Please excuse any redundant information, infidelity to the discourse from class, or lack of style.
Professor Mueller began the class by foregrounding the dominant sentiments felt towards texts in the medieval period: distrust and excessive love (which gave way to fetishization). We then considered that because Richard De Bury was an aristocrat, he could write, hence his is the position that survives. Because peasants were illiterate, their voices do not. Professor Mueller then made reference to the issue of the oppressive potential of documentary culture — “undocumented immigrants” was the contemporary manifestation of this problem he offered as an example. In short, those who control document culture assert control over culture / politics in general.
The class then listened to an overview of the period which much of the reading for the class session was concerned with.
Medieval Period (500-1500)
Periodization is contested. While many agree that the fall of the Roman Empire inaugurates the medieval period, there is less consensus regarding when the period ends (see other scribe). Regardless, this period encompasses a time which saw the emergence of the codex, monasticism, Benedictine (Benedict 480-547) monastic reform (mentioned in The Canterbury Tales), the rise of Christianity, Latin as the sacred language of the bible (and the language of books more generally), missionary work, the Irish innovation of space between words, and vernacular languages.
The 7th century witnessed the rise of Islam, and in 710 the Islamic conquest of Spain.
The years between 1000-1300 are characterized by population growth, increased urbanization, economic boom, and the development of more sophisticated trading systems.
In 1180 the Universities of Oxford, Paris (you can’t forget Paris), and Bologna are founded. They trained students to make commentaries in texts, i.e. glossitory — which provided commentary on legal texts (which could assist in codifying law). During this time, the Pecia system was developed as a means of reducing errors in copied texts. The Pecia system divided up the various leaves of a text to scribes who would then copy them. Each scribe was associated with a symbol. In one manuscript we viewed, that of Accursius, we found that his commentary was more extensive than the law which it commented on, and in fact functioned like the law. According to Professor Mueller, some documents contained commentaries on commentaries on commentaries about legal texts (very meta).
Professor Mueller went on to note that university libraries emerged as repositories for books during the high middle ages.
Again, dating is wonky, because Petrarch is considered a “renaissance” author, while Chaucer is considered “medieval” — even though Chaucer was born long after Petrarch. Professor Mueller contests the narrative that Petrarch trained in formulaic Ciceronian rhetoric modeled on Cicero’s De Oratore, discovered letters from Cicero to friends which did not conform to this style, and subsequently embarked on a program of dissuading compositionists from using the “medieval style” which adhered to De Oratore. All of this indicates the problems of popular historical narratives.
Professor Mueller prefaced the next phase of class by asking: what does illumination add or take away from a manuscript? We then watched a video (available on the course wiki) which detailed the process of manufacturing parchment, quills and ink. Professor Mueller made reference to the Exeter Book, which includes a riddle about the making of a manuscript.
Professor Mueller again made reference to the potential for the oppression of document culture. He noted that as of the late medieval period, translating the bible into the vernacular was still not allowed (Wycliff and Lollards broke this rule). Professor Mueller pointed out that the Latin bible is in fact a translation of the original Aramaic and Greek. In short, the arbiters of document culture — the clergy — wanted to control the scripture, and in turn the populations understanding of it.
We then illuminated texts (Please refer to the handout for details on this process).
We ended class by discussing the Philobiblon by Richard de Bury. Professor Mueller offered that the text was often used in schools as students advanced to Latin prose texts. He also noted that the text preserves the rhythms of earlier medieval Latin. He went on to note that the text finds sympathy with ars dictanimis (the art of dictation) in that the prologue establishes ethos or the authority to speak on the part of the author, seeks to ingratiate itself to its audience, etc. We went on to discuss the first six sections of the text, and then concluded class.
With this task now completed, I think I need a drink.