A study of the manuscript contexts of Benedict Burgh's Middle English 'Distichs of Cato'

Dallachy, Fraser James (2013) A study of the manuscript contexts of Benedict Burgh's Middle English 'Distichs of Cato'. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b2977614


This thesis aims to establish an impression of the readership and reception of Benedict Burgh’s Middle English Distichs of Cato. The intended outcome of this research is to demonstrate the layer(s) of society in which the text was read and the ways in which it was presented by scribes and marked by its readers. Presentation and annotation are viewed as the best way of identifying the esteem and attention paid to the Distichs and thus of evaluating its cultural importance. These research goals are therefore achieved through examination of the Distichs’ manuscript contexts.

The first chapter delineates the text’s background as a translation of a late Classical Latin original, heavily used in primary education throughout Europe both for its practical advice and its suitability for teaching basic Latin grammar. The chapter discusses the authorship of the Latin Disticha Catonis, the translator of the Middle English version under investigation, and the medieval theories of translation and authorial ‘authority’ which impact on the nature of Burgh’s translation efforts.

The second and third chapters focus on specific manuscripts, collating and discussing information on their contents, the circumstances of their production, and the likely audience for which they were produced. In chapter two, British Library MSS. Harley 7333 and Harley 2251 are examined in light of their relationship to the miscellanies of fifteenth-century secretarial clerk, John Shirley. Through examination of the likely audience of Shirley’s manuscripts and the nature of other volumes copied from them, it is argued that manuscripts such as the two Harley volumes are likely to have been owned by members of the gentry and/or the literate ‘middle class’ of clerks and merchants.

Chapter three focusses on Glasgow, University Library MS. Hunter 259 and Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Eng. poet. e.15, both of which are in the hand of the Carthusian monk Stephen Dodesham. Dodesham was resident at the Charterhouse of Sheen, which had strong connections to neighbouring Bridgettine nunnery, Syon Abbey. This chapter considers the possibility that these manuscripts were made for Syon nuns but, through comparison with other comparable Distichs volumes, also suggests that their audience may have lain more in the network of pious lay patrons surrounding Sheen and Syon. The members of this patronage milieu were predominately from the gentry, and thus overlapped with the audience of the Harley volumes.

Chapter four considers patterns of presentation and use of the manuscripts across the group to support the gentry/middle-class audience established in chapters two and three, and to draw a general picture of the Distichs’ reception by this audience. This includes establishing that both male and female readership was common, and that the dissemination of the text may have been aided by close association with the poetry of John Lydgate. Selection/excerption of stanzas for copying, annotation of particular stanzas, and evidence of wear on the manuscripts are presented as evidence that medieval readers did engage with the text, and continued to value it as previous centuries had valued the Latin source text.

A concluding chapter summarises the main points of the argument, and offers directions for future research.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Distichs of Cato, Disticha Catonis, Dionysius Cato, Benedict Burgh, Middle English, medieval manuscripts, codicology, book history
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
Z Bibliography. Library Science. Information Resources > Z004 Books. Writing. Paleography
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
College of Arts > School of Humanities > Classics
Supervisor's Name: Caie, Prof. Graham and Steel, Prof. Catherine and Smith, Prof. Jeremy
Date of Award: 2013
Depositing User: Mr Fraser Dallachy
Unique ID: glathesis:2013-4179
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 16 Apr 2013 11:24
Last Modified: 15 Apr 2016 15:17
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/4179

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