The Meditations on the Life of Christ was the most popular and influential devotional work of the later Middle Ages. With its lively dialogue and narrative realism, its poignant and moving depictions of the Nativity and Passion, and its direct appeals to the reader to feel love and compassion, the Meditations had a major impact on devotional practices, religious art, meditative literature, vernacular drama, and the cultivation of affective experience.
This volume is a critical edition, with English translation and commentary, of a hitherto-unpublished Italian text that McNamer argues is likely to be the original version of this influential masterpiece. Livelier and far more compact than the Latin text, the Italian “short text” possesses a stylistic and textual integrity that appears to testify to its primacy among early versions of the Meditations. The evidence also suggests that it was composed by a woman, a Poor Clare from Pisa—an author whose work McNamer contends was obscured by the anonymous Franciscan friar who subsequently altered and expanded the text. In bringing to light this unique Italian version and building a case for its origins and importance, this book will encourage a fresh look at the Meditations and serve as a foundation for further scholarship and debate concerning some of the most compelling subjects in Italian and European literary and cultural history, including the role of women in the invention of new genres and spiritual practices, the early development of Italian prose narrative, the rise of vernacular theology, and the history of emotion.
McNamer’s volume will be of significant interest to medievalists, especially those who study medieval women, devotional literature, manuscript studies, and textual criticism. The linguistic analysis expands that audience to include those of a philological bent.
“With the text’s publication being anticipated in some of McNamer’s earlier essays, this edition builds on solid grounds: methodologically sound scholarship, long study of the text in this manuscript version, and accurate contextualization in medieval religious writings and devotional practices.” — Michelangelo Zaccarello, University of Verona
“In this ground-breaking edition and study Sarah McNamer makes a very persuasive argument for the primacy of this short Italian text of the Meditations on the Life of Christ among the many longer and later versions, both Italian and Latin. She situates the narrative within the highly affective religious, literary, and artistic traditions of the Trecento, and her careful examination of the evidence—especially the compassionate way the author shapes the narrative in the Infancy and Passion chapters—strongly suggests that its author was a nun of the Clarissan Order in Pisa. The extensive introductory material is replete with sound critical, artistic, historical, and linguistic insights, and McNamer’s excellent edition and translation reflect her meticulous attention both to detail and to the larger literary, historical, and artistic context of the work. This is a major contribution to our greater understanding of the ‘minor’ literature of the fourteenth century.” — Christopher Kleinhenz, Carol Mason Kirk Professor Emeritus of Italian, University of Wisconsin-Madison
“Through this labor of love and painstaking editorial scholarship, Sarah McNamer provides us with a first opportunity to read a beautiful and succinct Italian life of Christ. She further invites us to consider this text as the earliest, and female-authored, version of the Meditations on the Life of Christ, a text read everywhere in Europe from the Prague of the Emperor Charles IV to the Lynn of Margery Kempe. Highly recommended.” — David Wallace, Judith Rodin Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania
“In addition to the critical edition, the volume includes a translation into English, contextual annotations to the text, a linguistic analysis of the manuscript by Pär Larson of the Opera del Vocabolario Italiano, and an extensive introduction. This is a substantial and noteworthy contribution to the scholarship on the Meditations on the Life of Christ and on medieval devotional literature.” — Zygmunt G. Barański, University of Notre Dame
Winner of the 2017 Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Publication Award for a Manuscript in Italian Literary Studies, Modern Language Association