Malachy the Irishman, On Poison

BookMalachy the Irishman, On Poison

Malachy the Irishman, On Poison

A Study and an Edition

Exeter Medieval Texts and Studies


November 1st, 2020

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The 'De venenis' attributed to 'Malachias Hibernicus' is a portable discussion of vices and virtues. Probably composed about 1280, originally as an aid for Franciscan preachers, it adopts the innovative metaphor that sin is a poison removed by various 'treacles'. Its argumentative mode is to adduce scientific data about venomous beasts, the sins, and the antidotes to their poisons, the 'remedial' virtues. From these 'facts' of natural history, Malachy constructs homiletic similitudines (analogical figures). These, typically of a sort designed for use in sermones ad status, he applies to vicious and virtuous activities, and perhaps particularly ones peculiar to Ireland.
Although Malachy the Irishman and his On Poison have received only a handful of scholarly notices in the last century, in the later Middle Ages, his was a widely known book. A lengthy introduction presents evidence for the wide circulation of Malachy's text and the little that is known of the author. It further addresses literary issues: the work's genre, hovering between a treatise on vices and virtues, a compendium of scientific information, and a handbook for preachers; Malachy's efforts at compilation of authoritative materials; and a preliminary account of some early users, including William Langland and Robert Holcot. The introduction concludes by examining the insuperable difficulties involved in editing the text. The centre of the volume presents an annotated preliminary text and translation, together with some account of early interpolations the text received. The volume concludes with three indexes, one with all biblical citations, one of all Malachy's other citations, and a third of Malachy's similitudines, his moralised scientific information.

‘Perhaps the greatest gift a longtime editor and skilled Latinist can leave for less experienced successors is a reliable edition and accurate translation of an influential text that they may not have encountered and cannot read as fluently. Hanna has given his colleagues exactly that.’
Edwin D. Craun, The Medieval Review

Author Information

Ralph Hanna is Professor of Palaeography (Emeritus) and Emeritus Fellow at Keble College, Oxford. He is a former Guggenheim Fellow, former Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute (Harvard University), and winner of the British Academy Sir Israel Gollancz Prize for English Language 2015. His books include Editing Medieval Texts (Liverpool University Press, 2015), Introducing English Medieval Book History: Manuscripts, their Producers and their Readers (Liverpool University Press, 2013) and Richard Rolle: Unprinted Latin Writings (Liverpool University Press, 2019).

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
The circulation of the text11
The manuscripts used in this study14
Malachy’s work and its sources22
Some users of De ueneno31
The text: some general textual observations35
Split transmission or interpolation?45
The presentation here54
Malachy the Irishman: On poison, text and translation 61
Appendix: The extensive interpolations203
Editorial notes 235
Malachy’s sources249
Biblical references269
Fontes: Malachy's first-hand sources272