Towards a Theory of Pseudo-Isidore: VI

Previous parts linked in the side-bar here.

Six years ago, on the old blog, I began a series of posts that I called Towards a Theory of Pseudo-Isidore. What I was trying to do, with all that blathering about the interpolated Hispana and those rare forgeries that draw heavily upon it, was demarcate one small morsel of the Pseudo-Isidorian soup that I thought was indeed especially early. I wanted to do that because, at that point in 2013, I had just stumbled upon reasons to believe that probably everything else in the world of Pseudo-Isidore didn’t have the enticing early dates that Zechiel-Eckes had proposed. Indeed, the False Decretals were probably super late — every inch as late as Paul Hinschius had told us they were.

Like many things over there (and many things over here), I didn’t get as far as I wanted to. But that was not because I gave up. Instead, I decided the basic idea was important enough for an article. I was an assistant professor writing lecture after lecture on late medieval history, and the library at Williams College is an abomination, so the article took a while.

It finally appeared in 2017:

Ebo, Pseudo-Isidore, and the Date of the False Decretals, in: Speculum 92 (2017) p. 144–183.

You can read it, but here’s the potted version: The decretal forgeries of Isidorus Mercator strive in very specific ways to condemn procedures used against Archbishop Ebo of Reims at the 835 Council of Thionville. Some of these same tendencies are visible in other Pseudo-Isidorian compilations, like the False Capitularies of Benedictus Levita, but they are never as clear or pronounced or repeated as often as they are in the world of the pseudopopes.

More importantly, I realized that four decretal forgeries relax ancient canonical prohibitions on episcopal translation (the movement of a bishop from one see to another see), in a way that was designed, undeniably, to justify Ebo’s transfer to Hildesheim after 845. These forgeries also deplore bishops who occupy the sees of deposed bishops while those unfortunate deposed bishops are still living. These lines are obviously about Hincmar, who took office at Reims in 845 while Ebo was still alive.

For me, there is no alternative to accepting that the decretal forgeries took shape in the years between 845 and 851, when Hincmar was at Reims and Ebo at Hildesheim. After Ebo’s death on 20 March 851, there can have been no point in making these arguments. The translation arguments are exclusive to the False Decretals: They are not in the False Capitularies or anywhere else. So as far as Ebo goes, there is a movement in the Pseudo-Isidorian corpus, from those forgeries that are not at all concerned with Ebonian matters (the interpolated Hispana) to those that are sort of peripherally here and there (the False Capitularies) to those that take up Ebo-inspired lines of argument again and again (the False Decretals). In fact, the decretals material allowing episcopal translation even cuts against some tendencies of the capitulary forger.

This dating, post-845 to 851, applies even to the decretal forgeries of the A2 recension, as in fact three of the four pseudo-decretals addressing translation occur within A2; and one of the codices with Pseudo-Isidorian notae discovered by Zechiel-Eckes even has excerpt marks around a passage that came to serve as an important source for Pseudo-Isidore’s arguments on episcopal translation and that is used in no other connection.

I think that this destroys Zechiel-Eckes’s broader theories about the date and political significance of Pseudo-Isidore. Skeptics somewhere might propose complex arguments to subvert the proofs that I have brought, but that would be a grave error. The work of placing Pseudo-Isidore’s arguments in their proper historical context, the long neglected project that scholars like Weizsäcker started over 150 years ago, is far from complete and much has been forgotten. There are other subtle political tricks and traps lurking in the forgeries. I have since found one or two more, and in the course of time others will surely extend this work. The further we are able to integrate the False Decretals with specific ecclesiastical and political events, the more adherents of early dates will have to fear, because the political backdrop will inevitably turn out to be that of the 840s or early 850s time and again.

I promise.

The forgeries surely have close ties to the library of Corbie — here Zechiel-Eckes will always be right. That’s why I’ve preceded these words with a long review (not yet complete!) of Firey, which is also in its way a defense of Zechiel-Eckes where he saw further than anybody before him had.

But I now think he was mistaken as to the broader picture. Pseudo-Isidore was not Paschasius Radbertus, and the forgeries cannot be called an immediate reaction to the 835 Council of Thionville (a distant reaction to it: sure), and the False Decretals have nothing to do with political opposition to Louis the Pious.

At the end of that Speculum article, I tried to put all those reheated Wasserschleben notions aside, and think about the origins of the False Decretals in a simple and direct way, given what I now consider to be the certainty that the traditional dating of Paul Hinschius, Emil Seckel and Horst Fuhrmann is right; and given, too, that we are now certain that Pseudo-Isidore’s library was at Corbie.

I suggested that the forgeries might have something to do with the clerics Ebo ordained during his brief restoration to the see at Reims in 840/1, and that the earliest moments of their reception are bound up in the controversies surrounding the career of Wulfad, a favorite of Charles the Bald and eventual archbishop of Bourges. Vat. lat. 630, the manuscript that I am slowly editing here, is closely associated with Wulfad and also comes from Corbie. I think here we are very near to the forger himself.

So anyway, I got that article in press and then I decided to write a book about the bigger problem of Pseudo-Isidore and who he was. This was going to get the provocative title Who Was Pseudo-Isidore? My idea was to write an introduction to the forgeries (so far no such thing exists in English with the exception of Fuhrmann’s helpful article) that could also be a receptacle for some of my crazy theories. I even wrote a good part of this book at the American Academy in Rome.

But as I wrote it I began to sour on the project. For one, I had the feeling I was working at cross-purposes. It is hard to provide a neutral introduction to the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries and the theories scholars have developed about them, while at the same time arguing a particular point of view. I had to tread a fine line lest I be untrue to myself or unfair to others, and after a while that got annoying. Furthermore, I realized that my own ideas on some crucial points required more work: not ordinary book research, but very hard collation edition research, the kind that takes years. And finally, I was writing chapter after chapter under a title that posed the one question that has been on everyone’s minds since 2000 at least — Who was Pseudo-Isidore? — and I was not certain about the answer, or even clear that trying to find one was the right exercise at the moment.

I did most of this writing in the Vatican library, and as I worked on this footnote and that one, I came to wonder about Pseudo-Isidore’s manuscript source for the writings of the truly dismal sixth-century poet and bishop of Pavia known as Magnus Felix Ennodius. Unlike a lot of really terrible authors, Ennodius never produced a bestseller. Indeed, for much of the Middle Ages he was almost totally unknown. Thus Pseudo-Isidore’s use of his works, almost exclusively in the decretal forgeries, has intrigued many people for a very long time. Since the nineteenth century, Ennodius’s editors realized the close connections between Pseudo-Isidore’s text of Ennodius and one of three ninth-century copies of his collected opera: Vatican, Bibl. apost. Vat. lat. 3803. This is a Corbie codex — Corbie, where Pseudo-Isidore worked! — that Bischoff dates to 850 or shortly thereafter.

The conventional view was always that Pseudo-Isidore used the archetype of Vat. lat. 3803. With one exception, the entire medieval tradition of Ennodius also descends from Vat. lat. 3803 in some way, so this view put Pseudo-Isidore literally at the head of nearly the entire medieval Ennodius tradition.

But, I thought: Isn’t that odd? How are we to understand this little literary history? Now that we are free of the Radbert theory of Pseudo-Isidore’s identity, we no longer have to think of the forger as a Corbie monk. Maybe he just had a library card with borrowing privileges, or maybe he was some kind of episcopal dissident hiding out at the abbey, or whatever. The point is, perhaps Pseudo-Isidore had his own copy of Ennodius, which he maybe brought from his own library, wherever that was, and in the course of his other research at Corbie the scriptorium there made a copy of it because they found it interesting. I imagined other scenarios too, but this seemed the simplest way to explain how it was that Pseudo-Isidore knew the archetype of the Corbie Ennodius, rather than as you would expect either the Corbie Ennodius itself or some copy thereof.

Then I noticed another thing. This is that Ennodius’s editors have really terrible reasons for supposing that Pseudo-Isidore’s appropriations from Ennodius are prior to Vat. lat. 3803. If Pseudo-Isidore knew the archetype of this codex, then he should have an earlier text. The forger appropriates vast amounts of material from the Pavian bishop, including his entire Libellus pro synodo, so there’s an ocean of data points. Ideally, you’d want the vast indirect tradition in Pseudo-Isidore to show here and there a slightly better or less corrupt or somehow antecedent text, and Vat. lat. 3803 even in slight ways and very occasionally to have the later or worse or more corrupt text. All the Ennodius editors could do, however, was give two variants that didn’t prove anything at all. These learned philologists weren’t fools, but they were laboring under a bad manuscript date: Everyone at the time thought Vat. lat. 3803 was a tenth-century codex, but the early Pseudo-Isidorian manuscript tradition dated from the ninth century. So Pseudo-Isidore had to be earlier! And thus they found themselves scraping around for reasons that Pseudo-Isidore’s Ennodius had earlier variants than the Vatican manuscript, and not really finding anything.

These considerations drove me to consult Vat. lat. 3803 itself, which of course I should’ve done at the beginning. When I did so, I found that this precise manuscript — and not any archetype — was Pseudo-Isidore’s source for Magnus Felix Ennodius. Its margins carried the notae of a Pseudo-Isidorian excerptor, very much like those that Zechiel-Eckes discovered in the three source codices he identified. But there were also some subtle differences from Zechiel-Eckes’s annotator: The system employed was much simpler, in most cases consisting of a single note rather than a series of signs. There was the same limited knowledge of Tironian shorthand, whereby only widely known abbreviations for words like hic and et appeared. Some of the notae in Vat. lat. 3803 had been erased; in other cases, passages appropriated by Pseudo-Isidore were not marked at all. Most striking, though, were a great many notae demarcating texts that Pseudo-Isidore never seems to have used, at least not in his extant works.

I wrote an article about all of this:

Pseudo-Isidore’s Ennodius, in: Deutsches Archiv 74 (2018) p. 1–52.

Among other things, I find it important that Pseudo-Isidore used a codex from the very middle of the ninth century. This is another obstacle to the Zechiel-Eckes hypothesis of A2 decretals dating from the later 830s, because passages from Ennodius are all over the decretal forgeries, in no few instances they correspond to marginal notae in Vat. lat. 3803, and this codex was clearly not copied in the 830s. It was produced in the graphically distinctive style that Bischoff and other paleographers have associated with the librarian named Hadoard. No few Hadoard-style codices are dated, and from these we learn that the distinctive style dates no earlier than the 840s. So here is more confirmation that the False Decretals are late through and through.

But Vat. lat. 3803 also confirms another thing, which I’ll write more about in Part VII.


Firey Review, Part II/2: More on Hamilton 132 and ‘Collaboration’

Introduction here. 

Part I here.

Part II/1 here.

Firey advances four arguments to convince us that Hamilton 132 is the product of collaboration. First, she finds problems with the traditional explanation that Caroline scribes in Hamilton 132 are reworking a Dionysio-Hadriana to look more like a Hispana:

The Hispana has a set of Gallican councils not in the Dionysiana, and also a substantial sequence of about fifteen Spanish councils. … If the Caroline scriptorium were updating or expanding a Dionysiana to make it more like an Hispana, it would be the Caroline scriptorium that added the Gallican and Spanish councils to the manuscript. The Gallican councils, however, are in “a-b” script, and the Spanish councils are in both Caroline and “a-b” script. What the Caroline scriptorium added were the sorts of supplementary texts…that often get appended to canon law codices to enhance their intertextual value (45-46).

Three pages prior to these remarks, Firey acknowledges that the Collectio Sancti Amandi was a collection of Gallican and Spanish councils assembled to supplement the Dionysio-Hadriana, available in at least two manuscripts besides Hamilton 132.[1] When Gallican councils in a-b script or Spanish councils in a-b script occur in Hamilton 132, it turns out that they are always from the Collectio Sancti Amandi. This observation is the basis of the standard characterization of Hamilton 132 as a Collectio Dionysio-Hadriana cum Collectione Sancti Amandi that has been expanded with Hispana material. Again, just to be totally clear: Because the Collectio Sancti Amandi contains Gallican and Hispanic councils, a-b scribes sometimes copy Gallican or Hispanic conciliar texts, which they have from the Collectio Sancti Amandi. The Caroline scribes do add “supplementary texts,” but they also add a substantial amount of canonical material from the interpolated Hispana.

Firey has a second point in favor of collaboration:

The evidence that seems to controvert the possibility that the Caroline portions were inserted in an independent, later process is in the pricking and ruling of the codex. The pricking and ruling seem to reflect the existence of two, separate scriptoria. The ‘a-b’ leaves are ruled in a particular way: four pricks and lines for the center boundaries of the columns; the Caroline leaves, although ruled for the same text space and also for the same forty-two lines per column, show a much simpler form in the column boundaries (single rather than double lines). The matching text spaces and number of lines do, however, suggest co-ordination. Again, the Caroline leaves could have been planned later specifically to match the codex that was to be updated. At several points, however, the Caroline scripts are on leaves that are pricked and ruled in the ‘a-b’ style. That suggests that some parchment was passed from the ‘a-b’ scriptorium at the time of the ‘a-b’ transcription to the Caroline scriptorium for use in the same codex…. (46-7)

In a footnote that sometimes confuses which leaves in Hamilton 132 have a-b and which have Caroline text, Firey explains that the “a-b” ruling is evident on Caroline folios 31, 33 through 49, 40 through 51, and 56 through 61. After considering explanations for this phenomenon that do not involve “collaboration,” Firey concludes:

Simultaneous production in two different, co-operating scriptoria seems more likely, and fits with Bishop’s analysis of other manuscripts showing similar combinations of “a-b” and Caroline script.

As for Bishop, we have seen that he explicitly rejected collaboration between the a-b and Caroline scriptoria at Corbie. But however that may be, there is nothing inherently “a-b” about double bounding lines, beyond their association with a-b scribes in this specific codex. With that point in mind, the worst we can do to Firey’s argument is put it in simpler terms: According to Firey, the a-b scribes always write on folios with double bounding lines. Also according to Firey, the Caroline scribes generally write on more simply ruled parchment, but sometimes their parchment is also ruled with double bounding lines. You may decide for yourself whether and to what degree traditional views of Hamilton 132 are refuted by this observation.

Firey has a third argument:

Finally, as evidence for apparently simultaneous production, fol. 44r has two corrections, which appear to be made at the same moment, to judge by the system of symbols for insertion of the correction, the size and pen-angle of the scripts, and the ink. One, however, is in Caroline minuscule, and one is in ‘a-b.’ Either they were made by a person who could switch script styles readily, or by two persons who may have passed the same quill back and fort at a final phase of proof-reading’ (48).

From Firey’s own reproduction of fol. 44r (fig. 1 at page 76), we can see that a Caroline scribe has supplied one omission in the upper margin, while an a-b scribe has supplied another in the lower margin. The tie signs are different, the module is different, and the pen-angle is different. As for the ink, the relative colors are hard to judge in black-and-white. Even if all these things were the same, though, would we be compelled to imagine script switching or quill passing? What has become of Firey’s skepticism in the face of other scholars’ argumentation? Here, it seems that the only thing we can say with certainty is that the Caroline corrector and the a-b corrector worked after the main text  on fol. 44r had been written.

Firey has an ultimate point:

Furthermore, in several instances, the Caroline hands transcribe material from the Dionysiana that is not in the HGA as represented in Vat. lat. 1341: at some point, the ‘a-b’ exemplar would seem to have been passed to the Caroline scriptorium for final revisions to Hamilton 132.

This is another observation that does not compel anybody to posit collaboration in the production of Hamilton 132. Otherwise, the phenomenon Firey notices has an explanation, but it does not lie in the putative circulation of exemplars between scriptoria. We will look at one instance in which Caroline scribes copy Dionysio-Hadriana text, highlighted by Firey in support of this final point, to explain how it came to be that Caroline scribes, adding Hispana material to a Dionysio-Hadriana manuscript, found themselves in the position, occasionally, of recopying Dionysio-Hadriana material. Here I am dependent upon Paul Hinschius’s study.[2]

At fol. 106, Caroline scribes copy J3 1182, a decretal of Simplicius from the Dionysio-Hadriana that is not present in the Hispana. Why do they do so? We must begin by recognizing, along with Firey, that Hamilton 132 is badly misbound. The folios that ought to precede 106 are therefore not the folios that actually precede it in the present binding; rather, the immediate sequence begins at fol. 96 and continues through fols. 97, 104, 105 and then finally 106. All but fol. 106 are a-b folios. On fol. 96 we have the beginning of the Hilarius decretals from the Dionysio-Hadriana (though these letters recur in the Hispana as well), and this sequence continues through fols. 97, 104 and 105. Yet the Hispana has more Hilarius letters than the Dionysio-Hadriana, and so at fol. 105 our Caroline redactors erase the beginning of the Simplicius dossier that originally followed Hilarius in their Dionysio-Hadriana, in order to create more room for Hispana supplements. These supplements have to go here if the chronological order is to be maintained and the Hilarius material is to be kept together, all in one block. The Caroline scribes then continue to add two pieces of Simplicius correspondence from the Hispana, directly after their Hispana supplements to the Hilarius decretals. Then, finally, they recopy the Simplicius decretal from the Dionysio-Hadriana, J3 1182, that they obliterated to make way for their expansions to Hilarius. They do this on fol. 106, which is tipped in.

The process of supplementing chronologically arranged canonical collections, in other words, occasionally required both cutting and pasting to maintain the pope-by-pope sequence of decretals. This implies nothing about collaboration, though in this case it does show that the Caroline scribes wished to retain Dionysio-Hadriana material alongside their supplementary Hispana texts.

[1] See Kéry, Canonical Collections of the Early Middle Ages (Washington DC, 1999), 84.

[2] Die kanonistischen Handschriften der Hamilton’schen Sammlung im Kupferstich-Kabinett des königlichen Museums zu Berlin, Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 6 (1884), 193-246, at 228.

Firey Review, Part II/1: The Production of Berlin, Hamilton 132

Introduction here.

Part I of this review here.

The connection between Firey’s argument about the origins of Pseudo-Isidore and her analysis of Hamilton 132 is unclear. She writes only that “…[A] more complex model of production, transmission, interpretation or use, and further transmission than was proposed by Zechiel-Eckes may be advisable” (36). Hamilton 132 is presumably adduced to illustrate this point. After pages of analysis, Firey concludes that

Hamilton 132 parallels other [Corbie manuscripts discussed by T.A.M. Bishop] that show collaboration between a team of ‘a-b’ and a team of Caroline minuscule scribes for the book trade. … These pieces of evidence all add up to a reasonable probability that Hamilton 132 was compiled from the work of two segregated teams of scribes working simultaneously, or nearly so, to produce rapidly a comprehensive collection of conciliar canons and papal decretals (49).

For the purposes of her secondary argument, Firey is able to forget her concerns about the vagaries of manuscript provenance. Here her analysis assumes the origins of Hamilton 132 at Corbie or an immediately affiliated center, even though we have just had to read a great deal about traveling codices and the underestimated currency of a-b minuscule in Carolingian Gaul.

Otherwise, Firey’s deeper point is less apparent than it could be. At Cologne in 2013, she argued openly that the nuns at Notre-Dame de Soissons, a Corbie daughter house, may have been responsible for the a-b minuscule in Hamilton 132. By insisting on collaboration between the Caroline and a-b scribes, Firey could therefore associate the nuns at Soissons with the propagation of Pseudo-Isidorian material, and perhaps even implicate the nuns in the forgery. Here that point is very much played down, indeed almost elided, except for some summary remarks at page 53.

Two weaknesses undermine Firey’s argument from the outset:

1) The a-b hands at work in Hamilton 132 never copy any Pseudo-Isidorian materials, or even any materials associated with the interpolated Hispana. These hands only ever copy texts from the Collectio Dionysio-Hadriana and the associated Collectio Sancti Amandi. The only hands copying Pseudo-Isidorian texts in Hamilton 132 are Caroline. This is a simple matter of observation and utterly beyond dispute.

2) The Caroline scribes in Hamilton 132 work secondary to the a-b scribes. The Caroline scribes correct a-b scribes, for example, while the a-b scribes never correct their supposedly Caroline collaborators. Caroline scribes write on tipped-in folios and extra bifolios that have been added to Hamilton 132, while in every instance that the original form of the codex is intact enough to permit a determination, it is plain to see that the a-b scribes write on what were once regularly constructed gatherings. Caroline scribes frequently write over erasure, and sometimes traces of an underlying palimpsest a-b script are still visible; in other instances the Caroline scribes have erased only part of a folio, and their corrected text occurs alongside the earlier a-b script. In no case do a-b scribes write over palimpsest Caroline script. Finally, Caroline scribes write with an awareness of a-b material, sometimes altering module or layout to fit their text into the space remaining before the next a-b unit picks up. The a-b scribes, meanwhile, never exhibit any awareness of the Caroline folios.

Firey is aware of this evidence. Thus she writes that “The Caroline portions of the codex were clearly written to mesh with the ‘a-b’ portions” (46), and elsewhere she remarks in a passing characterization of her posited collaborative process that “the Caroline scriptorium…seems to have often been a bit behind!” By this she means that Caroline scribes alter a-b material but never the reverse, and might thus be conceived of as tardy collaborators. At a few other telling moments, she writes that the a-b and Caroline portions were copied “almost simultaneously” (44), or that they worked “simultaneously, or nearly so” (49). At root, then, Firey seems not to dispute that the Caroline scribes worked after the a-b scribes. She merely wants to shrink the amount of time that intervened between the products of these scriptoria to a small enough period that “collaboration” would seem a fair characterization of the process.

This is as appropriate a point as any to note that Bernhard Bischoff dates the a-b minuscule in Hamilton 132 to the beginning of the ninth century, and the Carolingian additions (which he characterizes as subsequent to and a reworking of the original a-b codex) to the second third of the ninth century.[1] Firey cites this very passage from Bischoff but appears to misunderstand its import, arbitrarily assigning his s. IX 2/3 date to the concluding folios of Hamilton 132 only (37 with note 66). Bischoff’s description, though, clearly states that the Caroline scribes who rework the a-b folios date to “s. IX1” and “s. IX2,” or the first and second halves of the ninth century. Elsewhere, when he summarizes the date of the Caroline scribal activity to “saec. IX 2/3,” he is simply splitting the difference.

Firey appears to misrepresent the arguments of at least one other scholar as well. The point of departure for much of her analysis of Hamilton 132 is, as we saw in Part I of this review, T.A.M. Bishop’s essay on “The Scribes of Corbie a-b.” She therefore writes that “Hamilton 132 parallels other manuscripts studied by Bishop that show collaboration between a team of ‘a-b’ and a team of Caroline minuscule scribes for the book trade” (49). I confess that I cannot find any passage wherein Bishop discusses the ninth-century book-trade. He does discuss the unusually frequent hand-changes in a-b manuscripts, but he draws radically different conclusions: “Holograph quires and sequences of quires, the familiar effects of apportionment, are less common in the a-b than passages of collaboration between expert and less competent scribes” (528). Many of the scribal shifts in a-b manuscripts, he goes on to argue, are essentially pedagogical.

More seriously, Bishop does not merely fail to support Firey’s theory of collaboration. He specifically rejects that the two scriptoria ever worked in this way, calling the two operations “autonomous” and “segregated” (533). He goes on:

Lowe and others have reported instances of apparently immediate partnerships between individual a-b and Caroline scribes. They are all deceptive. During the mutations of [two distinct Latin glossaries] and their lost prototype the a-b scribes left spaces, pending adjustments by the editor, and these were filled by Caroline scribes. An undefined interval may separate glosses and supplementary corrections from the text. In BN 12217…the Caroline supervenes on the work of the a-b scribes. … The a-b scribes were segregated…. (532)

Firey adopts Bishop’s characterization of the scriptoria as “segregated,” while otherwise arguing that they worked in tandem with one another, a conclusion for which Bishop’s entire thesis leaves no room.

Ahead to Part II/2 here.

[1] Katalog der festländischen Handschriften. Teil 1: Aachen – Lambach (Wiesbaden, 1998), 74.

Firey Review, Part I: On the St. Petersburg Historia Tripartita

Introduction here.

Firey believes that the origins of the St. Petersburg Historia Tripartita (F.v.I.11) are less than certain.

“Paleographers,” she writes, “have always…reminded us that the ‘a-b’ script seems to have been written at houses other than Corbie. Leslie Webber Jones suggested Amiens, Beauvais, St. Hubert in the Ardennes, St. Vaast at Arras, Compiègne, perhaps Fleury, St. Thierry…and other houses in the Paris region. In other words, ‘Corbie’ provenance may not be as certain as the short notations that often accompany shelfmarks would suggest” (31-2). Moreover, she observes that “…[B]ooks moved. Manuscripts written in ‘Corbie a-b’ ended up in libraries other than Corbie, and manuscripts written in other scripts ended up in the Corbie library” (32). The mere presence of Corbie scribes in a manuscript does not mean that we can draw conclusions about prevailing interests or concerns at the abbey: “There is…the possibility that law books could have Corbie provenance, but not really be rooted in particular legal needs at Corbie. That is, the manuscripts should perhaps be seen as part of a book trade, attested in records showing the production of books at Corbie for money” (33). Therefore, “The identification of Corbie as the locus of the Pseudo-Isidorian atelier (if an atelier there was) should probably not be asserted on the basis of the St. Petersburg Cassiodorus (Ms. F.v.I.11), or even on the basis that a number of ‘Corbie’ manuscripts can be associated with transcriptions of Pseudo-Isidorian materials” (54).

Nobody will doubt that early medieval monasteries copied codices for many different reasons, that codices were valuable objects subject to theft, and that they could be traded, borrowed or lent for favors falling on a spectrum from the spiritual to the temporal. Many, however, will find it hard to believe that anything that might fairly be called a book trade existed in Carolingian-era Europe, or that the monastery of Corbie produced very many books for sale. Nowhere in her essay does Firey cite evidence for either point, and indeed one of the secondary authors upon whom she relies seems to contradict her assumptions entirely.[1] And how widespread was a-b minuscule, anyway? According to Jones, it might have been all over northern France, but Jones was writing in 1947. At footnote 46 (32), Firey quietly cites the more recent work of Bernhard Bischoff, who observes that a-b was “restricted to a very few centres.”[2]

But these are quibbles, because we could grant Firey all of these points and they would be of no moment for our estimation of the St. Petersburg Historia Tripartita, which enjoys Corbie provenance beyond any cavil. The codex is in St. Petersburg because Dubrowsky took it from the library at Saint-Germain-de-Prés in 1791, and it came to Saint-Germain-de-Prés in 1638 along with 400 other manuscripts from Corbie.[3] In the eleventh century, Corbie scribes added a colophon recording a local tradition that the codex had been copied at Noirmoutiers at the behest of the exiled Abbot Adalhard. And we also know that the St. Petersburg codex was at Corbie during the era of Pseudo-Isidore, thanks to the “capital N-annotator” identified by David Ganz. This annotator’s activity can be dated to the first half of the ninth century, and it occurs across a variety of Corbie codices, including the St. Petersburg volume. In fact, Klaus Zechiel-Eckes cites this annotator’s activity precisely to forestall the argument that Firey makes here.[4]

Firey’s hand waving might matter for almost any other codex ascribed to any other monastery, but not for St. Petersburg Ms. F.v.I.11. An archetypal product of the Corbie scriptorium, this codex was used as a central data point for the study of a-b minuscule during Adalhard’s abbacy by none other than T.A.M. Bishop. It is therefore strange to find that Firey otherwise cites Bishop as an eminent authority throughout her essay, and even casts her own arguments as a confirmation and extension of his speculations about scribal activity at Corbie. Ultimately, Firey writes of “…a number of ‘Corbie’ manuscripts” that “can be associated with transcriptions of Pseudo-Isidorian materials.” For her, even this is not enough to establish Corbie origins for the forgery atelier, “if an atelier there was” (!).

She seems to be writing of Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France Ms. lat. 11611, a copy of the Rusticus version of the acta of Chalcedon that was copied at Saint-Denis, but that has Corbie provenance from perhaps the 830s (“Corbie-owned,” according to Ganz, Corbie in the Carolingian Renaissance, 67). It has received the same series of excerpt marks as the St. Petersburg codex of the Historia Tripartita. Excerpted passages in Ms. 11611, as in F.v.I.11, recur throughout the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries.

If two excerpted Corbie codices are not enough to associate Pseudo-Isidore with Corbie, well, there is more. The only complete early medieval manuscript witness of Pseudo-Isidore’s interpolated Hispana, Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica Vat. lat. 1341, is a Corbie codex. Two of three ninth-century manuscripts of the important A/B recension of the False Decretals are from Corbie. The forgers used the Liber contra Varimadum, very likely from Paris, BnF Ms. lat. 12217, an eighth-century Corbie manuscript. And as if all of that were not enough, in the few years since Firey’s essay was published, another Corbie codex (Vat. lat. 3803) has emerged with Pseudo-Isidorian annotations in its margins–the subject of a future blog post.

In fact Pseudo-Isidore’s Corbie associations emerge from so many separate strands of evidence that they tend to banish all doubts as to the origins of St. Petersburg F.v.I.11, if indeed there ever were any. A lot about our forger is uncertain, but Pseudo-Isidore and Corbie is a decided matter. The origins of the St. Petersburg Historia Tripartita rest on equally firm ground.

Ahead to Part II/1.

[1] See David Ganz, Corbie in the Carolingian Renaissance (Sigmaringen, 1990), 67: “The landscape of Carolingian learning was very different from that of Late Antiquity or of the high middle ages, when it is possible to speak of a book trade. The interests of abbots and librarians were the main factor behind the growth of the Corbie library.”

[2] Latin Palaeography (Cambridge, 1990), 106.

[3] This is a history that Firey herself relates (31).

[4] Ganz, Corbie in the Carolingian Renaissance, 73; Zechiel-Eckes, “Ein Blick in Pseudoisidors Werkstatt,” Francia 28 (2001), for example at 39-40 and 44-5.

Abigail Firey on the Corbie Origins of Pseudo-Isidore and Berlin, Hamilton 132

Abigail Firey, “Canon Law Studies at Corbie,” in Fälschung als Mittel der Politik? Pseudoisidor im Licht der neuen Forschung, ed. Karl Ubl and Daniel Ziemann, MGH Studien und Texte 57 (Wiesbaden, 2015), 19-79.

Abigail Firey, professor of medieval history at the University of Kentucky and founder of the Carolingian Canon Law Project, published in 2015 a long reconsideration of the origins of Pseudo-Isidore, the nature of an early witness to the interpolated Hispana, and ancillary matters. Across sixty pages of discussion, Firey subjects current views of Pseudo-Isidore and an important early witness to the interpolated Hispana to extended questioning and skepticism.

What exactly does Firey argue? Well, she is uncertain that Zechiel-Eckes’s discovery of excerptors in St. Petersburg, F.v.I.11 proves that the forger worked at the monastery of Corbie. She thinks that things might be more complicated. For some insight into how complicated things might be, Firey descends upon Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Preußische Kulturbesitz Hamilton 132, a ninth-century that originated at Corbie. The standard view, which Paul Hinschius established in 1884, is that Hamilton 132 originally carried the Collectio Dionysio-Hadriana with an appendix of conciliar supplements known as the Collectio Sancti Amandi, both of them in Corbie a-b minuscule produced sometime around 800. Hinschius argued that a team of later scribes, writing standard Carolingian minuscule nearer the middle of the ninth century, supplemented and reworked the original manuscript to approximate the contents and arrangement of Pseudo-Isidore’s interpolated Hispana. Firey attacks this view. She prefers to see the interactions of a-b and Caroline scribes as contemporary collaboration. Specifically, she draws on the arguments of T.A.M. Bishop to propose, however tentatively, that Hamilton 132 might be a joint product of nuns and monks combining Dionysio-Hadriana and Hispana texts. These conclusions encourage her, in conclusion, to explore connections between Hamilton 132 and the great Carolingian reform council held at Paris in 829.

Firey, therefore, presents three arguments. The first questions what has recently become conventional wisdom about Zechiel-Eckes’s revolution, while the second aims to overturn older arguments about an important early manuscript witness to Pseudo-Isidorian materials first aired by Hinschius. The third, finally, asks that we think more flexibly about Hamilton 132 and its relationship to Carolingian-era conciliar legislation.

We will address these over the next week the next five months in a series of three or four posts.

Part I: On the St. Petersburg Historia Tripartita

Part II/1: On Hamilton 132

Part II/2: More on Hamilton 132

Part III: On Hamilton 132 and Paris 829