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BOETHIUS, according to the famous phrase, is the last of the Romans. Between him and the writers who mark the highest point of the Carolingian Renaissance one may take Einhard as a sample three centuries intervene. It is the first part of my task to trace the paths along which the torch of learning was carried from the one height to the other.

With what equipment was the journey begun? A reader of the Saturnalia of Macrobius cannot fail to be impressed with the abundance and variety of the ancient literature which the literary man at the beginning of the fifth century had at his disposal sacral, antiquarian, critical reaching back to the days of Ennius. It may fairly be said that down to the time of Alaric's invasion the Latin literature was intact; and that long after that date, at many educational centers in Italy, Gaul, Spain, Africa, large stores of works now lost to us were preserved and used. Still, the existence of a not inconsiderable part of the literature was bound up with that of Rome: particularly that part which was specifically pagan. Of treatises like those of Veranius on the Pontifices or Trebatius’ Testa De religionibus there were probably few if any copies outside the public libraries of the city: no Christian would be at the pains of transcribing them; a single conflagration put an end to them for good and all. What perished during the fifth century we shall never know; but we may be sure that between the days of Macrobius and Boethius there must have been extensive losses.

The works of Boethius are not of a kind to throw much light upon the preservation of Latin literature in his time. Some are versions or adaptations of Greek sources which for the most part still exist. The greatest, the De consolatione Philosophiae in external form resembling the work of an African writer of the previous century, Martianus Capella witnesses, indeed, to the nobility of the man who wrote it : but the conditions under which it was produced (and for that matter, its whole scope) forbid us to expect from it that wealth of quotation and reference which might have characterized it, had it emanated from the home of Boethius and not from his prison.


Among the contemporaries of Boethius there is one, Cassiodorus, of whose literary resources we can form a more precise estimate. It is Cassiodorus, moreover, whom we must regard as the greatest individual contributor to the preservation of learning in the West. His long life (c. 490583) was enormously effective, both for his own time and for ours. What made it so effective was his conviction that there ought to be an educated clergy. We have seen that in 535-6, under Pope Agapetus, he attempted to found a Christian academy in Rome, avowedly in imitation of those which had existed at Alexandria and Antioch and that which was still active at Nisibis. Failing in this project, he turned to another, which, more modest in its conception, was in reality destined to attain a success far wider, probably, than would have attended the other. The library which he founded for his monks at Squillace (Vivarium, the Calabrian monastery to which he retired about 540), and the handbooks which he compiled for them to serve as a key there to serve to organize the literary side of monastic life. But for the existence of such a sanction for literary culture, it is quite possible that, with the exception of Virgil, no Latin classic would have reached us in a complete form. Not that Cassiodorus specially commends to his monks the study of belles lettres or of antiquity for their own sake; such matters are (and this is true of the whole period after Boethius) ancillary to the study of the Bible.

The Bible, therefore, occupies the forefront. There must be, in the first place, examination and comparison of the older versions, both Greek and Latin; and the purest possible text of the standard version, that of Jerome, must be secured. Of the textual labors of Cassiodorus the greatest remaining monument is the Codex Amiatinus; the story of its journey from England to Italy in the seventh century is a striking reminder of the wide range of influence which he obtained. Further research is needed to place us in a position to gauge with certainty the extent to which his labors can be traced in the text of the Vulgate Gospels. Upon the fixing of the text of the sacred books follows the ascertaining of their meaning. A valuable companion to the books was provided by Cassiodorus in the shape of a Latin version of the Antiquities of Josephus, made at his instigation but not by his own hand. His personal contribution consisted of a voluminous commentary on the Psalms, and a more valuable, though incomplete, version of Clement of Alexandria’s notes on the Catholic Epistles. His library contained all the best Latin expositors of the fourth and fifth centuries.

His anxiety for the faithful presentation of the Biblical text finds expression in the stress he lays upon ‘orthography’, a term which includes a great deal of what we should call grammar: he recommends the use of a number of older writers on the subject, and his own latest work was devoted to it. Incidentally he speaks of the utility of certain geographical books in connection with sacred study, and of the Church histories of the fifth-century Greek writers, Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret, which he had induced one Epiphanius to render into Latin; we know this translation as the Historia Tripartite.

The end of the first division of the Institutions deals with the practically useful arts of agriculture (gardening) and medicine. The second part is a summary introduction to the seven Liberal Arts - they are the same for Cassiodorus as for Martianus Capella - Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectic, Arithmetic, Music, Geometry, Astronomy. The bibliography is here much scantier than in the first book, but even so, some works are named and used which we no longer have. We do not, as was said above, find our author definitely prescribing for his monks the study of the older poets and historians. What we do find is a recognition of the usefulness of secular as well as of sacred learning, an authorization of the enlargement of the field, an encouragement to make use of all that could be drawn from sources that might subsequently be opened, as well as from those that were at hand.

Thus Cassiodorus did his best to provide tools and to indicate the method of using them. An older contemporary had prepared the workmen and the field. There is no need to recapitulate here what has already been said of St Benedict and his Rule. Only it is clear that, but for his work, that of Cassiodorus would not have outlasted more than a few generations. The Rule was, it seems likely, in force at Vivarium itself; but whether this was so or not, and whether or not St Benedict would have accorded a welcome to the scheme of study outlined by Cassiodorus. the fact remains that the ideas of the latter were taken up by the Order and were propagated with more or less activity wherever the Order settled.

St Gregory the Great

There was a third agent in this same century who was a factor of immense importance (though, even more clearly than Benedict, an involuntary factor) in the preservation of ancient learning. This was St Gregory the Great (d. 604). Gregory was not a learned writer. He knew (he says) no Greek : it is doubtful if his writings have been the means of handing down a single reference to an ancient author, even to a Christian author of the earliest period. His contempt for secular studies is more than once expressed; he is even credited (by John of Salisbury, in the twelfth century) with having burned the library of the Palatine Apollo. Yet, but for Gregory and his mission of Augustine, there would have been no Aldhelm, no Benedict Biscop, no Bede, no Alcuin, no opening for the enormously important influence of Theodore of Tarsus and of Hadrian the Abbot. But, this great service apart, his voluminous works were, if not in themselves of great literary value, the progenitors of literature which is of the highest interest. Alfred translated his Pastoral Care; Aelfric drew copiously from his Homilies on the gospels. His Moralia on Job gave occupation to calligraphers and excerptors in Spain and Ireland. Above all, his four books of Dialogues formed a model for subsequent writers of the lives of saints as well as a sanction for that mass of miracle and vision literature in which so much of the imaginations and hopes of the medieval peoples is preserved for us.

Thus in the persons of Cassiodorus, Benedict, and Gregory, Italy, which had provided the world with a great literature, furnished also the means by which that literature was to be preserved. It was her last contribution to the cause of learning for many years.

We must turn to the other great fields of western learning, and first to Africa and Spain.


The existence of a flourishing Latin literature in Africa is generally realized : the names of Tertullian, Apuleius, Cyprian, Augustine, Martianus Capella stand out as representative in earlier centuries; something too has been said of the less-known writers of the period of the Vandal kingdom, of Dracontius, almost the last of Christian poets to treat of mythological subjects, and of those (Luxorius and others) whose fugitive pieces have been preserved in the Latin anthology of the Codex Salmasianus. We come now to their successors. From Verecundus, Bishop of Junca (f 552), we have an exposition of certain Old Testament canticles which are commonly attached to the Psalter and used in the Church services. In this work Verecundus refers his reader to the Natural History of Pliny the Elder, to Solinus, and to a form of the famous Physiologic, that manual of allegorised natural history which in later times afforded a multitude of subjects to illuminators and sculptors. From this region and period also comes in all probability a poem on the Resurrection of the Dead and the Last Judgment, dedicated to Flavius Felix (an official to whom some poems in the Salmasian Anthology are addressed). It has been handed down under the names of Tertullian and of Cyprian. Both attributions are out of the question. The author, whoever he was, had written other poems, notably one on the four seasons of the year, to which he alludes. In the resurrection-poem a singular point of interest is that it shows traces of obligation to the ancient Apocalypse of Peter. The two epics of Fl. Cresconius Corippus, the Johannis, produced about 550, and the De laudibus Justini (minoris), of sixteen years later, are from the purely literary point of view the most remarkable achievements of African culture in the sixth century. The first tells the story of the successful campaign of Johannes the magister militum against the Moors in 546-8. The other, essentially a court-poem, describes the accession of Justin and the rejoicings and festivities which accompanied it. In both, but especially in the JohannisCorippus has modelled himself upon the antique with extraordinary fidelity, and with undeniable success.

Spain. Martin of Bracara

One other production, of small extent but appreciable importance, needs to be noticed before we pass from Africa to Spain. This is a short continuation (extending to but twelve sections) of the catalogue of distinguished Church writers, which, begun by Jerome, perhaps on a model furnished by Suetonius, was continued by Gennadius of Marseilles. An African writer of about 550 it is thought, Pontianus, a bishop furnished this small supplement. In the next century we shall find Isidore of Seville and his friend Braulio carrying on the work, and, a generation later, Hildefonsus of Toledo, whose outlook is almost confined to his own country. The succession is then broken off, and it is not until the twelfth century that similar compilations again come into fashion.

The extinction of the Vandal kingdom in Africa meant the transference of much literary activity to Spain. There must have been many like the monk Donatus, of whom Hildefonsus tells us that, seeing the imminence of the barbarian invasion, he took ship for Spain with about seventy monks and a large collection of books. Certain it is that towards the end of the sixth century Africa becomes silent, and Spain begins to speak.

Perhaps the first writer in our period whose sphere of influence was Spanish though it was so by adoption only is Martin, called of Dumio and of Bracara (Braga), the latter being the see of which he died archbishop in 580. Like the great Martin of Tours he was a Pannonian by birth : but after a pilgrimage to Palestine he chose Galicia and the Arian kingdom of the Suevi as a field for missionary work. He was successful in bringing the Suevi to orthodoxy; and he seems to have been a man of both strong and attractive personality. There is a distinction about his not very voluminous works. Two of them at least are excerpts from writings of Seneca, the De officiis and De Ira. The first treats of the four Cardinal Virtues, and is addressed to King Miro under the title of Formula honestae vitae. It is by far the most widely diffused of Martin’s books. The other (which incidentally helps to fill a lacuna in the text of Seneca) is of comparatively rare occurrence. Besides these we have ethical tracts of more definitely Christian complexion, also dedicated to Miro, principally concerned with pride and humility. A collection of sayings of the hermits, and another of conciliar canons, testify to Martin's knowledge of Greek. A brief discourse on the Paschal question states a complicated problem in a strikingly clear form. But of all that we have from him, Martin's instruction for simple people (De correctione rusticorum), addressed to Polemius, Bishop of Asturica, has aroused the greatest interest in modern times. It is indeed a very notable example of the way in which the negative and positive sides of Christian teaching were put before the neophytes of the country districts. Martin begins by setting forth the view of his time as to the origin of the heathen gods. They are devils who fell with Lucifer: therefore all observances which entail any show of reverence towards them are so many denials of the profession of faith made at baptism. He objects vainly, as time has shewn to the ordinary names of the days of the week, and to the celebration of the first of January as New Year's day; and further, to the observing of ‘days of moths and mice’ (the object of which was to protect clothes and storerooms from their ravages), to the naming of Minerva over the web on the loom, the lighting of tapers by rocks and springs, and many like usages, which we meet with later in canons of councils and indiculi superstitionum : while over and over again the question is asked, “Is this consistent with your promise at the font to renounce the devil and all his works?”. Of the positive side of the teaching more need not be said than that it is admirably adapted to its purpose. It is interesting to find that nearly the whole of the matter recurs in a Homily of Caesarius of Arles (d. 542), as well as in a tract of the Irish missionary Pirminius of Reichenau (f758), called Scarapsus, and in the sermon of St Eligius of Noyon which his biographer St Audoen has either preserved or excogitated. This suggests a question whether Caesarius or Martin is the original source, or whether both may not be utilising a form agreed upon perhaps by a synodical authority. Let it be recorded, lastly, that Martin of Bracara held in reverence his namesake and fellow-countryman, the saint of Tours, and composed some interesting verses which were inscribed over the south door of the great basilica there.

Isidore’s Etymologies

Before the death of Martin, the life of Isidore of Seville (c. 570-636) had begun. He was beyond question the leading transmitter of knowledge in his century. In the twenty books of his Etymologiae he brought together a collection of facts (and fictions) which served as the encyclopaedia of the whole medieval period. It was long in his hands: his friend Braulio of Saragossa could only extract a copy of it, and that in an uncorrected form, by repeated pleadings extending over more than seven years. He seems to have been at work on it up to his death, and it is obviously unfinished. There is neither preface nor peroration; some sections are unwritten, many references not filled in. To us its great merit is that it has preserved a number of fragments of early Latin writers: but to many a generation after Isidore its practical utility was immense. It was by far the handiest and in most cases the only accessible book in which information about natural history, geography, antiquities, the origins of arts and sciences, could be found, whereas the outlines of the seven liberal arts (which occupy the first three books), the synopsis of history, the elements of religious knowledge, the legal and medical sections, useful as they were, could usually be studied in less compendious form. In the compilation of the Etymologiae a library of very considerable extent was laid under contribution. Much is derived, no doubt, from hand-books: it is not to be supposed that Isidore possessed the works of an Ennius, a Cinna, a Livius Andronicus, all of whom he cites. These passages lay ready to his hand in the form of excerpts in various grammatical and critical books, especially in the commentary of Servius on the Aeneid. But, when due allowance has been made for the use of compilations, it is apparent that the range of authors with whom he had a first-hand acquaintance is not despicable. Lucretius, often cited in the later books (though of course seldom in comparison with Lucan and Virgil), was known to him. The Histories of Sallust and the Pratum (and some minor works) of Suetonius are probably the most important of the lost secular works (excluding manuals of rhetoric and grammar) which he can be shown to have used. From the De Republica of Cicero he makes but one short citation. It is not apparent that he possessed any specimen of the earliest Christian literature which we do not possess : in his continuation of the literary biographies of Jerome and Gennadius he tells us of many theological writers in his own time who are no more than names to us.

His knowledge of Greek has been doubted, and, I think, with reason. The evidence for it is almost confined to citations of Greek words to furnish etymologies. It cannot be shewn that he either owned Greek books or translated from Greek authors for the purpose of his work.

Had he lived long enough to provide the Etymologiae with its prologue, it is likely enough that after the manner of the elder Pliny he would have given us the list of the authors on whom he had drawn. As it is, we have to base our estimate of the extent of his library upon a document which leaves a good deal to the imagination. We have the verses which were painted (probably) on the cornices or doors of his book-presses. Each of these cupboards, in accordance with a fashion attested by a good deal of archaeological evidence, seems to have been ornamented with a medallion portrait of a famous author, whose worth was celebrated in one or more elegiac couplets. The number of sections or tituli warrants us in reckoning that Isidore owned at least fourteen and perhaps sixteen presses, and we shall be safe in assuming that at this date the contents were in book-form (codices) and not rolls (volumina). Taking the number of books in each press at 30 not an unreasonable estimate we reach the very respectable total of 420 or 480 for the whole collection. As to the contents, the title suggest that theology predominated. The secular writers named are few (jurists and physicians) and there is nothing to suggest the presence of works now lost. That is no more than natural; the effigy on the book-case represents but a fraction of its contents.

Among the remaining writings of Isidore the books De naturis rerum and the histories merit special mention. The first is a survey of cosmical phenomena in which, besides extant sources, the Pratum of Suetonius is employed (as in the Etymologiae). The popular name of the treatise, Liber rotarum, is derived from the many circular diagrams with which it was illustrated. In some connexion with it stands an interesting little poem by the Visigoth king Sisebut (612-620) who had asked Isidore to write the treatise, and addressed the poem chiefly dealing with eclipses to him, very likely upon receiving the complete book. It is possible that the poem as we have it is but a fragment of a larger work. Sisebut was, we see, a patron of letters and may have been a copious writer, but all that we have from him, besides the poem, is a life of St Desiderius of Vienne, and a few epistles.

Of Isidore’s two historical works the first is a Chronicle of the world, divided, in a fashion subsequently adopted and popularised by Bede, into six ages. A brief summary of it is inserted into the fifth book of the Etymologiae. For the more recent portions of it the Chronicles of Idatius, of Victor of Tonnensia in Africa, and of John of Biclarum (the last a Spanish contemporary of Isidore himself) have been utilised. The other is a sketch of the history of the Visigoths, Vandals, and Suevi. His commentaries and religious works (with the possible exception of the Synonymy the idea of which he says was suggested to him by a treatise of Cicero) are not important to our present subject.

Isidore’s principal friend, Braulio of Saragossa, has left us little besides letters and a few short biographies in the book De viris illustribus. He had, however, among his clergy one who ranks as the one considerable Spanish Latin poet of the century. This was Eugenius, who in 647, in spite of Braulio’s fervent protests, was removed by King Chindaswinth to preside over the see of Toledo. Chindaswinth, like Sisebut, evidently had some feeling for literature : we find him ordering Eugenius to produce a readable and orthodox edition of the poems of the Arian Dracontius, which were then only current in Spain in a mutilated form. The edition was made, and attained a wide celebrity. Of the works which it comprised, the Laudes Dei were turned into a Hexaemeron and somewhat shortened; the Satisfactio was abridged and provided with prefaces in prose and verse, and a conclusion: instead of Gunthamund, Theodosius the younger was made to figure as the recipient.

We have, besides this, an original work of Eugenius, which is the metrical portion of a collection of his miscellaneous short writings. The prose half is lost. The poems, in many metres, are for the most part brief. They deal with all manner of subjects, religious and secular. Intrinsically they perhaps hardly deserve mention, but there is a notable fact about them, that they travelled far beyond Spain at an early date. Aldhelm uses them in the collection of riddles which he embodied in a grammatical tract addressed to ‘Acircius (Aldfrid of Northumbria) before the end of the seventh century. Eugenius died in 657.

Julian of Toledo

A pupil of his, who ultimately succeeded to his see (680-690), Julian of Toledo, left works upon theology, history, and grammar. In the first category the book called Prognosticon futuri saeculi was by far the most celebrated. The three divisions of which it consists on death, on the intermediate state of souls and on the final judgment are made up to a very large extent of ‘testimonies’ from Scripture and from standard writers. Cyprian and Origen are the earliest of these, and Gregory the latest. Augustine is naturally the principal source; Jerome, Cassian, and Julianus Pomerius complete the list. It was to be expected that in a country in which Priscillianism had had great currency, and roused great opposition to the apocryphal literature, Julian should shun all reference to these writings. As his interesting prefatory letter tells us, his main object was to present in a collected form the opinions of Catholic doctors upon the subject he was treating. The three books De comprobatione sextae aetatis, directed against his own countrymen (he was of Jewish extraction), are interesting as proving his acquaintance with Greek patristic literature. He translates passages from the Demonstratio Evangelica of Eusebius and from the tract of Epiphanius on Weights and Measures; and, besides these, he makes considerable quotations from Tertullian. The two books of Andikimena (a noteworthy title) consist of attempts to reconcile contradictory texts of Scripture : they contain no very remarkable citations. Of more direct interest to us is his history of the rebellion of Duke Paul against King Wamba (673), written in a less conventional style at no great length of time after the events it records. The fashion of writing in rhymed or assonant clauses which is conspicuous in the later chronicles, e.g. that called of ‘Isidorus Pacensis’, appears here possibly for the first time to a marked extent. The fame of this book was naturally confined to Spain. Not so that of the Ars grammatica. Both in form and in contents it is remarkable. The form is that of a dialogue between master and pupil; but, as in many later grammars, it is the pupil who puts the questions, the master who answers them. Traube’s explanation of this fashion is interesting: he attributes it to a misapprehension. The dialogue form was borrowed from the Greeks, and with it the initials M and Δ, which stood for Mathitis and Didaskalos and. The accident that the Latin words Magister and Discipulus have the same initials rendered the inversion of questioner and answerer an easy one. In respect of its contents, the Ars Juliani transmits much matter from older grammarians, Victorinus and Audax, for example. The illustrative quotations are drawn from secular and Christian poets; even authorities contemporary with the writer, as Eugenius of Toledo, are cited. If it be the fact that the grammar was extensively used by Aldhelm within a very short time after its composition, it may be during the lifetime of Julian, we have a striking tribute to the reputation it enjoyed, and a yet more striking evidence of a literary commerce between Spain and Britain : a commerce of which the traces, liturgical and other, have yet to be collected and appreciated. In liturgy, lastly, important reforms of the Toletan Use are attributed to Julian by his biographer Felix. But details are wanting. In the range of his activity, but not in the permanence of his achievement, Julian surpasses Isidore.

St Valerius

An obscure but interesting figure at this period is the Abbot St Valerius (d. 695) from whom we have some amusing autobiographical writings. Whether by his own fault, or, as he would have us believe, by that of his neighbors, Valerius was condemned to a very turbulent existence. He was continually being hounded out of some retreat in which he had settled, deceived by his favourite pupils, robbed of his books, and generally victimised. There is a personal note in his narratives which engages the attention. They also supply us with evidence of the existence of at least one rare book in the writer’s milieu. In one of several visions of the next world which he records is an image which cannot but be derived from a certain Apocalypse of Baruch, now extant only in Greek and Old Slavonic. The seer, a youth named Baldarius, is permitted to watch the rising of the sun from close by. The orb comes up very swiftly and immensely bright; and it is preceded by a huge bird, red in colour but darker towards the tail, whose function is to mitigate the intense heat of the sun by flapping its wings. The bird is the Phoenix, as we learn from Baruch, and, so far as is known at present, this particular fable is peculiar to Baruch. It is fair to infer the survival of this rare Apocalypse in Spain in the seventh century: whether or not under Priscillianist influence, non liquet.

The chain of Spanish writers has now been traced down to the end of the seventh century, and we have seen evidence of the preservation of considerable collections of ancient literature, both pagan and Christian, in the peninsula. Much of this must have had a continuous existence in the country, but much also must have been imported from Africa under the stress of invasion. That same stress now fell upon Spain. The Moorish invasion, culminating in the great defeat of the Christian arms in 711, put an end to literary enterprise for the time. Spain dropped out of the race. But she had made one great contribution to the equipment of European scholarship in the Etymologiae of Isidore.

Venantius Fortunatus

What is the record of the region which we now call France during the corresponding period? The educational apparatus with which she was provided at the beginning of it was as complete as any country could show. The works of an Alcimus Avitus and of a Sidonius Apollinaris, however exiguous their intrinsic value, are the last links in an unbroken chain reaching back to the rise of the great schools of Gaul. After them comes the break.

The sixth century produced two writers of note who mark it in different ways. Venantius Fortunatus, born in Italy, it is true, but for the best part of his life a resident at Poitiers, is known to the generality as the author of two hymns, the Pange lingua on the Cross, the Vexilla regis used on Passion Sunday. We have from him, however, a very large mass of poetry besides these. His Life of St Martin of Tours in four books of heroic verse is for the most part merely a paraphrase of the prose Life and Dialogues of Sulpicius Severus. But his eleven books of miscellaneous pieces are full of originality and human interest. They form a chronicle of his friendly relations with the widowed queen of Chlotar I, St Radegund, and others of that house, as well as with Gregory of Tours and many prominent churchmen of France. A considerable number of the poems were sent as letters thanks for presents and the like. Others are panegyrics, others descriptions of pleasant places : yet others are inscriptions designed for churches, such as commonly form a large ingredient in collections of Christian Latin verse.

The best, however, and those from which we gain the most kindly impression of the personality of Fortunatus, are those which were called forth by the deaths of the friends and kindred of Radegund. These are uniformly entitled Epitaphs, but their length forbids us to suppose that they can have been inscribed on tombs. They may have been recited; but their real purpose is that of the Consolationes of an earlier time. They were meant to be circulated in writing among those whom the death had touched most nearly. These, with his hymns, constitute the best claim of Fortunatus to be remembered as a writer. Yet his skill in handling light verse should not pass unmentioned. His abuse of the river Gers (Egircio, I. 21) and of the cook who appropriated his boat at Metz (VI. 8) are quite worth reading.

Upon the whole the notable thing about Fortunatus is his avoidance of what was becoming a pseudo-classical vein. The form of his poems is old (the elegiac metre predominates), and rococo ornaments in the shape of allusions to mythology are not wanting; but we are impressed by the absence of artificiality, and by the presence of a freshness and simplicity which we miss in Sidonius and Avitus. The poems prepare us for a new epoch, while they have not lost touch with the old.

Gregory of Tours

Of Gregory of Tours (d. 594), the other famous writer of this century and country, it may be said with more truth that he had lost touch with the old. That is, at any rate, his own opinion. A well-known passage in the Prologue to his History of the Franks represents his contemporaries as saying, ·Alas for our days! for the study of letters is gone from among us”. He is, moreover, given to apologising on his own account for his ‘rustic’ and incorrect style. This, to be sure, is a common pose, and it has been held that in Gregory’s case it is but a pose, and that the copyists of his works are responsible for many of the monstra we encounter in them. Yet can this be so? does not the particularity with which he specifies mistakes false concords, misuse of prepositions and of cases go to shew that he at least was in earnest? Certainly his self-accusations are borne out by every page of his writings. He had read some good authors, in particular Virgil; he knew some books which no longer exist. In a little tract which deals mainly with astronomy he shews considerable acquaintance with that science, and quotes a lost chronicler, Julius Titianus. He had, too, a collection of Latin lyric poetry, which he lent to his friend Fortunatus. And it is possible (though not very relevant to our present purpose) that he knew some Syriac: a Syrian (there were not a few then resident in France, and one became bishop of Paris) helped him to translate the legend of the Seven Sleepers from Syriac into Latin. This, however, is little more than a curiosity: Gregory certainly made no use of Syriac literature. His lament is undoubtedly justified: “Periit studium litterarum a nobis”. The gulf between him and Fortunatus, in respect of command of correct Latin, is immense. To dwell upon the value of the Historia Francorum would be quite out of place here, where we are thinking of Gregory as a link in the transmission of ancient knowledge. It is more relevant to suggest in passing a comparison between this and the next national history that was written that of Bede; for the slight work of Isidore hardly comes into consideration. In Gregory we see letters on a level confessedly low; in Bede a height has been reached which is rivalled only, in these centuries, by the best work of the Carolingian Renaissance. The popularity of Gregory’s History in medieval times was far inferior to that of his hagiological writings, which furnished much material to the compilers of breviaries and to such writers as Jacobus de Voragine. Besides the seven which he himself enumerates, dealing with St Julian of Le Mans, St Martin of Tours, the Martyrs, the Confessors, and the Anchorites, there is one the Miracles of St Andrew which may be confidently assigned to him, and which is perhaps more important than any of the others to the historian of Christian literature. It is our best source for the knowledge of a second or third century Greek romance, the Acts of Andrew; once eagerly read, but ultimately condemned by the Church, and only transmitted to us in fragments, and expurgated epitomes, such as this of Gregory. Not that Gregory read it in Greek. He had before him, no doubt, a complete Latin version, made, it is likely, for Manichaeans to read: since, in Manichaean circles, the apocryphal romances about the Apostles were adopted as substitutes for the Canonical Acts. Not long after Gregory's date it may be even in his lifetime a complete orthodox collection of abstracts of these Acts, with others added to them, was put together, probably in France, in which the Miracles of Andrew were incorporated. We know it under the misleading name of the Apostolic History of Abdias. The investigation of its origin, and the determination of its text, have not as yet been completely carried out. As a source of inspiration for artists and romancers it deserves (though it does not usually obtain) a special recognition among the literary documents of its time.

Decay of Latin

I shall be pardoned for passing over the feeble efforts of the continuators of Gregory’s History (the so-called Fredegarius and the rest) in favour of two writings which attest at once the survival of a knowledge of Greek in France and an extremely low standard of culture. The one is known as the Barbarus Scaligeri (from its style and its first editor). It is a Chronicle of the world, rendered from an almost contemporary Greek original in a fashion and in a Latin of which it is difficult to exaggerate the badness. The other is a very similar version, made by the aid of a glossary, of the Phaenomena of Aratus, and of a Commentary thereon. It can be dated by the fact that Isidore is used in it, and that Bede uses it. Did we not possess the Greek original of this extraordinary work, many passages of it would defy interpretation. The literalness is extreme. Nevertheless, absurd as is the interpreter’s achievement, his very attempt is creditable and interesting. We have no clue to the identity of the man who made it, nor to the part of France in which he lived. It has been transmitted to us in more than one copy, as well as in a revised form due to a scholar of the Carolingian period. The Barbarus of Scaliger survives in but one manuscript, which is not impossibly the autograph of the translator.

There is another writer, of southern France, who is the centre of an unsolved problem: Virgilius Maro Grammaticus. That he must be reckoned to France seems now to be the accepted view, though the evidence at command is scanty. An obscure phrase in which he says that he will set forth ‘bigerro sermone’ the letters of the alphabet, is taken to contain the name which survives as Bigorre, and to point to the south-west of France: a plainer indication is his reference to the Gauls as ‘nostri’. Importance is also rightly attached to the fact that Abbo of St Germain in the tenth century calls him Tolosanus. That he was a Christian, and a Catholic not an Arian may be regarded as certain. But, though he gives us a great many other details about himself, his teachers, and his contemporaries, hardly one of them can be taken seriously. Upon a first reading of his works (they are wholly devoted to grammatical subjects, and consist of two series of Epitomae and Epistles) the reader feels that he is confronted with a piece of pure mystification. A striking, but yet fairly typical example of the extravagances we encounter is the passage in which he describes, on the authority of a certain Virgil of Asia, the ‘twelve Latinities’. The first of these is the usitata, that in which (ordinary) Latin writings are ‘inked’ (atramentantur). Of the eleven others, ten, it is safe to say, have never been used either by Virgilius or anyone else. The second, called assena or notaria, may possibly be intended to mean the Tironian notes; it employs a single letter for a whole word. But the lumbrosa, which expands a single word into four or five, the sincolla, which condenses a whole line into two syllables, and the rest of the series, correspond to nothing in heaven or earth.

Not only is the vocabulary of Virgilius abnormal; the authors whom he cites have left no trace anywhere else. There is a Cicero, and a Horace; there are three Virgils and three Lucans, and so on : but none of them are identical with those known to fame. There are, too, numerous grammarians, of whom Aeneas, Galbungus, and Terrentius are among the most prominent; but what is told of them does not cany conviction to the mind. Galbungus and Terrentius disputed for fourteen consecutive days and nights as to whether ego had a vocative. Regulus of Cappadocia and Sedulius of Rome went without food and sleep for a similar period while they were discussing the inchoative and frequentative forms of the verb: three soldiers in the employ of each were in attendance ready to arbitrate by force of arms if required.

In all, some ninety writers and teachers are named or quoted. Do they correspond to anything that ever existed? Of late a suggestion has found favour that they represent an academy which had its headquarters at Toulouse, and that the great names of Cicero, Lucan, Virgil and so on, were adopted by its members, just as Charlemagne and his friends called themselves David, Homer, Flaccus, and Naso. Perhaps, it is added, the Carolingian fashion was a conscious imitation of the Tolosan. If this be the truth of the matter, it is surely very strange that while we do hear of Virgilius himself before the end of the seventh century, no single trace of any of his ‘authorities’ has ever been pointed out. Moreover, he claims a high antiquity and a wide range of influence for his school of thought: he traces his writers back to the time of Romulus, nay, even to the days before the Flood. Some of them lived at Troy, others in Egypt, Arabia, India. The variety, again, of books which he quotes is large; there are poems, histories, epistles, orations, as well as works on grammar; far too many supposing them to be real to have disappeared without leaving some sign. In short, the complete isolation of Virgilius compared with his pretensions enforces the belief that his authorities like his Latinities are from first to last impositions pure and simple. Such imposition I allude to the invention of authorities was an expedient not unknown to the world of grammarians and scholiasts. The tract of the African Fulgentius De dubiis nominibus contains, side by side with genuine passages from Plautus and other early writers, quotations which, it is agreed, are fabrications of Fulgentius’s own. A scholiast on the Ibis of Ovid helps himself over the difficulties of the poem (and they are many) by explanatory tags which he fathers upon Propertius, Lucretius, Homer, Callimachus, etc., etc. The procedure in both cases is not easily distinguishable from that of Virgilius.

It is curious to find that in spite of all this he was taken seriously. Not only does Aldhelm (d. 709) quote him, but also Bede, a man less likely to be attracted by eccentricity, and so do almost all the Irish grammarians of the Carolingian period a point which will demand further attention. To the later Middle Ages he was quite unknown; we have no manuscripts or quotations after the eleventh century.

We have not yet approached the question of the date at which he lived. Zimmer in an elaborate investigation (published posthumously) contends for the fifth to sixth centuries. His main thesis is that western Gaul had, both commercially and intellectually, a profound influence upon Ireland long before the age of Patrick. He seeks to show, in particular, that the grammatical theories of Virgilius affected the language and methods of Irish writers. He finds traces of them in the Amra or panegyric on St Columba (f597), that obscure Irish poem by Dalian Forgaill, of which we have but a series of enigmatical fragments glossed by successive commentators. He believes that he has found actual mention of Virgilius in Irish books under the name of Ferchertne file; and he lays stress on the undoubted fact that our manuscript authorities for the text of Virgilius shew traces of transmission through Irish channels. The text, long preserved in Ireland, he would suggest, passed to the Continent in the train of the Irish missionaries. To our grammarian, too, he would refer the epigrams in which Ennodius (473521) ridicules “a certain foolish man who was known as Virgilius”.

Clearly much of this argument is inappreciable by those ignorant of Celtic languages. To the general contention one objection has been urged which makes its appeal to a wider circle, and which, if upheld, must do away with the greater part of Zimmer’s hypothesis. It is that Virgilius makes use of the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville (d. 636). If so, he takes his place in the seventh century, after Isidore and before Aldhelm. An examination of the long list of passages cited by Manitius from the Etymologies, and supposed by him to have been borrowed thence by Virgilius, has failed to convince me that Virgilius, and not Isidore, is the borrower. Practically all the passages contain derivations of words (legitera=littera and the like). They are thoroughly germane to the manner of Virgilius; nor is it a consideration of any weight that Isidore nowhere names Virgilius as his source, for in this respect his practice is by no means consistent. In short, though it may be shown on other grounds that Zimmer has placed Virgilius too early, I cannot think that his theory is invalidated by the appeal to Isidore; and I feel justified in provisionally adopting his date.

A Cosmography

Ireland has been named, and will for a time engage our whole attention; but before we leave France and Virgilius, a word must be said of a book which has perhaps a claim to be regarded as a product of his school. At least it reminds us of him by its language and by its solemn absurdity. The work in question is the Cosmography of “Aethicus Ister”. I use inverted commas because it is not certain that the form “Aethicus” is what was intended by the author of the text, who may have meant to write “Ethicus” and have used that word as a synonym for “philosopher”. The Cosmography comes to us in the shape of an abstract or series of extracts from a larger work, purporting to have been made by St Jerome (or at least by a “Hieronymus presbyter”). In spite of the efforts of Wuttke to uphold this attribution and to identify the places and peoples who are mentioned, it is not possible to regard Aethicus as anything but a romancer or to put him earlier than the seventh century. His wild Latin, full of hapax legomena, elaborate alliteration and short assonant clauses, his fables about countries, tribes, and creatures, partly borrowed from Solinus and the Alexander-romances, but largely peculiar to himself, and his display of absurd learning (exemplified by the bogus Scythian alphabet with which he ends his book), all stamp him as a charlatan. He probably wrote in France: it seems that the first writer who quotes him is Frankish one of the continuators of the chronicler who is called Fredegarius.

At the same time, it would be no surprise to learn that he had Irish connections. Indeed, definite allusions to Ireland have been pointed out in his writings and in those of VirgiliusAethicus represents himself as having crossed from Spain to Ireland, and having studied the books (eorum volumina volvens) which he found there (a phrase which may reasonably be taken to imply that Ireland enjoyed a reputation for culture in his time). The two passages adduced from Virgilius are both of doubtful import. One says that in the composition and elocution of the...the verb holds the first place. The statement is true of Irish, and the word represented by dots is given in the manuscripts as in bonorumhiborum, in iborum, respectively.

The conjecture Hibernorum lies ready to hand; yet the possibility of Hiberorum or Iberorum must be considered, especially as we have seen that Virgilius elsewhere mentions the speech of his neighbours, the Basques. The other passage, in which he quotes a verse by one Bregandus Lugenicus, has been thought to contain an Irish tribal name. But strong collateral evidence is needed to bring this out of the category of Virgilius’s ordinary mystifications.

Irish learning

We now approach the problem of the classical culture of Ireland. How, when, and whence did it come into being? Many generations of scholars have been contented to regard the mission of Patrick (in 430-460) as marking the accession of Ireland to the world of learning.

It has been realised, indeed, that Patrick himself was no scholar, but he has been thought of as the parent of scholars, the progenitor of the great monastic schools which sprang up all over Ireland in the sixth century Clonard (520), Clonmacnois (544), Clonfert (c. 550), Bangor (c. 560). Before Patrick (or at least before Palladius), it has been commonly believed, Ireland, lying outside the sphere of Roman political influence, was also untouched by Roman culture. A readjustment of this view has become necessary. Patrick was not the Apostle of Ireland in the sense that before he landed there were no Christians in the island. Apart from such results as may have attended the obscure mission of Palladius (whom Zimmer would identify with Patrick), there were pre-Patrician churches and pre-Patrician saints. It would indeed be strange, if at a time when Christianity was highly organized and flourishing both in Britain and in western Gaul countries in active intercourse with Ireland there had been no sporadic evangelization, no formation here and there of small Christian communities. As a matter of fact there are in the undoubted writings of Patrick allusions to existent Christianity, and in particular to men who, we gather from Patrick’ language, possessed a higher degree of culture than he did. There is, too, a persistent tradition (though the documents which contain it are not of the earliest) that certain saints, Ailbe, for instance, and Declan, were in Ireland before Patrick.

Into the precise value of this tradition I cannot attempt to inquire; to do so would be to exaggerate its importance for our purpose. I should be giving the impression that missionary enterprise was the sole factor in bringing the learning of the Continent into Ireland. This would be a mistake. We have seen that stress has been laid in recent years by Zimmer upon the commercial relations which undoubtedly linked the island with Gaul, as well as with Britain; while yet more recently, attention has been called to a definite statement by an anonymous writer, evidently of Gaul, such as has not been hitherto producible : to the effect that in the early years of the fifth century an exodus of scholars from the Continent took place under the pressure of barbarian invasion, which affected the area under consideration.

The Huns, says our new authority, began that devastation of the whole Empire which was carried on by the Vandals, Goths, and Alani; and “owing to their ravages, all the learned men on this side the sea fled, and in the countries beyond sea, namely, Ireland, and wherever else they betook themselves, brought to the inhabitants of those regions an enormous advance in learning”. This statement, printed from a Leyden manuscript as long ago as 1866, was, it seems, only noticed by Zimmer at the end of his life. The importance of it may be over-estimated, but cannot be denied. For the first time we have definite testimony that the culture of Bordeaux, Toulouse, Autun, Lyons in other words, the best learning attainable in the West did actually make its way in some shape into Ireland. And we have, besides, the reminder which was needed, that the missionaries were not solely or primarily the channels by which it came. The words throw light upon Patrick’s own challenge to the rhetorici who knew not the Lord; but, more than all, they supply an explanation of the undoubted presence in Ireland in the sixth century of a certain type of learning. The fact that that learning was widely and rapidly diffused over the country was due in no small degree to this, that it went hand in hand with evangelisation. Had missionary effort not been there to prepare the soil, it is impossible to suppose that men would have been found so ready to study the grammar and rhetoric of Latin, or the elements of Greek. But when these were presented to them as part of the apparatus of the new faith, they were assured of a reception, and subsequently gained citizenship by their own merits.

It will not be possible to call attention to every indication of higher learning in Ireland; but it will be worthwhile to devote some space to the vexed question, how far this learning included a knowledge of Greek.

The question is not, it must be premised, a simple one. We must remember, on the one hand, that some of the most striking specimens of Irish Greek learning were produced on the Continent, and on the other, that, in and after the lifetime of Theodore and Hadrian (668-690) when Greek was made accessible to the English, there is a possibility of English influence upon Ireland. In any case it remains the most reasonable account of the knowledge of Greek on the part of a Johannes Eriugena or a Sedulius Scottus, that it was acquired in Ireland and transferred thence to the Continent.

In the first place, we can hardly doubt that Graeco-Latin glossaries had made their way to Ireland in very early times. The occurrence of Greek words in Irish writings of the sixth century is best accounted for on this hypothesis. We meet with such Greek words in the hymn Altus prosator of Columba, in that of St Sechnall on Patrick and in more than one of those in the Bangor Antiphonary. Their raison d'être from the point of view of the writers of these compositions is to deck the page. They are the spangles on the cloak, no essential part of the fabric, and they do not by themselves necessarily imply a knowledge of the structure of the Greek language on the part of those who use them. They may mean little more than does the use of Greek letters for colophons the of a Breton monk in 952, and the like. It seems likely that with the glossaries (taking the word glossary as the equivalent of a bare vocabulary) there came to Ireland a more valuable guide to the Greek language, in the shape of a manual containing conversations and narratives, fables of Aesop, dicta of the Emperor Hadrian, stories of the Trojan war, compiled as far back as the year 207. We have it under the formidable modern title of Hermeneumata Pseudo-Dositheana. It has been transmitted through insular channels, and was in the hands of Sedulius Scottus in the ninth century, as is thought, before he left Ireland for the Continent. The suggestion has been made that this and other Greek writings were brought to Ireland by Byzantine monks taking refuge from the Iconoclastic persecution about the middle of the eighth century: but of such refugees there is small trace. Certain entries in Martyrologies, and the existence of a Greek church at Trim in Meath, have been adduced in favour of the hypothesis, but no such evidence as can be called conclusive. There seems, moreover, no reason why a monk should have brought the Hermeneumata with him, whereas it is just the book that is likely to have formed part of the equipment of a fifth century rhetorician from Gaul.

Instances have been brought forward of Irishmen who were clearly acquainted with Greek. We will examine them briefly. Pelagius is the foremost, both in date and in eminence. He came to Italy about the year 400, and it is on record that in 415 he took part in a controversy at Jerusalem which was carried on in Greek. It will be allowed that, even granting that Pelagius was Irish and not British by extraction, he had every opportunity of acquiring Greek after he had left Ireland.

We find, next, that the commentary of Theodore of Mopsuestia upon the Psalms was preserved and transcribed in a revised and shortened Latin form at Bobbio. The actual work of translation and revision has been ascribed to St Columban. That point is doubtful: but the commentary was certainly studied by Irish writers on the Continent, and it is possible that the translation was actually made upon Irish soil. It had a wide influence. The researches of Dr Robert M. L. Ramsay and Dr J. Douglas Bruce have demonstrated the use of it by English glossators of the Psalter (perhaps by Bede himself) down to the eleventh century.

In a gospel book of the eighth century at Würzburg is a note to the effect that Mosuin Mac Armin (Abbot of Bangor, who died in 610) learned by heart a Paschal computus drawn up by a Greek sage probably Theophilus of Antioch. Coupled with the presence of Greek words in the antiphonary of Bangor, this statement has a certain force, and it should be noticed that the date of Mosuin excludes the possibility of Theodorian influence from Canterbury and England. What is not excluded is the possibility that the computus lay before him in a Latin version.

The Schaffhausen manuscript of Adamnan’s Life of Columba, written at Iona before 714, has in it the Lord’s Prayer in Greek, and in Greek letters. This is an example of importance, though, like those that follow, it is post-Theodorian in date, and is accordingly liable to a certain discount. Sedulius Scottus had in his possession in the ninth century a collection of apophthegms called Proverbia Graecorum. We have them only in Latin, preserved in the Collectanea of Sedulius in a manuscript at Cues, quoted copiously in an English source, the tracts of the famous ‘Yorker Anonymus’ and alluded to in a letter of one Cathvulf to Charlemagne. Their Latinity is Celtic, and they may safely be regarded as a Greek collection rendered into Latin on the soil of Ireland.

To Ireland also we probably owe the excerpts we possess of Macrobius’s important treatise on the differences and conformities of the Greek and Latin verb, a book for the understanding of which a knowledge of Greek is indispensable. One of our manuscripts attributes the selection of the excerpts to a Johannes, thought to be the great Eriugena (Erigena). The line of transmission has insular connexions. Similarly, quotations from the lost Peplus of Theophrastus, dealing with the origin of the alphabet, appear in a Laon manuscript of the school of Erigena and in a commentary on Martianus Capella derived from that same school. That these imply the use of a Greek source, not necessarily of a complete text of the Peplus, cannot be doubted. In addition to this evidence, it will be useful, I think, to consider a class of examples as yet not utilised in the investigation of this question. They consist of traits in Irish literature (principally Latin) which are drawn according to all appearance from some of the obscurer apocryphal writings, which are not known to have existed in Latin. This evidence, again, is not unambiguous. Some of our sources, notably the Latin Lives of Irish saints, are of late date. Yet that fact is no real bar to their testimony; for whatever they have absorbed in the way of reminiscence of old learning was acquired before the exodus of Irishmen to the Continent. In the interval between that exodus and the compilation of the Lives, Ireland, harried by the Northmen and deserted by its scholars, had ceased to be a learned country. These Lives, as their most recent editor, Dr Plummer, has shown, contain much that is pre-Christian, and little that is characteristic of the later medieval period. This is true also of such documents in the Irish language as will be cited.

Instances of use of Apocrypha

First among the supposed sources I will place the Acts of Philip. The Western Church knew absolutely nothing of the sensational Greek romance which passes under that name. According to the Latins, Philip died a peaceful death like John the Evangelist. In Ireland we find traces of a different tradition. The Passion in the Leabhar Breac interpolates the martyrdom into a version of the Latin Acts. The Irish writing called the Evernew Tongue is a kind of apocalypse in which the tongue of the Apostle, cut out nine times by his persecutors, discourses to assembled multitudes. In the life of St Boece is an incident strongly reminiscent of the Greek Acts: a wolf brings a kid to the saint, as a leopard does to the Apostle. In Muirchu’s life of St Patrick (not later than 699) is another possible reminiscence. A magician is whirled up into the air and dashed on the ground. It may be a version of the fate of Simon Magus, but it does rather strikingly resemble passages in the Eastern Acts of Philip and of Peter and Andrew. In the life of St Berach there is a story of a druid killed at the window of his cell by the arrow of a hunter. Pilate, in an exclusively Greek legend, meets his end in precisely the same way. The climax of the Greek book known as the Rest of the words of Baruch is that when the Jews have resolved to stone the prophet to death, a stone pillar is made to assume his form, and their attacks are directed against it until Jeremiah has finished his last directions to his disciples. In the Irish life of St Brendan, a follower of the saint is attacked: a stone is made to put on his appearance, and the man escapes. In the Greek Testament of Abraham a striking incident is that a tree utters words of praise to God and prediction of Abraham's death. In the life of St Coemgen a tree sings to him. In the same Testament is the story of a calf, slaughtered at Mamre for the entertainment of the three angels, being restored to life and running to its other. This miracle figures in several of the Lives, e.g. that of St Ailbe.

Evidence that apocryphal literature unknown to the rest of Europe was read in Ireland is furnished by the Irish Vision of Adamnan, which quotes a form of the story of the death of Mary only found now in Syriac. The same Vision makes use of an apocalypse, as yet not identified, which is also quoted in a (Latin) Reichenau manuscript of Irish connexion now at Carlsruhe. The Irish tale of the Two Sorrows of Heaven is another document based on an apocryphon which it is safe to say belongs to Eastern Christendom. In it Enoch and Elias prophesy to the souls of the blessed, which (as in certain Greek apocalypses) are in the form of birds, the terrors of the end of the world.

Of the writings I have mentioned so far, the literature of the English Church of the seventh and eighth centuries betrays no knowledge. There are others, now to be noticed, for example, the Book of Enoch, of which this cannot be said. A non-Irish insular manuscript of the eighth century has preserved a fragment of a Latin version of Enoch. In Ireland we find, in the Saltair na Rann, a number of names of angels which are pretty certainly derived from the same book. There, too, are episodes taken from a Life of Adam but whether they are to be traced to a Western or to an Eastern text has not as yet been made clear. In the Gelasian list of apocryphal books the Testament of Job is mentioned, which probably implies the existence of a Latin version. An unpleasing trait which occurs in this Testament is adopted in the Life of St Mochua. It would not be difficult to show by examples from the Irish Lives of Saints that the legends of the Infancy of our Lord were familiar in the country; but these were so widely diffused that the demonstration would add nothing to our present purpose. Let it be recorded, lastly, that the Reichenau manuscript cited above shows, in one of the fragmentary Homilies which it contains, undoubted knowledge of the obscure Apocalypse of Thomas, and that a fragment of an Irish service-book in the Vatican Library presents us with a Lection from a Gospel attributed to James the Less. Both Apocalypse and Gospel are condemned in the Gelasia decree.

It has seemed worthwhile to set forth this class of evidence in some detail. Without detail, indeed, its force is inappreciable. The upshot of it is that the Eastern legendary literature was domiciled in Ireland to such an extent that it coloured the imaginations and contributed to the stock-in-trade of hagiologists and seers; and this familiarity with a branch of Eastern literature is not negligible as a confirmation of other indications that in the sixth and seventh centuries a knowledge of Greek was far from uncommon in Ireland.

Apart from Greek, which after all must be regarded as the fine flower of their learning, what did the normal culture of Irish scholars amount to? The scanty list of their Latin writers between the end of the sixth and the beginning of the eighth century between Columba (d. 597) and Adamnan (d. 704) includes besides penitentials, lives of saints, and hymns of no very marked excellence, several writings which are without rival in their time. The Altus prosator, Columba’s great alphabetic hymn, and the playful poem in short Adonic lines by Columban, cannot fail to impress the reader, the former in virtue of its achievement, the latter by the background of learning which it implies. The Altus has something of the learnedness and intricacy of Celtic decorative art: Columban’s poem, with its allusions to Sappho and Danae, is the work of a man who merits the name of scholar. The second half of the seventh century gives us a treatise that known as Augustine De mirabilibus Scripturae, which, alike for its Latinity and for the wide reading of its author, deserves respect. ‘Augustine’ has some acquaintance with ancient history, gathered from such sources as the Eusebian Chronicle and from Josephus; he is a student of Jerome, and seems to have read books on medicine and natural history. His allusions to Ireland, fewer in number than we could have wished, add a pleasant flavour to his book. Aileran the Wise, not far from this author in date, has left a tract on the interpretation of the names of our Lord's ancestors according to the flesh, in which there is not much sound philology.


At the end of the same century we have Adamnan. His two undoubted works, the account of Arculf’s pilgrimage to Palestine, and the Life of Columba, are intrinsically two of the most precious books of their time. The value of the tract on the Holy Places to the archaeologist and topographer needs no exposition. It is worth much, also, as exemplifying the interest in all sorts of knowledge which characterised the Irish scholars of the day. The Life of Columba less a biography than a collection of anecdotes preserves a picture of that saint and seer which will never lose its charm. Evidence of Adamnan’s grammatical studies, and of his knowledge of Greek (or at least of Greek words), abounds in this book; but there is a third work, a set of notes on the Bucolics and Georgics of Virgil, which, if it could be proved to be his, would be plain evidence of his distinction as student and as teacher. It is in the form of excerpts from three earlier commentaries, those of PhilargyriusTitius Gallus, and Gaudentius, which seem to have been written down by a class at the dictation of Adananus. Whether or not this Adananus was the Abbot of Hy, this work is an undoubted product of Irish scholarship. It witnesses to these facts: that the scientific study of grammar, as the Romans understood it, was carried on by the Irish at a time when it was dead in continental Europe : and that complete texts of ancient commentaries on Virgil had made their way into the hands of an Irishman.

Exaggerated language has no doubt been used about the learning of the Irish, and about their share in the preservation of classical literature. When allowance has been made for this, it remains incontestable that, during the latter part of the seventh century, it was in Ireland that the thirst for knowledge was keenest, and the work of teaching was most actively carried on. There the Latin language (and in a less degree the Greek) was studied from the scholar's point of view. To the Irish, we must remember, Latin was no inheritance: they had not heard it commonly spoken among them: their knowledge of it was book-knowledge. They had to treat it very much as we do now more nearly, perhaps, as it was treated in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when it was the recognised medium of communication for scholars of all countries. We need not, however, insist that the great body of the classical Latin literature which we now possess was preserved to us by the exertions either of the Irish or of the English, to whom the lamp of learning passed next in order. No doubt, whatever the Irish came across in the way of ancient literature they welcomed and treasured, but it is not to be supposed that they ever acquired in their native land a very large mass of such writings. It was when, impelled in the first instance by missionary zeal, and later by troubled conditions at home, they passed over in large numbers to the Continent, that they became instrumental in rescuing fragments of the literature which they had already learned to value. It is reserved for the palaeographers of the next few decades to shew how many of our Latin classics betray the existence of an insular stage in the line of their transmission. An important class of scribal errors is due to the fact that a copyist of the Middle Ages or of the Renaissance was using an archetype in Scriptura Scottica, in the insular script, in which the peculiar forms, say, of r and s misled him. Sometimes these errors affect the whole body of manuscripts of a given author, and in these cases it is obvious that we owe the preservation of the text to an insular scribe. A leading instance, as Traube has shown, is furnished by the History of Ammianus Marcellinus.

British writers

We shall have occasion to revert to the work of the Irish on the Continent. The time has now come for us to pass from Ireland to Great Britain. It will be worthwhile to inquire what, apart from vague modern panegyric, is to be known of the state of learning in the British Church before the coming of Theodore.

The small tract of the British bishop Fastidius is the only monument assignable to the fifth century. In the sixth we have the writings ascribed to Gildas, the Epistle, undoubtedly his, the Lorica, and the penitential Canons. We have, too, the Hisperica Famina. Little, if anything else, has been credited to Britons of this period. For any further information about the leading lights of the British Church we have to depend upon traditions committed to writing at a far later time, and in particular upon the lives of the saints, which are of exactly similar complexion with those of the Irish; embodying a modicum of fact wrapped in a sparkling tissue of wonders.

Fastidius may be dismissed with a word: he has no trait that can be identified as British. Gildas. as his Epistle attests, was a man of education. The writers whom we may credit him with having known are, indeed, not recondite, but they are of good quality: Virgil, Persius, Claudius (?Claudian), Jerome, Orosius, Rufinus. Such books as these, then, were accessible in Britain; was there more than this? The Epistle affords no evidence of the study of languages other than Latin; Greek and Hebrew words occur in the Lorica, but whether this be of Gildas’s composing or no they need imply no more than the use of a glossary. The same is true of the Hisperica Famina. Whoever were the authors of that strange and attractive farrago, glossarial learning was to them synonymous with culture. Literary success meant the forging of phrases that should only just not defy interpretation. When, however, we find in a Bodleian manuscript (Auct. F. 4. 32), written in Wales about 887, passages from the Bible in Greek (and Latin) it is possible that we may be in the presence of a relic of British learning independent of Theodore’s influence. The volume comes to us from Glastonbury, one of the few places where Celtic and English learning had a chance of blending; and, as Bradshaw says, “it passed out of British into Saxon hands in the tenth century, during St Dunstan’s lifetime, when the old animosity had given way to a much more friendly feeling between the races”. When we remember how sharp the animosity had been, we shall be more ready to acknowledge the probability that the pedigree of this solitary evidence of the study of Greek in Britain may be wholly independent of the school of Canterbury.

The truth of the matter is probably this, that in the period with which we are concerned there was learning in Britain, and learning of the same standard that then existed in Ireland; but that it was confined to a smaller area, that its products were fewer and that they have perished more completely. There must surely be some foundation for the stress laid by the Irish hagiographers upon the intercourse between the saints of Ireland and of Britain. Over and over again we find that the former go for instruction to the latter : they sit at the feet of David, CadocGildasGildas visits Ireland, as he visits Brittany; in the life of St Brendan it is said that he, Gildas, had a missal written in Greek letters, which Brendan, ignorant of the characters, was miraculously enabled to read at sight. It is, if I mistake not, the one mention of Greek in these late lives, a fact which adds something, be it but a feather-weight, to the credit of the tale, apart from the miracle. In the Breton and Welsh lives we hear of the school of St Iltut (Illtyd) at Llantwit Major, and, through the mist of words with which modern writers have enwrapped the “first of British Universities”, we discern something comparable to the monastic schools of Clonard and the Irish Bangor.

For Brittany at least Llantwit was a mother of teachers. From her went forth Paul Aurelian (St Pol-de-Leon), Samson, Leonorius; and they went qualified to Christianise the Bretons, if not to educate them. Of their studies at Llantwit no first-hand record survives; but a few ancient Welsh books, a famous Juvencus at Cambridge, and a Martianus Capella, probably written at St David’s and now among Archbishop Parker’s manuscripts at Corpus Christi, may safely be accepted (though not earlier than the ninth century) as representing the kind of culture attainable in such a school. And the beautiful story of St Cadoc’s intercession for the soul of Virgil, uncertain as is the date of it, gives a glimpse of the attitude of some Britons towards the great literature of Rome that at least harmonizes well with evidence of a better kind emanating from Ireland.

Theodore of Tarsus; Hadrian

Thus our knowledge of early British culture is scanty. It rests largely upon conjecture and inference. It is not so with the first beginnings of learning among the English. Whereas no English scholar or writer can be named before 668, the next half century produces two who would be remarkable in any age - Aldhelm and Bede. Nor is there any room for doubt that these men owe their learning to Theodore and Hadrian. For, even if there be a Celtic strain in Aldhelm’s education, as there surely is in his style, we must remember in the first place that the very fact of an Englishman’s taking to literary pursuits is a novelty; and in the second place that we have this Englishman’s own testimony (in his letter to Eahfrid) to the enormous influence of Theodore and Hadrian in the work of education : an influence not confined to England, for it was potent enough to attract the scholars of Ireland. In Bede no admixture of Celtic influence is traceable: he is simply the supreme product of the normal teaching of his day. What, then, did Theodore and Hadrian bring with them to this country? They brought the permanent equipment of learning in the shape of books. They also brought the knowledge and enthusiasm which secured that the books should be used to profit. In these two men the culture of East and West was concentrated. Theodore of Tarsus had studied in the schools of Athens, and very little of his life had been spent in Italy.

Hadrian was of African extraction and abbot of a monastery near Naples: he had absorbed all that Italy could furnish, and was possessed of Greek as well. Through him we are linked with the ancients. The Institutions of Cassiodorus are responsible for the existence of a man with such qualifications. Unproductive of written monuments as Italy was at this time, its monks had not, thanks to Cassiodorus, lost all touch with the education of an earlier day. It is to Hadrian that we must attribute the greatest share of achievement in the educational work which now began in England. Less could be done by Theodore, occupied as he was with administration and organisation, and often absent on journeys to distant parts of the island.

Benedict Biscop; Bede

With them an Englishman must be joined in our grateful remembrance the man who spent his life and substance in the labor of bringing to us the actual palpable treasures of art and learning Biscop, surnamed Benedict, Abbot of Wearmouth. It was he who accompanied Theodore and Hadrian to England; he was himself returning from his third journey to the tombs of the Apostles. On every subsequent expedition (and he made four more) he brought back in quantities books of every kind, pictures, and vestments, to say nothing of the masons and the musicians whom on several occasions he induced to come and work upon his buildings and to teach his monks. Is it not a fair inference from the facts that the influence of Theodore and Hadrian went for something here? Whether or not, Biscop’s work was just what was wanted to supplement theirs and to ensure its continuance after their removal.

We do not find these intellectual fathers of the English race figuring as writers. This is a slight matter. Their effectiveness as teachers and the importance of their literary equipment are attested by the works of the first generation of English scholars. Both Aldhelm and Bede are able to use books on grammar and prosody in large numbers: they know the standard poets, both heathen and Christian, and have access, it seems, even to contemporary Spanish writers. The great Latin fathers, and such other books as were valued for their bearing on the Scriptures, doubtless formed the bulk of the libraries which now began to be formed at Canterbury, York, Wearmouth, and perhaps Malmesbury. To put it shortly, within the space of a few years England was placed on a level with the Continent (and with Ireland) in respect of the apparatus of learning. There was this great difference between them, that on the Continent the tools were lying neglected, in England they were in active use.

It is not, perhaps, necessary to describe in any detail the literary monuments of the first age of our literature: the age of which Aldhelm marks the youth and Bede the prime. The subject is well-worn : little that is new can be offered in a general survey. The central fact is that at the beginning of the eighth century England was the home of the one great writer of the time, and was a source of light to the whole of the West. In Bede’s Ecclesiastical History we have a book of real literary excellence, as well as an invaluable historical source. In his other works, some of which have outlived their period of greatest usefulness, especially his commentaries, he provided sources of information which were at once welcomed as superior to anything then available, and which retained their popularity until the thirteenth century at least.

The lifetime of Bede tides over the first third of the eighth century. The last third sees the beginning of the Carolingian Renaissance. The middle third, compared with its neighbours, is a barren time so far as regards the production of writings of abiding value.

Indeed, when one has named Boniface, with the small group of English writers who were his contemporaries, and Virgilius of Salzburg, almost all is said. Boniface and his circle bear witness, in their letters and in their poems, to the sound learning imparted in the great English schools. What they wrote has some flavor of the elaboration characteristic of Aldhelm as distinguished from Bede. The acrostic and the riddle are in favor: Boniface even copies, in his verses to Duddus, the figured poem of Publilius Optatianus, in which certain letters picked out of the lines form a pattern or picture, and also compose distinct lines or sentences. It is more to the purpose however to draw attention to the frequent requests for books which Boniface prefers to his friends in England, the fruit of which we may perhaps see now in some of the small but precious group of manuscripts still preserved at Fulda. Among the treasures of the Würzburg library too are books with English connexions: in one is mention of a Worcester abbess. The presence of others may be due to the Irish missionary and martyr Kilian (f 689), among them the unique copy of the works of the heretic Priscillian, or, as Dom Morin now inclines to think, of his companion Instantius. It is thought, I may add, that the Graeco-Latin Codex Laudianus of the Acts has made the journey between Britain and the Continent twice. First brought to England by Theodore and Hadrian, and there used by Bede, it travelled to Germany with some members of the Bonifacian circle, and found a home there till the seventeenth century, when a second Archbishop of Canterbury, Laud, was instrumental in bringing it once again to this country along with many other spoils of German libraries.

It will eventually be possible, thanks to the work of the great palaeographers of our own time, to write a history of the transmission of ancient literature, and to trace its influence upon individual authors of the early Middle Ages by the help of our rapidly growing knowledge of the styles of writing peculiar to the great centres of learning, monastic and other, and by the indications, which single manuscripts are gradually being induced to yield, of their own parentage and wanderings. But the time for attempting this is not yet: many monographs have to be written and multitudinous details correlated ; and the reader of a survey such as this must be content to be told that the cloud which hangs over the literary life of the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries is in process of being thinned: it is beyond hope that it can be wholly dispersed.

Virgilius of Salzburg

One other name demands notice before we close our review of pre-Carolingian literature. Virgilius, Bishop of Salzburg, has made a considerable figure in many a text-book in the capacity of an enlightened cosmographer; or of an early martyr of science, persecuted and silenced by clerical obscurantists because of his belief in the Antipodes. We have not a line of his writing: our only life of him makes no allusion to his secular learning: all that we know of this side of him is confined to a couple of lines in a letter of Pope Zacharias to St Boniface, and to the epithets Geometer and Solivagus which were applied to him, the former by the Annals of the Four Masters when recording his death, the other by an authority as yet untraced. Pope Zacharias, answering a complaint of Boniface, says, “with regard to the perverse and wicked doctrine which he has spoken, against God and his own soul; if it be made clear that he admits it, that there is another world and other men, or sun and moon, beneath the earth (sub terra) you must hold a council, deprive him of priestly rank, and expel him from the Church”. 

This brief and rough characterisation has been made to bear the interpretation that Virgilius had published a philosophical treatise setting forth the view that there are Antipodes, possibly in dependence upon Martianus Capella’s teaching. Or, it is put more modestly that he had given expression to this view in his lectures. It will be seen that the words of Zacharias contain nothing to support (and nothing to bar) this explanation. Another has been advanced which has never become fashionable, but which, I think, deserves to be weighed. It is that Virgilius had in his mind not Antipodes, but dwellers below the surface of the earth. In the twelfth century, as William of Newburgh tells us, a green boy and girl appeared at Woolpit in Suffolk, who were members of an underground race. They called their world the land of St Martin (perhaps Merlin was the real name) and told how it was lighted not, it is true, by another sun and moon, and how it was a Christian land and had churches. Anyone who has read much of Scandinavian or Celtic fairy-lore will realise that the beliefs he finds there about the underground people are just such as could be described by Pope Zacharias’s phrase. Were it not for the epithet Geometer, which does seem to imply an interest in science, I should be strongly inclined to give the preference to this second explanation of Virgilius’s erroneous doctrine.