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  • An Introduction to the Glossa Ordinaria as Medieval Hypertext by David A. Salomon
  • Christopher de Hamel
An Introduction to the Glossa Ordinaria as Medieval Hypertext. By David A. Salomon. [Religion and Culture in the Middle Ages.] (Cardiff: University of Wales Press. Distrib. University of Chicago Press. 2012. Pp. x, 188. $40.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-7083-2494-3.)

This little book has the atmosphere of a medieval classroom, throwing out questions, debating and arguing back and forth, ranging widely over several thousand years of culture (mostly only through the voices of recent authors—a fault, if it is a fault, common in medieval writing as well). The text discusses the function and technique of reading the scriptures in the Middle Ages, using the example of the standard twelfth-century biblical commentary known later as the Glossa Ordinaria (or simply the Gloss). It is thought-provoking and densely packed. It is important to state, however, that this is absolutely not a history of the Glossa Ordinaria or even an analysis of how its text functioned. The author’s sole primary source is a modern facsimile edition of a copy of the text printed in Germany in 1480–81, already 350 years after the Gloss had been compiled and at least two centuries after it had passed out of common usage. The author explains lengthily (twice) that the 1480–81 edition survives in so many copies, estimated between 180 and 250, that it must have been important, unlike (as he says each time) the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, which are rare. Exactly the opposite is true. Copies of the incunabular Glossa Ordinaria are common now because no one used them (even the printer admitted that he was unable to sell them, cited here on p. 58); Chaucer, by contrast, was read to pieces. The great period of the Glossa Ordinaria was between about 1140 and 1250. That is when it was used avidly and read across all of Europe. The [End Page 125] author has looked at no manuscripts of that period, he sighs (again twice) that this would require access to “dozens” of libraries (pp. 3, 6). Actually, yes, it would: that is the nature of historical research. Anyone can ask how a text may have been used, but answers must depend on recording marks of ownership, signs of reading, marginal notes and corrections, and on following the footprints of manuscripts and even early printed editions as they travel through history. He does none of this. David Salomon is wide-ranging and generous in acknowledging and citing modern authorities, rather as the Gloss itself did in the twelfth century, but this leaves the uncomfortable feeling that maybe it is all a little too secondhand. The author must surely be able to read the Glossa Ordinaria, but he modestly conceals his knowledge of Latin. Where he quotes Latin and then translates the same passage, the renditions are so free that some seem hardly similar to the original. There is no Latin word “margoinis” (p. 27: he has copied that uncritically from Michael Camille, who knew no Latin at all), or “qi,” for quia (pp. 18, 83); and “perfectionem creaturae” (p. 89) is not the perfecting of the Creator, which would be creatoris, but of a thing created. There are many other examples like this, and they do undermine credibility a bit. The colored picture on the front cover shows a page that is not from the Glossa Ordinaria but from the Catena Aurea of St. Thomas Aquinas—an equally fascinating but very different text. On balance, however, there is much here that is very like the original Gloss, a text extracted from multiple authors, some available only in translation (such as Origen was), tumbling through the pages in a sparkling display of other people’s ideas. Like the Gloss, it is a book for classroom discussion.

Christopher de Hamel
Corpus Christi College, Cambridge


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