Category Archives: Holcot’s Commentary on Ecclesiasticus

Robert Holcot’s commentary on Ecclesiasticus: Basel, Universitätsbibliothek B.V.11

Robert Holcot’s commentary on the book of Ecclesiasticus is one of his least studied works. The purpose of the present post is to briefly summarize what we know about the commentary and to offer a brief comparison of the early printed edition (Venice 1509) with Basel, Universitätsbibliothek B.V.11. This is the heart of the present post and the gist of it is presented in table form (Here): comparing the content of Venice 1509 with Basel B.V.11. This provides an initial point of comparison between the edition and the manuscript tradition, however more work has to done on the manuscript tradition.

We begin, as usual, with a brief summary of Smalley’s introduction to the commentary. Holcot’s commentary on Ecclesiasticus is preserved in 19 manuscripts and one early modern printing (see here). Smalley correctly notes that the work is divided into lectiones (lectures) similarly to the commentary on Wisdom (in Venice 1509 there are 88 lectures) (Smalley 1956, 16). While she observes that there are no “anecdotes or allusions” that provide a date for the commentary, Holcot’s use of Nicholas of Lyra places it after the commentaries on Wisdom and the Twelve Prophets (Smalley 1956, 23). Further, the printed edition and several of the manuscripts (e.g., Braunschweig 26 and Royal 3.A.xiv) state in the colophon that Holcot died before he could complete the work. As Smalley notes, if accurate this would place the commentary at the end of Holcot’s life during the last six years in which he lived at Northampton and lectured at the friary school (Smalley 1956, 23). Unfortunately, Smalley did not examine the content of the commentary on Ecclesiasticus in detail. Her attention remained focused on Holcot’s picture method—as developed in the Twelve Prophets, Wisdom and the Moralitates—and his use of sources. Further, I am not aware of a substantive examination of Holcot’s commentary on Ecclesiasticus. This is unfortunate, for as Smalley notes such a study would provide some information about the nature of Dominican education within the Northampton friary in the fourteenth century (and by comparison with the Wisdom commentary, could provide a useful tool to examine the differences between biblical lectures at the friaries and the Universities). The list of 19 manuscripts provides a somewhat distorted picture, as some of these manuscripts contain only small sections of the work. For example, the Basel Universitätsbibliothek preserves three manuscripts that contain sections of the commentary:

1. Basel, Universitätsbibliothek A.II.26, ff. 104r–105v, 107r–119v.
2. Basel, Universitätsbibliothek A.X.40, ff. 78r–80v.
3. Basel, Universitätsbibliothek B.V.11, ff. 1r–102v.

Of these three, only B.V.11 preserves a complete version of the work. I have had a chance to examine the manuscript and to compare B.V.11 to the Venice edition printed in 1509. The Basel manuscript contains 12 quires: [quire 1 (-8v), quire 2 (-16v), quire 3 (-24v), quire 4 (-32v), quire 5 (-40v), quire 6 (-50v), quire 7 (-58v), quire 8 (-66v), quire 9 (-74v), quire 10 (-82v), quire 11 (-90v), and quire 12 (-98v)]. The incipit and explicit are as follows:

Incipit Postilla super librum Ecclesiasticum edita a fratre Roberto Holcoth sacre pagine doctore, ordo praedicatorum (1ra). Omnis sapientia a domino Deo est [Eccl. 1:1]. Magister et dominus Gundisalinus libro suo De ortu scientiarum sic ait.

Explicit lectura, etc (98rb).

Explicit expliceat ludere scriptor eat | vinum scriptori debetur de meliori (98rb).

For those more interested in beautiful pictures, here is the capital on 1r.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 10.38.08 AM