The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993

By Graham Caie; Roderick J. Lyall et al. | Go to book overview

R. L. KINDRICK


15. Turning Law into Literature: The Influence of
the Ars Notaria on Fifteenth-Century Scottish
Literature

The medieval arts of rhetoric exerted a profound influence on both the day-today discourse and the poetry of the period. Medieval rhetoric largely has its basis in the work of Cicero and built selectively on the classical tradition. De inventione, a youthful work which does not reflect the wisdom of his later writings, was a basic source as medieval rhetoric developed its own three approaches. Even, however, with Ciceronian dominance, other influences are clearly evident. From the schoolroom tradition, Donatus’ ars grammaticus and Priscian’s Institutio grammatica both had an influence on the later development of the arts of poetry. Even though Aristotelian influence was uneven, Aristotle had an impact, especially in the 12th—15th centuries.1

Yet medieval rhetoric was not slavish in its imitation of classical models. In point of fact, three major distinguishable traditions existed, each with its own advocates and major texts. The first of these traditions was the ars praedicandi. The art of preaching developed its own goals and rhetorical techniques, first pragmatically through the works of Christian preachers attempting to save souls and later, more theoretically, in the monasteries and universities of Europe. Because this school of rhetoric attempted to reach a diverse audience, its techniques involved the reinforcement of multiple levels of meaning to enhance widespread understanding of doctrine.2 The ars poetriae was devoted in greater part to aesthetics than to the widespread audience appeal of the ars praedicandi. Based in large measure on the ars grammatica, it had its origins in the schoolroom and focused on prosody, invention, and organisation.3 Finally, the third major area of medieval rhetoric was the ars dictaminis, which probably reveals more closely than the other two its Ciceronian roots. The ars dictaminis is sometimes misleadingly translated as ‘the art of letter writing’. In point of fact, while letters were a substantial portion of its focus, the art itself extended much further, and ultimately spawned the ars notaria.

1 For an overview of classical influences on medieval rhetoric, see James J. Murphy, Rhetoric in the Middle Ages (Berkeley, 1974), pp. 3–42; Harry Caplan, ‘Classical Rhetoric and the Medieval Theory of Preaching,’ Classical Philology, 28 (1933), 73–96; and John O. Ward, ‘From Antiquity to the Renaissance: Glosses and Commentaries on Cicero’s Rheotorica,’4 in Medieval Eloquence, ed. James J. Murphy (Berkeley, 1978), pp. 25–67.

2 A good summary of rhetorical techniques is provided by Caplan, ‘The Four Senses of Scriptural Interpretation and the Medieval Theory of Preaching,’ Speculum, 4 (1929), 282–90, and Murphy, pp. 269–355.

3 See Douglas Kelly, The Arts of Poetry and Prose (Turnhout, 1991), passim.

4 On the ars dictaminis, see Martin Camargo, Ars Dictaminis, Ars Dictandi (Turnhout, 1991), passim. The ars notaria is also completely explored in Murphy, pp. 263–6.

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