- An Introduction to the Glossa Ordinaria as Medieval Hypertext by David A. Salomon
David A. Salomon’s short monograph is four parts survey to one part manifesto. His primary goal—one excellently achieved—is to craft a new theory of medieval reading that depends on the idea of the hyperlink to understand the processes of textual engagement. He bases his claims on the complex rubrication of the Glossa Ordinaria as well as the long, somewhat messy, history of medieval theories of reading from Augustine, through Hugh of St. Victor, to Mary Carruthers and beyond, to digital theorists like Ted Nelson. Is this a book on digital humanities? Yes and no. It does not demand an online, hyperlinked Glossa Ordinaria (although I suspect Salomon would approve of such an intimidatingly large project). It does not include a related web resource, and it does not document digitization processes. But it does inquire into modern theories of hyperlinked reading, asking how the idea of the hypertext might help us think through medieval texts and the reader-responses they craft—how, in other words, digital theory can illuminate the book and reading cultures of the medieval and early modern eras.
Hyperlink, as Solomon articulates it, is an “abstract and cognitive concept … Associative thinking, the basic building block of hypertext, is a characteristic of the mind, not of the page or the screen” (95). I might quibble at the term hyperlink, preferring instead that we expand our definition of allusion—but that is rather beside the point, as Salomon’s definition pushes past the modern conceptions of hypertext as exclusive to electronic media and based in a physical, computerized text composed of a network. Instead, Solomon extends hypertext to the level of cognitive theory: it “empowers the reader with freedom of choice, the freedom to explore the text at hand” and depends on the ability of the medieval reader to utilize the many “tools” he possesses, not least of which is memory (94). Salomon is advocating for a new model of understanding medieval reading and medieval thought processes. Doing so, however, requires very few pages on hyperlink theory itself: of the 99 pages of text (excluding the index and bibliography), only the last seven are explicitly devoted to the relevance of digital theories for understanding the cognitive processes of reading in Middle Ages. A weakness? Not quite: Salomon is clear on his goals: to “provide the reader with a primer on the Glossa Ordinaria, including its history, and then to discuss its relationship to modern hypertext theory” (4).
To call the first ninety-two pages of Salomon’s text a “primer,” however, is rather disingenuous: it is much more than that. The first chapter, “The Glossing Tradition and the Glossa Ordinaria,” provides an excellent introduction to the practices of interactive reading and textual annotation, and would be useful on its own for graduate-level courses on medieval manuscripts, the history of the book, or medieval theories of reading. Chapter 2, “History, the Text, and the History of the Text” surveys the Glossa Ordinaria’s history through the Middle Ages and into the early modern era. In its earliest manuscript versions, the [End Page 331] Glossa Ordinaria’s complex biblical annotations were created with the goal of elucidating and commenting on scriptural passages, and facilitating the reader’s engagement with authoritative interpretations. By the invention of the printing press, Salomon argues, glossing replaced memorization in creating a set of links between texts and ideas, if for no other reason than the increased availability of books. Chapter 3, “Reading, Theory, and Reading Theory” clarifies the importance of studying a specific codex for understanding medieval methods of reading. Salomon draws on the works of Brian Stock and Paul Saenger to emphasize both the physical activity of reading (the Glossa Ordinaria, for instance, was too heavy to hold in one’s hands) and the contrast between devotional reading and intellectual reading. That distinction depends on understanding the difference between lectio and legere. Legere, the gathering together of authorities in order to create communal reading...