The Poetria Nova by Geoffrey of Vinsauf
Biblioteca de Universita Bologna
Bibliographic description: The Poetria Nova or “Book of New Poetry” manuscript written by Gaulfredus Anglicus, or “Geoffrey of Vinsauf” is written on parchment, the cover is also made of parchment with paper on the inside. Deduced from other sources, the manuscript has been dated to the thirteenth century. The origin of the manuscript is unknown. Because the manuscript is written on parchment, there are no watermarks. Poetria Nova has nineteen leaves and includes pagination on pages one, two, three, four, and five. The measurements of the manuscript are 220X140 with a gathering of three quires, all without any sign of signatures. There is no evidence of any restoration or pricking.
The manuscript is in ruled mirror because it has horizontal and vertical lines, written in crayon that is a reddish-brown color. It is a “unique” layout because it leaves space for commentary and consists of only one column with long lines. There are no catchwords in the manuscript. The type of script is Gothic Bononesis; it is not square but rounded. The writing hands of the document are hard to tell. It is possibly the same hand in two different inks; the annotation is in a different ink color indicating it could have been another hand or that simply the ink just ran out. The ink of the manuscript includes black, red, and light brown ink. There is no decoration; just text and annotation including a few pictures of hands pointing out important excerpts in the main text. We are unsure if the rubrication was added later but all of the poems are numbered in roman numerals.
The annotations are the glosses of the text and the marginalia is evident in the ruled mirror, as you can see in the picture, some notes are taken on the side. There are two stamps, one rectangular and one circular in the manuscript. The circular stamp is in red ink and the rectangular stamp is in black ink from the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The stamp on the first few pages of the manuscript, the rectangular stamp, is from the Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna.
We are unsure if there are ornaments; the only possibilities of any ornament are red lines on the front and back cover of the manuscript that seem to be carved. There is also a signature or a word written in red ink, similar to letters, on the back cover in between the horizontal, red carved lines. There are no fragments from other documents. There are some damages that include small holes from insects, ink running and blotting into other pages, as well as water or acid damage that results in a yellow color. Some pages are torn on the bottom of the leaves and some of the ink is faded. The annotations are interlinear in between the main text. The dates of the annotations are unknown.
Significance of the manuscript: The Poetria nova by Geoffrey of Vinsauf was a popular rhetorical text during the Middle Ages, and is preserved in almost two hundred copies, one of which can be found at the Biblioteca de Universita Bologna. In order to comprehend the significance of Geoffrey’s work, it is first necessary to summarize the general contents of his book. Geoffrey begins his work with a dedication to Pope Innocent III, and he comments on the art of poetry before examining the arrangement of poetic material and the ways of beginning a work. Geoffrey also discusses methods of amplification, using an example of his own in the form of a lament to King Richard I of England. He also instructs his readers in methods of abbreviation before discussing different kinds of stylistic ornaments. Among other topics, Geoffrey discusses his ideas regarding correction and memorization. He closes the Poetria nova with a final dedication to an archbishop named William.
The Poetria nova was an important textbook on rhetoric and poetry during the Middle Ages, and it was used on various levels of education and for different purposes because of the diversity of the text and the array of rhetorical topics it covers (Woods 56). Even though schools and universities both used this text, differing pedagogical approaches determined what parts of the text were emphasized to students, as indicated by the commentaries in different copies of the manuscript (Woods 55). What is unique about this text is that Geoffrey composed it in verse. Thus, it is a text about the proper ways to write poetry written in poetic form, which demonstrates Geoffrey’s commitment to practicing what he taught, as well as facilitating the learning process by showing students examples of his poetic and rhetorical ideas in practice.
Informing Geoffrey’s work were a variety of classical sources on rhetoric and poetry. These include Horace’s Ars Poetica, Cicero’s De Inventione, and the Rhetorica ad Herennium, which was attributed to Cicero during the medieval period (Gallo 133). As suggested by the title of his work, Geoffrey was heavily influenced by Horace’s Ars Poetica. It can be argued that the Poetria nova was Geoffrey’s effort to adapt Horace’s teachings in the Ars Poetica to the needs of students in his own day (Camargo 167). Geoffrey’s use of classical sources was of great interest to some of the commentators of his work. Many of these commentators attempted to contextualize Geoffrey’s ideas with older rhetorical works, making up a particular kind of commentary that historian Marjorie Curry Woods classifies as “theoretical” (58). Thus, these commentaries not only clarified certain concepts, but they actually built upon Geoffrey’s ideas. Theoretical commentaries are different from literary commentaries, which focus on the Poetria nova as a work of poetry and praise Geoffrey’s talents as a poet. Woods finds that the development of theoretical commentaries coincided with changes in curriculum occurring in medieval universities at this time (60).
The extent of the Poetria nova’s influence can be seen by looking at the Nun’s Priest’s Tale by Chaucer. In this story, Chaucer references Geoffrey’s lament to King Richard I. The lament to Richard I is the longest of Geoffrey’s literary examples in the Poetria nova, and in some copies of the text commentators added glosses to emphasize certain parts of Geoffrey’s lament that were seen as particularly valuable examples of his poetic and rhetorical teachings (Young 172). While scholars debate the nature of Chaucer’s intention by referencing Geoffrey’s lament in The Canterbury Tales, it is apparent that at least this part of the Poetria nova was well known long after Geoffrey’s death.
Camargo, Martin. “Towards a Comprehensive Art of Written Discourse: Geoffrey of Vinsauf and the Ars Dictaminis.” Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric 6.2 (1988).
Gallo, Ernest. The Poetria Nova and its Sources in Early Rhetorical Doctrine. The Hague: Mouton, 1971.
Geoffrey of Vinsauf. Poetria Nova. Trans. Margaret F. Nims. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1967. Web.
Woods, Marjorie Curry. “A Medieval Rhetoric goes to School-and to the University: The Commentaries on the Poetria Nova.” Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric 9.1 (1991).
Young, Karl. “Chaucer and Geoffrey of Vinsauf.” Modern Philology 41.3 (1944).