ABBO OF FLEURY (ca 940-1004)

Abbo of Fleury is a figure of considerable importance for MS 17, for the English Benedictine revival, and for the intellectual history of Europe at the turn of the millennium. His achievement has recently attracted a fresh wave of scholarly attention, notably in Mostert 1983, 1986 and 1987, Riché 2004, Oriens-Occidens 2004 and Lumières de l'an mil 2004. Recent biographical overviews include Richard Pfaff in ODNB, and K.F. Werner in Lexikon des Mittelalters 1.15. Older literature includes the essentially hagiographic biographies by Pardiac 1872 and Cousin 1954, as well as the summary biographies by U. Berlière in Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques 1:49,51; Manitius 1911-1931, 2:664-672; and Lutz 1977, c. 4. Abbo's reputation as a teacher and scholar has tended to suffer by comparison to his brilliant contemporary Gerbert of Aurillac (e.g. Lindgren 1976, 49-55; Werner 1961, 113-116, esp. 115 n. 68; Mostert 1987, 32; for a fresh view of the relationship between the two men, see Riché 1989). However, recent critical editions of his works, as well as studies of his life and thought, are restoring to Abbo something of the stature and importance he enjoyed in his own day.

Abbo, the abbot of Fleury from 988 until his death in 1004, was admired by his contemporaries largely as an outstanding teacher and scholar. Born around A.D. 940 in the vicinity of Orléans, and presented by his parents to Fleury as an oblate, he excelled at his studies, and while yet a young man was appointed armarius at the abbey, fulfilling the duties of archivist, librarian, chief scribe, and schoolmaster. But his biographer Aimon indicates that Abbo was bored and intellectually restless. He therefore set himself an unusual personal goal: to become expert in all the seven liberal arts, the idealized propaedeutic curriculum of ancient philosophy. Grammar and dialectic he had absorbed at Fleury, but not satisfied with what he could acquire there, Abbo repaired to Paris and Reims, where he learned astronomy, "though not as much of it as he wished (Aimon 390C)." For a large sum of money he persuaded a clerk of Orléans to teach him music theory; rhetoric and geometry he was obliged to learn on his own, using the resources of Fleury's impressive library. By 986 he was one of the most famous savants in Europe, and in that year he accepted the invitation of archbishop Oswald of York, himself an alumnus of Fleury, to teach at Oswald's foundation, Ramsey Abbey. Abbo stayed there for about two years. Shortly after his return to Fleury he was elected abbot (988), and the remainder of his life was largely taken up with ecclesiastical and political controversy. At the time of his death in 1004, he was renowned as a man of encyclopaedic learning who composed poetry -- especially acrostic poetry -- and saints' lives, and who wrote on canon law, dialectic, grammar, astronomy, mathematics and computus. Abbo's influence on the form and content of MS 17 is very considerable. His distinctive ensemble of calendar and computus tables (many of them making characteristic use of colour-coding, and arranged in the shape of a cross) forms the core of MS 17, and there are numerous traces of his impact elsewhere (e.g. MS 17 contains Abbo's recension of Helperic's De computo, fols 123r-135v). His presence is extended through the work of his disciple Byrhtferth of Ramsey, also strongly represented in MS 17. Moreover, the fact that Byrhtferth's Enchiridion appears to be a commentary on a computus manuscript very like the Abbonian core of MS 17 suggests that this Abbonian core derived from an exemplar left at Ramsey by Abbo himself. For a more detailed examination of this question, see the Background Essay "MS 17 as a Computus Manuscript."

For an overview of editions and manuscripts of Abbo's works, see Sharpe 1997, 1-4. Abbo's major mathematical work is the Commentary on the Calculus of Victorius, ed. Peden 2003. Portions of Abbo's commentary were printed by Christ 1863. For analysis of the commentary, see Evans and Peden 1985, and Van de Vyver 1935,139-140. Note that the bibliographies in Lindgren 1976 and Werner 1980, 15 cite a non-existent edition of Abbo's commentary. Their reference is to Friedlein's 1871 edition of the Calculus of Victorius itself, not of Abbo's commentary. Abbo's astronomical treatises, composed between 978 and 988, have recently been edited by Thomson 1985 and 1988. His computus is still available only in the inadequate Patrologia latina edition, but his preface to the Paschal cycles has been edited by Cordoliani 1949, 474-476. The second of his two letters to the monks Giraldus and Vitalis on A.D. chronology (composed 1004) remains unedited: the first letter (1003) was edited by Cordoliani 1949, 476 sqq. and replaces the older edition by Varin 1849. Abbo's computus is touched upon briefly by Borst 1993, 52-54, Baker and Lapidge 1995 xlii-xlv, and more extensively by Engelen 1993; his Ephemerida acrostic poem and its explanatory texts have been edited by Lapidge and Baker 1997; his views on the Christian era are examined by Verbist 2003a, Verbist 2003b, and by Verbist's essay in Oriens-Occidens 2004. Grammar: Guerreau-Jalabert's edition of the Quaestiones grammaticales replaces the inadequate version of Angelo Mai reprinted in PL 139.521-570; for discussion, see Bradley 1920-1923. One of Abbo's two acrostic poems in honour of St Dunstan survives in Oxford, St John's College 17 fol.3r: see the commentary for discussion of editions of this and other poems by Abbo. Abbo's treatise on dialectic, Syllogismorum categoricorum et hypotheticorum enodatio has been edited by Raes 1966. His major hagiographical work is his life of St Edmund, ed. Arnold 1890, 1:3-25 and Winterbottom 1972, 67-87. On Abbo's political thought, see Werner 1960, 70-71; Batany 1975; and above all Mostert 1987; a fascinating study linking Abbo's political ideas and his mathematical speculations is provided by Peden 2001. Van de Vyver 1935 remains an invaluable guide to Abbo's oeuvre as a whole, and the computistical material in particular.

BEDE (ca 675-735)

The great English monk and scholar Bede (ca. 675-735) entered the monastery of Wearmouth in Northumbria as a child oblate, and later moved to Wearmouth's co-monastery, Jarrow. There he composed several volumes of Biblical commentary, homelies, hymns, treatises on grammar, rhetoric, and computus, saints' lives, and history, notably the Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum. His deep learning, ability to digest and articulate the core concepts of patristic thought, limpid Latin style, and broad vision of the mission of the Church in the world and in time, made him one of the most important intellectual forces of the early medieval period. His writings were carried to the Continent by Anglo-Saxon missionaries, and exerted a significant influence on the Carolingian renaissance. The scholarly literature on Bede is vast: accessible and reliable surveys of his achievements include Blair 1970, Brown 1987, Ward 1990, James Campbell in OCNB, and the collections of essays Bede: His Life, Times and Writings, Famulus Christi, and Beda Venerabilis: Historian, Monk and Northumbrian.

Though Bede plays a pervasive symbolic role in the genesis of MS 17, the manuscript features him exclusively in his role as computist. Bede's principal works on time-reckoning and related topics are De natura rerum, De temporibus and De temporum ratione, together with three letters (to Plegwin, Wichted and Helmwald): all have been edited by Jones 1975-1980 (De temporum ratione was partially edited by Jones 1939), and are translated with introduction and commentary by Wallis 1999. Bede's impact on computus was exceptionally important: he defended and explained the Alexandrian system of Paschal reckoning, and presented it in a format suitable for instruction; he published a Great Paschal Cycle of 532 years, and thereby popularized the annus domini reckoning of Dionysius Exiguus; he established the basic shape of the western medieval computus manuscript and its principal tables and texts; and he aligned the study of computus with cosmology, mathematics and medicine. A vast amount of computistica is ascribed to Bede in medieval manuscripts; much of this is published as spuria et dubia in PL 90, and surveyed by Jones 1939. Modern scholarship on Bede as a computist is summarized in the introduction and commentary sections of Wallis 1999. Important older studies include the introduction to Jones 1939 and Stevens 1985. For Bede's computistical sources, see Jones 1934, Jones 1937, Ó Cróinín 1983. For his influence, see Jones 1976; Kleist 2003. All three of Bede's major works on computus appear in MS 17: for details of their contents and related literature, see the Overview and separate commentaries.

BYRHTFERTH OF RAMSEY (fl. ca 986-ca 1016)

Byrhtferth, a monk at Ramsey in Huntingdonshire, only a few miles from Thorney, was active in the last decades of the tenth and the beginning of the eleventh century. His influence on the probable exemplar or exemplars of MS 17 is discussed in the background essay "MS 17 and Byrhtferth of Ramsey." From the perspective of MS 17, Byrhtferth's work as a computist is of principle importance. Byrhtferth claims to have learned computus from Abbo of Fleury when the latter was at Ramsey,1 and the only works ascribed to him by name are computistical in nature: the bilingual Latin-Old English textbook entitled Enchiridion, the Proemium found on fols. 12v-13r of MS 17, and Byrhtferth's Diagram (MS 17 fol. 7v). Some of the glosses on Bede's De natura rerum and De temporum ratione in Hervagius's edition of Bede, reprinted in PL 90, are ascribed to Byrhtferth. This ascription was rejected by Jones 1938, but recently has been upheld by Gorman 1996. Byrhferth may also have worked anonymously as a hagiographer, historian, and perhaps translator. Byrhtferth's authorship of the lives of St Ecgwin (ed. Giles 1854, 349-396) has been established by Lapidge 1978; that he wrote the life of St Oswald (ed. Raine 1879-1894, 1.399-475) was demonstrated by Crawford 1929. Early sections of the Historia regum have also been assigned to his pen (Lapidge 1982), a conclusion supported on historical, rather than stylistic grounds, by Hart 1982. Peter Clemoes, in his introduction to the Old English Illustrated Hexateuch, 50-53, argues that Aelfric only translated parts of the Hexateuch, and that the second translator who prepared the definitive text was Byrhtferth.

A survey of Byrhtferth's literary output and a useful bibliography of secondary scholarship are found in Sharpe 1997, 81, and in Lapidge and Baker's edition of the Enchiridion xxv-xxxiv. A synthesis of Byrhtferth's work and its influence is provided by Hart 2003, and by Michael Lapidge in ODNB. Literature specifically relating to the Byrhtferth items in MS 17 can be found in the commentaries on these items.



GERLANDUS COMPOTISTA (fl. ca 1086-1100)

Gerlandus's computus treatise has never been edited. It survives in 24 manuscripts, of which at least half were written before 1200. Moreover, Gerlandus is frequently mentioned by other medieval computists of the period. Despite this, both the text and its author remain obscure and misunderstood. Some of the manuscripts and some contemporary notices identify him as a Lotharingian, and he may be identical with the Gerlandus of Besançon, who died no earlier than the 1140's. To this Gerlandus is ascribed a treatise on theology entitled Candela, as well as a somewhat doubtful reputation as a supporter of the heretical propositions of Berengar of Tours on the Eucharist. Haskins (Haskins 1927, 85) attempted to separate the computist from the scholasticus. In two manuscripts of Gerlandus' computus (Paris BN lat. 15170 and 15118, there is some supplementary material appended to the text which seems to be by Gerlandus himself. One of these supplementary texts (found in both these manuscripts) notes the eclipse of September 1093, but gives the date "according to our [that is, Gerlandus'] table" as 1086 (Gerlandus proposed a revision of the Dionysian annus domini chronology: cf. discussion of the tabula Dionysii on MS 17 fol. 30r). Barring the unlikely possibility that a single Gerlandus could have had an active scholarly career spanning four or five decades, it seems evident that Gerlandus Compotista is not the same as Gerlandus of Besançon. Alfred Cordoliani vacillated on the issue: in 1945 and 1946, he was sure that the computus treatise was written in the 1090s by someone quite distinct from the author of the Candela, but by 1949 he was placing the probable date of Gerlandus' birth as 1100. L.M. de Rijk, editor of Gerlandus Compotista's Dialectica, separated the two men, but argued that both had teaching careers at Besançon, and that Gerlandus Compotista actually wrote the Candela. Add to this the fact that there is a disproportionately high number of English manuscripts of, as well as English references to Gerlandus' , and a vigorous antiquarian tradition that he either was English or lived in England, and the story becomes even more confusing. Suffice it to say that the details of Gerlandus the Computists' life and literary output are still controversial, but it seems clear that beside the treatise and the Dialectica, he wrote treatises on the abacus (MS 17 fols. 50r-52r) and music. It is not impossible that he spent some time in England, as did other Lotharingian clergy and men of science like Robert, bishop of Hereford, and Walcher, prior of Malvern Abbey. Gerlandus criticized the Dionysian annus domini chronology of Dionysius Exiguus by advancing the date of the Incarnation by seven years,


For biographical information, see Overview to section 10: Helperic. 1 Byrhtferth's Proemium speaks of the writings of "abbonis sophistae...alumpni benedicti patris. per cuius beneuolentiam. percepimus hius rei intelligentiam" (MS 17 fol. 13ra26-29; ed. Forsey 1928, 519; cf. Byrhtferth, Enchiridion [old ed. 234.4 sqq.]