Finding the Right Words

Finding the Right Words: Isidore'sSynonymain Anglo-Saxon England

CLAUDIA DI SCIACCA
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442688117
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  • Book Info
    Finding the Right Words
    Book Description:

    Isidore of Seville (circa 570-636) was the author of theEtymologiae,. the most celebrated and widely circulated encyclopaedia of the western Middle Ages. In addition, Isidore'sSynonymawere very successful and became one of the classics of medieval spirituality. Indeed, it was theSynonymathat were to define the so-called 'Isidorian style,' a rhymed, rhythmic prose that proved influential throughout the Middle Ages.

    Finding the Right Wordsis the first book-length study to deal with the transmission and reception of works by Isidore of Seville in Anglo-Saxon England, with a particular focus on theSynonyma.Beginning with a general survey of Isidore's life and activity as a bishop in early seventh-century Visigothic Spain, Claudia Di Sciacca offers a comprehensive introduction to theSynonyma, drawing special attention to their distinctive style. She goes on to discuss the transmission of the text to early medieval England and its 'vernacularisation,' that is, its translations and adaptations in Old English prose and verse. The case for the particular receptiveness of theSynonymain Anglo-Saxon England is strongly supported by both a close reading of primary sources and an extensive selection of secondary literature. This rigorous, well-documented volume demonstrates the significance of theSynonymato our understanding of the literary pretensions and pedagogical practices of Anglo-Saxon England, and offers new insights into the interaction of Latin and vernacular within its literary culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8811-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    CLAUDIA DI SCIACCA
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Isidore of Seville: His Life and Culture
    (pp. 3-15)

    Isidore of Seville is one of the outstanding figures in the history of the medieval church and culture in the West. His fellow countrymen and bishops paid him a high tribute less than twenty years after his death in 636, when they called him ‘nostri quoque saeculi doctor egregius, ecclesiae catholicae nouissimum decus’ [excellent teacher of our age, the most recent ornament of the Catholic church].¹ His fame was still current when, six centuries later, Dante placed Isidore next to the Venerable Bede and Richard of St Victor in the Heaven of the Sun.²

    The sources about Isidore’s life are...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Synonyma: Their Structure, Style, and Sources
    (pp. 16-36)

    TheSynonymorum de lamentatione animae peccatricis libri duo¹ are attested with various titles,² including the Augustinian one ofSoliloquia.³ The entry in Braulio’sRenotatioreadsSynonymorum libri duo,⁴ while Ildefonsus mentions a ‘liber lamentationis, quem ipse Synonima uocitauit’ [a book of lamentation that he (Isidore) himself calledSynonyma].⁵ Isidore himself, in the epistle with which he sent his work to Braulio,⁶ speaks of it as theSynonymarum[sic]libellus, and in the second of the two prefaces with which theSynonymaare printed in PL, the so-calledPrologus alter, Isidore refers to his alleged direct source, theschedula,asSynonyma.⁷...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Isidore and the Synonyma in the British Isles
    (pp. 37-76)

    The question of the transmission of Isidore’s works from Visigothic Spain to the British Isles has engendered a long and animated scholarly debate, which has become polarized around two theories: first, the theory that the Isidorian texts reached the insular world by way of continental intermediaries, whether Merovingian France¹ or Irish foundations (primarily Bobbio); second, the theory of direct transmission from Spain. In both cases, the role of the Irish as the primary agents of transmission has proved one of the most controversial points at issue, as it involves the more general question of the level of early medieval Irish...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Vernacularization of the Synonyma: The Case of Vercelli xxii
    (pp. 77-104)

    The text known as homily xxii of the Vercelli Book has been described by its most recent editor as a ‘piece of spiritual contemplation modulating into homiletic injunction rather than … a homily’ in the strict sense of a prose text expounding a pericope and intended for a specific date of the Christian calendar.¹ Vercelli xxii does not therefore seem to have been intended for liturgical use, and in this respect it is by no means an exception among the homiletic items of the Vercelli Book. Indeed, the Vercelli collection cannot be considered to be a homiliary in the conventional...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Vernacularization of the Synonyma: The ubi sunt Topos
    (pp. 105-148)

    Theubi sunt[where are they (now)] theme is one of the universals of western literature, in particular in late antiquity and the Middle Ages.¹ In pre-Conquest England, in particular, this motif is so widely attested and so typical of the elegiac mood prevalent in Anglo-Saxon literature and culture that the theme has been described as an ‘obsession’ for the Anglo-Saxons.² In a classic study, Gilson pointed out that Isidore’sSynonymarepresent the major source for theubi sunttopos in the western Middle Ages,³ and Cross demonstrated thatSynonymaII, 91 is ‘quite the favourite individual source’ for the...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Synonyma in Anglo-Latin Literature
    (pp. 149-175)

    The two preceding chapters have dealt with the vernacularization of theSynonyma, that is, with the uses and adaptations that were made of the Isidorian text in Old English. There is evidence, however, that theSynonymawere also adopted and adapted within Anglo-Latin texts, and the present chapter will specifically discuss the influence of the Isidorian work on Anglo-Latin literary production. In particular, a number ofubi suntpassages will be analysed as well as private prayers excerpted from theSynonyma. Finally, pedagogical aspects of our text will be investigated by focusing on the role of theSynonymaas a...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Synonyma in Anglo-Saxon England: Some Conclusions
    (pp. 176-180)

    The evidence presented in the previous chapters shows that Isidore’sSynonymawere well known and influential among the Anglo-Saxons. Some questions remain concerning the text’s date of arrival in the British Isles, and the routes of its transmission. However, it is clear that Aldhelm († 709 or 710) knew theSynonyma, thus attesting to their presence in England by the end of the seventh century, while at least two surviving witnesses, namely the St Petersburg and the Würzburg manuscripts, date to the first half of the eighth century. No fewer than six other witnesses of theSynonymasurvive from the...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 181-262)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 263-304)
  14. Index of Manuscripts
    (pp. 305-308)
  15. Index of Passages Cited and Discussed
    (pp. 309-310)
  16. General Index
    (pp. 311-324)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 325-326)