Medieval Renaissance Conference, Barcelona, Spain

A Tale of Two Walters: What the Original Sources of De speculatione musica Reveal

    Since Charles Burney made a detailed description of De speculatione musica (Cambridge, Corpus Christi 410) in his A General History of Music (1776), the author of this great English treatise has always been assumed to be a certain ‘Walter Odington’. Subsequently, he was praised not only as an authority on music, but a master within the scientific field of alchemy. Such a great mind was praised by Leland, Bale and Dugdale who, within their monastic histories of Britain, lauded him as being one who devoted multiple hours to his studies. Curiously, these early records only mention the author’s contribution in music, neglecting to include the equally great alchemical treatise, Icocedron, credited to his name today.
    Initial investigations into the biographical details of Walter Odington seem needlessly complicated and equally puzzling: dates of suggested activity (mostly at the University of Oxford) for a Walter Odington range from 1298-1361. Although these records can confirm both scientific and mathematical activities, the 63-year span is improbable, even for a great and noble scholar. Prompted by the discovery of a new and hitherto unstudied fragment (London, British Library 56486a), a thorough investigation of all sources claimed to be works of Odington revealed surprising evidence of authorship. Rather than the supposed polyglot scholar, all evidence seems to indicate two authors: Walter of Evesham and Walter of Eynsham. This doppelmeister revelation resolves a number of complicated issues including the possibility to finally provide a more accurate date for De speculatione musica.