Librarian’s Pick #3: A Latin Textbook from Early Medieval England (MS 154)

Bella Parisiacae urbis

SJC, MS 154, fol. 221v (the smaller text is the start of Bella Parisiacae urbis, Book III)

St John’s MS 154 contains one more text, added towards the end of the 11th century and not part of the original collection of texts. Now difficult to read, an extract from the prose version of Book 3 of Abbo of St Germain’s Bella Parisiacae urbis together with a continuous Old English gloss was added on the last folio of the volume. This 9th-century poem offers an eye-witness report of the Viking siege of Paris (885-886) in the first two books. The author becomes increasingly disappointed with the behaviour and morals of the French rulers and Book 3, which is dedicated to young clerics, aims to educate a new generation morally. In doing so, the vocabulary employed by Abbo provides a treasure trove for those practicing the hermeneutic style so popular with Anglo-Latin writers. Whoever added this extract must have thought it would complement Bata’s colloquia nicely. In addition, the extract echoes Ælfric of Eynsham’s aim of improving learning in England after the destruction wrought by Viking attacks.

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