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The Cosmographia of Bernardus Silvestris Format Kindle
|Longueur : 180 pages||Langue : Anglais|
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If I thought so, I was corrected by the discussion of Bernardus (in English, often simply Bernard) and the "School of Chartres" (a disputed concept, although now apparently back in favor) when I went on to read Lewis' "Allegory of Love" (1936), a study of medieval literature. Bernardus' "De Mundi Universitate," also known as the "Cosmographia," described with proper bibliographic information, there comes in for some attention as a Latin precursor to later allegorical works in vernacular languages. Bernardus appeared in my reading again, providing examples of medieval concepts and terms, in Lewis' late work, "The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature" (1964).
Still later, as an undergraduate at UCLA, my curiosity aroused by Lewis' quotations, but with no translation in existence, I tried the available Latin text; and I was hardly the only academically-inclined Lewis fan with access to a copy to make the attempt. I soon discovered that (a) Lewis was right about the difficult Latin (and what was difficult for a character in his novel was pretty much impossible for me!), and that (b) the existing edition (Barach and Wrobel, 1876) didn't seem to be very well-edited, which could hardly help matters.
Both feelings about the Latin text were confirmed when, not so very long after that sobering experience, Winthrop Wetherbee's translation appeared in 1973, as "The *Cosmographia* of Bernardus Silvestris." The slender volume included a useful introduction, with textual notes explaining departures from the printed text, and a separate set of explanatory notes following the translation.
The latter were definitely necessary. Reading the book, even in English, proved to be a difficult experience. It did have rewards, beyond finding out what Lewis had been talking about. It offered a look at the unexpected intellectual equipment of a medieval Christian philosopher *before* the Aristotelian revolution, and a Platonism unconnected to the Italian Renaissance, and any Greek texts. (I specify because of the intermittent controversy over a "Renaissance of the Twelfth Century," in which Bernardus and his possible associates can serve as an exhibit.)
It was also, in places, quite charming. Lewis was right about that (although some of his preferred readings of the Latin, and his graceful translations, have had to be dropped in favor of other manuscript evidence.)
I eventually acquired a copy of my own (used; the price asked for the hardcover in the 1970s then seemed extortionate), and have re-read it several times. Still not easy, but always interesting. Eventually, while a graduate student in English literature, I began to feel that I sort of understood it.
[Additional comment, November 2016: I've taken a good look at this fairly old review, in preparation for reviewing Wetherbee's recent text-and-translation edition, and feel that back then I left out something important. Wetherbee clears away the lexical and grammatical difficulties facing the reader of the "Cosmographia," and the resulting translation is attractive, and reads smoothly. The difficulties come in understanding what *outside* the poem Bernardus was talking about in this allegorical narrative. There is a short, but distinguished, list of medievalists who have come up with contradictory answers -- including whether or not the work can be described as Christian -- and Wetherbee (and before him, Theodore Silverstein, in an important article) thinks that they all got it seriously wrong.]
The "Cosmographia" is a description of the creation and form of the Universe, using ideas from the rather obscure writer Chalcidius (or, as now preferred, Calcidius), whose Latin commentary on a portion of Plato's dialogue "Timaeus" included the only genuine Platonic text available in Latin Christendom for centuries. "Cosmographia" itself was a sort of dialogue, but in a mixture of verse and prose, as used in the "Consolation of Philosophy" of Boethius (one of the key works of the Middle Ages). Wetherbee identifies allusions to the Pseudo-Dionysius, to Macrobius, and to the Latin translation of the Hermetic *Asclepius* attributed to Apuleius, among others. At times it seems to be expressing Christian ideas in pagan terms, at others dressing up pagan philosophy for Christian readers. It bears little resemblance to Scholastic texts, although Lewis was certainly correct to compare it, in terms of genre if not traceable connections, to the "Romance of the Rose."
I'm going to say STOP RIGHT HERE. If these names and terms mean absolutely NOTHING to you, you will be wasting your time trying to read Bernardus, in any language. If they are a little familiar to you, you will probably need to read a lot more about the literature of medieval Europe before trying it. Better still, add to your readings translations of at least some of the works I have mentioned (Plato instead of Calcidius, although he is, slowly, appearing in English), and some accounts of a number of others I haven't included (Alanus Insulis, something of a follower of Bernardus, for example). If you haven't read Lewis' "The Discarded Image," it would probably be a good place to start.
This may sound like snobbery, but Bernardus was esoteric in his own time, and I am not going to advise anyone to read it without some proper preparation. As I said, it would be a waste of time -- think of running a Marathon without training. I have given it five stars because Wetherbee did a difficult job remarkably well, not because I expect a lot of people to like it.
Of course, if you are motivated enough, you can always try it.
Personally, I had already done of lot of this reading at my first attempt at Wetherbee's volume, and eventually got around to filling in some of the rest. But I also took advantage of a shortcut. Brian Stock's "Myth and Science in the Twelfth Century: A Study of Bernard Silvester" (Princeton University Press) had appeared the previous year, and I raced through a library copy before it could be recalled.
Although not in total agreement with Wetherbee about Bernardus by any means, Stock proved an invaluable guide to the material, and the existing secondary literature. He also provided useful suggestions on how to read such a text, which doesn't quite correspond to anything in modern literature. I still needed to do a lot of catching up, but this was a real boost.
Unfortunately, Stock's book is out of print (and perhaps somewhat more out of date than the translation, due in part to the author's own later work). The current asking price for used copies of it seems to me unreasonably steep, except as a tribute to the book's intellectual value. If you are interested, by all means try a library! If you are the sort of person to really want to understand this branch of medieval literature, you will find yourself using his bibliography as a reading guide.
Wetherbee's translation, on the other hand, has achieved a trade paperback incarnation (1990), and in this form, as university press books with a limited market go, is not too expensive. (The hardcover -- apparently reprinted at the same time, with a much more attractive cover than my old copy -- is still high-priced, and probably aimed at libraries with a generous budget.) I find it easier to imagine it as a text in a graduate seminar than in any but the most rarefied undergraduate course, but I hope that it will continue to find readers, and continue to open eyes to a neglected corner of European thought.
Note: The truly dedicated may want to look into another work by (or "Commonly Attributed to") Bernardus: the "Commentary on the First Six Books of Virgil's Aeneid," translated with introduction and notes by Earl G. Schreiber and Thomas E. Maresca (1977). There was also a text edition the same year, edited by J.W. Jones and E.F. Jones (from which I take the "commonly attributed" description). [I have been prompted to add mention of Peter Dronke's 1978 edition of the Latin text of the "Cosmographia," published by Brill, a great improvement on Barach and Wrobel. It is sometimes available through Amazon, where it is currently listed as "Cosmographia (Textus minores ; v. 53)" by Bernard Silvestris.]
The secondary literature continues to grow, although mainly in journals, and unpublished papers presented at conferences; an on-line search shows that there have been some interesting-looking contributions in the last decade, several, including one specifically on Lewis and Bernardus, by Robert M. Ziomkowski.
[Addenda, August 2012: Studies of Bernardus and his writings continue, some appear on-line. Angus J Braid's "The Amalrician Heresy and Illuminist Mysticism in the Central Middle Ages" website, which includes fascinating material, has a section on "Bernardus Silvestris' Bold Synthesis" among other "Possible Sources," and good bibliographies. An expanded version has appeared in print (2011; 442 pages!) as "Mysticism and Heresy: Studies in Radical Religion in the Central Middle Ages (c.850-1210)," available through Amazon. The modern text edition of "Cosmographia (Textus minores ; v. 53)" is available used through Amazon, although at a very high price. However, Barach and Wrobel's edition, although antiquated, is available as a free download (pdf) from the Library of Congress' archive.org (select the category "Texts," and enter as search terms "Bernardus Silvestris" or "De Mundi Universitate"). Despite its defects, it can be compared to Wetherbee's variant readings as well as to his translation. I no longer have my hardcover copy, alas, but since I wrote this," Cosmographia" has also been issued in a Kindle edition, at a reasonable price. I have been working my way through it, It seems to be a good, clean transfer (but the end notes are not hyperlinked to the text).]
[New Addendum, February 2015: a Latin text and translation (by Wetherbee) of the "Cosmographia" and another work, "Mathematicus" (The Astrologer), have been announced for April 2015, as Bernardus Silvestris, "Poetic Works" (a volume in the recently-launched Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library). Judging from descriptions of earlier volumes, this will not contain a commentary. (The Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library seems to have a format based on that of the Loeb Classical Library, with facing translations but minimal critical apparatus and/or annotations.)]
[Further Addendum, November 2016: I had forgotten that I mentioned Brian Stock's "Myth and Science in the Twelfth Century: A Study of Bernard Silvester" in this review, so I'm a little late in passing on the information that the book is again available, in hardcover and paperback, from Princeton University Press, in its Princeton Legacy Library series of print-on-demand scholarly books. (Try searching for "Princeton Legacy Library," and then use its search function to search for the book by author or title.) Amazon apparently does not offer the print-on-demand edition directly, but third-party sellers are offering copies, sometimes for considerably under the list price.]
[Addenda, June 2017: Since I last edited this review, I have obtained a copy of the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library ""Poetic Works" of Bernardus Silvestris, which I mentioned as forthcoming. It turns out to have a commentary to the "Cosmographia," if not quite as copious as the earlier one, but also contains three other works: "Mathematicus" (The Astrologer), "De Gemellis" (The Twins), and "De Paupere Ingrato" (The Ungrateful Pauper). I intend to do a full review of the volume -- someday.
[I have also obtained a used copy of the original edition of Brian Stock's "Myth and Science," and found that the dust jacket announced Winthrop Wetherbee's "Platonism and Poetry in the Twelfth Century: The Literary Influence of the School of Chartres." I strongly suspect that I read it, way back in the early 1970s, but I had forgotten the title and/or that it was by Wetherbee, and in any case failed to distinguish it from Stock's "Myth and Science." My apologies to Professor Wetherbee for this oversight.]