Friday 22 February 2013

Sopositus: a bedtime story?

In the 15th century the term ‘suppositum’ was applied to an individual in a community, which is why in the 16th century Scottish universities called their members ‘supposits’ or ‘supposts’.  It is also why Thomas More, in his pseudonymous Responsio ad Lutheram (1523), referred to Luther as a suppositum of the Augustinian fraternity, although you wouldn't guess as much from the critical edition (1969), which translates it as ‘counterfeit’.

The earliest British evidence for this use of ‘suppositum’ is from c1428 — or is it?  The Word-List gives ‘sopositus’ as a variant from 1374, which would constitute a significant antedating. Here's the slip:

This differs from our other quotations in several ways: it's spelt ‘sop-’ rather than ‘supp-’; it's masculine rather than neuter; and it goes with the name of a town rather than an institution.  Besides, I don't believe Oxford has ever called its members ‘supposita’.  So I decided to have a closer look.

The quotation is taken from Reginald Poole's 1890 edition of John Wyclif's De dominio divino (c1374).  Here's the context:
Nec credo mentem cuiusquam ad tantum desipere quod credat divinitatem moveri in acquirendo dominium; cum stat Petrum ex pacto per … mortem patris … acquirere … dominium, sine motu per talis dominii acquisicionem … materialiter introducto: ut, posito quod Petrus existens Oxonie sopositus pepigit cum Paulo parente Rome quod post B instans habebit C thezaurum, sicut successione hereditaria habebit immobilia Pauli patris; tunc Paulo defuncto pro B instanti acquiret ad tantam distanciam ignoranter dominium, sine hoc quod proporcionaliter moveatur.
Nor do I believe that anyone's mind is so foolish as to believe that divinity is changed in acquiring dominion, since it is possible for Peter, by means of an agreement, to acquire dominion through the death of his father with no change being materially introduced by the acquisition of such dominion – as, supposing that Peter, being sopositus at Oxford, has agreed with his father Paul at Rome that after time B he will have treasure C (just as by hereditary succession he will have the immovable property of his father Paul), then with Paul dead at time B he will at such a distance unwittingly acquire dominion, without being changed correspondingly.
Note that, dialectically speaking, Wyclif doesn't need Peter to be a member of the university; his being in Oxford is just a device to prevent the transfer of dominion from Paul in Rome from having any intrinsic effect on him.  (Ironically, philosophers will recognize it as a mere Cambridge change.)

Moreover, Poole's glossary entry for ‘sopositus’ – ‘a subordinate member, as of a university’ – was qualified with a caveat: ‘if the reading be correct’.  One of the three manuscripts he used for his edition had ‘sopo'us’; the others had ‘sopo'tus’, as does the MS from which they may derive:

Cambridge MS image

The hunt is on, then, for alternative ways of expanding the abbreviation ‘sopo'tus’.  A search for ‘sopo-’ across six of Wyclif's works yields five other hits, all beginning with ‘sopor-’, so how about ‘soporatus’ (having fallen asleep)?  This would give the phrases in bold in the above passage as:
Petrus existens Oxonie soporatus … acquiret ad tantam distanciam ignoranter dominium
Peter, being asleep at Oxford, … will at such a distance unwittingly acquire dominion
I think this works nicely, with ‘Oxonie’ accounting for the ‘ad tantam distanciam’ and with ‘soporatus’ hammering home the ‘ignoranter’. It would be nice to have some corroboration, though, e.g. from mentions of sleep in other 14th-century discussions of extrinsic change.  Meanwhile, the new fascicule of the DMLBS (SOL–SYR) errs on the side of caution:

Sunday 4 September 2011

Terribile dictu! (Who's afraid of using a dictionary?)

A few months ago, at a workshop on 14th-century philosophy, I asked the 17-strong audience whether they used the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources.  I wasn't expecting a rapturous response, as our coverage of scholastic terms has for various reasons tended to be patchy, but even so I was surprised when only two hands went up.  Now, thanks to one of my colleagues, I'm well placed to write a post with the rather surreal aim of encouraging people who read medieval Latin written by British authors to use the fruits of our labours.

Roger Bacon's mid-13th-century treatise Summulae dialectices – printed by Robert Steele in 1940 and re-edited in the 1980s by Alain de Libera, who had better qualifications and a second manuscript at his disposal – has now been translated by Thomas Maloney as The Art and Science of Logic (2009).  Anyone who has used this book will be grateful for the effort that Maloney has put into making the treatise intelligible.  On occasion, however, he admits defeat.  For instance:
“Under nonfusible body are subalternate species of this sort, namely, corpus terribile and corpus non terribile.  Under corpus terribile are species of this sort: salt, pepper, cumin, cinnamon, clove, and the like.” … I have not been able to find a translation for ‘corpus terribile’.
Maloney's decision to leave ‘corpus terribile’ untranslated may seem quite reasonable.  But this is one of the many places where Steele had given a different text, and here de Libera's change – a pseudo-classicization of ‘teribile’ – was for the worse.  If either de Libera or Maloney had looked in the Revised Medieval Latin Word-List from British and Irish Sources (1965), he would have found ‘teribilis’ defined as ‘friable’, that is, pulverizable.  And if for some reason he had still been unsure, a flick through any classical Latin dictionary would have revealed the relevant root: ‘terere’, grind, pulverize.

The moral of the story is that even intellectual historians would do well not to ignore our work.  The Dictionary will soon have been published as far as SALV–, and for the remainder of the alphabet the Word-List (for all its shortcomings) is evidently better than nothing.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Towards a definitive history of the 2nd Barons' War

In 1266 the Isle of Ely was occupied by a band of disinherited rebel barons who proceeded to go on a looting spree in the surrounding area.  What happened to the local bishop, Hugh Balsham, who was supposed to be guarding the place?  Well, according to whoever succeeded John Taxter as the chronicler of Bury St Edmunds, he
casu accidente sic inde recessit et insulam suspendit.
Antonia Gransden (1964) translates this as ‘had by a coincidence gone away and abandoned it’.  Her choice of the past-past (‘had … gone’) instead of the past (‘went’) is unwarranted and misleading – there being no suggestion in the Latin that he had already upped sticks by the time the rebels arrived – and it is not obvious that ‘casu accidente sic’ means ‘by a coincidence’ rather than e.g. ‘misfortune happening thus’.  But it's the underlined part that I'm interested in.

In a footnote, she explains: ‘For the meaning of 'suspendit' see J. H. Baxter and C. Johnson, Medieval Latin Word-List (1934)’.  And indeed if we turn to this primitive work we find ‘suspendere’ defined as ‘to abandon, put aside’, with putative attestation dates of 1200 and c1300.  Hot on the heels of Gransden's book, however, came the Revised Medieval Latin Word-List (1965), which removed the first attestation date and added a note of caution: ‘(?) to leave c1300’.  Unsurprisingly, the remaining attestation turns out to be familiar:

Now, it is just conceivable that ‘suspendere’ might have been used to mean ‘abandon’ – think of leaving someone hanging, for instance – but this would be our only attestation for that sense.  Meanwhile, we have one other quotation (from an anxious letter written to Anselm in 1104) where the object of the verb is a geographical region:
si Angliam … suspendere vel excommunicare volueris …
The context makes it clear that to ‘suspend’ England would involve somehow withdrawing its religious privileges.  And if the exiled Archbishop of Canterbury was thought to have wanted to do this to England, couldn't the displaced Bishop Hugh have done it to Ely?  Pending further investigation, therefore, I have provisionally united these two quotations under the following sense: ‘to place (region) under temporary interdict’.  If that's right, then the story about him having simply abandoned the Isle of Ely needs to be rewritten.

I should stress (again) that the Word-List is not a dictionary whose definitions are the product of lexicography.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that this fact – and with it the difference between the Word-List and the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources – is underappreciated among those who might be expected to know better, so please forgive me if I continue to bang this drum.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Supponere: a cautionary tale about the Word-List

In my last post I mentioned in passing that the Revised Medieval Latin Word-List was ‘a by-product published in 1965 when work began on the dictionary proper’.  It is worth stressing that the Word-List is not a dictionary: the quotation slips on which it is based have not been checked for accuracy, and its definitions are not the product of lexicography.  My aim here is to illustrate this point.

A lexicographer working on our 175-odd quotations for ‘supponere’ might suggest the following basic taxonomy: to place underneath; to subject; to subsume; to substitute; to suppose; to support.  But the first edition of the Word-List (1934) also gives ‘to suppress, abolish’, with an attestation date of 1315.  And in the revised edition (1965) – billed as involving ‘a re-examination of the material previously used’ – the definition has been trimmed (‘to suppress’) and the date has been misprinted as 1318, but essentially the entry remains intact. 

Now, there is no intrinsic reason why ‘supponere’ should not have been used to mean ‘to suppress’, but from my vantage point – with so many other pieces of the jigsaw before my eyes – there was a warning sign: this usage would be attested by only one of our quotations.  So it was with some suspicion that I came to check the slip in question:

And sure enough, the very next word (after ‘perpetuo supposuit’) turned out to be ‘interdicto’.  So what the text actually says is that the Pope placed the Templars under, or subjected them to, perpetual interdict – which means that the Word-List's definition ‘to suppress’ is simply the result of an unnoticed misreading by the slip-taker.

I would be surprised to find a page of the Word-List that did not include several errors of precisely this kind.  So, to anyone who uses it as a medieval Latin dictionary faute de mieux: caveat lector!

Saturday 6 November 2010

Supplementare: a ghost story with a twist

The Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources is based on a collection of quotation slips that scholars began mustering in 1924.  Most of them are handwritten, but my first one was an exception:

It is because of this slip that the Revised Medieval Latin Word-List – a by-product published in 1965 when work began on the dictionary proper – defines ‘supplementare’ as ‘to supplement’.  Now, even though my task is to record usage rather than to criticize it, this raised an eyebrow.  For one thing, the author could have used the verb ‘supplere’ from which the noun ‘supplementum’ was derived in the first place (and indeed we have no such slip for ‘complementare’).  For another, it's not obvious why the human intellect might be said to be supplemented from without.  So I decided to have a closer look.

John Pecham's Quaestiones de anima (1270s) were published in a critical edition by Hieronymus Spettmann in 1918, and it was from this edition that the above slip was copied, the key clause being:
solus intellectus in homine supplementatur ab extrinseco
Thanks to the indefatigable Jerry Etzkorn, however, a revised edition appeared in 2002, and sure enough this proves to be one of the few places where he felt it necessary to modify Spettmann's text:
solus intellectus in homine – supple ‘intrat’ – ab extrinseco
Etzkorn's version makes much better sense: Aristotle does say in De generatione animalium II.3 that the intellect enters from without.  And so, with the only evidence for its existence gone in a puff of editorial smoke, ‘supplementare’ is revealed to be a ghost-word.

There's a twist to the story, though.  Scholastics use the imperative ‘supple’ to indicate a textual gloss, so Etzkorn has Pecham quoting from a text reading ‘solus intellectus in homine ab extrinseco’ and glossing it by supplying ‘intrat’.  But what might this elliptical text be? Etzkorn himself cites Moerbeke's translation (a1270) from the Greek of De gen. animal.:  ‘intellectum solum deforis advenire’ (736b28).  Much closer to what we find in Pecham, however, is Michael Scot's translation (a1220) from the Arabic:  ‘intellectus tantum intrat ex extrinseco’; and closer still is the version of Scot's translation quoted in a 13th-century florilegium brought to light by Pieter Beullens in 1999:  ‘solus intellectus intret ab extrinseco’.  In any case, these versions all say that only the intellect enters from without, and none of them mentions man.  So I suggest that we should improve upon Etzkorn's improvement of Spettmann's text by instead reading:
solus intellectus – ‘in homine’ supple – intrat ab extrinseco
PS.  In 1980 the Revised Medieval Latin Word-List was reissued ‘with supplement’, which acquires an ironic tinge in the light of the above…

Sunday 24 October 2010


Quisquiliae’ (odds and ends, leaf-litter, sweepings, rubbish) is a term used by 16th-century Renaissance humanists to disparage the work of 14th-century Oxford scholastics.  I've started this blog as a repository for notes relating to the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources, where I began work as a harmless drudge in October 2010.