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In Memoriam: Bernhard Bischoff (1906-91)


A Remembrance by Helmut Gneuss, University of Munich

Bernhard Bischoff, Professor emeritus of Medieval Latin Philology, died September 17, 1991 in Munich. His work has greatly affected our knowledge of texts and manuscripts of Anglo-Saxon England.

Bernhard Bischoff was born in 1906 in Altendorf in Thuringia. He began his studies in 1925 at the University of Munich, where he completed his dissertation in 1933 under the direction of Paul Lehmann, and where he taught since 1947. As successor of Ludwig Traube and Paul Lehmann, he was appointed to the chair for medieval Latin philology, which he held until 1974. Thereafter he continued his scholarly work without interruption until his death; he was able to complete in large part his catalog of the approximately 8000 Latin manuscripts of the ninth century, on which he worked to the end. In 1953 he became a member of the board of directors of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica and in 1956 he was elected a Fellow of the Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften.

Bernhard Bischoff's international reputation is based chiefly on his work in paleography and his unsurpassed knowledge of the manuscript transmission of the early Middle Ages in particular. His list of publications numbers 246 titles, among these major works dealing with handwriting and medieval manuscripts on the British isles and in the region influenced by the Anglo-Saxon mission on the continent. Book and script in England and Ireland were assigned a prominent place in his Palaographie des römischen Altertums und des abendländischen Mittelalters (1979).

The epochal discovery made by Bischoff replaced the vague image of the early Latin-Christian culture of England and of the school of Theodore and Hadrian of Canterbury with a clear picture: in the essay he wrote in 1954 about "Turning-Points in the History of Latin Exegesis in the Early Middle Ages ("Wendepunkte in der Geschichte der lateinischen Exegese im Frühmittelalter" ) he was able to deduce from biblical glosses of a manuscript from Milan the scope and content of instruction offered at Canterbury in the 7th century as well as the effect of the Canterbury school on early continental glossography. He entrusted the publication of these glosses, together with a commentary, to Michael Lapidge; the work will appear in the near future in the Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England. His manifold contributions to the exploration of Anglo-Saxon manuscript collections cannot be recognized here in detail.

Bischoff's personal influence went far beyond that of his publications. Let me just mention his lectures at home and abroad, his contacts with countless colleagues, and his readiness to respond to written requests from even the youngest student.

Bischoff possessed the reserved and modest nature of the scholar and a truly universal education. He was not only a paleographer and medievalist, but he was also at home in neighboring disciplines: he knew as much about modern literature as he did about the Middle Ages and Antiquity, and he knew as much music as mineralogy and botany. A sense of duty and helpfulness informed his personality – the human being and the scholar. His death signifies a break in the study of Anglo-Saxon England.

Translated by Rosmarie Thee Morewedge, SUNY-Binghamton

A Bibliographic Note: All publications mentioned in this Obituary are listed in "Bernhard Bischoff: Verzeichnis der Veröffentlichungen. Zusammengestellt von Sigrid Kramer," in Bernhard Bischoff 1906-1991 (München. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, 1992), pp. 41-86.

OEN 26.1 (1992): 14.