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REVIEWS approach. The book fortunately provides several exciting models for how to read across works, and it might therefore be just as useful in graduate classes as well as of interest to other scholars. Matthew Boyd Goldie Rider University Lianna Farber. An Anatomy of Trade in Medieval Writing: Value, Consent, and Community. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006. Pp. x, 235. $39.95. Trade and deceit go hand in hand, according to early medieval commentators such as Cassiodorus, who proclaimed that merchants ‘‘burden their wares with lies even more than with prices’’ (p. 15). But, by the High Middle Ages, increasing commerce led to discourses challenging that negative stereotype of the deceptive trader. Typically drawing on Aristotle, writers increasingly affirmed the social benefits of trade, describing it as an activity that provides goods to individuals incapable of independently producing all necessities. Such justifications of trade constitute the likely primary reading for scholars interested in the history of economic ideas in the Middle Ages. But as Lianna Farber’s valuable book demonstrates, we would do wrong to rely only on such explicit discussions of trade. While accounts of trade may seem descriptive , they are actually ‘‘falsely reassuring’’ justifications (p. 2). Not unlike the dishonest merchant derided early on by Cassiodorus and others, later medieval commentators on trade also mislead. According to Farber, commentators deceive in their uncritical stance toward three components that invariably constitute trade in official accounts : the value of the objects exchanged, the consent of the traders to the commensurate worth of those goods, and the community that trade makes possible. While value, consent, and community emerge in accounts of trade as unproblematic assumptions, they are subject to substantial critique in less predictable primary sources. Farber’s study exposes the deceptive qualities of medieval accounts of trade by moving from the texts that traditionally have informed the history of economic ideas across disciplinary lines to a rich variety of texts, among them legal PAGE 489 489 ................. 16596$ CH13 11-01-10 14:08:23 PS STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER tracts, city records, and English vernacular poetry. By tracking trade as it explicitly emerges in official accounts and as it indirectly is queried by other kinds of writing, Farber has generated an analysis that is groundbreaking in its methodology and exemplary in its balanced, nuanced, and scholarly approach to the problem of the medieval economy. Farber lays out the argument, scope, and methodology of her project in her introduction. The introduction ends with a reading of Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s frescoes on good government. The frescoes, to which Farber returns in her conclusion, serve as a visual counterpart to her own effort at linking trade with activities seemingly beyond the purview of commerce . Chapter 1 offers a lucid synthesis of explicit discussions of trade, from the derogatory writings produced up to the twelfth century to the legitimizations of trade that begin to appear during the High Middle Ages. Aristotle emerges as the ‘‘touchstone for scholastic writing about the value of trade,’’ thanks to Latin translations of the Nicomachean Ethics and the Politics (p. 18). Here, as elsewhere, Farber’s clarity and knack for likening old ideas to contemporary examples makes An Anatomy of Trade a good choice for undergraduate reserve lists. The rest of the book is divided into three chapters on value, consent, and community, respectively. The first, on value, should prove invaluable for scholars working on material culture, insofar as it delineates a ‘‘surprisingly large number of ways to understand the value of goods’’ in writings on value that appear in Aristotelian commentaries, Roman legal tracts, and theological treatises (p. 49). Of special interest is Farber ’s account of Augustine’s distinction between natural and economic scales of value, which affirms the justness of the natural valuation of all living things over inanimate objects (i.e., a mouse is naturally valued above a pearl). That chapter concludes with new and persuasive readings of The Shipman’s Tale, The Franklin’s Tale, and Henryson’s ‘‘The Cock and the Jasp,’’ all of which demonstrate how literature troubles the supposedly clear distinction of natural and economic value. In the case of The Shipman’s Tale, Farber powerfully counters the critical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 489-492
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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