The Árni Magnússon lecture

The Árna Magnússon lecture will be on his birthday, for the fifth time, November 13th at 5 pm

Marjorie Curry Woods: Emotions Between the Lines

Why I love Ugly Manuscripts

When I met the director of rare books and manuscripts at Princeton University, I asked him if his collection had any medieval manuscripts of classical texts. He replied, “Only ugly ones.” “Great,” I responded. “That’s the kind I work on.”  I’ll explain what both he and I meant by ugly manuscripts and what we can learn from them. These are not the beautiful, illuminated codices written on exquisite parchment that were produced for secular courts or ecclesiastical dignitaries. They are instead functional volumes written on scraps of parchment or paper that were produced in greater and greater numbers for schools and universities—that is, for those studying, rather than perusing, texts. I’ll be drawing on my recent work on manuscripts of classical texts (Virgil’s Aeneid, the Achilleid of Statius, and the Ilias latina or Latin Homer) as well as earlier research on manuscripts of a popular medieval treatise (thePoetria nova of Geoffrey of Vinsauf). My focus will be on what is written between the lines (and in the margins) to help students not just learn but also feel what is happening in a text.

Marjorie Curry Woods is Blumberg Professor of English, Professor of Comparative Literature, and University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas in Austin, where she has worked since 1991. She received her B.A. in English from Stanford University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Mediaeval Studies from the University of Toronto. Her early research focused on commentaries on an important medieval rhetorical treatise, the Poetria nova of Geoffrey of Vinsauf, on which she published two books: an edition and translation of two versions of An Early Commentary on the Poetria nova of Geoffrey of Vinsauf and Classroom Commentaries: Teaching the Poetria novaAcross Medieval and Renaissance Europe (which received the 2010 Book Award from the Rhetoric Society of America). More recently she has been studying the glosses and comments on medieval school manuscripts of classical texts for her next book, Weeping for Dido: Teaching the Classics in the Middle Ages, an expanded version of her Gombrich Lectures given at the Warburg Institute in 2014. She is particularly interested in how medieval teachers emphasized emotional passages, especially speeches in the voices of female characters. Her next project will focus on the use of historical composition exercises in teaching literature from earlier periods. — See

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