The Medulla

This edition of the Stonyhurst manuscript of the Medulla Grammatice is an attempt at revealing a current of thinking, indeed, a first step in the direction of understanding a sub-literary movement which took place within England from beginning to end of the fifteenth century. This edition represents the earliest Latin-English glossary in the tradition entitled the Medulla Grammatice or Marrow of Grammar (Philology) ante 1425 A.D. The Medulla Grammatice comprises nineteen known manuscripts and four fragments. For a detailed description of the manuscripts of the Medulla Grammatice the reader should see appendix II of V.P. McCarren’s critical edition of the Bristol MS. DM1 in Traditio, 48, 1993, pp. 220-24.

Entries are in Latin with glosses or interpretations in Middle English. Not infrequently transliterated Greek appears with Latin and/or Middle English as glosses. At times Hebrew and French make their appearance. The interchange of these languages in this work reflects the culmination of a linguistic tradition that dates from the early centuries A.D., i.e., Jerome, the Old and New Testaments, Isidore, and Festus, through the Latin, Greek, and Old English glossaries of the 7th, 8th, and 9th centuries and on into the 12th- and 13th-century wordlists and glossaries of Johannes de Janua and Hugutio of Pisa, as well as bears witness to the remarkable dialectal phenomena which mirror the changes in the Middle English language throughout the area at the time. In brief, the tradition represents a collection of words and phrases reflecting virtually every aspect of theoretical and practical life, since its substance is derived from supralineal and marginal inserts made in copies of every conceivable type of literary transmission.

The principal features in glossography of this period are the lack of context and abundant disorder. A.S. Way, the nineteenth-century editor of the Promptorium Parvulorum sive Clericorum, London, 1865, pp. xxi-xxii, one of the three major glossaries produced in England during the fifteenth century, remarked in his introduction: “The MSS. of the Medulla are more numerous than those of the Promptorium. They vary in their contents in a remarkable degree; it might indeed seem that each transcriber made such modifications of the text as pleased him, or that he engrafted upon it the additional word and explanatory glosses which he found inserted by any previous hand.” Michael Lapidge supports this perception when he says: “Of all texts, glossaries are the most prone to scribal interference: to selective copying, interpolation, omission, and so on.”   [“The School of Theodore and Hadrian,” Anglo-Saxon England, 15, 1986, p 54.]

The Stonyhurst manuscript has been chosen for editing due to its unique combination of virtues, i.e., being of the earliest of the manuscripts (a1425), within the tradition of the Medulla Grammatice, and being complete, having some 16,000 entries within seventy-one folios. In all, the tradition encompasses approximately one-third of a million entries. In comparison to the material which constitutes the nineteen manuscripts and four fragments of the Medulla Grammatice, not to mention the enormous glossographical reserves worldwide, this edition of the Stonyhurst manuscript is little more than a scribal twitch. The Stonyhurst manuscript exemplifies the many challenges facing the editor of medieval glossaries, and it is hoped that this edition might provide a sense of the scope and significance of the glossographical tradition.

The project with all of its ancillaries has been under way since 1983 when David Jost and I thought that it would do well for me to pursue this edition. Publishing began in 2007 by the international journal A.L.M.A. (Archivum Latinitatis Medii Aevi); and in 2018 its copyright was transferred to the University of Michigan Press and General Library’s internet system, “Deep Blue” (all accomplished most agreeably).

It being a Latin-Middle English glossary, an advanced knowledge of these languages must be had for any type of success in editing within this tradition. Even so, one’s abilities will be challenged at almost every step (and Compostella is very far away). The need for a more than manageable grasp of Ancient Greek cannot be overestimated, because the scribe, it will be proven over and over again, does not have a grasp at all, and will continuously confuse the situation.

A list of items (entries and glosses) will reveal the unintentional perversity. Aside from mistaken transliterations there are examples of grammatical misuse and flagrant dyslexia. A puzzling practice is that of the scribe’s choice of a Greek genitive used instead of the nominative form as the “head” or “entry” word. For this see letter “A,” line 603: Allotropheta and note 104; also, “A,” line 379: Aden and note 73; also, cf. “A,” line 1364: Arna and note 286. Beyond this, you will find yourself transcending the grammatical and approaching the dyslexic, examples of which do not cease. Confer “A,” line 612: Alluces and note 106; “A,” line 752: Amechon and note 137; “B,” lines 1984-85: B[r]epho and B[r]ephotrophium and notes 148 and 149. See also “O,” line 10718 (subject to change upon printing): Osir, for double-reverse dyslexia. Also “S,” line 14080 (variable before printing): Sternaton, which is gibberish until the proper Greek word falls into place: στϵάτωνα. These are just a few of the bumps along the road. With as many of the best lexica you can manage, along with some supportive period manuscripts, problems like these will be grasped and solutions will be realized, more or less. When that moment comes you will know that you are truly part of the scholarly community. It is hoped, indeed, that this description of the work will help to draw more scholars into this demanding but rewarding enterprise.

Moving forward with modern technology and publishing practices, we have chosen to publish our edition of the Stonyhurst Medulla Grammatice digitally. This is in keeping with previous transcribers who moved from handwritten manuscripts to printed books as the technology of the printing press became standard. The Library of the University of Michigan has published our edition in the Deep Blue digital library ( of academic and research work. The library is committed to providing long-term access to deposited content through professional data management and digital preservation. Our edition of the Stonyhurst manuscript currently includes the letters A through K and can be accessed without charge at http:/ The remaining letters will be added to the Deep Blue repository as they are completed.

V.P. McCarren, University of Michigan (ret.)

M.A. Ritter, University of Michigan

Toward a Comparative Lexicon of The Old English Boethius and Chaucer’s Boece

The Dictionary of Old English and Corpus (DoE/C) and The Middle English Dictionary and Compendium (MED) enable detailed, lexicological analysis of Boethius’ vital Consolatio, translated three times in Medieval England. Rich in citations, these two resources, together with Irvine and Godden’s The Old English Boethius and Oizumi’s Lexicon of the Boece, comprise tools for appreciating verbal continuity and change. As categories, however, verbal continuity and change involve several subdivisions applicable both to the Alfredian and Chaucerian Boethius and to the lexicons of Old and Middle English.

Although Boethius’ Old English translators and Chaucer hardly manifest consistent fidelity to the Consolatio’s Latin , the lexicons at their disposal provide guidance to patterns of continuity and change. As a whole, subdivisions of continuity concern varieties of forms, not all etymologically related, appearing at least once in like passages of the two translations. These varieties include function words and classes of content words, most of them subject to patterns of phonological and morphological change in the medieval centuries. As an illustration, the Alfredian C TEXT, METRE 14 and Chaucer’s Book III, Metrum 3, based on a passage in the Consolatio, offer a basis for comparison and contrast. I give the Old English first, then a translation, then the Middle English and a translation.

 Hwæt biꝺ Þæm welegan woruldgitsere                             
on his mode ꝺe bet, ϸeah he micel age
goldes 7 gimma 7 gooda gehwæs,
æhte unrim, 7 him mon erigen scyle
æghwylce dæg æcera ꝺusend,                          
ꝺeah Þes middengeard 7ϸis manna cyn
sy under sunnan suꝺ west 7 east
his anwalde eall underꝺieded                                          
ne mot he Þara hyrsta hionane lædan
of ꝺisse worulde wuhte ϸon mare
hordgestreona ꝺonne he hiꝺer brohte.

How is it any the better for the worldly miser
even though he may have a lot
of gold and gems and every good thing,
countless possessions, and every day
a thousand acres plowed for him,                            
though this world and the human kindred
under the sun, south, west, and east all
be subjected to his power?                                             
He cannot take hence any of his possessions,
anything more from this world than
he brought here.

Al were it so that a riche coveytous man
hadde a river or a goter fletynge al of gold, yit
sholde it nevere staunchen his covetise; and
thoughe he hadde his nekke charged with precious
stones of the Rede See, and thoughe he
do ere his feeldes plentevous with an hundred
oxen, nevere ne schal his bytynge bysynesse
forleeten hym whil he lyveth, ne the lyghte
richesses ne schal nat beren hum companye whan he is deed.

Although it were such that a rich, covetous man
had a river or a stream flowing full of gold, yet
it could never staunch his covetousness; and
though he had his neck weighted with precious
stones from the Red Sea, and though he
have his many fields plowed with a hundred
oxen, never shall his concern with burial
escape him while he lives nor shall transitory
riches bear him company him when he is dead.

Comparing the lexicons of the Old and Middle English versions requires the caveat that their composition differed radically in procedure, enough to limit severely commentary on continuity and change. Even so, correspondences found are sufficient to outline an initial approach to their lexical relations. The wording of the two meters prompt flexible patterns that count as continuity and change.

For example, although the Alfredian interrogative preceding a negative response differs structurally from Chaucer’s opening concessive clause and negative sequel, functional words in both meters suggest roughly similar continuities. Since the subordinator al (variant of ME although), like etymologically related ϸeah and though, introduces concessive clauses, the three form an inclusive, lexical continuity. (Al as a conjunction occurs in the thirteenth century.) Modal auxiliaries comprise a subset of verbs, yet those in the two meters differ in form if not altogether in function. The Old English erigen and Middle English ere ‘plow’ respectively take scyle and do as auxiliaries, functionally alike though different in form. If the functional likeness of these auxiliaries favors viewing them as a continuity, a gathering of further examples from the Old and Middle English corpora may lead to clarity. Despite these similarities in function, the modal auxiliaries in Alfred’s meter-–age, mot, scyle-–differ in variety from Chaucer’s schal and sholde. Is this difference accidental or due to a change in practice?  To step past speculation depends on statistical sampling in the Old and Middle English Boethian corpora. 

Oddly, continuity among content words in these two versions is almost accidental. Together with the already noted erigen–ere pairing, there are only goldes–gold and mon–man. Yet the change in vocabulary also admits of subcategorization. Obsolescence is evident from underꝺieded (not found in Middle English), gitsere to yitsere (13th c.), middangeard to myddenerd (1300), welegan to weli (1400), among others. Some of these words find replacement in Chaucer’s version; some do not: covetous man for gitsere; riche for welegan; myddenerd not at all. The Alfredian directional words–suꝺ, west, est–occur throughout Middle English, but not in Chaucer’s meter.  Looking backward, numerous words that Chaucer supplies have no counterparts in the Alfredian meter. Some, like Rede See, oxen, and feldes occur elsewhere in Old English. Like the category continuity, the category change, on the basis of two meters, admits of subdivisions, an initial finding open to much further sampling.

This brief study of lexicological contrast in the two translations already reveals some challenges to method and scope. Already, the proposed analysis, based on a classificatory scheme under the rubrics of continuity and change, encounters issues that may find clarity from broader sampling of the two translations. Further, such sampling will very likely reveal challenges not yet addressed. Even so, the availability of the online dictionaries, the recent edition of the Alfredian Boethius, and the full lexicon of Chaucer’s Boece support a fuller, extensive analysis. Such an analysis promises to yield results welcome to lexicography, semiotics, sociolinguistics, and to further understanding of Boethius’ influence on the Anglo-Saxon and post-Conquest cultures.

Eugene Green