ROBERT HOLCOT’S WISDOM COMMENTARY: BALLIOL 27 AND THE BOOK OF THE MASTER

The present post does not put forth a new argument about Balliol 27, but makes evident some of the work done by Beryl Smalley about six decades ago (given the recent scans of Balliol 27 now available). That said, it confirms and supports her argument with further evidence.

Beryl Smalley prioritized two manuscripts of Holcot’s commentary on Wisdom: (1) Oxford, Balliol College 27; and (2) Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud Misc. 562. Regarding the former, Smalley writes that in the margins of Balliol 27 there are references to the liber magistri (the book of the master) written in a hand that is contemporary with the text itself. This indicates, it seems, that Balliol 27 was copied or corrected from a manuscript belonging to Holcot (the master). Further, Smalley is correct to observe that the hand (both of the text and of the corrections noted above) belongs to the period before 1350 and “might be rather earlier.” Smalley concludes that Balliol 27 is “quite close to an autograph” (Smalley 1956, 11).

Regarding Bodl. 562 Smalley states that this manuscript originates from Paris during Holcot’s lifetime. The text is found on folios 1ra–188vb and contains two tables: (1) an alphabetical table of subject matter (189ra–193vb); and (2) a second table of quaestiones (193vb–194rb). Finally, regarding Bodl. 562, Smalley notes that the text is good but already begins to introduce errors and is already “on the downward path” because, in Smalley’s judgment, Holcot’s classicism was probably “baffling to his copyists” (Smalley 1956, 11–12).

Here we are concerned with the former manuscript (Balliol 27), which has been recently scanned and made public through the work of Anna Sander. As a result, a few of Smalley’s observations can be easily confirmed (see Smalley 1956, 12). First, Smalley notes that Balliol 27 is incomplete and that a quire is missing between folios 125 and 126 (of the modern foliation). This means that part of lectiones 79 and 82, and all of 80 and 81 are missing. Despite this fact, Balliol 27 is perhaps one of the most accurate and reliable manuscripts of the commentary on Wisdom. The most compelling evidence of this fact are the various marginal notations that mention the book of the master (liber magistri). I will refer to the marginal corrections (written in a different hand) as those of the “editor.” Here are a few images from Balliol 27:

Fol. 178v

MS027-f178va 

Here there is clearly a break or space in the manuscript. Next to the text the editor writes in the margin: Hic erat unum spatium magnum vacuum in libro magistri (Smalley omits vacuum in her transcription).

 Fol. 189v

MS027-f189vb

At the bottom of folio 189v there is large textual addition and it is clear, as Smalley observes, that the editor did not know where to insert the text. The marginal notation attending the addition states: Non erat signum in libro magistri ubi debet intrare, sed erat scriptum in superiori margine supra principium istius lectionis. 

Fol. 236r

MS027-f236r

On folio 236r the editor notes that Holcot’s discussion (the text reads, Digna facta est ista habitatio per tria) breaks off short. The editor writes in the margin: Non erant ista tria in libro magistri.

Fol. 290r

MS027-f290r 

The final correction listed by Smalley is found on folio 290r. In the text, Holcot writes that there are six benefits that humanity receives from God. However, when it comes time to expound on the six benefits, the editor notes that Holcot’s text (the liber magistri) omits the fourth benefit. The marginal notation of the editor reads: quartum non fuit in libro magistri.

Fol. 119r

MS027-f119r

In her study of Balliol 27 Smalley omitted a marginal notation from the editor found on folio 119r. This marginal notation reads: Hoc erat scriptum cum plumbo in libro magistri in margine in inferiori in fine istius lectionis. Et idem inseras in divisione sequentis, si vis [NB: the in prior to inferiori is a mistake by dittography]. I think given the other passages in Balliol 27 that use the phrase in libero magistri that it is justified reading the li as libero [though one would prefer to see liº]. It could also be hoc, it seems, meaning libero.

 It is difficult to disagree with Smalley’s conclusion that Balliol 27 should take priority in studies of the Wisdom commentary and that it is close to the autograph. Further, Smalley is certainly correct in her judgement that as one gets further removed from the original autograph, numerous errors and scribal mis-readings become evident in the text.  As Smalley noted, though, the edition published in Basel 1586 (Super Sapientiam Salomonis. In librum Sapientiae regis Salomonis praelectiones. Basel, 1586.) was (thankfully!) produced from a good manuscript. However, one must proceed with caution.  Having read Basel 1586 against Balliol 27 (and Troyes 907) for the first chapter of Wisdom (approximately the first 25 folios) one notes that there are several significant omissions by homoteleuton in Basel 1586. Thus, Basel 1586 should be read in conjunction with Balliol 27.

Thanks here to R. Jim Long and Siegfried Wenzel for comments, suggestions, and corrections to a few of the transcriptions.

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