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OMAR KHALAF, ED. Alexander and Dindimus.

OMAR KHALAF, ED.

Alexander and Dindimus, Edited from Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 264.

Middle English Texts 55. Heidelberg: Universistatsverlag Winter, 2017. liv + 80 pp.

The most recent volume from the Middle English Texts series is unusual in a number of respects. Not only is it an edition of a text that is said to be one of the earliest examples of the Alliterative Revival, but it is also presented with copious illustrations, something that has not been the case with previous Middle English Texts volumes. Admittedly, the illustrations are not up to the normal high standards of current reproductions (something that the publisher could possibly consider), but it is still useful to have these nine plates, particularly as they are integral to the text, as the editor explains so carefully. Omar Khalaf's introduction to Alexander and Dindimus is finely judged, taking in the poem's somewhat complicated history, its language and localization, meter and rhythm, the illustrations, rubrics, sources, and fragmentary nature, alongside a creditable manuscript description.

The poem, known to many as Alexander B, is uniquely found in one manuscript, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 264, which otherwise contains a large core of profusely illustrated French poems on Alexander copied in France or Flanders in 1338. The English poem, alongside a French text on the travels of Marco Polo, was interpolated into the volume in the fifteenth century, possibly owing to the influence of one of the early owners, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers. Because it begins abruptly, the poem has long been thought of as fragmentary (a view endorsed by Khalaf) and related to the so-called Alexander A (or Romance of Alisaunder). It deals with an epistolary exchange between Alexander the Great and Dindimus (the king of the Bragmans), in which the latter represents the ascetic and the spiritual, and Alexander the materialistic and the worldly.

Following his careful manuscript description, Khalaf investigates the language rigorously, paying particular attention to dialectal stratification and concluding that the current text, in a South-West Midlands dialect, was transcribed by a Northern scribe and that
[t]his contributed to the creation of a text where the linguistic
features of the fifteenth-century English are not simply superimposed
on the original substratum of the poem that belonged to a century
before, but, on the contrary, they form a combination in which both
phases of the English language are still recognizable, and are
coherently amalgamated in a homogenous whole, [xxvii-xxviii]


In his discussion of meter and rhythm, he makes use of statistical analysis to show the stresses of the aa/ax alliterative pattern before moving on to a lengthy and very informative section on the illustrations (xxx-xxxvi), followed by a brief comment on the rubrics. In many ways the discussion of the illustrations is one of the most interesting parts of the introduction. The editor has gone into an unusual degree of detail to demonstrate his points and in so doing succeeds in clearly showing the subtle ways in which illustrations can serve to supplement the message of a medieval text. Khalaf works his way through the description of the nine images in which the illuminator sought to imitate (albeit not so successfully) the layout and composition of the French images in the rest of the volume. He then spends some time discussing the history of the left and right iconographical placing of figures (or places) in images, noting "the left-right opposition has been present in every culture since ancient times" (xxxiii) and that in the West it was systematized by Aristotle who thought that "the right side of the human body is warmer than the left, its blood purer, with more spirit and less water" (xxxiii). Indeed, heaven itself had its right and left sides, which led to the orientation of both church altars and buried corpses to face the right side--that is, to the east, with the west being the seat of Satan. From such minute analysis Khalaf is then in a very good position to demonstrate not only the importance of the placing of Alexander (the worldly and emotional) on the left and Dindimus (the spiritual and intellectual) on the right, but also the position of their feet (in Christian tradition, proper movement should take off from the right foot). In this way he is able to show clearly the significance of the left-right positioning in the individual illustrations and how they serve "to develop a narrative thread that is distinct from the written text" (xxxiv). This narrative thread developed in the illustrations therefore departs from the text but at the same time serves to draw "the reader's attention to some of the major themes developed in Alexander's and Dindimus's epistolary exchange such as kingship, ethics, and religion" (xxxv).

The poem is translated from the Collatio Alexandri et Dindimi per litteras facta (the Latin translation of one of the Greek texts from the "Indian treatises" branch of the Alexandrine tradition) found in the Historia de Preliis Alexandri Magni. According to Khalaf (xxxviii-1), there are three redactions of the Collatio (labeled respectively Collatio I, II, and III), and it had a wide and early circulation in Europe: for instance, Alcuin writes about sending a copy to Charlemagne, and there are forty-two extant manuscripts from medieval England that contain Collatio I, as well as various other texts, including forty-nine copies of Gower's Confessio Amantis, where it features as part of Book V. In his study of the sources, Khalaf provides detailed evidence that the text in Bodley 264 could have derived from a sub-branch of the tripartite division of the forty-two witnesses, represented by three manuscripts, albeit that "the English poem translates and paraphrases, without any apparent order, readings that are unique to each of the three manuscripts considered" (xlviii).

Khalaf edits the text sensibly, with sufficient commentary and a helpful glossary. It is most useful to have this edition, only the fourth in almost 170 years (Stevenson in 1849, Skeat in 1878, and Magoun in 1929). Taken overall, it is a very worthy volume in this series, where clear editorial and high scholarly standards continue to be upheld under the watchful eyes of the general editors, Margaret Connolly, William Marx, and Hans Sauer. Yet it is a great pity that they, and the publisher, continue to hide their lights under bushels and that there is no attempt to list previous volumes at the end of each new edition, something that is common practice in many other series and that would serve as a useful reminder to readers of what else is available in the excellent Middle English Texts series.

Veronica O'Mara, University of Hull
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Author:O'Mara, Veronica
Publication:The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2018
Words:1100
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