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Visualizing Horace in Medieval Europe: Reading between Commentary and Text

Ariane S. Schwartz

This paper argues, through case studies of three medieval manuscripts (St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 864; Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Latin 7980; Cologny, Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cod. Bodmer 88), that the presence and absence of marginal and interlinear commentary material predetermines how Horace’s text was read in the Middle Ages. Horace was widely read and copied in the Middle Ages and Renaissance; about 850 manuscripts of Horace’s works survive from the ninth to the sixteenth centuries (Friis-Jensen, 2007). The two late antique commentaries on Horace, those attributed to Porphyrio and Pseudo-Acro, both circulated in the Middle Ages, but only the latter was transmitted in the margins of manuscripts that also contained Horace’s text; Porphyrio’s commentary was transmitted independently (Friis-Jensen, 1997). Other medieval commentary material is also often found in the margins of manuscripts of Horace. This paper explores some of the ways in which the choices of layout and script for manuscripts of Horace, with or without commentary and glosses, affected the ways in which medieval readers of Horace encountered his poetry.

For readers of Horace, whose verses are often grammatically complex and full of allusions, this extra-textual material was essential for understanding his text. Its presence on the page directly next to the poetry itself facilitated a reader’s ability to understand grammar, meter, and content; Horace’s text requires these reading aids. In medieval manuscripts of Horace, there are often attached prologues (accessus) to each of the Odes, for example, where the commentator supplies a vita, the materia libri to describe the type of lyric poetry, the author’s intent to provide moral edification, and the titulus libri containing a discussion of the etymology of oda or lyricus (Friis-Jensen, 1997). Medieval commentators thus needed to categorize and organize Horace’s work. They also often filtered his poetry through a moral and Christian lens in their glosses and commentaries, such as when two commentaries presented Odes 1.20 in a negative, dishonorable light with its poor villicus or rusticus who tries to receive and extort gifts from his more wealthy master (Friis-Jensen, 1997). A twelfth-century school text of Horace contains ethical glosses that even turn Horace into a monk (Friis-Jensen, 2007). Horace’s medieval readers were thus eager to find a place for his verses in their Christian world, but could only do so with the assistance of extra-textual material on the page in front of them.

The three manuscripts I consider in this paper, which all date from the tenth to thirteenth centuries, provide evidence of different approaches to presenting Horace’s text to medieval readers. The composite manuscript Cod. Sang. 864 contains selections from Horace, Lucan, Sallust, and Ovid; the Horace section is drawn from the Odes, and presents the reader with sparse interlinear glosses and marginalia that provide a very rudimentary explanation of the text. There are two notable features throughout this Horace manuscript: the glosses and marginal notes do not provide much information at all, whenever they do appear, and certain words and phrases are capitalized in the text itself of Horace. In this example, the scribe’s manipulation of the text itself provides commentary for the reader. By contrast, BNF 7980, which contains the Ars Poetica, Satires, and Epistles, and Cod. Bodmer 88, which contains the Odes, Epodes, and Carmen Saeculare, both present the reader with a huge amount of interlinear and marginal notes in several hands and in scripts that help shape the reader’s approach to Horace’s text. In the latter manuscript, e.g., there is even an alphabetic table of topics that Horace discusses in the Odes, which guides the reader and serves as a preview to how Horace was printed and used in Renaissance Europe.

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Rhetoric of the Page in Latin Manuscripts of the Middle Ages

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