CHWP B.16 McCarren, "Editing the Medulla Grammatice"

Above all, there are two major aspects to the matter of alphabetization that seem to have gone unnoticed before this (not that too many people are talking or writing about such things under any circumstances): it is an order rationalized by minims and phonetic variations; and certain families of words or verbal systems have 'alphabetical immunity'.

Consider the phonetics of the triad Alabrum, Alapes, Alacer in Stonyhurst. Note that Alapes is the variant of the correct Greek word alabes, a kind of fish. Then one appreciates the four-letter order of Alab-, Alab-, Alac-. Conventional spelling would have been reassuring but there is very little of that. Also notice the sequence Allopicia, Alloquor, Allibencia, Allebesco, Alluceo in Stonyhurst. They appear out of order but in fact they are not. The initial phonetic interchange of i and u, at least in part based upon the sound of the word in the mental ear of the scribe when transferred from exemplar to copy, suggests the correct alphabetical order: Allu- not Alli-bencia; and Allu- not Alle-besco.

As phonetic variants can redirect alphabetization, so also can order be rationalized by a liberal understanding of minims. Consider a segment of Add. 33534. flamma and nine family members appear in reasonable alphabetical order. Then comes fflameum, followed immediately by fflauus, fflamino, fflaueo, fflaua, fflammula. The alphabetical interchange between u and m is unmistakeable.

However, when an alphabetical admission like this is overlooked by one who "tries his hand at such things", he comes up very, very short, and the scribe suffers. The transcriber of Harley 1738 adapted the practice of normalizing u to v, a mistake. Consider an excerpt from the letter R: "Revivo -- to levyn agh [ME yogh]en"; "Revivisco -- inchoativum." What immediately follows this is unfortunate, because the transcriber misrepresents the scribe by, as it were, suppressing his instincts. According to the transcriber, the next entry is Revivia (here, I assume, he is imposing his conception of an alphabet and disregarding the medieval conception), glossed as 'tempestates'. The tradition suggests Reumia because of the next word Reuma. Mistaking this as Reviva, the transcriber in turn provides a note, which is, unintentionally I'm sure, the height of arrogance: "'Reviva' -- a scribal error -- it should read 'Reuma'" -- but of course it already does. Then, and finally, we are treated to "Revivatigo, to fasseryn." Neither of these words is attestable. What the scribe wrote was: "Reumatizo: to sufferyn." We mustn't impose our misconceptions upon a scribe who is practising his own.

The final aspect of alphabetical justification is perhaps the most palatable one: a cluster of related words or a verbal system, i.e., a verb followed by a derivative adjective, noun, adverb, and participle, is gathered together for grammatical purposes out of alphabetical order, although the entire segment is followed by a word which sustains the alphabetical order of the initial word in the verbal system. Consider Alba through Albucium in Stonyhurst. Alba to Albani is reasonably ordered. Then Albo begins the verbal system and is followed out of alphabetical sequence by Albesco, Albicies, Albor and then further misarranged by Albico, Albidus, Albiolus, concluding the verbal system. So, it appears Albo-, Albe-, Albi-, Albo-, Albi-. Note that the next word, Albucium, resumes the alphabetical sequence from Albo, the first word in the verbal system.

I don't want to appear frivolous in suggesting that every editor be considered the "arbeiter" of language rather than its arbiter. At least the former hints at a desire to uncover the tradition of the text; to know its transmission. The latter reveals an element of arrogance which should worry us all. Consider a reading of a Stonyhurst entry and gloss, "Incalatus, warmynge", when, in fact, it reads "Incolatus, wormynge." A look at the previous entry would have stimulated some thought: "Incola = a tiliere." Here we are dealing with a noun formed from the past participle of incolo (incalatus does not exist as a form since incalesco has no known fourth part). Wormynge is an erroneous reading for wonynge. The tradition supports this.

With Stonyhurst as my base text (and quite a base one it is at times) I found myself dealing with a most curious entry and gloss: "Clarius: twey þousun." A neuter of the comparative of an adjective glossed by the numeral 2000? Clarius, perhaps, means 'someone who radiates light'. After I checked the lexica, it became clear that the word is an epithet for Apollo, god of the sun. So I separated þou from sun. Then to deal with twey and þou! Might þou be a mistranscription of a þ and a hasty suprascript e, i.e., the article. But what of twey? There are 18 other manuscripts to help, but one will do: Add. 33534 has "Clarius, ii: þe sunne." Twey was misunderstood by the Stonyhurst scribe as the Roman number 2 instead of being properly taken as the genitive singular of clarius.

A final example of manuscript mismanagement and one which reveals a suitable irony is found in the mistranscription of an entry and gloss in Harley 1738, "Diccionare: .i. dicciones commugere." Perhaps the transcriber was trying to get to the heart of the lexicographical matter and by a slight alteration of conjugation, -ere for -ire, he thought that to lexicate (I choose a hapax to reflect a hapax) means to 'bellow forth words'. How uninspired the correct transcription is: coniungere. Unless we are extremely careful, we shall be quite successful in misrepresenting much of Middle English and Medieval Latin by very early in the next millennium.

And yet we are further tested by entries and glosses which emphasize the principle of "mutual inclusion". Consider the entry and gloss of Add. 33534: "Exulto to enioye or brenne." What is of interest here is the scribe's attempt to synthesize two words. Perhaps uncertain whether the letter was l or s, he chose to gloss the word one way and the other, i.e., Exulto representing 'to enioye' and suggesting exusto = 'brenne'. A little earlier in the same manuscript we are confronted with the entry (or at least one part of it) "examino, to examyn [...] to feble or drede". The problem becomes apparent in trying to understand the second part of the gloss. Examino cannot mean 'to feble or drede'. But it need not. The other side of the reading is determined by a simple shift of stress upon the minims: examino becomes exanimo, and hence "to feble or drede". No doubt a conscious conflation which highlights a matter of style.

The medieval scribe has received more bad press regarding his knowledge of Greek than many of the other duties he has had to perform. Walter Berschin remarks that the statement "The Middle Ages knew no Greek" became "a general prejudice". "Some Medieval experts, however," he continues, "especially those who work directly with manuscripts have known for a long time that this is not true. It is surprising how often we come across single Greek letters, names written in Greek, Greek alphabets and other indications of an interest in and study of the Greek language" (p. 85). This is a viewpoint considerably at odds with the position of Bernhard Bischoff in his Speculum article of 1961 (p. 215), and somewhat more optimistic than the sentiment found in the introduction to this same edition of Herren: "A written knowledge of Greek for the most part, was probably restricted to the recognition of the letter forms and their names and the ability to reproduce a clumsy alphabet on parchment" (p. vi). However, all three of these positions probably support their appropriate convictions and in the eyes of a scholar one viewpoint might be a little more or a little less convincing than another. The Medulla scribe might at times be seen as no exception to either of these positions. Yet there are examples of extremely erratic behavior in the matter of understanding Greek. Consider Stonyhurst "Smathus: conpugnans." Although Pepys gets part of the gloss wrong, "Simachus: machina, pugna", Canterbury gives us what is needed: "Simachus: machia, pugna." This of course is the Greek summachos. Smathus doesn't quite do it. Or take both Canterbury and Stonyhurst: "Historium ge, videre le vel connoscere le." The -ium ending is unusual in its being glossed by a verb. The Greek transliteration of historium is historion, which means 'fact with proof'. Yet what is needed here is the infinitive historein, 'to observe or see'.

Yet, his ability to 'nail' the next entry must be acknowledged. The Canterbury manuscript reads "Filaxe grece, seruare le." The word phulatto means 'protect', as does servo. Filaxe is a precise phonetic transliteration of the aorist infinitive phulaxai.