, Volume 99, Issue 1, pp 151–166 | Cite as

The Date and Intellectual Milieu of the Early Middle English Vices and Virtues



One of the least understood texts written during the transition from Old to Middle English is Vices and Virtues, a religious dialogue surviving in London, British Library, Stowe 34 (s. xiii1/4). Several scholars have shown from linguistic evidence that the work was probably composed in Eastern or Southeastern England sometime in the second half of the twelfth century, but its literary and intellectual context has received little attention. The present article identifies sources for two passages of Vices and Virtues in the Anselmian De similitudinibus and Hugh of St Victor’s (d. 1141) De sacramentis Christiane fidei. The second passage also has an important vernacular analogue in a French sermon by Maurice de Sully (d. 1196). Finally, a third passage is compared with close parallels from John of Salisbury’s (d. 1180) Policraticus and a few later texts. The sources and analogues identified here represent some of the most important clues to the work’s date so far discovered, and may allow us to assign the original composition of Vices and Virtues to the last third of the twelfth century. More significantly, these related texts help to situate more precisely the dialogue’s anonymous author within the intellectual landscape of post-Conquest England. The Vices and Virtues author’s knowledge and adaptation of the works of contemporary Latin theologians provides evidence of the vibrancy and utility of English religious prose in the late twelfth century.


Early Middle English Vices and Virtues Anselm of Canterbury Hugh of St Victor Maurice de Sully John of Salisbury 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval StudiesTorontoCanada

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