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Petrus Comestor: Lectures on the Glossa ordinaria. Edited by David M. Foley and S. Whedbee (= Toronto Medieval Latin Texts TMLT; 37), Turnhout: Brepols 2022, XI + 157 S., ISBN 978-0-88844-487-5, EUR 17,50
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Rezension von:
Lesley Smith
Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Ralf L├╝tzelschwab
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Lesley Smith: Rezension von: Petrus Comestor: Lectures on the Glossa ordinaria. Edited by David M. Foley and S. Whedbee, Turnhout: Brepols 2022, in: sehepunkte 23 (2023), Nr. 9 [15.09.2023], URL:

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Petrus Comestor: Lectures on the Glossa ordinaria

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The admirable series, Toronto Medieval Latin Texts, recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. Originally the brainchild of A.G. (George) Rigg, who was responsible for inculcating so much of the high standard of Latin and textual editing at Toronto, the series aims to provide "affordable editions, generally based on a single carefully chosen manuscript, suitable for use in university-level courses in medieval Latin" (vii). In addition to this pedagogical purpose, the volumes model a different sort of edition - one that eschews the classical Lachmannian method and arguably fits medieval textual traditions much more faithfully. The published texts are produced to a high standard but are light on their feet; they give readers a good sense of both the malleability and the remarkable relative accuracy of medieval manuscript copies.

Volume 37 of the series offers Peter Comestor's Lectures on the Glossa ordinaria - or more accurately, the existing reportationes (approved student lecture notes, probably corrected by Comestor himself) of Peter's lectures on the Glossed prefaces to the four Gospels (glosae super evangelia glosata). Appropriately, the edition began life in a classroom reading group when the editors were doctoral students. In addition to the Latin text, it offers useful notes on grammar, syntax, sources, and points of interest in the content, all clearly and spaciously laid out. There is an introduction to Peter himself, the context of his teaching, and the use of the Gloss in twelfth-century classrooms, reflecting the work of the Toronto Gloss specialist Alexander Andrée, in whose palaeography classes this edition was born.

Peter Comestor or Manducator (d. 1178?) is an important and, like many key twelfth-century scholars, relatively understudied figure. Born in Troyes, where there was an active and learned Jewish community, he had become dean of the cathedral chapter by 1147, probably having studied in Tours. How and when he went to Paris, the hub for biblical and theological research, is not known, but he certainly heard Peter Lombard lecture and took his place as master of the cathedral school at Notre Dame, when the Lombard was made bishop of Paris in 1159. He taught at the cathedral for a decade, relinquishing the post to become cathedral chancellor. He worked on until 1178, when he retired to the abbey of St Victor, just across the Seine from the cathedral, where he died shortly after. He is said to have been given his sobriquets, 'Comestor' or 'Manducator' (both mean 'Eater'), because his diet was books!

Peter was also known simply as the 'Master of the Histories', after his authorship of the Historia scholastica, a massively successful biblical paraphrase. Along with work of the 'Master of the Sentences', Peter Lombard, whose theological compendium (Four Books of Sentences) was similarly widely-read, Comestor's Historia was a crucial text for generations of students. Less familiar now, however, is his biblical commentary, which is especially interesting because Peter was the first exegete we know of who lectured not on the biblical text alone but on the Glossed Bible (Glossa ordinaria), which had been championed in Paris by Peter Lombard.

Foley and Whedbee's edition is therefore much to be welcomed. The four texts are short (between about 20-30 pages each, including the apparatus) with the commentary on the Mark preface perhaps surprisingly the longest. Individually, each is extant in between fifteen and twenty manuscripts, with all four present in eight manuscripts. From these eight, the editors have selected the Troyes manuscript as their text, dating it to the last quarter of the twelfth century and with an early provenance of the abbey of Clairvaux. The lectures themselves were probably given in the 1160s. To make them easier to follow, the editors have added a handy appendix with the Latin text of the four prefaces from the Glossa ordinaria itself, marking out the parts to which Peter's lectures refer.

Medieval biblical commentary is a complex genre, and since many texts are only available in manuscript it can be difficult for students to know where or how to begin. These little glossed prefaces, which were themselves a type of accessus to their texts, make a neat way in to understanding the way commentary works; the meaning takes some puzzling out, even when the Latin is straightforward. The same may have been true for their original audience: Peter's use of techniques from the artes course, studied by students before they were allowed to approach the Bible, tells us about the level of understanding he is aiming at, and Peter's judgement of what they can manage. For those familiar with the tradition of biblical commentary, these texts will be unsurprising in themselves; but by virtue of being part of the first commentaries on the Glossed Bible, they deserve to be known.

Lesley Smith