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  • Constant J. Mews, Tomas Zahora, Dmitri Nikulin and David Squire, The Speculum morale (c. 1300) and the study of textual transformations: a research project in progress, Vincent of Beauvais Newsletter, 35, pp. 5-15, 2010.

    The Speculum morale, last printed in 1624 as the third of four books making up the Speculum maius of Vincent of Beauvais, is an encyclopaedia of human behaviour, divided into three constituent books. Yet because of the coincidence of identical text in the Speculum morale and the Summa theologiae of Thomas Aquinas the attribution to Vincent has been seen as problematic at least since the late fifteenth century. In 1708 the French Dominican scholar Jacques Echard published a massive (668pp) study of the work-arguments that he subsequently summarized within his continuation to Quetif's Scriptores ordinis praedicatorum (1719)-in which he demonstrated that the Speculum morale cannot have been written by Vincent of Beauvais. Endowed with a prodigious capacity to recognise and identify Latin texts, and influenced by early enlightenment notions of plagiarism, Echard described how he came upon this realisation in 1704 while working in the library of Saint-Victor. He argued that the Speculum morale had not only borrowed on occasion from Aquinas but the entire work had been plagiarized from the writings of various moral theologians from the thirteenth century: Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Etienne de Bourbon (d. c. 1261), Peter of Tarentaise (1225-1276), the Franciscan Richard of Middleton (c. 1249-1302), and an anonymous author of Tractatus de consideratione novissimorum. Echard's assessment of the Speculum morale as a derivative compilation has led to the work being largely neglected by subsequent scholarship.

    This article summarizes a research project on the Speculum morale currently being undertaken at Monash University, Australia that seeks to rectify this situation. It considers the limitations of simply dismissing the work as `plagiarism' and instead draws attention to the potential significance of studying how texts can be subtly transformed in the process of compilation. The project involves co-operation between medievalists and IT specialists in transforming what is commonly called `plagiarism' detection software into text similarity detection software, with particular relevance to Latin texts.