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Reviewed by:
  • The Anglo-Saxon Library
  • J. G. Matthews
The Anglo-Saxon Library. By Michael Lapidge . New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. xiv, 407 pp. $110.00. ISBN 0199267227.

In The Anglo-Saxon Library Michael Lapidge offers the first book-length study of the subject as well as what may be the first scholarly example of "palaeobibliothecography," defined by the author as the "study of ancient, but lost, libraries" (3). He attempts nothing less than the dual task of describing the Anglo-Saxon library and showing how this end is achieved. To accomplish these aims Lapidge qualifies the totality suggested in the volume's title to focus on the trade and transmission of "books acquired and arranged for the purposes of study and the pursuit of knowledge" to the exclusion of liturgical books assumed to be commonly used in Anglo-Saxon churches and religious communities ([1]). What remains is a learned and absorbing account about the classical and patristic texts that were most likely available in Anglo-Saxon libraries and the compelling investigations and trails of evidence that point to these conclusions.

This work represents revised and expanded versions of the 2002 E. A. Lowe Lectures in Palaeography delivered at Oxford University. Divided into two parts, [End Page 109] the book's organization supports the notion that The Anglo-Saxon Library is a sort of casebook supplemented by documentary materials. The first part contains five chapters in which Lapidge presents his arguments, while the second part consists of six appendices providing supporting information. Lapidge begins by describing vanished libraries of classical antiquity (chapter 1) and how copies and versions of notable titles held in these institutions may have arrived in vanished libraries of Anglo-Saxon England (chapter 2). In this second chapter Lapidge employs his considerable knowledge of Anglo-Latin literature and Anglo-Saxon culture to reveal the intricacies of how books were procured, produced, and transmitted primarily between the monasteries and religious foundations of Anglo-Saxon England. Particularly illuminating are discussions about the prospective number of volumes such libraries held, methods of storage (typically humble crates and chests), and which titles were commonly copied for distribution on the Continent. This book dispels popular images of the ornate, well-stocked medieval library to suggest far more modest resources chiefly serving the industry of the Anglo-Saxon scriptoriums, which were once among the most productive in Europe. The following three chapters approach the matter of reconstructing Anglo-Saxon libraries from the evidence provided by inventories, manuscripts, and citations, respectively. These chapters include some of Lapidge's most impressive work in respect to providing proofs that certain texts and authors absent or missing from existing sources were read and known by Anglo-Saxon scholars. His discussion on Bede's familiarity with works of Vergil, Lucan, and Ovid is particularly compelling (108–12).

Lapidge devotes the second part of The Anglo-Saxon Library to appendices outlining Latin books from Anglo-Saxon libraries, eighth-century Latin books from the area of the Anglo-Saxon mission in Germany, surviving eighth-century manuscripts from the area of the Anglo-Saxon mission in Germany, ninth-century manuscripts of Continental origin having preconquest English provenance, and Latin books cited by the principal Anglo-Saxon authors. Some of these sections build upon scholarship previously published by Lapidge and are useful reference resources in and of themselves. Again, Lapidge excludes biblical and liturgical sources from these inventories in favor of treating classical and patristic items. The volume culminates with a catalog of classical and patristic authors and works composed before A.D. 700 and known in Anglo-Saxon England, which Lapidge intends to serve as a single-volume resource of these works until superseded by the completion of Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture and the Fontes Anglo-Saxonici Database.

The Anglo-Saxon Library is a singular scholarly achievement in respect to both its subject and its execution. Rigorous research in several disciplines converges in its pages, and Lapidge breaks new ground regarding our understandings of how various forces, including ancient and medieval book culture, literacy, and canon, have shaped and continue to shape Western thought and learning. Lapidge ultimately reveals complexities and ironies that underlie more recent, idealized views...


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