Medieval Theory of Authorship: Scholastic Literary Attitudes in the Later Middle Ages

Medieval Theory of Authorship: Scholastic Literary Attitudes in the Later Middle Ages

Medieval Theory of Authorship: Scholastic Literary Attitudes in the Later Middle Ages

Medieval Theory of Authorship: Scholastic Literary Attitudes in the Later Middle Ages

Synopsis

It has often been held that scholasticism destroyed the literary theory that was emerging during the twelfth-century Renaissance, and hence discussion of late medieval literary works has tended to derive its critical vocabulary from modern, not medieval, theory. In Medieval Theory of Authorship, now reissued with a new preface by the author, Alastair Minnis asks, "Is it not better to search again for a conceptual equipment which is at once historically valid and theoretically illuminating?"

Minnis has found such writings in the glosses and commentaries on the authoritative Latin writers studied in schools and universities between 1100 and 1400. The prologues to these commentaries provide valuable insight into the medieval theory of authorship. Of special significance is scriptural exegesis, for medieval scholars found the Bible the most difficult text to describe appropriately and accurately.

Excerpt

The second edition of this book incorporates some minor alterations, corrections and additions of material. Moreover, I have updated the notes and the bibliography to take account of several important books which were not in print when the first edition went to press, most notably Judson B. Allen’s The Ethical Poetic of the Later Middle Ages (Toronto, 1982) and Glending Olson’s Literature as Recreation in the Later Middle Ages (Ithaca and London, 1982). Writing in 1980 (the year in which the first edition was actually completed) I complained that ‘The study of late medieval literary theory is still in its infancy’ (see p. 3 below). There has been considerable growth since then, thanks in large measure to the two books just mentioned, but the subject has still a long way to go before it reaches full maturity.

My main objective in writing was to demonstrate the considerable importance of scholasticism for the development of literary theory, a phenomenon which earlier writers had either ignored (leaping from twelfth-century ‘humanistic’ literary theory to that produced in the early Renaissance) or belittled and misunderstood. In particular, scholastic Scriptural exegesis was a central force in the re-shaping of literary values in the later Middle Ages. The central event, from my point of view, was the emergence (in Bible commentaries) of the view that the human author possessed a high status and respected didactic/ stylistic strategies of his very own—in short, auctoritas moved from the divine realm to the human.

The ramifications of this event were many and varied, and so I limited myself, for the most part, to two areas of inquiry. The first was, the main implications thereof for Scriptural exegesis from the time of the Summa . . .

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