What Nature Does Not Teach: Didactic Literature in the Medieval and Early-Modern Periods ed. by Juanita Feros Ruys (review)
- Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies
- University of California, Los Angeles, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies
- Volume 41, 2010
- pp. 321-327
- Additional Information
REVIEWS 321 which Weiss seeks to demonstrate how Hagius’s biography of Lotichius was composed from a perspective of privileged intimacy while retaining a thoroughly conventional view of the purposes of biography and its obligation to edify its reader. This incongruous representation therefore placed it at odds with the pedagogical purposes of humanist biography. At this point in his collection of essays, Weiss has often alluded to the rising German patriotism surrounding the Humanist movement, a theme which finally finds its voice in essays XI and XII. Essay XI, “The Harvest of German Humanism : Melchior Adam’s Collective Biographies as Cultural History,” discusses Adam’s Vitae, its importance in German history as the standard reference tool for German Renaissance biography, and its representation of the increased significance that individual biographies had acquired over the previous century (342). Essay XII, “References to Italy in the Biographies of German Humanists,” further investigates the patriotic aspect of humanist biography and how the German biographers sought to both compare and compete with their Italian counterparts. Weiss astutely details references to Italy in the German humanist biographies and explains how, if at first they sought to emulate and invoke Italians in their biographies, over time and with gained confidence, the German humanists began to set their work in contrast to Italian biographies. Finally , at the height of the German humanist movement, all references to Italy faded away as the Germans embraced the importance of their own representation for the geographical and literary map of humanism. Despite the minor shortcomings of a collection of essays written over an academic career and therefore inevitably somewhat repetitive and representative of a gradual shift in thought and approach to the academic subject, Weiss’s scholarship is a rare gem in the area of Renaissance biography. In this, his work demonstrates the much more prevalent strengths of a three decade-long academic pursuit in which his focus on the varying styles of biography and its rhetorical influences reveal an intensely supported work of scholarship. SIENNA HOPKINS, Italian, UCLA What Nature Does Not Teach: Didactic Literature in the Medieval and EarlyModern Periods, ed. Juanita Feros Ruys (Turnhout: Brepols 2008) xii + 527 pp. This handsome, compendious volume of essays on medieval and early-modern didactic literature is arranged in five thematic categories with three to five essays in each. On the whole, the essays are very accessible to beginners in the field of didactic writing, for they often introduce and survey the most important writers and texts of each geographic or cultural arena. Ruys’s introduction also includes a very useful survey of the contents of the volume. In the following survey of the chapters, I will wherever possible or desirable include direct quotations from the text of the authors’ theses, and a list of the texts or authors discussed within the essays for those essays primarily concerned with a survey of texts. 1. CONSTRUCTING DIDACTIC INTENT AND PERSONA “The Pseudo-Aristotelian Secret of Secrets as a Didactic Text” by Steven J. Williams, a systematic survey of the Secret of Secrets, is a useful and clear introduction to the centuries-long reception, adaptation, and translation of the Se- REVIEWS 322 cret of Secrets, which Williams labels the “quintessential secular didactic text of the Middle Ages,” highlighting its survival in nearly one thousand extant manuscripts in thirteen different languages (42). Williams takes no knowledge or assumption for granted in his essay, itself inspired by the medieval didactic structure of question and answer. In it, Williams addresses five major questions : What didactic message does the Secret of Secrets impart? (44) How do we know that the Secret of Secrets was read as a didactic text? (46) Who read the Secret of Secrets as a didactic text? (53) What passages of the Secret of Secrets were singled out for their didactic message? (54) When and why did the career of the Secret of Secrets as a didactic text come to an end? (54). His response to each question consists of a statement of a generally accepted concept, the premise so to speak, and is followed by specific examples that support his conclusions. “Preaching and Teaching: The Codex Rustici as Confused Pilgrimage Tale,” by Kathleen Olive...