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The works of Vincent of Beauvais


Vincent, an all-round writer

Vincent of Beauvais is indisputably renowned for his great encyclopedic work, the Speculum Maius. This Greater Mirror was intended to consist of, in its final state, four parts or specula: the Speculum Naturale, describing natural history; the Speculum Doctrinale, which focusses on the arts and sciences; the Speculum Morale on virtues and vices; and, finally, the Speculum Historiale, which describes human history from Creation upto Vincent's own lifetime.

It took Vincent more than fifteen years to compile the Speculum Maius. During that period he produced three versions of the Speculum Naturale and even five versions of the Speculum Historiale. The Speculum Doctrinale he left uncompleted. And it is uncertain if Vincent ever wrote his text of the Speculum Morale, since no such text has been identified so far. The text with the name Speculum Morale that we know today, was made by a Franciscan compiler between 1310 and 1320.

The Speculum Historiale was the most popular part of the Speculum Maius during the later Middle Ages. To this popularity testify the more than 250 manuscript volumes that are known today, and the translations and adaptations into medieval vernacular languages. Manuscript volumes of the Speculum Naturale and Speculum Doctrinale are less numerous, which suggests a much lower popularity; those of the Speculum Morale are rare. A handwritten copy of the entire Speculum Maius was in fact an exceptional phenomenon; only two of such complete copies have been retrieved so far. These disproportions changed considerably with the introduction of the printing press. All three parts and also the apocryphal text of the Speculum Morale became available in printed form. After 1480, four editions of the Speculum Maius have been printed presenting the Speculum Naturale, Doctrinale and Historiale plus the apocryphal Speculum Morale. From these editions emerges the image of a monolithic unity of four parts that the Speculum Maius did not achieve in the manuscript age.

Vincent of Beauvais is also the author of a political compendium on the mores of princes, courtiers and all those who are involved in government and administration. Vincent compiled this work at the request of different members of the French royal family. Being too occupied, Vincent was able to complete only two of the four planned parts: the first part, the De morali principis institutione, deals with the origin of kingship, the purposes of directing a kingdom and how the king should apply his power; and the fourth book, the De eruditione filiorum nobilium, treats the intellectual and moral education of princes and princesses. Vincent also wrote a letter of consolation (Liber consolatorius) for King Louis, after the death of the crown prince in January 1260.

Vincent´s name is also attached to ten other works, mostly dealing with theological subjects. Seven theological works have indeed been ascribed to Vincent, but further study is needed to confirm his authorship:

  • Expositio in orationem Dominicam

  • Tractatus in salutatione beate Virginis Marie ab angelo facta

  • Liber de laudibus beate Marie Virginis

  • Liber de laudibus sancti Johannis Evangeliste

  • Liber de penitentia

  • Liber de sancta Trinitate

  • Liber Gratie

To these works may be added a Tractatus de vitio detractionis ("Treatise on the sin of slandering"), to which refers Vincent himself in his De morali principis institutione, chapter 22: De vicio detractionis specialem tractatum edidisse me memini, in quo de qualitatibus ac speciebus ac circumstanciis et nocumentis atque remediis eiusdem vicii plenius disserui. So far, however, no surviving manuscript or incunabulum edition of this text has been discovered. The De fructibus penitentie and a collection of Epistolarum ad diversos libros seem to be apocryphal.

For a comprehensive bibliography on the works of Vincent of Beauvais.

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