Pseudo-Holcot: “His Shoulders were Broad Enough to Carry Any Amount of ‘Spuria'”

The manuscripts containing Robert Holcot’s Moralitates often contain several other works that are attributed to him. In her studies of Holcot’s Moralitates and John Ridevall’s (the Franciscan mythographer) Fulgentius metaforalis, Beryl Smalley quips that “Holcot’s shoulders were broad enough to carry any amount of spuria.” [Beryl Smalley, Studies in Medieval Thought and Learning From Abelard to Wyclif (London, 1981), 376.] The present blog post is about the Pseudo-Holcot and the numerous texts that, in various manuscripts, were attributed to Holcot.

The first manuscript is Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, lat., ms. 590 (available online). This work contains three texts that are attributed to Holcot. They include:

  •  Moralitates (ff. 73r-99v),
  •  Imagines Fulgentii moralisatae (ff. 99v-115r), and
  •  Aenigmata Aristotelis moralisata (ff. 115r-119r).

The explicit of each text (ff. 99v, 115r, and 119r) states that the works are by “Robert Holcoth,” or “per euisdem.” A similar situation is found in Universitätsbibliothek Salzburg, ms. M II 186. This manuscript attributes the following works to Holcot:

  • Moralitates (ff. 177va-228rb),
  • Maria quatuor virtutes habuit (ff. 177va-198rb),
  • Imagines Fulgentii (ff. 198rb-210rb), and
  • Aenigmata Aristotelis (ff. 210va-213rb).

Finally, a third manuscript (also available online) Germany, Universitätsbibliothek, Cod. Sal., ms. VII, 104 attributes numerous texts to Holcot, including:

  • Moralitates (ff. 1r-30v),
  • Imagines Fulgentii moralisatae sive Fulgentius Metaforalis (ff. 30v-48r) (by, John Ridevall),
  • Imagines Fulgentii, sive De imaginibus virtutum (ff. 48r-65r),
  • Aenigmata Aristotelis moralisata (ff. 65r-70r), and
  • Declamationes Senecae moralisatae (ff. 70r-93v) (by, Nicholas of Trevet).

This particular manuscript is interesting because these texts are collected as a group and given a table of terms [Tabula in libros praecedentes (ff. 93v-99v)] that identifies specific sections of these texts (numerically) with various themes.  This table makes the group of texts searchable by a reader, but also seems to imply that the group of texts has a particular unity. This is also assumed in the explicit, which, instead of following the individual works is included at the end, prior to the table (93v). ‘Holcoth’ is mentioned twice, marked off in red. See:

UB Sal. ms. VII 104, f. 93v

Of all of these texts, Holcot was probably the author of the Moralitates but none of the others. There is little to conclude at this point, other than that Smalley is correct in her judgement that Holcot was influential enough to “carry any amount of spuria.” The broader conclusion one can make is that scholars should be incredibly cautious in ascribing authorship to Holcot based on manuscript attribution alone.

For further information the reader is directed to Hans Liebeschütz’s critical edition of John Ridevall’s Fulgentius Metaforalis (Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der antiken Mythologie im Mittelalter) (Leipzig, 1926). Beyond the critical edition the work also contains a useful introduction that discusses spurious works, such as a collection whose incipit reads Refert Fulgentius and is found in many such collections (pp. 47-53).


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