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Yemelyan Rodionov
Yemelyan Rodionov

Abbey Gale


The seventh chapter of Francois Rahelais's Pantagnielconcludes with a list of books attributed to the Abbey of Saint-Victor. Thechapter's brief narrative foregrounds the catalog by touching on aspectsof intellectual life in Paris, mentioning both the "great University ofParis" and the "seven liberal arts." It is not surprising,then, that critics have viewed the catalog as a broad critique ofscholasticism. Evidence presented here warrants the addition of a furtherlayer of nuance to this critique that is directly related to thisabbey's contributions to education, reading, textual organization, andlibrary classification.




abbey gale



The Englishman Martin Lister published this description of thelibrary of the Abbey of Saint-Victor after his visit to Paris in 1698. Whilesavoring this bibliographic idyll, he would have been hard-pressed to foreseethe abbey's suppression and demolition during the French Revolution orthat its former site would come to be occupied in the twentieth andtwenty-first centuries by the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Paris.(1) The serendipity of this latter tenancy, however, might be construed asthe resilient localization for nearly a thousand years of seriousintellectual pursuit in Paris, for the abbey had been founded in 1114 byWilliam of Champeaux, famous dialectician, master of the Paris schools, andteacher turned opponent of Peter Abelard. (2) Interestingly enough, thoughthe site has clear historical connections to the academic life of Paris, thevanished abbey and its erstwhile library are now most famous for anappearance in a single chapter of fiction: the seventh chapter of FrancoisRabelais's first novel, Pantagruel. This celebrated chapter, firstpublished in 1532, concludes with a list of books allegedly seen in the abbeylibrary. Generally regarded as a satirical tour de force, this chaotic oftenribald list has informally entered the critical lexicon as the "Libraryof Saint-Victor." (3)


In looking for the deeper meaning in this list, many critics haveattempted to identify the historical targets of the satire. One strategy hasbeen to focus on individual titles, searching for bibliographic orbiographical correlates and establishing a partial concordance betweenfictional and actual titles. (12) These findings are then collated with otherinformed observations to show how the catalog collectively offers a critiqueof targets broader in scope than the abbey and its library, such asscholasticism, the anti-humanist reaction of the early sixteenth century, andremonstrations against Martin Luther. (13)


By contrast, in seeking to explain why Rabelais chose to targetthis particular abbey, some critics have looked to discrete historicalincidents of Rabelais's era. A. H. Schutz notes that Augustinianofficials regulating the abbey had rejected reforms favored by Erasmusearlier in the century, while Screech points out that Pantagruel waspublished the same year that the canons regular of the Abbey of Saint-Victorlobbied to print a book criticizing Erasmus. (14) These contemporaryparticulars are both feasible and fascinating but rather minute in scope.


When accounting for Rabelais's choice of the abbey'slibrary as a target, however, the tendency to generalize resurfaces. Moreoften than not, the abbey library is cursorily characterized as a genericscholastic library. One modern translator goes a bit further, remarking thatit was "noted for its richness in theological works." (15)


While all these characterizations have clear merit, there iswarrant for going much further when considering why Rabelais linked hissatire to this particular abbey and to its library. Hugh of Saint-Victor andother important figures associated with the abbey played foundational rolesin the transformation of reading and the organization of knowledge that havecome to be known as scholasticism. Rabelais's contemporary readers, allof them educated, were also likely to have known that the Abbey ofSaint-Victor was an important presence at the onset of this vast change. Inaddition, Hugh of Saint-Victor made noted contributions to libraryclassification, and the entire complex of scholastic structures came to bephysically embodied in the abbey's own library: in its classificationsystems, its rules of etiquette, the physical design of many of the texts,and, of course, its catalogs. While none of these features is unique to thislibrary, the abbey's contributing role to their growth may be taken intoaccount. Moreover, Rabelais's use of a catalog as a vehicle forlampooning this abbey's library is especially appropriate, for hiscritique operates not only by attribution to the abbey and a wild mockery oftitles and titling idioms but also by the incongruity between his chaoticlitany and the notions of order that lie at the heart of scholasticism and ofcataloging itself. Supporting evidence for these assertions can be found byexploring the history of the Abbey of Saint-Victor, evaluating theabbey's intellectual contribution to scholasticism, and considering theorganization of its bibliographic collection as revealed by libraryhistorians and two catalogs compiled for the abbey in 1514.


The Abbey of Saint-Victor antedated even the University of Paris,a consortium it joined as a founding member in the thirteenth century. (16)The abbey's founder was not, indeed, Saint Victor (a fourth-centurymartyr of Moorish descent) but William of Champeaux, and it was regularizedas an order of Augustinian canons in 1114. (17) What distinguished this abbeyfrom other Augustinian establishments was its emphasis on education. Theeighteenth-century historian Claude Fleury emphasized that "the canonsdiligently observed divine offices night and day; they performed manuallabor, kept a great silence, and never left off studying and teaching."(18)


The intellectual heritage of the abbey rapidly spread far beyondits walls. The man who gained renown as Hugh of Saint-Victor arrived at theabbey a year or two after its founding. (19) Some consider his De sacramentischrislianae fidei (On the sacraments of the Christian faith) to be the firstscholastic summa or even the "grandmother of all the Summae." (20)If we take the liberty of tracing the influential genre of the summa to itsintellectual ancestors, then the honor of "grandfather" might beassigned to Abelard. At one more remove, William of Champeaux, as founder ofthe Abbey of Saint-Victor and as Abelard's former master, might bedesignated as "great-grandfather" of the summae on both sides.


Another compelling figure associated with the Abbey ofSaint-Victor is Peter Lombard, who eventually became bishop of Paris. Theearliest document relating to Lombard is a letter recommending him to thefirst abbot of Saint-Victor. He may have received schooling at the abbey, andit is also possible that he bequeathed his personal books to the abbeylibrary. (29) Nikolaus Haring, a specialist in medieval theological texts,characterizes Peter Lombard's commentaries as rooted in the thought andlectures of Hugh of Saint-Victor and further notes that the Vietorinetradition of commentary was "carried on by three masters of greatrenown: Peter Comestor, the famous magisUir historiartim, Peter the Chantor,the leading moralist and exegete of his time, and master Stephen Langton, thefuture cardinal." (30)


The Abbey of Saint-Victor, then, from its ancient founding byWilliam of Champeaux and through subsequent intellectual contributions fromHugh, Peter Lombard, and others, can be seen as root and trellis of aperceived structure of knowledge. This conception informed the shape ofeducation, and its governing principles came to be inscribed in receptaclesof various sizes, not only in the texts, but even in the layout of thosetexts in their largest physical array: the abbey library.


One might reasonably ask what the common collection at the abbeycontained. It was assembled on the perceived basis of frequent demand andformed the medieval equivalent of a modern standard reference section. (43)It was open not only to resident canons but to students from the Sorbonne andthe College of Navarre, rendering access not only to theological works but toworks on jurisprudence and medicine. (44) After renovations in the earlysixteenth century, an expanded collection was transported and rechained in alarger building with many windows. (45) When Rabelais wrote Pantagruely therenovated premises were not only commodious but still relatively new--newer,for instance, than the renowned library at the College of Navarre, which hadassumed new lodgings on the cusp of the century, and newer still than thelibrary of the Sorbonne, which had undertaken a similar move in the 1480s.(46) The building, in fact, was the same that Lister saw when he visited in1698, although by then bibliographic materials had been moved to a higherfloor due to severe flooding in 1651. (47)


When the common collection was ushered into its new premises inthe early sixteenth century, Claude de Grandue, the abbey armarius, orlibrarian, compiled two catalogs. As Grandue operated much in the manner ofhis predecessors, his catalogs represent not only the contemporary contentsof the collection but also the institutional traditions, methods, andphilosophy applied to those contents. (48) These extant catalogs of 1514 havebeen made widely available through the transcriptions of Gilbert Ouy, and anexamination of these transcriptions allows us to see what Grandue was up to.(49) One catalog lists the items alphabetically by author, the other in orderof their physical disposition in the library. (50) In addition to theauthors' names and titles (when available), his catalog entries includeidentifying features such as size, material, first words of the second page,last words of the penultimate page, and total number of pages, proving thatthe catalogs served both administrative purposes (inventory) and the needs ofusers (retrieval). The catalogs, like other texts of the time, are alsoinundated with alphanumeric coding. Certain elements of information aresignaled by a sequence of alphabetical markers, and additional alphanumericmarkers designate the location of an item in the library, with the codingbeing duplicated on the item itself. Thus, the catalogs, designed to containand control, reciprocally bear the same markers of containment and control asthe texts they represent. (51) 041b061a72


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