- Letters of Pope Gregory: A Study of an Unknown Tenth-Century Manuscript Bound in Tenbury and Found in Melbourne Containing all or part of Forty Letters sent by Pope Gregory the Great by John R. C. Martyn
One does not expect to find a unique early medieval manuscript stored in an unlocked filing cabinet in Australia. Yet, as John Martyn explains in his stimulating new monograph, Letters of Pope Gregory, this is exactly what happened to a distinctive tenth-century manuscript of forty letters written [End Page 258] by the late sixth-century Pope, Gregory I (c. 540–604). Purchased in 1975 from a London bookseller by the University of Melbourne for a course offered by the author, it took a long time for Martyn to realise that his copy was something special. Far more than just a translation of forty letters, this study is a product of Martyn’s forty-year exploration of this fascinating text.
The Introduction offers an explanation of how this manuscript ended up in Australia and also a short summary of the complex political world of Gregory’s pontificate. As Martyn points out, scholars have long mined Gregory’s 854 letters for their valuable perspective on Italy during a troubled period when Byzantines, Lombards, and Italians competed for hegemony. While, granted, it was not the primary aim here to provide an in-depth account of late sixth-century Italy and the letters’ author, this section would have benefited from greater interaction with recent scholarship on Gregory and his world. For example, many modern scholars would be uncomfortable with Martyn’s descriptions of the Lombards as ‘the Germans’.
Replete with coloured illustrations, Chapter 1 reproduces the glory of the Melbourne manuscript and the tenth-century craftsmanship behind its creation. As Martyn explains, this type of intricate illumination was rarely utilised in sets of letters, which points to the special devotion on the part of these medieval men for Gregory and his writings.
Chapter 2 offers a one-page schema of the letters. Chapter 3 provides the Latin text, followed by an English translation in the next chapter. Clearly at home within the corpus of Gregory’s letters – many of which he has translated previously – Martyn transfers Gregory’s often-ornate Latin into lucid English prose. Chapter 5 presents the variants. Here, Martyn uncovers the parts of the Melbourne text that support the previously accepted readings for the letters and, more importantly, the unique sections that may offer a different reading of the text. As Martyn explains, these variants will need to be consulted by any future editor hoping to produce the long-overdue update on the corpus of Gregory’s letters.
Utilising more coloured illustrations, Chapter 6 analyses the illuminated capital letters scattered throughout the text. These are important because, as Martyn argues convincingly, the style and care taken by this scribe or scribes link the manuscript with two other copies of Gregory’s letters that we know were created in the tenth-century Fleury scriptorium.
Chapter 7 offers an account of the near destruction and lucky survival of the text in the hands of a group of seventeenth-century musicians who utilised the medieval manuscripts’ tough folios to protect their musical scrolls. While this service caused some damage, as Martyn argues, these men may have unwittingly assured the manuscript’s ultimate survival.
Chapters 8 and 9 – to my mind misplaced at the terminus of the study – return once again to the tenth century in order to establish once and for all [End Page 259] that the manuscript found in Melbourne was created on the continent under the auspices of Fleury’s famous preserver of ancient manuscripts and noted admirer of Gregory, the abbot Abbo (c. 945–1004). Admittedly without much tangible evidence, Martyn constructs a plausible explanation of how and why sometime in the late tenth...