part of the sky.” My translation.

24 Pliny Nat. Hist. 2.22–23, Loeb 1:230–38. See especially 2.22.89–23.92, Loeb 1: 230–34. The English translation (231–35) has provided the basis for the translation in n. 23.

25 Cf. Etym. 3.71.16–17: “Cometes stella est dicta eo quod comas luminis ex se fundat…. Cometae autem Latine crinitae appellantur, quia in modum crinium flammas spargunt”; and Nat. Hist. 2.22.89, Loeb 1:230–32: “cometas Graeci vocant, nostri crinitas, horrentis crine sanguineo et comarum modo in vertice hispidas.”

26 DNR 26.13, Fontaine 273: “Haec cum nascitur aut regni mutationem fertur ostendere, aut bella et pestilentias surgere.” The Etymologies present the matter slightly differently. Cf. Etym. 3.71.16: “Quod genus sideris quando apparuerit, aut pestilentiam, aut famem, aut bella significat.”

27 Fontaine (Traité de la nature [n. 1 above], 42) maintains that any trace of book 2 of the Natural History in either the Etymologies or De natura rerum is slight. If Isidore was aware of it at all, the knowledge came to him late. There were other books, however, with which he was quite familiar, and which he used extensively. See, for example, J. Oroz Reta, “Présence de Pline dans les Etymologies de saint Isidore de Séville,” Helmantica 38 (1987): 295306, who discusses Pliny's influence on the mineralogy in book 16 of the Etymologies. Although it may have been excerpts that Isidore had at his disposal rather than Pliny's full text, his treatment leans heavily on books 36 and 37 of the Natural History.

28 Pilla, Di, “Cosmologia” (n. 15 above), 136–37.

29 See Fontaine, Jacques, Isidore de Séville et la culture classique dans l'Espagne wisigothique, 3 vols. (Paris, 1959–1983), 2:571–89.

30 See Pliny, Nat. Hist. 2.39.105–106 (Loeb 1:248–50), from which Bede borrows verbally in DNR 11 (CCL 123A:201–203). Isidore makes similar claims in a number of places. For a statement of general principle, see Etym. 3.71.5, where, referring to the stars, he says: “Sed et omnes homines ea intendunt ad praevidendas aeris qualitates per aestatem et hiemem vernalemque temperiem. Ortu enim vel occasu suo certis stationibus temporum qualitatem significant.”

31 Bede DNR 14–15, CCL 123A:205–07.

32 Fontaine, , Traité de la nature (n. 1 above), 38, 74, 79. See below, at nn. 48–50.

33 See DNR 51 (CCL 123A:233–34), where Bede invites us to picture a circular representation of the earth, divided horizontally and oriented towards the East. The upper semicircle denotes Asia; the lower semicircle, evenly divided in the middle, represents Europe on the left and Africa on the right: “Terrarum orbis universus, Oceano cinctus, in tres dividitur partes: Europam, Asiam, Africam. Origo ab occasu solis et Gaditano freto, qua irrumpens Oceanus Athlanticus in maria interiora dijfunditurhinc intranti dextera Africa, laeva est Europa; inter has Asia magnitudine compar est aliis duabus. Termini sunt amnes Tanais et Nilus; xv. passuum in longitudine, quas diximus fauces Oceani, patent, v. in latitudine. Europa ergo ab occidente usque ad septentrionem, Asia vero a septentrione per orientem usque ad meridiem, atque inde Africa a meridie usque ad occidentem extenditur.” Although most of this passage is a direct quotation from Pliny Nat. Hist. 3.1.3 (Loeb 2:4–5), the last sentence suggests Isidore DNR 48.2 (Fontaine 325): “Asia autem, ut ait beatissimus Augustinus, a meridie per orientem usque ad septentrionem pervenit. Europa vero a septentrione usque ad occidentem, atque inde Africa ab occidente usque ad meridiem.” This is the source identified by Bede's editor; presumably it was the evidence of Bede's familiarity with chapter 48 that Fontaine had in mind as well. For a different view, however, cf. Wesley M. Stevens, “Scientific Instruction in Early Insular Schools,” in Insular Latin Studies: Papers on Latin Texts and Manuscripts of the British Isles: 550–1066, ed. Herren, Michael W. (Toronto, 1981), 83–102 at 100. Although Bede's text has “contents parallel with Isidore's chapter 48,” Stevens argues, it “proceeds to describe the diagram in the opposite direction and does not quote or paraphrase him.” Whether this is significant, given that the structure of his summary is the same and most of the words identical, is perhaps open to discussion. Nevertheless, Stevens may have drawn the correct conclusion: that it was the first version, the short recension of Isidore's De natura rerum, that Bede knew. DNR 51 cannot be taken as irrefragable proof that Bede knew chapter 48. He may equally as well have been drawing on Etym. 14.2.2, or even on Isidore's source, De civ. Dei 16.17 (CCL 48:521).

34 The particular chapters he uses are the following: 1 (probably), 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 12, 13, 16, 17, 22, 24, 25, 29, 30, 31, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 46, 47. It is probably chapter 1 (De diebus), more specifically DNR 1.1–2 (Fontaine 173), that Bede draws upon in DT 2 (CCL 123C:585). Another possibility is Etym. 5.30.1–4, from which, with the exception of his final thought, all the material in the chapter could have been derived. The same cannot be said of Isidore's DNR. Bede's final thought, however, is the following: “Domino surgente vespera, sabbati lucescebat in primam sabbati ut homo de luce lapsus in tenebras deinceps e tenebris rediret ad lucem.” The quotation is from Matt. 28:1: “Vespere autem sabbati, quae lucescit in prima sabbati, venit Maria Magdalene, et altera Maria, videre sepulchrum.” The inspiration, however, may have come from Isidore, who discusses the mystical or allegorical meaning of the day at several points in his long chapter. See, for example, DNR 1.3 (Fontaine 173–75), where, after explaining that the Chaldaeans calculated the beginning of the day from the rising of the sun, the Egyptians from the fall of night, and the Romans from midnight, he states: “Dies in principio operum Dei a lumine habebat exordium, ad significandum hominis lapsum; nunc autem a tenebris ad lucem, ut non dies obscuretur in noctem, sed nox lucescat in diem, sicut scriptum est de tenebris lumen clarescere [2 Cor. 4:6], quia a delictorum tenebris liberatus homo ad lucem fidei scientiaeque pervenit.”

Bede's use of DNR 3 (De hebdomada) (Fontaine 183–85) also requires some comment. At DT 4 (CCL 123C:586), Jones cites Etym. 5.32 and 5.30 as Bede's chief sources, which is clearly correct. However, he also uses Isidore's DNR 3. Bede points out, for example, that the Romans named the days of the week after the planets, believing that they were influenced by the latter: “His nomen gentilitas a planetis indidit, habere se credens a Sole spiritum, a Luna corpus, a Marte sanguinem, a Mercurio ingenium et linguam, a Iove temperantiam, a Venere voluptatem, a Saturno tarditatem” (DT 4, CCL 123C:586). The principal source is clearly Etym. 5.30.8: “Proinde autem ex his septem stellis nomina dierum gentiles dederunt, eo quod per eosdem aliquid sibi effici existimarent, dicentes habere a Sole spiritum, a Luna corpus, a Mercurio ingenium et linguam, a Venere voluptatem, a Marte sanguinem, a Iove temperantiam, a Saturno humorem.” What he says about Saturn, however, points to DNR 3.4 (Fontaine 185): “Proinde autem gentiles ex his septem stellis nomina dierum dederunt, eo quod per eosdem aliquid sibi effici extimarent, dicentes habere ex aere ignem, ex sole spiritum, ex luna corpus, ex Mercurio linguam et sapientiam, ex Venere voluptatem, ex Marte fervorem, ex Iove temperantiam, ex Saturno tarditatem.”

35 Bede DNR 31, CCL 123A:220–21: “Arcus in aere quadricolor ex sole adverso nubibusque formatur, dum radius solis inmissus cavae nubi, repulsa acie in solem refringitur, instar cerae imaginem anuli reddentis.” Cf. Isidore DNR 31.1, Fontaine 285: “Arcus enim in aere ex imagine solis hoc modo formatur. Dum enim sol in nubibus rarescentibus ex adverso refulserit radiosque suos directa linea humori nubilo transfundens inpresserit, fit repercussio splendoris eius in nubibus ex quibus fulgor emicans arcus speciem format. Sicut enim inpressa cera anuli imaginem exprimit, sic nubes e contra ex rotunditate solis figuram sumentes orbem efficiunt et arcus effigiem fingunt.”

36 Bede DNR 11, CCL 123A:201–202: “The stars borrow their light from the sun, and with the exception of the wandering stars that are called ‘planets’, they are said to be fixed in place and to revolve with the cosmos, rather than being unfixed, and set in motion while the cosmos itself is unmoved. They are [simply] concealed at the break of day, nor do they ever fall from the heavens, as both the brightness of a full moon and an eclipse of the sun prove. We may, however, see particles of fire that have fallen from the ether imitate the light of wandering stars, being driven along by the sudden outbreak of strong winds.” My translation.

37 Isidore DNR 24.1, Fontaine 261: “The stars are said not to have their own light, but to be illumined by the sun. Nor do they ever drop from the heavens, but rather are hidden from view by the arriving sun. All the stars are dimmed at the rising of the sun; they do not fall. For when the sun sends forth the tokens of its rise, all the fires of the stars die away in the brightness of its light, so that, other than the fire of the sun, the brilliance of no star can be seen. This is why it is called the sun (sol): it alone (solus) appears, all the other stars having been concealed. It is not surprising that the sun should have this effect, since even when the moon is full, and shining throughout the night, a great many stars are invisible. An eclipse of the sun proves that even during the day there are stars in the heavens. For when the sun is concealed by the interposing disk of the moon, the brighter stars in the heavens become visible.” My translation. The other passages of Isidore on which Bede is dependent at this juncture are DNR 22.1 and 25.1 (Fontaine 255, 263).

38 Pilla, Di, “Cosmologia” (n. 15 above), 140. According to the basic doctrine that Bede endorses, there are five celestial circuli (Isidore also speaks of zonae) that determine the climate, and consequently the habitability, of five corresponding circuli on earth. Isidore confuses the issue, however, by failing to distinguish clearly between the celestial and the terrestrial, and Bede follows him. Cf. Isidore DNR 10.1, Fontaine 209; and Etym. 3.44.1: “Zonae caeli quinque sunt, quarum distinctionibus quaedam partes temperie sua incoluntur, quaedam inmanitate frigoris aut caloris inhabitabiles existunt. Quae ideo zonae vel circuli appellantur.” It is the wording of the Etymologies that Bede adopts in DNR 9, CCL 123A: 199: “Quinque circulis mundus dividitur, quorum distinctionibus quaedam partes temperie sua incoluntur, quaedam inmanitate frigoris aut caloris inhabitabiles existunt.”

39 Pilla, Di, “Cosmologia” (n. 15 above), 141.

40 Isidore's position seems fairly certain. See Etym. 3.61; and DNR 24.1, Fontaine 261: “Stellas non habere proprium lumen, sed a sole inluminari dicuntur …” In the latter passage he goes on to refer to the ignes stellarum, but his usage could be taken to be metaphorical. Pliny's views are not as clear. The passage to which Di Pilla refers (Nat. Hist. 2.6.29, Loeb 1:188) concerns falling stars, which Pliny likens to heavenly lamps. Elsewhere, however, Pliny describes the sun as mundi totius animus, and states: “hic lucem rebus ministrat aufertque tenebras, hic reliqua sidera occultat inlustrat … hic suum lumen ceteris quoque sideribus fenerat” (Nat. Hist. 2.4.13, Loeb 1:178). Since the context is established with a reference to the seven planets — “septem sidera quae ab incessu vocamus errantia” — possibly he means that they, and they alone, receive their light from the sun. For his part, Bede, at one point at least, seems clearly to endorse Isidore. See DNR 11, CCL 123A:201–02: “Stellae lumen a sole mutuantes….” Elsewhere, however, he refers to the fire by which the stars shine — “igne quo stellae lucent” (DNR 3, CCL 123A:194) — following Pliny, Nat. Hist. 2.4.10. Here Pliny discusses the four elements, describing fire as the highest: “igneum summum, inde tot stellarum illos conlucentium oculos” (Loeb 1:176).

41 See, for example, DNR 31 (CCL 123A:220–21), where Bede corrects Isidore on the colors of the rainbow, or DT 8 (CCL 123C:591), where he provides a more precise definition of the length of the solar year. The matter is discussed more thoroughly in my “Bede and the Isidorian Legacy” (to appear in Mediaeval Studies), which also explores criticism of Isidore in Bede's Retractatio on the Acts of the Apostles and in his De temporum ratione.

42 Epistola, Colgrave and Mynors, 583, 587.

43 Ray, “Bede's Vera Lex Historiae” (n. 1 above), 16–17.

44 Meyvaert, “Bede the Scholar” (n. 1 above), 59; Ray, “Bede's Vera Lex Historiae” (n. 1 above), 16–17.

45 ThLL 5. 2: cols. 1223–25; P. G. W. Glare, Oxford Latin Dictionary, fasc. 3 (Oxford, 1971), 633–34.

46 Du Cange 3:343. Cf. the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources, fasc. 3 (London, 1986), 830, which cites the Epistola Cuthberti as the first of several examples.

47 Lapidge, Michael, “An Isidorian Epitome from Early Anglo-Saxon England,” Romanobarbarica 10 (1988–89): 443–83, esp. 457.

48 Fontaine, , Traité de la nature (n. 1 above), 79.

49 Cf. Hillgarth, J. N., “The East, Visigothic Spain and the Irish,” Studia Patristica 4 (Berlin, 1961): 442–56; idem, “Ireland and Spain in the Seventh Century,” Peritia 3 (1984): 1–16, which is reprinted in Visigothic Spain, Byzantium and the Irish (London, 1985); and M. W. Herren, “On the Earliest Irish Acquaintance with Isidore of Seville,” in Visigothic Spain: New Approaches, ed. James, Edward (Oxford, 1980), 243–50. For a dissenting view, see Smyth, Marina, “Isidore of Seville and Early Irish Cosmography,” Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 14 (Winter, 1987): 69–102. From an analysis of the cosmographical views of Irish scholars, Smyth argues that the relevant portions of Isidore's works could not have been available before the end of the seventh century. Cf. idem, “The Physical World in Seventh-Century Hiberno-Latin Texts,” Peritia 5 (1986): 201–34, esp. 206, 213.

50 Cf. Bischoff, Bernhard, “Die europäische Verbreitung der Werke Isidors von Sevilla,” in Isidoriana, ed. Díaz, M. C. y Díaz, (Leon, 1961), 317–44 at 332–34; J. N. Hillgarth, “Visigothic Spain and Early Christian Ireland,” Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (Section C, No. 6) 62 (1962): 167–94, esp. 188; and M. W. Herren, Hisperica Famina, vol. 1 (Toronto, 1974), 134, where Herren comments on the word tollus, of Old Irish derivation. With the exception of Isidore DNR 44.5, it occurs only in Hiberno-Latin texts.

51 See Dobbie, , Manuscripts (n. 6 above), 120–22 and 121–23. Although the Hague MS gives exceptiones, in both Insular and Continental Versions the reading in the hyparchetype was excerptiones. In the latter case the two branches of the bifides tradition are divided on the issue. However, the shorter and more authoritative branch gives excerptiones (the St. Gall MS has excertiones). With the exception of one manuscript of the six in the Symeon Group, and three manuscripts of eight in the Burney Group (one of which has excerptionis), the Insular manuscripts uniformly endorse excerptiones. Cf. Howlett, “Biblical Style” (n. 10 above), 136.

52 See book 6 of his commentary on the Canticle of Canticles, CCL 119B:359–75; and his Collectio ex opusculis sancti Augustini in epistulas Pauli Apostoli, to be published in CCL 121B.

53 Cuthbert Epistola, Colgrave and Mynors, 582–83. Translation revised.

54 Crépin, A., “Bede and the Vernacular,” in Famulus Christi (n. 1 above), 170–92 at 190n. Riché, Education and Culture (n. 2 above), 390–91, also speaks of a collection of extracts, but extracts that represented what was salvageable in Isidore's work. It was “a clear expression of Bede's criticism of the Sevillian for what Bede thought was an abuse of the allegorical genre and for digressions that were still too close to the cosmic system of the pagans.”

55 Fontaine, , Isidore de Séville (n. 29 above), 2:455–57; Traité de la nature (n. 1 above), 4–6. Cf. “Isidore de Séville et l'astrologie,” Revue des études latines 31 (1953): 271300, where Fontaine argues that Isidore worked towards a distinction between astronomia and astrologia similar to our modern one. Although his own thought was not absolutely devoid of it, Isidore regarded astrology as superstition. On the basic distinction, however, see Lejbowicz, M., “Théorie et pratique astronomiques chez Isidore de Séville,” in L'homme et son univers au moyen âge (Louvain-la-neuve, 1986), 2:622–30.

56 See, for example, DT 4 (CCL 123C:586), where Bede points out that the Romans named the days of the week after the planets, believing that they were influenced by the latter. He draws on both DNR 3.4 (Fontaine 185) and Etym. 5.30.8, but does not find it necessary to repeat the thought with which Isidore closes in each case: “Talis quippe extitit gentilium stultitia, qui sibi finxerunt tam ridiculosa figmenta.”

57 Cuthbert Epistola, Colgrave and Mynors, 582.

58 For a similar approach to the translation, see Howlett, , “Biblical Style” (n. 10 above), 140. Cf. Giles, Miscellaneous Works (n. 5 above), 1:lxxxi; and Plummer, Opera Historica (n. 5 above), 1:lxxv-lxxvi. Colgrave and Mynors, whose translation is here revised, imply that it was only the Gospel Bede was translating, not Isidore. See above, at n. 4. The same can be said of Sellar, A. M., in Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People (London, 1917), xlii; J. E. King, in Baedae Opera Historica, Loeb Classical Library (London, 1930), xxxi; and D. H. Farmer, in Bede: Ecclesiastical History of the English People, rev. ed. (Harmondsworth, 1990), 358–59.

59 According to the Insular Version, he translated the entire thing. See Dobbie, , Manuscripts (n. 6 above), 121–23: “In istis autem diebus duo opuscula … facere studebat, evangelium vero sancti Iohannis in nostram linguam ad utilitatem ecclesie convertit, et de libris rotarum Ysidori episcopi excerptiones quasdam …” According to Howlett, “Biblical Style” (n. 10 above), 145, he probably got up to John 6:70, “the first great climax of St. John's Gospel.”

60 However, cf. Ross, “A Connection” (n. 6 above), 491–92, who reports Stanley's suggestion that Bede stopped intentionally at John 6:9 because of some special spiritual significance attached to the verse. See also Schwab, Ute, “Ær-œfter: Das Memento Mori Bedas als christliche Kontrafaktur, eine philologische Interpretation,” in Studi di letteratura religiosa tedesca in memoria di Sergio Lupi ([Florence], 1972), 5134 at 40–53, who suggests that, whatever the historical truth on the matter may be, Cuthbert's reference to John 6:9 was quite deliberate. It points to a veiled numerical allegory in Bede's Death-Song, which precedes it by just a few lines. The number five, which figures prominently in the feeding of the 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fishes, is equally conspicuous in the Death-Song, whose 5 lines contain (5 × 5 =) 25 words. Indeed, the hidden allegory extends to the number of syllables in the poem as well.

61 See Fontaine, , Traité de la nature (n. 1 above), 79, who translates as follows: “Je ne veux pas que mes fils lisent un text mensonger, et qu'ils y perdent leur temps après ma mort.”

62 Brown, “English Compass Points” (n. 9 above), 232.

63 See Dobbie, , Manuscripts (n. 6 above), 120–23; and Ker, “Hague Manuscript” (n. 10 above), 42.

64 Meyvaert, “Bede the Scholar” (n. 1 above), 59.

65 Epistola ad Ecgbertum episcopum 5, in Plummer, Opera Historica (n. 5 above), 1:409: “… de clericis sive monachis, qui Latinae sunt linguae expertes…. Propter quod et ipse multis saepe sacerdotibus idiotis haec utraque, et symbolum videlicet, et dominicam orationem in linguam Anglorum translatam optuli.” The saepe would suggest that these translations were not written.

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Bede, Isidore, and the Epistola Cuthberti

  • William D. McCready (a1)


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