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Bernard Silvestris’ descent into the classics: TheCommentum super sex libros Aeneidos

  • David L. Pike
Article

Abstract

What did it mean to be a Christian teacher of pagan literature in 12th-century Europe? Bernard Silvestris addresses this question in the margins of his allegoricalCommentary on the First Six Books of the Aeneid. In the manifest reading of what he calls theintegumentum of theAeneid, Bernard tells the journey of the sould from its imprisonment in the body to its return to God, with its education in thetrivium andquadrivium beginning with thedescensus ad inferos of book 6. At the same time, however, Bernard also introduces a narrative allegory of teaching. The commentary's teacher is shown to labor under both the inability to accede to the authority of the inspired Christian exegete and the unwillingness to forego the concomitant access to prophetic truth.

Keywords

Classical Tradition Twelfth Century Christian Doctrine Hide Meaning Natural Descent 
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References

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    The two basic studies of the topic are Chenu, “Involucrum: le mythe selon les théologiens médiévaux,”Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge [AHDMLA] 22 (1956): 75 79; and Jeauneau, “L'usage de la notion d'integumentum à travers les gloses de Guillaume de Conches,”AHDLMA 24 (1957): 35–100. See also Wetherbee (n. 3 above),Platonism and Poetry in the Twelfth Century: The Literary Influence of the School of Chartres (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), 36–48 and passim; Stock (n. 8 above), 31–62; Dronke,Fabula: Explorations in the Uses of Myth in Medieval Platonism (Leiden: Brill, 1974), 23–28 and passim; and Westra (n. 13 above),The Commentary on Martianus Cappella's “De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii” Attributed to Bernardus Silvestris (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1986), 23–33.Google Scholar
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    Macrobius,Opera, ed. J. Willis (Leipzig: Teubner, 1963);The Commentary on Scipio's Dream, trans. W.H. Stahl (New York: Columbia University Press, 1952); selections from Guillaume de Conches' unedited commentaries appear in Jeauneau 1957 and Dronke 1974 (see previous note); Augustine,Confessiones, Pars I, 1 of hisOpera, Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 27 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1981) and Pine-Coffin 1961 (n. 1 above); on the Boethian influence in Bernard, see Baswell 1995 (n. 5 above),Virgil in Medieval England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 120–30. On the importance of Augustine's exegetical writings and hisConfessions for the traditions of narrative allegory and allegoresis, see Jon Whitman,Allegory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), 77–83, 115, 127–28, 179–80; Pike, “Facilis Descensus Averno: History and the Autobiographical Voice, Medieval and Modern” (Ph.D. Diss. Columbia University, 1993), 24–75, and Pike 1997 (n. 3 above),Passage through Hell: Modernist Descents, Medieval Underworlds (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), 24–27.Google Scholar
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    Cum ad summum et principem omnium deum ... tractatus se audet attollere ... cum de his inquam loquuntur summo deo et mente, nihil fabulosum penitus attingunt” (“But when the discussion aspires to treat of the Highest and Supreme of all gods ... when philosophers speak about these, the Supreme God and Mind, they shun the use of fabulous narratives”).Google Scholar
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    The tradition of Paul's vision runs from his reference to it in 2Corinthians 12: 2–4, through the apocryphalApocalypse of Paul and the medieval otherworld vision, to Dante'sCommedia as a trope ofallegoria in facto and of a ban on poetic representations of the otherworld. See Jacques Le Goff,La naissance du Purgatoire (Paris: Gallimard, 1981, repr. 1991), 56–69 (The Birth of Purgatory, trans. Arthur Goldhammer [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984], 35–38); Alison Morgan,Dante and the Medieval Other World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); and Teodolinda Barolini,The Undivine Comedy: Detheologizing Dante (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 8–9, 143–51.Google Scholar
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    The lyre and the gloss of its as rhetorical discourse do not appear in Guillaume de Conche's glosses on Boethius'De consolatione philosophiae, Bernard's probable source for the reading of Orpheus (Jeauneau 1957 [n. 18 above], “ 44–50), although, as Jeauneau suggests, both may simply have drawn similar wording from the same source.Google Scholar
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    Discussing Guillaume's glosses on Boethius, Wetherbee, (n. 3 above), observes that Guillaume's Orpheus, as the embodiment of the union of wisdom and eloquence, represents the wise man in his triumph in the ransoming of Eurydice and thus rescue of appetite from the lure of earthly matters; yet at the same time he is a poet whose finallyunsuccessful descent shows the difficulty of escaping the faithless Muse dismissed by Lady Philosophy upon her arrival in the first book of theDe consolatione philosophiae (98). Bernard's addition of the gloss on Orpheus' lyre merely reinforces the ambivalence toward poetry.Google Scholar
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    See Jeauneau 1957 (n. 18 above), “ 41–42. For a comprehensive discussion of the four descents in Guillaume, Bernard, and the late twelfth centuryDe Planctu Naturae of Alanus of Lille, see Jane Chance Nitsche,The Genius Figure in Antiquity and the Middle Ages (New York: Columbia University Press, 1975), 42–68 and 88–114.Google Scholar
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    Prius enim non debet aliquis nomen magistri profiteri quam possideat sapientiam et eloquentiam. Si enim docere presumat et utroque careat, deerit ei sententia et oratio eam explicans. Si vero sapientia assit sola, habet quidem in mente quid proferat, sed deest ei quo artificio se explicare queat. Si autem solam habet magistri eloquentiam, scit quidem loqui sed quid loquatur ignorat. Ideoque precipiendi professionem oportet preparare per eorum coniunctionem” (91.3–8; “For no one ought to claim the name of teacher before he possesses wisdom and eloquence. For if he presumes to teach and lacks either, he will lack both thought and discourse to explain the matter. If he has only wisdom, he knows what he should set forth, but he fails by being ignorant of how to explain what he knows using artifice. If, however, he has only the eloquence of a teacher, he knows how to speak, but he is ignorant of what he says. So one must prepare for the profession of teaching by joining wisdom and eloquence”; 86).Google Scholar
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    For Bernard's critique of Vergil as historian, see 1.8–10. The original topos derives from Donatus's fifth-century commentary, which emphasizes the poet's verbal skills in arguing the difficult case of Aeneas as hero (Damon [n. 17 above], “Allegory and Invention: Levels of Meaning in Ancient and Medieval Rhetoric,” in: Bernardo and Levin, 121–22).Google Scholar
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    J. Jolivet, “Les rochers de Cumes et l'antre de Cerbère: l'ordre du savoir selon leCommentaire de Bernard Silvestre sur l'Enéide,”Pascua Mediaevalis: Festschrift for J. M. de Smet, (Louvain: Universitaire pers Leuven, 1983), 263–76; this citation, 275.Google Scholar
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    See Macrobius,Comm. in Somm. Sc. 2.17.14; Plato,Republic 10.615a-b; Fulgentius,Cont. Verg. 64. Quoted in Jeauneau, “Macrobe, source du platonisme chartrain,”Studi medievali 3rd ser. 1 (1960): 22. Jeauneau's gloss ofachademicus brings out the pagan/Christian tension: “The termachademicus with Guillaume de Conches nearly always implies an unfavourable reaction: it is opposed tochristianus” (22 n. 84).Google Scholar
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    See Kenneth Burke's analysis of verbs involving the root “haerere” in the Augustinian model of conversion,The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961; repr. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970), 129–33. For theConfessions, see, for example, the description of adolescence that concludes book 2,erravi, deus meus, nimis devius ab stabilitate tua in adulescentia (2.10), and compare to the state of the converted man,redite, praevaricatores, ad cor, et inhaerete illi, qui fecit vos. State cum eo et stabitis (4.12).Google Scholar
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    Albert Blaise,Dictionnaire Latin-Français des Auteurs Chrétiens (Strasburg: “Le Latin Chrétien,” 1954), 65.Google Scholar
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    J.W. Jones, “The Allegorical Traditions of theAeneid,” in:Vergil at 2000, ed. John D. Bernard (New York: AMS Press, 1986), 125.Google Scholar
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    Marilyn Desmond. “Bernard Silvestris and theCorpus of theAeneid” in: Bernardo and Levin (n. 17 above), 136.Google Scholar
  35. 34.
    On the allure of book 6, see Pierre Courcelle,Lecteurs païens et lecteurs chrétiens de l'Énéide, vol. 1 (Paris: Institut de France, 1984). Two of the principal known sources for the commentary end withAeneid 6.636. Jones and Jones print a continuation beyond line 636 based on Bibliotheca Jagiellonska MS 1198. They maintain, however, and muster evidence to support their assertion, that it “unequivocally is not the work of the foregoing commentator” (xvii). Intriguingly, J.W. Jones wrote in 1989 that: “In Jones and Jones the Silvestris commentary continues toAeneid 6.636. I have prepared for publication an anonymous commentary onAeneid 6 in Milan, Bibl. Ambrosiana, MS G111 inf. This commentary quotes Bernard Silvestris and seems to prove that his commentary once continued beyond line 636” (1989 [n. 8 above], 847 n. 58). Baswell's list (1995) [n. 5 above],Virgil in Medieval England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 355 n. 83) includes several such continuations; but he also asserts that “in every one of the growing number of its manuscript witnesses [the commentary breaks off] well short of the visionary and cosmological core of theAeneid” (119).Google Scholar
  36. 35.
    I first made this argument in Pike 1993 (n. 19 above), “Facilis Descensus Averno: History and the Autobiographical Voice, Medieval and Modern” (Ph.D. Diss. Columbia University, 1993), 76–118; see esp. 117. Christopher Baswell has since made a similar argument that the ending is motivated rather than accidental (1995 [n. 5 above],Virgil in Medieval England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 347 n. 2. 91–120, see esp. 119). Whereas my discussion focused on the tension between classical poetics and Christian doctrine in the descent to the underworld, Baswell's study outlines the reception and dissemination, the “exegetical path a manuscript could take” (84). Still, Baswell's painstaking study ofAeneid manuscripts does support my contention that Bernard's commentary is well aware of the narrative qualities of its unusually systematic allegorization.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • David L. Pike
    • 1
  1. 1.College of Arts and Sciences, Department of LiteratureThe American UniversityWashington, DCUSA

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