The trivium at Bec and its bearing on Anselm’s program of faith seeking understanding, 2

Read part 1 here.

2 The Trivium at Bec in the Early 12th c.

The following entry is found toward the end of a library list from Bec abbey from the early twelfth century:

  1. In alio Martianus Capella de nuptiis Mercurii et philologie lib. II et de VII artibus editis ab eo lib. VII et commentum Remigii super eumdem IX lib. Priscianus de VIII partibus et de constructionibus II. Utraque rethorica II. Dialectice III. Utrumque commentum super Porphirium. Primum super catheg. Primum, secundum super periermeneias. Commentum super topica Ciceronis.[1]

Both the wording and content suggest these works, given as follows, were bound in a single volume. The first is the de nuptiis Mercurii et philologiae, here listed as two separate entries—the first two books by the title of the whole and the remaining seven by their content, ‘on the seven liberal arts,’[2] accompanied by a commentary of Remigius of Auxerre on the entire work. The work attributed to Priscian listed as de viii partibus et de constructionibus ii is the Institutiones Grammaticae. [3] One of the rhetorics listed is likely also his. The other may be the fourth book of Boethius’ De Differentiis Topicis, or the Pseudo-Ciceronian Herennian Rhetoric, with which Anselm was familiar.[4] The ‘Dialectic in three books’ is likely the first three books of the De Differentiis Topicis.[5] The remaining works of the list are also by Boethius: his commentaries on Porphyry’s Isagoge, Aristotle’s Categories and On Interpretation, and Cicero’s Topics.

While it cannot be established definitively, there are reasons to think this codex was already at Bec during Anselm’s time, and perhaps slightly earlier. Broadly, there is Lanfranc’s reputation among his contemporaries as one ‘‘raised up as a guide and a light to lead the minds of the Latins to the study of the trivium and quadrivium, which had fallen into neglect and profound obscurity’.’[6] Further, Anselm shows familiarity with at least some of the works on the list: He mentions Aristotle’s Categories in the De Grammatico,[7] and examples and vocabulary used in the same work suggest familiarity with both Priscian’s Institutiones and Boethius’ Logica Vetus commentaries.[8] That he would be familiar with the others would hardly be surprising.

Where the codex is on the list gives us another clue. The codex listed immediately before ours contains the Quaestiones Naturales of Seneca the Elder. This work is likely the proximate source for the phrase id quo nihil maius cogitari potest, ‘that than which nothing greater can be thought,’ so central to the Proslogion.[9] It is easy to imagine Anselm perusing this section of the library, devoted in large part to works of philosophy and more systematic theology, putting away his trivium codex, and fortuitously picking up the codex next to it that would provide the Proslogion with its key phrase.[10]

[1] Bekker 1885, 266.

[2] This division of the work has some justification, since it is only the first two books of the de nuptiis that tell the myth of the marriage of the god Mercury to philology; while each of the remaining books introduces a personification of one of the liberal arts, expounding their content, in the following order: Grammar, Dialectic, Rhetoric, Geometry, Arithmetic, Astronomy, and Harmony, i.e. music.

[3] The eight parts of speech are 1) nouns, 2) pronouns, 3) verbs, 4) adverbs, 5) participles, 6) conjunctions, 7) prepositions, and 8) interjections. Cf. Martianus Capella, lib. III, par. 281-88. In Priscian, each of these parts (with the exception of the interjection) is introduced by the formulaic phrase ‘n est pars orationis…’, followed by a further specification: nouns in book two, verbs in book eight, participles in book eleven, pronouns in book twelve, prepositions in book fourteen, adverbs in book fifteen, conjunctions in book sixteen; the final two books of the work, books seventeen and eighteen, shift from treating parts of speech to treating constructions.

[4] See Henry 1974, 87.

[5] In the middle ages, the first three books of the De Differentiis Topicis were occasionally regarded as topically distinct from the fourth: the first three books were on dialectic, while the final book was on rhetorical theory (see Leff 1974). This distinction in how the material was viewed provided the impetus for treating the first three books as a single work, and occasionally for excluding the fourth from a codex (e.g. Orleans, Bib. Mun. 265; Tours, Bib. Mun. 678) or for circulating the fourth separately (e.g. Paris, Bib. Nat. Lat. 16709). See Aristoteles Latinus 1939. Furthermore, no extant commentary on the De Differentiis Topicis from the 12th century or earlier comments on book IV of the text (Green-Pedersen 1984, 124). Our scribe’s loose tendency to name books by their contents rather than their titles – as he does for Priscian and Martianus Capella – combined with the wide circulation of the De Differentiis Topicis during Anselm’s time and the absence of any other dialectic in three books with which the entry could be identified, thus makes it probable the work referenced at Bec under the simple title de dialectica is the aforementioned one of Boethius.

[6] Southern 1963, 14. The works in the volume listed are standard for studying the trivium through much of the middle ages. See Abelson 1906, 73-74.

[7] DG XVI.

[8] Henry 1974, 92, 100.

[9] Seneca’s passage reads as follows: ‘Quid est Deus? Quod vides totum et quod non vides totum. Sic demum magnitudo sua illi redditur, qua nihil maius excogitari potest.’ Quoted in Southern 1963, 59, n. 3.

[10] This does not entail Anselm was conscious of this influence: he could have found the phrase in Seneca, forgotten about it, and then had it return to him weeks or months later. In this way, the assumption of the argument’s origin is quite compatible with that given by Eadmer at VA I, xix.

Part 3


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