Comment peut-on déterminer la popularité d'un texte au Moyen Âge? L'exemple des oeuvres classiques latines
Alberto Burri, "Sacco L.A.," 1953: burlap and acrylic on canvas, 39 5/16 x 33 7/8 inches (101 x 87 cm), inv. 5337 - © Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello – by SIAE 2016


classical manuscripts
grammar curriculum in the Middle Ages
influence of classical literature
medieval libraries
reception of classical Latin literature

How to Cite

Munk Olsen, B. (2018). Comment peut-on déterminer la popularité d’un texte au Moyen Âge? L’exemple des oeuvres classiques latines. Interfaces: A Journal of Medieval European Literatures, (3), 13–27.


This paper discusses the possibilities and ways of determining the impact of classical Latin literature in the Middle Ages, taking as an example the four centuries from the ninth to the twelfth and using the four most relevant parameters: the literary influence, the explicit statements, the holdings of libraries, and the production of manuscripts. As for the influence, imitation is by far the most significant criterion, whereas quotations may often be second hand, and reminiscences fortuitous. Library catalogues, though rather rare for our period, can give useful information on the characteristics of the holdings at different periods of time. It is impossible to know if the books mentioned were actually read, but if the additions to the lists of holdings are correctly dated, the added information show which new texts were considered indispensable at a given moment. Finally, if certain precautions are taken in interpreting the numbers, the extant manuscripts and fragments allow us partly to identify the most widely diffused texts for the whole period, partly to follow the evolution of the grammar curriculum and to determine for each of the four centuries the popularity of the works that were not read in the schools. A comparison between the data from the catalogues and those from the manuscripts shows many disparities, especially for most of the Ovidian poems and for short texts, which easily disappear when they are not bound with other works. As a result, it is after all the surviving manuscripts that appear to constitute the most reliable approach for measuring the popularity of a given text.

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