The standard definition
of this word, "a collection of literary
," leaves much to be desired
. Certainly, it is accurate
, but a great deal of the word's flavor
is lost. So, as a Chinese
brings dried ingredient
s back to the fullness
of life, so I will endeavor
to infuse some vitality
into this obsolescing
, though interesting, word.
This word is actually a translation into Latin of the Greek word anthology. Through their roots (flos in the Latin and anthos in the Greek), both words convey a meaning closer to "gathering literary flowers." And this is certainly the shade of meaning that Medieval Christian monks had in mind.
Several monastic orders, particularly the Dominicans, emphasized the importance of study for their members, and thus (through the preservation, translation, and copying of ancient and antique Greek and Latin works) much knowledge crossed the bridge from the remote past into the present. As an aid to the courses of study, monks were often required to compile a florilegium, wherein they could collect extracts from their readings, arrange them in an edifying order, and comment on them, where appropriate. This (admittedly primitive) critical approach to both religious and secular texts was an important foundation for the growth of scholasticism.
Several hundred examples of the florilegium exist in manuscript collections, so often were they produced. Their scholarly value is minimal, since the copied Greek or Latin passages are often rife with the kind of grammatical errors that give modern document scholars nightmares. But they do provide significant insight into the minds of the monks who produced them, and into their world.