Book Series Instrumenta Patristica et Mediaevalia, vol. 61

The Letter Collections of Anselm of Canterbury

Samu Niskanen

  • Pages: 348 p.
  • Size:160 x 240 mm
  • Illustrations:11 b/w
  • Language(s):English, Latin
  • Publication Year:2012

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-54075-7
  • Hardback
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  • ISBN: 978-2-503-57146-1
  • E-book
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"Scholars working on Anselm and his letters need to read this book, of course, but scholars interested in any of the manuscripts Niskanen examines should also consult it (...). Scholars concerned with letters in the eleventh and twelfth century will find much of note. I also believe that this book could be very profitably used in courses on manuscript studies and text editing.

Niskanen's presentation of his arguments and evidence is extraordinarily clear, thorough, and carefully structured. [...] This book would make an excellent introduction to the nitty-gritty world of text editing for graduate and advanced undergraduate students. Niskanen has untied the knots of a particularly tangled textual tradition, and the multi-faceted study of Anselm's letters--which constitute one-half of his overall literary output--will greatly benefit as a result."

(Rachel Koopmans, in The Medieval Review, 18.03.2012)

"Première étape d’une nouvelle édition critique prometteuse, le travail de S. Niskanen a pris l’ampleur d’une thèse de doctorat. [...] Impressionnant et austère, il est de ceux qui ramènent humblement l’historien devant ce constat qui pour être évident n’en est pas moins souvent négligé : toute étude sérieuse de la pensée d’un auteur commence par l’indispensable et rigoureuse histoire de la transmission textuelle des oeuvres qui l’expriment."

(A-.M. Bultot-Verleysen, in Scriptorium/Bulletin codicologique, 2012, p. 205*)

"The Letter Collections of Anselm of Canterbury is a scholarly analysis of its subject at the highest standard. In a manner not unlike that of the original author of the letters, what appears to be a straightforward and simple title conceals a topic of intricate complexity. It is a topic that Samu Niskanen approaches in painstaking detail, and with great success. [...] No future treatment of Anselm’s letters should be undertaken without consideration of the conclusions and observations offered here. [...] [This volume] represents a major scholarly achievement in its own right [...]."

(Giles E. M. Gasper, The Journal of Medieval Latin, 23 (2013), p. 377-379)

"Chapter Two [...] a careful survey of the practicalities of composing, writing, delivering, and preserving letters in Latin Europe during the eleventh and twelfth centuries [...] could stand alone as an introduction to the topic on an undergraduate reading list. [...] There are numerous individual observations, firmly grounded in the manuscript evidence, which will provide grist to the mill of further research. To give some indication of their range, these include the influence of Anselm on the ars dictaminis, his readers in the Cistercian order, and the early modern reception of his letters. [...] This study will be indispensable for further work on Anselm himself, and very valuable for analysis of medieval letters more generally."

(Bernard Gowers, English Historical Review, 129 (2014), 417-419)

"N[iskanen] bietet eine Überlieferungsgeschichte der Briefsammlungen Anselms. Was zunächst recht banal und durchaus trocken klingt, lässt jedem mit dem Material Vertrauten den Atem stocken. [...] Zu seiner eigenen Leistung kann man N[iskanen] nur gratulieren [...] Wer sich in Zukunft mit Anselms Briefsammlungen auseinandersetzt, wird um die [...] Lektüre von N[iskanen]s Werk nicht herumkommen; dieses zeigt nebenbei wieder einmal sehr schön, welchen Erkenntnisgewinn vermeintlich trockene Grundlagenforschung mit sich bringen kann."

(Roland Zingg, Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters, 70,2 (2014), p. 717–718)


The letters of Anselm of Canterbury († 1109) provide the clearest insight into his mind and action, and they also constitute one of our finest vantage points to observe the formation of those profound forces moulding Europe in the late eleventh- and early twelfth centuries. The focus of the present study is the transmission of Anselm’s correspondence. It argues that many of the conclusions of earlier scholarship have been constructed on flawed foundations. Using evidence from all known manuscripts and printed editions, the study seeks to demonstrate precisely how Anselm’s letters have survived and how the surviving witnesses relate to one another. The study also aims to define the historical contexts within which our key manuscripts were copied and edited. Only when equipped with this store of information can we begin to understand the editorial processes that shaped the textual tradition of Anselm’s letter collections before and after his death.

Dr Samu Niskanen is Newton Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford.