Martin has been called "one of the greatest of Irish Carolingian scholars." (Breen, p. 404). Annotations he wrote in a manuscript of the Annals of Laon (Annales Laudunenses) gives personal details, such as his date of birth and that he was an Irish exile. Nothing substantive seems to be known of his origins in Ireland.
Martianus appears to have been a lay teacher all his adult life - there is no indication he was a monk - apparently settling at Laon in the late 840s, during the term of bishop Pardule. By the early 850s he was master of the cathedral school, which he remained till the end of his life. His students included Dido, Manno, Bernard and Hincmar. In this way he was responsible for the education of generations of pupils.
His intellectual interests were very broad, including computus, exegesis, medicine, history, grammar, Greek. He annotated the Annals of Laon, the computistical works of Bede, wrote a commentary on Martianus Capella's De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, and preserved fragments of a lost commentary on Virgil by Aelius Donatus.
Following the deposition of Hincmar, Martianus actively helped restore order in the cathedral chapter.
A copy of a letter from Martianus to Servatus Lupus of Ferrières has survived. The latter was a fellow humanist. Martianus is thought to have corresponded with Irish and continental scholars at the court of Charles the Bald, though no letters are extant.
"Martin is especially remarkable for his considerable knowledge of Greek, being particularly noted as the scribe of the most extensive Greek-Latin thesaurus then in existence in western Europe (Laon MS 444), which he may possibly have copied from an Irish exemplar. He has also been credited with a work known as 'Scholica graecarum glossarum', a series of notes on Greek words, and he copied some Greek verse by John Scottus Eriugena, with whom he appears to have been acquainted." (Breen, 2009, p. 405)
Martianus was an innovative calligrapher, contributing greatly to what is called the 'grammar of legibility' by use of word separation and punctuation, almost unheard of in his lifetime. In place of his native insular script, "in his role as teacher and supervisor of a school of scribes he cultivated the use of Carolingian minuscule of a very neat and legible type." (Breen, 2009, p. 405)
At least twenty-one manuscripts survive containing specimens of his autograph, now housed in Laon, Paris and Berlin.
Martianus was an avid collector of manuscripts, which he bequeated to Laon.
Breen (2009, p. 405) summs up Martianus's legacy: "Martin's main legacy to late Carolingian culture (unlike that of his fellow countryman John) was not as an original thinker and translator of works in Greek, but as a humanist and educator of great distinction."
Notes and references
- Moran, Dermot. The Philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena. Cambridge University Press, 1989.
- Breen, Aidan. Martinus (Martin) Hiberniensis, in Dictionary of Irish Biography, Cambridge, 2009, pp. 404–05.