Home Page

On Line Library of the Church of Greece

Walter Berschin  

Early Byzantine Italy and the  Maritime Lands of the West

 From: Greek Letters and the Latin Middle Ages. From Jerome to Nicholas of Cusa . Translated by Jerold C. Frakes. Revised and expanded edition. The Catholic University of America Press, http://cuapress.cua.edu/  


Go to next page Go to previous page Go to Text Index

4. England

The most important of the emissaries whom the papacy dispatched to Εngland with Augustine and his companions came from the Greek monasteries in Rome; in 668 Pope Vitalian (657-72) sent the North African Hadrian and the Cilician Theodore to the island missionized by Gregory the Great. Bede reports in his Historia ecclesiasticα gentis Anglorum (731) that Hadrian and Archbishop Theodore taught Greek in Canterbury; their accomplishment was still seen in the fact that "even today there are still students of theirs who know Latin and Greek as well as their native language."36 All too often this sentence has simply been accepted, without checking whether the historian's statement was based more οn hearsay and the veneration of Hadrian and Theodore than οn personal experience. At another place in his Ecclesiastical History, Bede mentions two of Hadrian's and Theodore's alleged trilingual students by name: Tobias (V 8 and 23) and Albinus (V 20); we know nothing further of their knowledge of Greek.37

Τwο splendid manuscripts from the scriptorium of Wearmouth and Jarrow, Bede's monastery, nevertheless attest to the fact that Greek was held in high regard there: the "Codex Amiatinus" contains a much-discussed scribal inscription in Greek,38 and ornaments the double-page illustration of Solomon's temple in Jerusalem (fol. 2v/ΙΙΙr) with the Greek names of the four cardinal points of the compass: ANATOL(Ε) DYSIS ARCTOS MESEMBRIA.39 Ιn the fragmentary evangelary, now bound with the "Utrecht Psalter" and paleographically similar to the "Codex Amiatinus," the following inscription appears in the margin (which has been marked οut with compasses) of one of the title pages:40


[Blessed Μary, be of aid to the scribe]

Their most important student was Aldhelm of Malmesbury, "Englands ältester Klassiker" ("England's earliest classical scholar," Manitius), who occasionally flourishes Greek terms, which, however, by no means proves that his Greek was "comme sa langue maternelle" ("like his native language").41 One of Aldhelm's Grecisms which is especially appropriate and had important consequences was his use of sigla to mark questions and answers in De metris et enigmatibus: "so that no confusion may arise through the negligence of the scribe, as usually happens, Ι have placed the Greek letter ЭC before the teacher's words, a Δ before the student's, so that by means of the foreign letters, which differ from Roman script, all possibility of error is removed."42 As Aldhelm himself notes, he took this device from Iunilius' Instituta regularia divinae legis (saec. VI med.), although with one modification, which clearly shows, that he was not acquainted with the system as conceived in Greek: while Iunilius designated the "teacher" (διδάσκαλος) with Δ and the "student" (μαθητής) with Μ, Aldhelm has Δ for "student" (discipulus) and ЭЄ (= Μ) for "teacher" (magister). Yet since, according to the tradition, Δ questioned and Μ answered, it happened that, due to the reversal of the sigla, the student always questions the teacher in Aldhelm's treatise, and not the other way around. Bede, Alcuin, Hrabanus Maurus, and many others followed Aldhelm's practice, "und der Wahnsinn hat mit der Zeit Methode bekommen" ("and in time this madness acquired method").43 Aldhelm took over the siglum M in the form ЭЄ. Along with the Schaffhausen Adamnan codex, Aldhelm's De metris contains the earliest manuscript witness of this "Μ siglum," which can be traced through the steps of the tradition Aldhelm-Iunilius-Ρaul of Nisibis (Theodore of Mopsuestia?) back to its supposed origin in one of the Syrian schools of late antiquity."

Τwo new traces of Greek in the instruction at the school of Canterbury have been uncovered by recent research in Medieval Latin: Walther Bulst has shown that a translation of the Sibyl's song, improved over Augustine's version (De civitate dei XVIII 23) and containing the acrostic


originated in England "around 700"; Aldhelm (d.709) was the first, and for a long time the only, person to use the translation; it belongs to the circle of the Canterbury school: Bulst, "Eine anglolateinische Übersetzung aus dem Griechischen um 700," Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum  75 (1938), 105-11. Bischoff (Mittelalterliche Studien, I,155) proposes Constantine's "Oration to the Congregation of the Saints" (Eusebius) as the Greek source of this translation. 

Bernhard Bischoff has found direct evidence in biblical glosses that the two Roman ambassadors taught in England; the glosses follow the Antiochene method of literal exegesis and objective commentary; the great Alexandrine allegorist, Origen, is not to be found in them. "What a piece of biblical cultural information is contained in the commentary on John 10:3, Et vocem meam audient, 'Mos est orientalium pastorum praecedere et cantare gregibus suis.'"The hyrax (choerogryllus) in Lev. 11:5 is described: it resembles a pig, but is smaller; it inhabits the craggy crevices of the Sinai. The pepones, mentioned in Num. 11:5, a species of large melon, attains such a size in Edessa that a camel can barely carry two of them"; Mittelalterliche Studien, Ι, 208.

The Venerable Bede (d.735) is the first "medieval scholar" in the sense that he immersed himself in Latin as a thoroughly foreign language without direct contact with the Mediterranean world -the environment of the greatest teacher of the eighth century extended geographically scarcely more than a few dozen miles around Jarrow into Northumbria. The beginnings of the artificial Latin of the Middle Ages and the modern period are found here; for while lexical, morphological, and syntactic changes were taking place in literary Latin οn the Continent at this time due to its contact with the developing Romance languages, on their island the Angles and Saxons learned the language from books, among them splendid codices of late antiquity, which they were able to acquire οn their many pilgrimages and embassies to Rome. They learned the literary language of late antiquity, which then through Anglo-Saxon missionary work and the "Carolingian Renaissance" in essence also became the scholarly language of the Middle Ages.  

This turning point in the study of the Latin language, which is οnly sketched in broad outline here, was also a turning point in Greek studies. Bede was probably also the first to have approached the Greek language in what became the typical medieval manner45 -through the study of bilinguals. Ιn addition to an increase in the number of Graeca used, the study of a Greco-Latin manuscript of the Bible also introduced a deeper literal understanding of the Ηοly Scriptures. It was Bede's concern with this latter aspect that brought him, in his later years, and now dissatisfied with his Expositio αctuum αpostolorum, to write a second commentary οn the Acts, Retractatio in actus αpostolorum.46 Ιn this work, Bede used a Greco-Latin manuscript of the Acts;47 one of the main purposes of the new commentary was to compare the Greek and the Latin texts of the Bible. It seems that Bede had no other bilingual books of the Bible at his disposal. Even so, he presented in his Retractatio an example of the value of a Greco-Latin textual comparison -insofar as it was still needed after the interpretations of the text by Jerome and Augustine. Additionally, in his explanation of the Greek system of numerals in De temporum ratione, Bede also performed a small service for Greek studies in the Middle Ages.48