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Brussels, KBR 2100: A Hitherto Unexplored Medieval Latin Commentary on the Metamorphoses1

Frank Coulson


The publication of volume 12 of the Catalogus translationum et commentariorum has opened up a vast field of new manuscript material dealing with the medieval commentary tradition on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Among the important French commentaries briefly discussed therein is Brussels, KBR 2100. The commentary was produced in northern France in the mid-thirteenth century and to date has received little detailed scholarly attention. In this article, I discuss the varied approaches adopted by the commentator in explicating Ovid’s text. The commentary contains some material in common with Arnulf of Orléans and the Vulgate Commentary. But it also adopts several quite unique approaches to glossing the text, including a fondness for outlining Ovid’s rhetorical flourishes and interpreting the text from a very Christian perspective.

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  • 1 I am very grateful to Kyle Gervais, Harald Anderson, William Little, Marjorie Curry Woods, and the (...)
  • 2 See Verweij 2011. The manuscript is also described in Thomas 1928; Hermann 1929 and Munari 1957. Th (...)
  • 3 See Ghisalberti 1932 and Ghisalberti 1933a, 1933b, and 1933c.
  • 4 Gervais 2022.
  • 5 Fritz and Noacco 2022.
  • 6 Coulson and Martina 2021, vols. 2 and 3 are forthcoming in 2023.
  • 7 Ciccone and Possamai-Pérez 2020, 2022.

1The publication of the Catalogus translationum et commentariorum ed. Greti Dinkova-Bruun, vol. 12 Ovid, Metamorphoses (Toronto, 2022) has opened up for research a vast panoply of hitherto uncatalogued paratexts that accompanied Ovid’s poem in the medieval manuscripts. The volume treats over 600 manuscripts and catalogues 110 newly identified commentaries, allegories, and verse and prose summaries of the poem transmitted between late antiquity and 1600. Among such new discoveries we find a mid-thirteenth-century manuscript of French origin, Brussels, KBR 2100, that transmits a detailed commentary on the poem. While summarily catalogued in a short article dealing with Ovid manuscripts in the Brussels library2, the commentary has received virtually no scholarly attention. In the present article, I seek to redress this neglect and provide a preliminary assessment of the approaches and interests of the commentator. This is a scholarly desideratum for several reasons. First, there is a dearth of studies and editions of commentaries on the Metamorphoses. Fausto Ghisalberti, that magisterial scholar of Ovidian reception, was instrumental in the 1930s and 1940s in bringing to light several of the major commentators, including Arnulf of Orléans, John of Garland, Giovanni del Virgilio and Pierre Bersuire3. While remarkably learned and pioneering, these early studies were in certain respects flawed: the editions were often based on a single known manuscript witness, they contained many mistranscriptions from the manuscript, and the full influence of each named commentary often remained to be written. The last decade has seen a minor explosion in the output of re-editions of these Ovidian texts. Kyle Gervais’ edition and translation of John of Garland’s Integumenta Ovidii will, for the first time, make this obscure and difficult text accessible to the general medievalist4; David Gura’s projected edition of Arnulf of Orléans’ Allegoriae and philological glosses, based on a thorough collation of all known manuscripts, will revolutionize our knowledge of this important Ovidian magister; and the new edition with French translation of Giovanni del Virgilio’s Allegoriae, forthcoming by Cristina Noacco and Jean-Marie Fritz, will provide readers with a long-awaited reassessment of this important Italian critic who moved in the circle of Dante5. Two new editions of French commentaries on the Metamorphoses have also recently appeared. The Vulgate Commentary, a product of the Orléanais around 1260, is now accessible in a newly minted edition with French translation brought out by Frank T. Coulson and Piero Andrea Martina6, while manuscript Vat. lat. 1479 of the Vatican Library is being edited with French translation and copious notes by Lisa Ciccone and Marylène Possamai-Pérez7. Brussels, KBR 2100 represents one further strain of French commentary on the Metamorphoses heretofore overlooked.

The manuscript: Brussels, KBR 2100

2The manuscript dates from the mid-thirteenth century and is written in a French Gothic textualis hand of medium quality. The script appears to be northern French. Text hand and gloss hand correspond. The mise-en-page of the manuscript has been carefully laid out, with text surrounded by three columns of commentary. At times the marginal gloss intrudes into the text frame. The manuscript is now incomplete and stops at Met. 9.120. The manuscript at one point belonged to the Jesuit College in Louvain. Verweij 2011 has suggested that the manuscript was produced by a scholar for private study, but I would argue that many of the approaches adopted by the commentator place it firmly within the context of the school tradition.

Ovid, Metamorphoses (incomplete 1.1-9.120), with commentary saec. XIII

On parchment of middling quality; 118 fols.; mm. 237 x 165; 26-31 lines; modern foliation top right corner; each quaternion marked with Roman numeral on verso of last folio of quaternion.

Binding: ancient white leather over boards of the sixteenth century.

Decoration: pen-stroked colored initials in alternating red and blue at beginning of each book.

Collation: I-VIII8 + IX6 + X-XV8.

Texts: Metamorphoses Inc. (fol. 1r) In noua fert animus…Expl. (fol. 118v) fallere depositum quo te fiducia clamat.

History: formerly in the possession of the Jesuit College in Louvain, ownership mark fol. 1r in a 17th-century hand.

Description: Munari 1957, 17; Thomas 1928, 1721; Hermann 1929, 26; Verweij 2011, 50-52.

Traditional elements in the commentary

3There are several ways in which Brussels 2100 reflects the approach adopted in other French commentaries. Nowhere is this more apparent than in its treatment of allegory.

  • 8 For a complete list of allegories on the Metamorphoses between 1180 and 1600, see Coulson 2022.
  • 9 Edited in Ghisalberti 1932. The text is now reedited and translated into English by David Gura in h (...)
  • 10 Editions of text in Ghisalberti 1933b and Born 1929. Both of these editions are quite flawed; one s (...)
  • 11 See Gura 2017.

4One of the most important ways of reading the Metamorphoses from 1180 to 1600 lay in furnishing for the reader allegories for individual stories8. Arnulf of Orléans, a master associated with the cathedral town of Orléans ca. 1180, was the first to furnish the poem with a full set of prose allegories9. Some of Ovid’s stories are interpreted euhemeristically, some naturally, and some morally/ethically. John of Garland, a teacher at Paris ca. 1234, took up Arnulf’s challenge and interpreted the poem in a complex and abstruse verse allegory entitled the Integumenta Ovidii10. These two texts dominated the exegetical landscape on the Metamorphoses in the 13th century and nearly every thirteenth-century manuscript of the poem replete with marginalia contains elements from these two texts11.

  • 12 I retain the orthography of Brussels KBR 2100 in all quotations from the manuscript.

5Similarly, the commentator of Brussels 2100 often uses Arnulf of Orléans’ Allegoriae as a source for his prose allegories. Much of the long allegory on Io, for example, found on fol. 11r, comes nearly verbatim from Arnulf12:

Hic incipit fabula de Ioue et Yo et ostendit qualiter accidit de illa. Et ad ultimum sciendum est quod Osyris eam despunsauit. Yo fuit filia Inachi fluuii. Per Inachum frigiditas significatur quia aqua naturaliter est frigida et ita patet quod Yo ante annos nubiles uirgo fuit et casta quia castitas est filia frigiditatis, sicut luxuria filia caliditatis. Item amata fuit a Ioue, id est a Deo creatore quia tales amat Deus que uirginitatem conseruando ad suum creatorem se erigunt. Postea mutata fuit in uaccam, id est corrupta fuit et consentiit peccato , unde facta est bestialis et uilis tamquam uacca. Traditur Iunoni, id est aeri inferiori, id est uiciis grauioribus. Vnde traditur a Iunone Argo, id est a uiciis grauioribus, seculo uel mundo, id est uiciis grauissimis. Per Argum habentem multiplices oculos significatur mundus qui multiplices habet fallacias et deceptiones; qui mundus ita eam incarcerauit quod diu suum creatorem non cognouit. Set Mercurius eum occidit, scilicet Argum. Mercurius quasi mercatorum kirios deus facundie interpretatur. Et ita habemus quemlibet sapientem qui sua[s] persuasione mundanas concupiscentias in ea mortificauit in tantum quod ea melius quam umquam ad suum erexit creatorem. Vnde fingitur de boue mutata esse in deam. Per uirgam sapientiam, et mobilitatem per alas. (Cf. Arnulf, Allegoriae, 1.10-11) (fol. 11r)

Here begins the story of Jove and Io and he shows how it happened concerning her. In the end, one should know that Osyris married her. Io was the daughter of the river god Inachus. Through Inachus coldness is denoted because water is naturally cold and thus it is evident that before her nubile years Io was a virgin and chaste since chastity is the daughter of coldness, just as wantonness is the daughter of heat. She was loved by Jove, that is by God the creator since God loves such maidens, who by preserving their viginity raise themselves up to the creator. Afterwards she was transformed into a cow, that is she was corrupted and sinned, thus she was made bestial and vile like a cow. She was handed over to Juno, that is the lower air, that is weightier vices. Whence she was handed over by Juno to Argus, that is from weightier vices to the age or the world, that is to the weightiest vices. Through Argus having many eyes the world is meant which has many falsehoods and deceptions. This world then incarcerated her because for a long time she did not recognize her creator. But Mercury killed him, namely Argus. Mercury, derived from “mercatorum kirios” (the lord of merchants) means god of eloquence. Thus we have a wise man who by his persuasion kills worldly desires in her so much so that more than ever before she raised herself to her creator. Hence she is believed to have been transformed from a cow to a goddess. Through the wand is meant wisdom, through his wings mobility.

  • 13 These new alternative verses are extensively treated in Gervais 2022 (to which I am indebted). Gerv (...)

6Brussels 2100 also transmits 65 elegiac couplets from the Integumenta Ovidii in Books 1-9 (the text ends at 9.120). These are often marked with an IN or Integ. (standing for Integumenta) next to the couplet in the margins of the manuscript. In addition to the exact quotation of the verses from the Integumenta Ovidii, Brussels 2100 also at times has verse interpretations independent of the text of the Integumenta. I have not yet found the exact source for these additional verse interpretations13.

7A new verse allegory on Sisyphus (Met. 4.460):

Sisyphus ut pronus lapidem portando grauatur;
ambit honoris honus cupidus sed precipitatur. (fol. 52r)

“Sisyphus is bowed and weighed down by bearing a rock; the greedy man is ambitious for the burden of honor, but he falls flat.”

8A new verse allegory on Perseus (Met. 4.486):

Est sonipes fama, gladius facundia, uirtus
uir, monstrum uitium, scutum labor, unda sophia.
petra stupor, strages uictoria, premia stelle,
quas petit in Pegaso Perseus pereunte Medusa. (fol. 58v)

The horse is fame, the sword eloquence, the hero virtue, the monster vice, the shield labor, the water wisdom, the rock is stupidity, the slaughter is victory, the reward the stars, which Perseus seeks on Pegasus after the death of Medusa.

9A new verse allegory on Ascalaphus (Met. 5.539):

De luna tractans, que nocti lumina donat,
     bubo fit Acalaphus (sic), nocte uolando latens.
Ethera dic pomum, dic septem grana planetas,
     et firmamentum cortice signo tibi.
Grosse caput, rudis ingenium, male philosophando
     diceris, Acalaphe (sic), tu fore noctis auis. (fol. 69v)

Discoursing on the moon, which gives its light to the night, Ascalaphus becomes an owl, which hides by flying at night. Call the fruit the heavens, call the seven seeds the planets, and with the rind I signify the firmament for you. With thick head and untutored intellect, because of your poor philosophizing, you, Ascalaphus, are said to be a bird of the night.

10A new verse allegory on Niobe:

  • 14 I have altered the manuscript reading ac to atque. I am indebted to one of the anonymous readers fo (...)
  • 15 I have altered the manuscript reading est to et. I am indebted to one of the anonymous readers for (...)

pes manus atque14 oculi pectus nasus quoque lingua
atque supercilium nati Niobes referuntur.
et15 pedis incessus, oculi motus, manualis
gestus suspirans pectus, [f]runcatio nasi,
ruga supercilii, simul indignatio lingue
nate sunt Niobes, aut fastus dicitur esse.
religio sancta dicetur diua Lathona;
Phebus, Diana sapiens castusque notantur.
hanc prolem Niobes sternit Lathonia proles
cum sapiens castus pomposos deprimit actus. (fol. 78r )

The sons of Niobe represent the foot, hand, eyes, chest, nose, tongue, and brow. And the foot’s step, the eyes’ movement, the hand’s gestures, the puffing chest, the snorting of the nose, the furrowing of the eyebrow, along with the tongue’s disdain are the daughters of Niobe, or are said to be pride. Sacred religion will be called divine Latona; Phoebus and Diana represent the wise and chaste man. The children of Latona kill the children of Niobe when the wise and chaste man subdues arrogant behavior.

11And the commentator of Brussels 2100 shares at least one verse allegory with the Vulgate Commentary, at Met. 4.458 on Tantalus:

  • 16 See Coulson and Martina 2021, 626. The verse is also to be found in Geoffrey of Vitry’s commentary (...)

Tantalus in Stigiis nec aqua fruitur neque pomo,
     Sic in diuiciis aret auarus homo (fol. 52r)16

Tantalus enjoys neither water nor fruit in the Underworld: thus the greedy man thirsts in the midst of wealth.

  • 17 See below, paragraph 26.

12A common feature of the Vulgate Commentary is its frequent use of citation from classical, late antique, and medieval authors to point out similarities of phrasing between Ovid and his contemporaries or the influence of Ovid on later authors. By contrast, Brussels 2100 rarely employs such a wide range of comparison. But it does make use of Walter of Chatillon’s Alexandreis, though very infrequently.17

13Like nearly all thirteenth-century commentaries, the author of Brussels 2100 offers alternative textual readings in those places where the text is in doubt. At Met. 1.747 the Brussels manuscript transmits the reading Niligena, “engendered from the Nile”. The commentator provides the reader with several alternatives:

1.747 Niligena, Egyptiaca.

Engendered from the Nile, Egyptian.

Nunc dea mutata fuit in uxorem et nunc. Vel linigera, ferens flosculum lini. Hoc dicitur propter suos sacerdotes. Vel lanigera. Hoc dicitur propter Osyrim maritum suum qui deus fuit lanificii et ferebat etc. (fol. 14r)

Now a goddess: she was changed into a wife and now. Or linen bearing, wearing linen. He says this because of her priests. Or wool bearing because of Osyris her husband who was the god of woolworking and thus.

14Similarly, at Met. 1.641, the commentator is aware of the two possible variants in the manuscript tradition, exterrita and externata:

Exterrita id est obstupefacta. Vel exsternata refugit, de exsternor, -aris et consternor, -aris. Idem est Gallice esbahir et respicit animam quia peccatores exsternati sunt. (fol. 12r)

Terrified that is dazed. Or provoked to panic she fled, from the verbs to drive into panic and to confound. The same is found in the French “to astonish” and this relates to the soul since sinners are confounded.

15As is the case with other thirteenth-century commentaries on the Metamorphoses, the commentator of Brussels KBR 2100 displays an abiding interest in Ovid’s use of patronymics and mythology. At Met. 1.668, Ovid uses the patronymic Phoronidos to identify Io and our commentator dutifully explains:

Phoronidos Yo Phoros Grece, Io Latine. Vel Phoronidus fuit pater Ynachi qui primus induxit cultum Iunonis in Grecia<m>. Vnde Phoronidos id est Yo, neptis Pharoni. (fol. 12v)

Phoronidos, Yo, Phoros in Greek means Io in Latin. Or Phoronidus was the father of Inachus who first brought the worship of Juno into Greece. Hence Phoronidos, that is Io, offspring of Pharonus.

16Lastly, I furnish one example of the detailed information provided for the reader on points of myth, in this instance Ovid’s reference to the island of Ortygia at Met. 1.694:

Ortigiam id est Delon insulam et hoc ratione Diane que ibi habitabat, ab ortim quod est coturnix. Nota est fabula. Ceus fuit quidam gigas habens duas filias, scilicet Latonem et Asteriam. Iupiter ex Latone genuit Phebum et Dianam. Postea uolens concubere cum Asteria insequtus est eam fugientem que fugiendo mutata fuit in coturnicem. Iupiter hoc uidens se mutauit in specie aquile et iterum illa mutata est in saxum et illud cecidit in mare et diu latuit sub undis. Postea factum est illud saxum insula quedam et dicitur Ortigia ab “ortin” quod est coturnix. Aliter dicitur Delos; ibi mansit Diana gratia cuius Nayas colebat illam. (fol. 13r)

Ortygia that is the island Delos, because of Diana who lived there, from “ortim” which means quail. The myth is known. Ceus was a giant who had two daughters, Leto and Asteria. Jupiter fathered Phoebus and Diana from Leto. Afterwards, he wanted to sleep with Asteria but she fled and he pursued. In flight, she was transformed into the quail. When Jupiter saw this, he transformed himself into an eagle and Asteria was again transformed into a rock and fell into the sea where she lay hidden for a long time beneath the waves. Later that rock was made an island called Ortygia from ortin which means quail. Otherwise, it is called Delos. Diana lived there and on her account the nymph cherished the island.

Novel Approaches to the Text

  • 18 Discussion of Arnulf as a commentator may be found in Clark, Coulson and McKinley 2011, Ghisalberti (...)
  • 19 Coulson has written voluminously on the Vulgate Commentary. See Coulson 2007, 2016, 2018 and 2021.
  • 20 The approaches to explicating the text adopted by this commentator are discussed in Ciccone and Pos (...)
  • 21 Coulson 2016.
  • 22 Bersuire has a very complex transmission history. The commentary exists in three versions, two writ (...)

17There are a number of things, however, that set this commentary apart from its French contemporaries or near contemporaries, Arnulf of Orléans,18 the Vulgate Commentary19 and Vat. lat. 147920. While Arnulf adopts a primarily grammatical/philological approach to explicating the text, and while the Vulgate Commentary can be viewed as a commentary with strong literary interests21, Brussels KBR 2100 is strikingly noteworthy for its interest in Ovid’s rhetorical embellishments, which becomes particularly focused in the stories of Io, Syrinx, Tereus, and Medea. In addition, Brussels KBR 2100 adopts a very spiritual and christianizing approach to the interpretation of certain myths (particularly striking in the stories of Io and Syrinx), to a degree that is unprecedented in other French commentaries of the late 12th and 13th centuries. In many respects, the strongly christianizing approach adopted by Brussels KBR 2100 anticipates the more explicitly Christian interpretation of the poem to be found in the Ovidius moralizatus of Pierre Bersuire, composed at Avignon before 134822. Let us turn then to examine in greater detail these rhetorical and christianizing tendencies.

18The story of Medea opens Book Seven. After a brief ten lines detailing the adventures of Jason and the Argonauts, Ovid focuses on the figure of Medea and her emotional response to her first meeting with Jason. In her first soliloquy, Ovid explores the dynamic conflict between love (amor) and reason (ratio) as Medea shifts from one to the other. I reproduce below a section (7.11-22) of the lines in question from Book 7.

                                “Frustra, Medea, repugnas; 11
Nescioquis deus obstat’ ait ‘mirumque quid hoc est,
Aut aliquid certe simile huic, quod amare uidetur.
Nam cur iussa patris nimium michi dura uidentur?
(sunt quoque dura nimis!) cur, quem modo denique uidi,     15
Ne pereat, timeo? Que tanti causa timoris?
Excute uirgineo conceptas pectore flammas
Si potes, infelix, si possem, sanior essem.
Set trahit inuitam noua uis, aliudque cupido,
Mens aliud suadet; uideo meliora proboque,      20
Deteriora sequor. Quid in hospite regia uirgo
Ureris et thalamos alieni concipis orbis?” (fol. 85v)

  • 23 I use the translation in Ovid 1984.

In vain, Medea, do you fight. Some god or other is opposing you; I wonder if this, or at least something like this, seems to be love. For why do the mandates of my father seem too harsh? They certainly are too harsh. Why do I fear lest he perish whom I have but now seen for the first time? What is the cause of all this fear? Come, thrust from your maiden breast these flames that you feel, if you can, unhappy girl. Ah, if I could, I should be more myself. But some strange power draws me on against my will. Desire persuades me one way, reason another. I see the better and approve it, but I follow the worse. Why do you, royal maiden, burn for a stranger, and think upon marriage with a foreign world? 23

  • 24 McKinley 2001, pp. 106-27 details late 14th-century approaches to the story of Medea.

19Brussels KBR 2100 is very good on elucidating this twofold division between love and reason and in showing the reader where Medea moves from one to the other. Herein, our commentator maps out all these emotional transitions in a much more explicit way than we find in other commentaries24. He begins at line 13 at the very opening of the monologue:

7.13 Nam cur: Incipit modo disputare contra rationem, et <modo> contra amorem dicens: uere amor est qui me uexat, nam. (fol. 85v)

For why: She now begins to argue against reason and now against love saying, but truly love bothers me, for.

7.15 Cur quem: et est reuocatio ab amore a parte rationis. Vel potest esse confirmamentum prioris, quasi diceret: non timerem nisi amarem. (fol. 85v)

For he whom, and here Medea is called back from love on the part of reason. Or it could be a confirmation of what precedes, as though she were to say: I would not fear were I not in love.

7.18 Sanior essem: Ita reuocat se ab amore per rationem. (fol. 85v)

I would be more mindful: Thus she recalls herself from love through reason.

7. 21 Quid in hospite: modo reuocat se iterum. (fol. 85v)

Why do you desire a guest: now she recalls herself again.

7.34 Cur non: Modo corrigit se iterum ex parte rationis. (fol. 86r)

Why not: Now she corrects herself again on the side of reason.

7.37 Dii: Modo ex parte amoris quasi coacta. Iterum amori fauet quia disputatio est inter amorem et rationem. (fol. 86r)

Gods: Now on the side of love, as though forced. Again she favors love since there is a debate between love and reason.

7.38 Prodamne: Modo reuocatur a ratione et reprehendit se ideo quod dixerat amare illum. (fol. 86r)

Shall I betray: Now she is called back by reason and chastizes herself over the fact she said she loved him.

7.51 Ergo ego germanam: Modo redit secundum rationem et reprehendit <se> de hoc quod dicit quandoquidem uolo eum amare. (fol. 86r)

Thus shall I abandon my sister: Now she returns to the path of reason and upbraids herself for saying since I want to love him.

1.73 Terga cupido: Ita cupido terga uicta dedit et ratio obtinuit in ista causa et Medea ibat. (fol. 86v)

Love retreated: Thus desire retreated and reason won in this case and Medea departed.

20Brussels KBR 2100 is equally insightful in commenting on the story of Syrinx as narrated by Mercury to Argus (Met. 1.689-723). One recalls that poor Io, having been raped by Jove, is changed into a cow to escape Juno’s questions and placed under the vigilant watch of the hundred-eyed Argus. Jove has pity on her and sends his son Mercury to earth to release her from captivity by slaying Argus. To do this, Mercury plays on the newly invented panpipe to lull Argus to sleep. This tactic, however, does not work, but Argus asks about the origin of the panpipe, and Mercury launches into the story of Syrinx, an approach that works so well that all hundred of Argus’s eyes fall asleep at once before the story can be fully narrated.

21Ovid at this point (1.700) steps in as narrator to tell the rest of the tale in indirect speech, which produces a level of imbedded narrative that at times renders the reader quite astonished. In the Latin text of the Metamorphoses one reads:

  • 25 Note that Brussels KBR 2100 transmits the two spurious half lines ”tibi nubere nimpha uolentis/uoti (...)

               Ortigiam studiis ipsaque colebat
Virginitate deam, ritu quoque cincta Diane     695
Falleret et posset credi Latonia, si non
Corneus huic arcus, si non foret aureus illi.
Sic quoque fallebat, redeuntem colle Lyceo
Pan uidet hanc pinuque caput praecinctus acuta
Talia uerba refert25—“tibi nubere nimpha uolentis
Votis cede dei” --restabat uerba referre.      700
Et precibus spretis fugisse per auia nimpham… (fol. 13r)

But she patterned after the Delian goddess in her pursuits and above all in her life of maidenhood. When girt after the manner of Diana, she would deceive the beholder, and could be mistaken for Latona’s daughter, were not her bow of horn, were not Diana’s of gold. But even so she was mistaken for the goddess. “One day Pan saw her as she was coming back from Mount Lycaeus, his head wreathed with a crown of sharp pine-needles, and thus addressed her:Nymph, yield to the wish of the god who wishes to marry you.” It remained still to tell what he said and to relate how the nymph, spurning his prayers, fled through the pathless wastes…

22Our commentator is again quite good about demarcating the imbedded speech:

Met. 1. 701 Et precibus: et id est etiam, restabat Mercurio referre nimpham fugisse. (fol 13r)

And with prayers: And, that is to say, also, it remained for Mercury to narrate that the nymph fled.

Met. 1.704 <Ut se>: et restabat Mercurio referre nimpham orasse sorores, etc. (fol. 13r)

That they might change her: and it remained for Mercury to narrate that the nymph pleaded with her sisters, etc.

Met. 1.705 et restabat Mercurio referre pressam appressam. (fol. 13r)

And it remained for Mercury to narrate that she was caught, apprehended.

Met. 1.709 et restabat Mercurio referre arte noua. (fol. 13r)

And it remained for Mercury to narrate by a novel art.

Met. 1.711 et restabat Mercurio referre Pana tenuisse nomen puelle. (fol. 13v)

And it remained for Mercury to narrate that Pan retained the name of the girl.

23One other point worth noting regarding the Syrinx episode is that the commentator highlights the structural markers Ovid as author has inserted into the narrative to demarcate the opening and close of indirect speech (at 1.700 and 1.713). Talia, the word demarcating the start of indirect speech at line 700 is answered by talia dicturus at 713, the word marking the end of indirect speech, and our Brussels commentator underscores this connection:

1.700 Talia qualia habuit in proposito, set Mercurius non procedit quia uidit Argum dormientem et Ouidius supplet uices Mercurii et continuat eum usque in finem sermonis et interim caput Argi amputavit. (fol. 13r)

Such things as he intended, but Mercury did not continue as he saw Argus was asleep and Ovid substitutes for Mercury and goes to the end of the speech and in the meantime he cut off Argus’s head.

1.718 Dicturus: habens in proposito dicendi nisi Argus dormiuisset. (fol. 13v)

Intending to say: intending to relate if Argus had not fallen asleep.

  • 26 The interpretation of this episode in the Vulgate commentary has been treated in Coulson 2008.

24Let us look at one final rhetorically heightened episode which further illustrates this commentator’s intense interest in female psychology, namely the story of Procne, Tereus and Philomela from Book Six26.

25Near the close of the story of Procne and Philomela, Procne has a short monologue (6.619-635), very Euripidean in structure, in which she argues the two paths open to her: killing her son Itys or allowing him to live and thereby not avenging her sister. The lines of the speech are highly rhetorical, compressed, and are replete with unusual vocabulary.

                                        Peragit dum talia Progne,
ad matrem ueniebat Ithis; quid possit, ab illo          620
anmonita est oculisque tuens inmitibus “ha! Quam
es similis patri!” dixit nec plura locuta
triste parat facinus tacitaque estuat ira.
ut tamen accessit natus matrique salutem
attulit et paris adduxit colla lacertis                         625
mixtaque blandiciis puerilibus oscula iunxit,
mota quidem est genetrix, infractaque constitit ira
inuitique oculi lacrimis maduere coactis;
sed simul eximia mentem pietate labare
sensit, a hoc iterum est ad uultus uersa sororis          630
inque uicem spectans ambos “cur admouet” inquit“
alter blandicias, rapta silet altera lingua?
quam uocat hic matrem, cur non uocat illa sororem?
cui sis nupta, uide, Pandione nata, marito!
degeneras! scelus est pietas in coniuge Thereo.”             (fol. 83v)

While Procne was thus speaking Itys came into his mother’s presence. His coming suggested what she could do, and regarding him with pitiless eyes, she said: “Ah, how like your father you are!” Saying no more, she began to plan a terrible deed and boiled with inward rage. But when the boy came up to her and greeted his mother, put his little arms around her neck and kissed her in his winsome, boyish way, her mother-heart was touched, her wrath fell away, and her eyes, though all unwilling, were wet with tears that flowed in spite of her. But when she perceived that her purpose was wavering through special mother-love, she turned again from her son to her sister; and gazing at both in turn, she said: “Why is one able to make soft, pretty speeches, while her ravished tongue dooms the other to silence? Since he calls me mother, why does she not call me sister? See the kind of man you have married, daughter of Pandion! You are unworthy of your father! Faithfulness to such a husband as Tereus is a crime.”

26Here is how our commentator treats these lines:

6.621 Ha interiectio indignacionis. (fol. 83v)

Ah, an interjection showing indignation.

6.622 Similis O Ytis, tu simulas patri. (fol. 83v)

Like, Oh Itys, you are like your father.

6.623 Parat in mente sua (fol. 83v)

Prepares, in her mind.

6.623 Tacita non alii revelata (fol. 83v)

Silent, not revealed to another.

6.624 Ita exacerbata est contra filium suum ut interficeret eum, tamen. (fol. 83v)

Thus is she exercised against her son as to be on the verge of killing him, but.

6. 633 sororem set non uocat. Unde indignum est, ergo uindicandum. (fol. 83v)

But she does not call me sister. Hence it is not fitting and one must seek vengeance.

6.634. Marito: quam uersupelli, quam maligno et crudelissimo, unde crudeliter agendum est contra ipsum. (fol. 83v)

My husband: how deceitful, how evil and most cruel, hence one must act cruelly against him.

6.635 Degeneras in hoc quod pietate mota es. Vel aliter degeneras quia deberes uindicare te de iniuriis tuis sed non facis, ergo degeneras. Vel degener es; vel degener est, scilicet Thereus. (fol. 83v)

You fall away in this way because you are moved by maternal love. Or interpret thus: you fall away because you should seek vengenace for those injuries against you, but you do not and hence, you fall away. Or you are less, or he is less, that is to say, Tereus.

  • 27 I have not found the exact source for this reference, but cf. lex iubet artifices necis inire uices(...)

6.635. Pietas enim habita erga malignum non est pietas sed scelus. Vnde: lex iubet artifices fraudis inire uices27. Alibi: non est clementia bello esse pium. (cf. Walter of Châtillon, Alex. 2.472-3) (fol. 83v)

Pity expressed for an evil man is not love but wickedness. Hence one says: the law orders those who commit fraud to be requited in kind. And elsewhere one says: It is not clemency to be merciful in war.

27One other way in which the content of Brussels KBR 2100 varies from other commentaries on the Metamorphoses is in its relentless Christian interpretation of certain passages. This tendency is particularly in play in the stories of Io and Syrinx in book One. Let us now turn to examine some of the ways our commentator views the story through a Christian lens.

1.635 Vellet: Non est enim in potestate anime peccatricis resurgere quando uult. (fol. 12r)

She wanted: For it is not in the purview of the soul of the sinner to rise again when it wishes.

1.636 Argo: Ita nec de mundo potes te liberare quando uolueris. (fol. 12r)

To Argus, thus you are not able to free yourself from the world when you wish.

1.637 Edidit ore ita peccator quando uult confiteri nescit modum confitendi. (fol. 12r)

She spoke Thus the sinner when he wishes to confess does not know how to do so.

  • 28 From the medieval Latin elongare, to remove, keep aloof.

1.665 Natam: quia mundus elungat (sic)28 semper peccatores a Deo patre. (fol. 12v)

His daughter: since the world alienates sinners from God the Father.

1.674. Remouit sicut contigit de Christo in monte Tabor (Matt. 17.1-3) quando caro eius floruit et uisa sunt uestimenta eius tamquam nix.

He removed: Just as happened to Christ on Mount Tabor when his flesh shone and his garments seemed like snow.

1.676 Pastor quia ipse dixit “ego sum pastor bonus et cognosco oues meas et cognoscunt me mee.” (Ioh. 10.14) (fol. 12v)

A shepherd since he said “I am the good shepherd and I know my flock and my flock knows me.”

1.676. Capellas quia ubique deus ambulauit sequti sunt eum peccatores et rexit suos per suam predicationem. (fol. 12v)

Goats because wherever God walked sinners followed him and he directed them through preaching.

1.681 Umbram aptam quia in mundo est umbra, scilicet multa delectatio et iocunditas. (fol. 12v)

Appropriate shade, because in the world there is shade, namely much pleasure and joy.

1.688 Fistula nuper erat quia in natiuitate saluatoris ortum est nobis Nouum Testamentum et unde Pilatus: quid est ueritas?(Ioh. 18.38) tamen ueritati non curauit acquiescere. (fol. 13r)

The reed had just come about because in the birth of the Saviour the New Testament arose for us and hence Pilate says “what is the truth?; yet he did not take care to adhere to it.

1.716 Medicata id est medicinam ferenti. Hec est uirga predicationis que suscitat dormientem in peccato etc. et significat crucem Christi de qua dicitur ab illis qui sunt in purgatorio (Ps. 22) ”Si ambulauero in medio umbre mortis” etc., id est in medio purgatorii ubi est species mortis, uirga tua et baculus tuus ipsa me consolata sunt. Virga tua, id est gloriosa uirgo, et baculus tuus, id est crux, ipsa me consolata sunt. (fol. 13v)

Drugged that is bearing medicine. This is the wand of the preacher which awakens the man asleep in sin. And it represents the cross of Christ about which those in Purgatory say: “If I shall walk in the midst of the shadow of death”, that is in the midst of Purgatory where there is a sort of death, “your rod and staff comfort me.” Your rod, that is the glorious Virgin, and your staff that is the Cross, console me.


28Our foray, albeit brief, into the approaches adopted by KBR 2100 in explicating Ovid’s epic reveals a commentator of quite unusual interests. Some of these –the explanation of mythological background, the allegorical approach to explaining the meaning of Ovid’s stories, the exploration of multiple variant readings in the text—can be chronicled in many of the commentaries of French origin circulating during the period. On the other hand, we have also seen a commentator of quite singular and unique interests. His intense preoccupation in what might be termed Ovid’s rhetoric, particularly in such heightened dramatic sections as those dealing with female protagonists, cannot to date be duplicated in other commentaries. Nor do other thirteenth-century French commentators reveal such an intense interest in reading stories through a Christian filter, as we have seen in the interpretation of the Io-Syrinx sequence. A complete edition of this unusual commentator is certainly to be wished for and may reveal even more varied aspects of this hitherto unexplored commentary.

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Blume, Dieter and Meier, Christel, eds. 2021. Petrus Berchorius und der antike Mythos im 14. Jahrhundert. Bd. 1 Die Metamorphosen Ovids in der Deutung des Petrus Berchorius und in den italienischen Bildzyklen des 14. Jahrhunderts. Bd. 2 Der ‘Ovidius moralizatus': Ausgabe, Übersetzung, Kommentar. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter.

Born, Lester Kruger. 1929. The Integumenta on the Metamorphoses of Ovid by John of Garland - first edited with introduction and translation. Dissertation, University of Chicago.

Ciccone, Lisa and Marylène Possamai-Pérez. 2020. Un commentaire médiéval aux Métamorphoses Le Vaticanus Latinus 1479, Livres 1 à V. Paris: Classiques Garnier.

Ciccone, Lisa and Marylène Possamai-Pérez. 2022. Un commentaire médiéval aux Métamorphoses Le Vaticanus Latinus 1479, Livres VI à X. Paris: Classiques Garnier.

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Clarke, A.K. and P.M. Giles. 1973. The Commentary of Geoffrey of Vitry on Claudian, De Raptu Proserpinae. Leiden.

Coulson, Frank T. 2008. “Procne and Philomela in the Latin Commentary Tradition of the Middle Ages,” Euphrosyne 36. 181-196.

Coulson, Frank T. 2016. “Literary Criticism in the Vulgate Commen tary,” Medieval Textual Cultures: Agents of Transmission, Translation and Transformation. Eds. Faith Wallis and Robert Wisnovsky. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter. 121-132.

Coulson, Frank T. 2018. “The Story of Byblis in the Vulgate Commentary on the Metamorphoses,” Vivam! Estudios sobre la Obra de Ovidio. Studies on Ovid’s Poetry. Eds. Luis Rivero-García, María Consuelo Álvarez. R.M. Iglesias, Juan Antonio Estévez. Huelva: Universidad de Huelva. 223-235

Coulson, Frank T. 2020. “Reading Ceyx and Alcyone in the Medieval School Tradition on Ovid,” The Lives of Latin Texts. Papers Presented to Richard J. Tarrant. Eds. Lauren Curtis and Irene Peirano Garrison. Cambridge, Harvard University Press. 129-147.

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1 I am very grateful to Kyle Gervais, Harald Anderson, William Little, Marjorie Curry Woods, and the two anonymous readers for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

2 See Verweij 2011. The manuscript is also described in Thomas 1928; Hermann 1929 and Munari 1957. The commentary is briefly mentioned in Coulson 2022, 319-20.

3 See Ghisalberti 1932 and Ghisalberti 1933a, 1933b, and 1933c.

4 Gervais 2022.

5 Fritz and Noacco 2022.

6 Coulson and Martina 2021, vols. 2 and 3 are forthcoming in 2023.

7 Ciccone and Possamai-Pérez 2020, 2022.

8 For a complete list of allegories on the Metamorphoses between 1180 and 1600, see Coulson 2022.

9 Edited in Ghisalberti 1932. The text is now reedited and translated into English by David Gura in his forthcoming edition from Corpus Christianorum Continuatio medievalis; and is reedited and translated into French by Noacco and Fritz 2022 in a volume forthcoming from Classiques Garnier.

10 Editions of text in Ghisalberti 1933b and Born 1929. Both of these editions are quite flawed; one should now consult Gervais 2022.

11 See Gura 2017.

12 I retain the orthography of Brussels KBR 2100 in all quotations from the manuscript.

13 These new alternative verses are extensively treated in Gervais 2022 (to which I am indebted). Gervais has not found the source for these alternative versions transmitted in the Brussels manuscript.

14 I have altered the manuscript reading ac to atque. I am indebted to one of the anonymous readers for this emendation.

15 I have altered the manuscript reading est to et. I am indebted to one of the anonymous readers for this emendation.

16 See Coulson and Martina 2021, 626. The verse is also to be found in Geoffrey of Vitry’s commentary on the De raptu Proserpinae. See Clarke and Giles 1973, 79-80.

17 See below, paragraph 26.

18 Discussion of Arnulf as a commentator may be found in Clark, Coulson and McKinley 2011, Ghisalberti 1933a, and Gura 2010, 2015, 2017.

19 Coulson has written voluminously on the Vulgate Commentary. See Coulson 2007, 2016, 2018 and 2021.

20 The approaches to explicating the text adopted by this commentator are discussed in Ciccone and Possamai-Pérez 2021.

21 Coulson 2016.

22 Bersuire has a very complex transmission history. The commentary exists in three versions, two written at Avignon, and one written post 1348 in Paris. The second Avignon version has just received a critical edition and translation into German. See Blume and Meier 2021. An edition of the second Avignon version with English translation is forthcoming in Coulson and Haynes 2023. The fullest treatment of the life and works of Bersuire is Samaran and Monfrin 1962. See also Kretschmer 2016.

23 I use the translation in Ovid 1984.

24 McKinley 2001, pp. 106-27 details late 14th-century approaches to the story of Medea.

25 Note that Brussels KBR 2100 transmits the two spurious half lines ”tibi nubere nimpha uolentis/uotis cede dei.”

26 The interpretation of this episode in the Vulgate commentary has been treated in Coulson 2008.

27 I have not found the exact source for this reference, but cf. lex iubet artifices necis inire uices cited by R. Ehwald in Bursarian’s Jarhresbericht 31 (1882), 191 from a commentary on Tristia 5.8.11 transmitted in a Gotha manuscript. The commentator of Brussels KBR 2100 may be thinking of Ovid, Ars 1.655-56, non est lex iustior ulla / quam necis artificem morte perire sui. I am indebted to one of the two anonymous readers for this reference.

28 From the medieval Latin elongare, to remove, keep aloof.

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