Carrie Griffin, Ed.: The Middle English Wise Book of Philosophy and Astronomy: A Parallel-Text Edition

By O'Mara, Veronica | The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History, Annual 2014 | Go to article overview

Carrie Griffin, Ed.: The Middle English Wise Book of Philosophy and Astronomy: A Parallel-Text Edition


O'Mara, Veronica, The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History


CARRIE GRIFFIN, ED.

The Middle English Wise Book of Philosophy and Astronomy: A Parallel-Text Edition.

Middle English Texts, 47. Heidelberg: Winter, 2013.

1xxv + 74 pp.

According to the introduction, "The Wise Book of Philosophy and Astronomy has the distinction of being one of the most widely circulated pieces of instructional prose in English surviving from the late medieval period and, paradoxically, the most consistently over-looked tract of its kind in terms of textual scholarship relating to Middle English" (xv). Thus begins Carrie Griffin's edition of a text that few of us, except for specialists in medieval sciences, have even heard of--let alone read. This liminal text, a hard-to-define combination of the instructional, philosophical, and scientific, is extant in two recensions, A and B, along with a fragment that combines part of both. It is found in thirty-four manuscripts that range from the early fifteenth to the late sixteenth century, although many are incomplete, abridged, or damaged.

The first part of the introduction is devoted to manuscript descriptions. Of the thirty-four manuscripts, fourteen are in London (in three different libraries), nine in Oxford, six in Cambridge (in four libraries), and one each in New Haven, New York, San Marino, Tokyo, and Woking. Only those of us accustomed to laboring and fretting over descriptions can appreciate the amount of time and effort--not to mention the logistical travel difficulties and great financial outlay--that will have gone into making these twenty-one pages. Although scholars always want more from manuscript descriptions (for instance, in some cases I would have liked a little more about other contents), Griffin is to be much congratulated on the degree of useful information fitted into a small compass. The detail shows that she has not taken shortcuts by relying on existing online descriptions or getting hard-working librarians to answer her questions but has made the effort to study all the manuscripts thoroughly.

The rest of the introduction works through the usual aspects: broadly, scholarship past and present, structure and content (including an excursus on The Book of Destinary, a text only found with the Wise Book but distinct from it), analogues, audience, and editing policy. The book is completed by a commentary, glossary, and bibliography. Taking full cognizance of previous scholarship, Griffin sets out a clear idea of the options for a base text, noting that even with such a surfeit of manuscripts, the choice is limited as only seven "contain the fullest version of the 'text' as it survives" (1xvii). …

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