The editors of this volume (which launches a series on ‘Late Antique and Early Medieval Iberia’), Andrew Fear and Jamie Wood, have gathered together nine essays, several originally papers for a one-day workshop at the Instituto Cervantes in Manchester in 2013, others commissioned, ‘to create [as Paul Fouracre writes in the preface] the first English-language collected volume on Isidore’. That such a claim seems worth staking in an age when academics of all nationalities routinely publish in English is a symptom of the special isolation of the Isidorian contingent. Monuments of scholarship on Isidore have so far appeared either in Latin (W.M. Lindsay’s 1911 Oxford edition of the Etymologiae) or under German auspices (C.H. Beeson’s 1913 Isidorstudien). In the second half of the last century, only Jocelyn Hillgarth stood shoulder to shoulder with such giants as Jacques Fontaine and Manuel C. Díaz y Díaz. Now we have a splendid annotated English translation of the Etymologies by Stephen A. Barney and others (2006), plus John Henderson’s The Medieval World of Isidore: Truth from Words (2007), a maverick classicist’s maddeningly stylish sortie into post-classical territory. The hub for the present volume is the University of Manchester, where the combined presence of Andrew Fear and Paul Fouracre has encouraged the kind of trafficking between classical, late antique and early medieval worlds that the patron saint of the internet invites. A page or two of information on contributors could have revealed the larger geography of these new Isidorian studies in English, the space easily spared if repetitive bibliographies had been consolidated. A book on this scale can offer only a taste of its subject, and the editors forestall unreasonable hopes. Even so, not all contributions earn their place. Two out of nine are undermined by flagrant mistranslations of Latin. (Was the collection refereed? The copy-editing has failed to ensure accuracy of transcription or consistency of bibliographical style. The better-argued papers are also the more cleanly presented. If a university press is merely an aggregator, why not publish on the internet?) The payload of the volume consists of a pair of finely calibrated studies of Isidore’s world-view, a tantalising account of the earliest posthumous profiling of his authorial persona and œuvre, two disabused and substantive accounts of how his works were initially received outside Spain, and the description of a Carolingian homiliary in which one of them was heavily excerpted. The duet of Mary Beagon’s ‘Isidore and Pliny [the Elder] on Human and Human-Instigated Anomaly’ and Andrew Fear’s ‘Isidore and De Natura Rerum’ confirms the Etymologist as a dogged adversary of such tricks of a divinely fashioned nature as might defy his universal hermeneutics. Although ‘a deus ludens is not an impossibility’, Beagon concludes, ‘it would make the task of revealing an overall logic in the world’s verbal manifestation much more difficult’ (p. 72). Contra Fontaine, Fear convincingly shows how Isidore ‘Christianised’ nature, subordinating Lucretius as an authority to the Church Fathers. (Fontaine’s special pleading for Isidore’s ‘classical culture’ and his respect for the autonomy of secular learning now looks like the reflex of an era when most classicists would not have given this author the time of day.) A cumbrous title (‘The Politics of History-Writing: Problematizing the Historiographical Origins of Isidore of Seville in Early Medieval Hispania’) conceals a thumbnail account of what appears to be a highly original doctoral thesis by Michael J. Kelly on competing ‘first-generational representations’ or ‘written memor[ies]’ of Isidore (p. 93). A judicious piece by Marina Smyth (‘Isidorian Texts in Seventh-Century Ireland’) finds evidence for the circulation of several of the writer’s works, ‘including at least one version of the Etymologiae’ (p. 125). Following Michael Lapidge’s numbering of the Etymologiae, De natura rerum, Synonyma and De ecclesiasticis officiis among the ‘staple patristic texts’ of a typical Anglo-Saxon library, Claudia Di Sciacca explores the role of the Synonyma as a source for the author of the Vita s. Guthlaci, who followed Aldhelm of Malmesbury in realising the possibilities of the stilus ysydorianus (‘Isidore of Seville in Anglo-Saxon England’). Melissa Markauskas brings the volume home to Manchester with an analysis of the extensive use silently made of Isidore’s De ortu et obitu patrum, an account of the lives and deaths of select biblical figures, in a homiliary written at Luxeuil and now in the John Rylands Library (‘Rylands Ms Latin 12: A Carolingian Example of Isidore’s Reception into the Patristic Canon’). © Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 15, 2018
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