THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

14 posts from September 2016

30 September 2016

Valerius Maximus: A Handbook for the Roman Arriviste?

In Rome in AD 31, Valerius Maximus finished his collection of almost a thousand stories from the Roman world. It was a time of great change and uncertainty, but also the beginning of a new era, as the great Roman Republic had been replaced by the rule of emperors, a model that would continue in Western Europe until the 20th century. Many people lamented the loss of the values of the past and the poet Lucan wrote, ‘From now on until the end of time we are slaves’. It seems that Valerius wanted to preserve the great stories to entertain, to connect his fellow citizens to their great past, and to provide a noble code of behaviour based on the examples of their illustrious forebears.

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Valerius Maximus presents his book to Tiberius, seated in his court; ten sons of Rome are sent to Etruria for religious instruction; Metellus forbids the Consul, Postumius, to leave Rome; Rome is conquered by the Gauls; Numa Pompilius, King of Rome, threatens his people with death if they do not perform religious duties; Jehoiachin, King of Judah, in prison, hears Ezechial prophesying; Publicius Malleolus murders his mother and is placed in a sack to be thrown into the sea as punishment: Book 1, Les Fais et les Dis des Romains et de autres gens, Paris, 1473–c. 1480, Harley MS 4374, f. 1r.

Valerius took his stories from the works of great Latin authors including Cicero, Livy and Varro, organised into 9 books with themes such as happiness and ancient customs. The books were divided into 8 or 10 chapters, each dealing with a specific topic and containing stories from Ancient Rome followed by foreign tales, mostly from Ancient Greece, to illustrate the topic.  In his preface, Valerius stated that he wanted to save others trouble, so he organised his stories for easy reference.

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Miniature of Gyges, king of Lydia, kneeling before an altar, with a full border containing the royal arms of England and a foliate initial 'I'(cy commence), at the beginning of book 7, Les Fais et les Dis des Romains et de autres gens, Bruges, Royal MS 18 E IV, f. 109r.

Valerius's work provides a unique insight into the lives of ancient Romans and their views on many subjects. The picture painted is not entirely rosy; the cruelty and brutality of the Romans towards their enemies and opponents is portrayed honestly, and there are numerous examples of bloody conflict in the civil wars at the end of the Republic. The political changes brought with them huge social changes; it was a time of social mobility, with the old political aristocracy swept away and a new elite from more modest backgrounds, some from the provinces, taking its place. The new administrators, men like Pontius Pilate in Judea, may have used the examples in Valerius’s work to help them acquire the knowledge and values that they needed to govern and to avoid the sneers of the old elite. It was described as ‘Practical ethics for Roman gentlemen’ in the title of a study by C. J. Skidmore. 

An example of nouveau riche conspicuous consumption is provided as a warning at the beginning of the last book, on vice.

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Sergius Arata exhibits his hanging baths to his friends and inspects the artificial reserves he has constructed for fish; mid tier: the son of Aesopus feasts on the most costly singing birds; the Roman women plead for the repeal of the Oppian law forbidding female extravagance; lower tier: Sardanapalus, King of Assyria, clothed in women's attire, sits spinning among his wives, then burns himself and his possessions when he loses power, Book 9, Les Fais et les Dis des Romains et de autres gens, Paris, 1473–c. 1480, Harley MS 4375, f. 179r.

Although we do not really know how popular Valerius’s work was in antiquity, it was still copied the Carolingian period. In the later Middle Ages it was amazingly successful, with more copies surviving than any other Latin prose text apart from the Bible. Some studies have compared the use of exempla from the Old Testament with Valerius’s moral examples. In the British Library we have copies from France, Germany and Italy.

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Historiated initial 'U'(rbis Rome), of a building probably representing Rome, and a three-sided foliate border, at the beginning of Valerius Maximus's Factorum et dictorum memorabilium, Italy, N. (Lombardy?), 2nd half of the 14th century, Arundel MS 7, f. 1r.

Vernacular translations introduced the text to an even wider readership, perhaps the most well-known being the French translation begun for Charles V in 1375 by Simon de Hesdin, a knight hospitaller, and expanded and completed by Nicholas de Gonesse for the Duc de Berry.

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Miniature of Simon de Hesdin presenting his book to King Charles V of France; in the foreground, a dog pursues a monkey. Full strew border with acanthus leaves, flowers, figures, and a monkey mounted on a sheep (damaged), Book 1 Les Fais et les Dis des Romains et de autres gens, Netherlands, S., last quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 4430, f. 33r.

Valerius's work was also popular with medieval aristocrats, as evidenced by the number of highly illuminated copies made, with several in the British Library, some now bound in two or more volumes as they are so large. The following manuscripts have just been published in full on our Digitised Manuscripts website.

Harley MS 4372

Harley MS 4373

Harley MS 4374

Harley MS 4375

Other Valerius manuscripts have not been digitised in full but can be found online in our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts with a selection of images:

Harley MS 4430

Royal MS 17 F IV

Royal MS 18 E III

Royal MS 18 E IV

Arundel MS 7

 

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A family enjoying good fortune, Book 7, Les Fais et les Dis des Romains et de autres gens, France, N. (Amiens or Hesdin), or Netherlands, S., 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Royal MS 17 F IV, f. 232r.

Chantry Westwell

@BLMedieval

 

Further Reading

C. J. Skidmore, Practical ethics for Roman gentlemen: the work of Valerius Maximus (Exeter, 1996).

Valerius Maximus ‘Memorable Deeds and Sayings’: One Thousand Tales from Ancient Rome, translated by Henry John Walker (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2004).

28 September 2016

The Book Banner Who Inspired Banned Books

25 September to 1 October is Banned Books Week, when the American Library Association raises awareness of books which have been challenged over the past year to encourage freedom of expression and education. In the ALA's lists of frequently or notably banned books through the ages, the genres of utopia and dystopia feature prominently. From A Brave New World to 1984 to The Handmaid’s Tale to various works of H.G. Wells and even the Wonder Woman comics, works about imaginary societies have often attracted controversy and censorship. 2016 marks the 500th anniversary of the work which gave these genres their names: Thomas More’s Utopia. Ironically, however, for the forerunner of such controversial genres, Thomas More was a keen book-banner himself.

Cotton Titus D IV f12v
Thomas More's Verses on the Coronation of Henry VIII, London, 1509, Cotton MS Titus D IV, f. 12v

As chancellor to Henry VIII, More arranged for the burning of early Protestant books which he considered to be dangerous,  'pestiferous... sent to this realm to pervert the people from the true faith of Christ, to stir them to sedition against their princes, to cause them to contemn [sic] all good laws... to the desolation of this noble realm' (ed. by J.F. Larkin and P.L. Hughes, Tudor Royal Proclamations (New Haven: Yale, 1964), vol I, p. 194). Only  a few months after becoming chancellor, More drafted a list of forbidden books, promulgated on 22 June 1530. This included a ban on books in English printed outside of England. Earlier, Henry VIII had been among the first rulers in Europe to issue an index of banned books, in 1526. The exception to this ban, oddly enough, was More himself. He was granted a special dispensation by Cuthbert Tunstall, then Bishop of London, on 7 March 1528 to read Protestant works in order to refute them.

Utopia
The frontispiece of the original edition of 'Utopia', showing a map of Utopia and the fictional, Utopian alphabet. Published in Louvain : Arte Theodorici Martini, 1516 (C.27.b.30.)

Similarly, More imagined his perfect island of Utopia as a place physically and intellectually cut off from the rest of the world and its destructive ideas. He portrayed Utopia as intellectually remote by giving Utopians their own language, with an imaginary alphabet probably made by his friend Peter Giles and words for some unique concepts which he claimed did not translate directly into Latin. To some extent, the alphabet and map at the beginning of More’s work were also a way for More to continue the conceit that he was writing a travel guide to a place called Utopia, in the vein of earlier works like John Mandeville’s Travels, as Karma Lochrie has noted. Copies of Mandeville’s work sometimes also included the alphabets of the various languages he claimed to have encountered during his voyages. Additionally, however, Utopia's imaginary language may have been a way to extend censorship to More’s ideal world. Although all Utopians were supposed to be highly educated and to view a liberal education as the greatest of all pleasures, with their distinct language More’s Utopians would be unable to understand or read the ideas which More claimed had led to bad education and bad behaviour amongst Europeans.  

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Miniature of John Mandeville travelling to Constantinople, from illustrations for Sir John Mandeville's Voyage d'outre mer, Bohemia, c. 1400-1425, Add MS 24189, f. 4v

More’s work enjoyed almost immediate success when it was first published: it was soon republished and translated into many different languages. Nevertheless, if More had published his work today he might have found himself on lists of banned books, like later utopias and dystopias. The original Utopia advocated the overthrow of the rich, compulsory nudity for engaged couples, slavery as a punishment for adultery and a ban on lawyers, amongst other things. So, for Banned Books Week, spare a thought for Thomas More—the spiritual ancestor of both people who want to ban books and of some of the authors who find their books banned.

 

Alison Hudson

@BLMedieval

This blog is part of series for Banned Books Week 2016. See also Melvin Burgess’s blog on Censorship and the author, curator Christian Algar on the  â€˜corrected’ Il Decamerone and curator Tanya Kirk on The Monk, the Bible and Obscenity.

BannedBooksWeekLogos
Banned Books Week was initiated by the American Library Association in 1982 in response to an increasing number of challenges in the US to books in schools, bookstores and libraries, and in particular, books aimed at children or young adults. For the first time in the UK we are holding events, activities and publishing a series of blogs, all on the topic of Censorship and Banned Books, made possible by the partnership between The British Library, Free Word and Islington Library and Heritage Services and in association with the ALA.

26 September 2016

Every People Under Heaven

A major new exhibition on the art of medieval Jerusalem opens this week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Entitled Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven, the exhibition brings together art from multiple religious and cultural traditions, providing new insight into the international nature of Jerusalem in the Middle Ages, and highlighting the stunning artistic richness that survives from the period.

The British Library is proud to be a lender to this exhibition. In addition to a number of items loaned by our colleagues in Asian and African Collections,  three items from Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts will be on display. The exhibition offers a rare opportunity for these items to be viewed in the context of many other works of art created around the same time, and helps to reveal the many threads of cross-cultural influence to be found in works from the medieval Eastern Mediterranean and Levant.

The Harley Greek Gospels was produced some time around 1200 either in Cyprus or Palestine. Like many illuminated Byzantine Gospels, it contains portraits of the four Evangelists, one at the beginning of each Gospel book, as well as canon tables decorated with curtains, capitals and birds, and decorated headpieces at the beginning of three of the Gospels. But in addition, Harley 1810 contains 17 framed miniatures depicting narrative scenes from the life of Jesus and his followers throughout the manuscript. Most of these scenes appear in the course of the text of the Gospels, but one, depicting the Nativity, is given special prominence by being placed as the headpiece to the Gospel of Matthew.

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Dormition of the Virgin Mary, Harley MS 1810, f. 174r. Cyprus or Palestine, c. 1200.

These narrative cycles appear in some Byzantine Gospel books from the second half of the 11th century, but they are relatively unusual. The cycle of images includes depiction of scenes that do not appear in the Bible, for instance on f. 174r, where the depiction of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary can be found, an account that is not found in the text of the Bible. The art is characteristic of Eastern Mediterranean/Levantine book production at this period. The Met has chosen to display the scene of the Annunciation, on f 142r, which comes near the beginning of the Gospel of Luke. In this miniature, the architecture depicted is distinctive and perhaps reminiscent of local style.

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The Annunciation, Harley MS 1810, f. 142r. Cyprus or Palestine, c. 1200.

In addition to Harley 1810, visitors to the exhibition will be able to see the Melisende Psalter and its ivories on display. Readers of our blog will know our deep love for this manuscript, one of the most stunning works of 12th-century Crusader Art. Probably created for Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem between 1131 and 1153, the manuscript is written in Latin, but shows on every illuminated page the influence of Eastern Mediterranean art. The gold backdrop and architectural styles on display are particularly reminiscent of Byzantine illumination. On display at the Met are the folios depicting the Transfiguration and the Raising of Lazarus.

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The Transfiguration, Egerton MS 1139, f. 4v. Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem) 1131-1143.

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The Raising of Lazarus, Egerton MS 1139, f. 5r. Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem), 1131-1143.

The Melisende Psalter was originally encased in an exquisite binding of two ivory plaques, which contain scenes from the life of David on the upper cover and the six vices and six works of charity on the lower cover. As if carved ivory plaques were not ornate enough, this binding was further adorned with small gemstones.

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Ivory plaque from the upper binding of the Melisende Psalter, depicting scenes from the life of David. Egerton MS 1139/1, f. vr. Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem), 1131-1143.

We are delighted to be able to contribute to the exciting new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and to enable our North American friends to see some of our favourite manuscripts in person! The exhibition opens on 26 September, and continues until 8 January 2017.

Cillian O'Hogan

@BLMedieval

25 September 2016

The Ceolfrith Leaves Are 1300 Years Old

25 September 2016 marks the 1300th anniversary of the death of Abbot Ceolfrith of the Anglo-Saxon monastery at Wearmouth-Jarrow. This means that three sets of fragments in the British Library have had their 1300th birthday. Abbot Ceolfrith is most well-known for the trip he intended to make to Rome at the end of his life, to present a majestic manuscript to the pope. Sadly, Ceolfrith passed away at the grand age of 74 before he reached the Holy City, and the manuscript he brought with him on his journey never found its way to Rome. The manuscript was instead kept at the Abbey of the Saviour, Monte Amiata in Tuscany, before it moved to its current home, the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence.

This legendary manuscript is now known as the Codex Amiatinus, and is famous for its great size, extravagant design, and for being the oldest complete copy of the Vulgate Bible in existence. The manuscript is over 48cm tall, weighs 35kg and has more than one thousand pages. As can be seen in the photograph below, it was an extremely impressive manuscript and was designed to make a statement.

Codex Amiatinus at Cluny
The Codex Amiatinus on display, photographed by Maxence

What makes the achievements of the monks at Wearmouth-Jarrow even more remarkable is that they not only produced the Codex Amiatinus, but also two more copies of this great Bible. In Bede’s History of the Abbots he described how Abbot Ceolfrith had commissioned three copies of the Bible, ‘one of which he took with him as a present when he went back to Rome in his old age, and the other two he bequeathed to his monasteries’ (trans. by J.F. Webb, in D.H. Farmer (ed.), The Age of Bede, (London, 1983).) Within the collections here at the British Library are a number of fragments which are believed to be the remains of the two bibles which remained in Anglo-Saxon England.

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Page from the Middleton Leaves, England (Wearmouth-Jarrow), before September 716, Add MS 45025, f. 3v

These show that in addition to their magnificent size, the interior of these pandects was also designed to be visually impressive. The script and decorative images were specifically chosen to replicate an Italian design. This Italian style of script was different in many ways to another script which was commonly used in Northern England at the same time. Can you spot the differences between this script used in the Codex Amiatinus and Ceolfrith Leaves and the script used in an early copy of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History?


Add 37777 + Cotton Tib A XIV
Left: detail of script from the Greenwell Leaf, England (Wearmouth-Jarrow), before September 716, Add MS 37777, f. 1v; Right: 
Detail of script from Bede, Ecclesiastical History, England (Southumbria or Wearmouth-Jarrow?), c. 875-925, Cotton MS Tiberius A XIV, f. 15r

The British Library’s fragments all survive in the form of single leaves of parchment and are catalogued under three separate references, Add MS 45025, Add MS 37777 and Loan MS 81. These fragments have all taken rather unique and remarkable journeys from the scriptorium at Wearmouth-Jarrow into the collection here at the British Library. The fragments in Additional MS 45025, more commonly known as the Middleton Leaves, were discovered being used as covers for deeds pertaining to the lands owned by the Willoughby family of Wollaton Hall (Nottinghamshire). These fragments were bought from Lord Middleton in 1937 by the Friends of the National Libraries for the British Museum. A previous blog post also discussed the possible link between these fragments and a ‘great Bible’ given to the monks of Worcester by King Offa of Mercia in the 8th century. 

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Add MS 45025, f.6r.

This fragment represents both stages in the lifecycle of these pieces of parchment. The parchment contains an extract of the Book of Kings in the original script, with its characteristically Italian style which can still be seen in the Codex Amiatinus today. In the upper margin it is also possible to see the later annotations made to the parchment when the leaf was used by the Willoughby family to wrap land grants. Fragments of manuscripts have often been reused in creative ways, as discussed in this blog post

When viewing these leaves on Digitised Manuscripts, it is easy to forget that they were once part of two great Bibles which would have matched the magnificent size and splendour of the Codex Amiatinus. These three Bibles would have been an extraordinary feat of craftsmanship, using a wealth of resources to produce, and would have been extremely impressive to those at the height of Anglo-Saxon and Italian society. The Codex Amiatinus and its two sister pandects are most definitely among brightest lights of intellectual achievement which shine from the supposed ‘Dark Ages’.

Rebecca Lawton

@BLMedieval

Further reading:

Another incredibly important manuscript which was supposedly produced by the monks of Wearmouth-Jarrow was the St Cuthbert Gospel. This is a copy of the gospel of St John, which was produced in honour of St Cuthbert in the late 7th century and was buried within his coffin. This manuscript shows the same beautiful uncial script found in the Codex Amiatinus. More information about how this manuscript came to reside in the care of the British Library can be found two previous blog posts.  

24 September 2016

British Libraries: The Panizzi Lectures 2016

Every year since 1985, the British Library has hosted a series of lectures on the history of the book. These lectures are known as the Panizzi lectures in honour of Sir Anthony Panizzi (1797–1879), an Italian immigrant and patriot who became the Keeper of Printed Books and later Principal Librarian of the British Museum. He doubled the reading room’s staff and number of printed books, transforming the British Museum’s library into a world class institution.

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Miniature of a seated scribe (possibly Bede), from Bede’s prologue to his prose Life of Cuthbert, Northern England (Durham), c. 1175-1200, Yates Thompson MS 26, f. 2r

This year, the Panizzi Lectures are being delivered by Dr Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and former archbishop of Canterbury, on the subject of ‘British Libraries: the literary world of post-Roman Britain’. Dr Williams’s lectures will focus, in turn, on the libraries and books which influenced ‘Gildas and the Invention of Britain’; ‘Bede and the Invention of England’; and 'Nennius and the Invention of Wales’.

Cotton MS Tiberius C II, f. 5v

Opening page of Bede’s Eccesiastical History, England (Southumbria), c. 800-850, Cotton MS Tiberius C II, f. 5v

The British Library holds several early copies of the texts on which the lectures will focus. For example, our manuscript of Gildas’s De excidio et conquestu Britanniae (‘On the ruin and conquest of Britain’) is now available on Digitised Manuscripts (Cotton MS Vitellius A VI). Apart from a shorter, 9th-century fragment that survives in Bibliothèque Carnegie de Reims, MS 414, this 10th-century copy is the oldest surviving copy of Gildas’s admonition of British leaders for their sins and defeats. This copy was rescued from the Ashburnham House fire of 1731, hence the fire and water damage to its pages.

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Detail of a page from Gildas, De excidio, England, mid-10th century, Cotton MS Vitellius A VI, f. 14v

Several copies or fragments of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People are also available on Digitised Manuscripts, such as Royal MS 13 C V and Egerton MS 3278. These include Cotton MS Tiberius A XIV which, although not the very earliest copy of the Ecclesiastical History, is among the important early witnesses of Bede’s work. The manuscript was made sometime in the late-8th or early 9th-century, within a few decades of Bede’s death. Although this manuscript could arguably have been made in either Southumbria or Northumbria, some scholars have linked it to Bede’s own monastery at Wearmouth-Jarrow. This manuscript might therefore have belonged to one of the most notable early British libraries, as well as demonstrating that monastery’s output.

Cotton_ms_tiberius_a_xiv_f020v

Page from Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica, England (Wearmouth-Jarrow?), c. 760–830, Cotton MS Tiberius A XIV, f. 20v

The British Library also holds several copies of the Historia Brittonum (which used to be attributed to Nennius), an account of the history of Britain from the alleged settlement of the island by Trojan refugees to about 829 AD. One of the earliest of these manuscripts is Harley MS 3859

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Account of St Patrick’s life from the Historia Brittonum, England or France, Harley MS 3859, f. 186r.

To learn more about these historical texts, come to the Panizzi lectures on Monday 10 October, Wednesday 12 October, and Monday 17 October at 18.15 in the British Library’s Conference Centre, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB. There is free admission and no ticketing: seats will be available on a first come, first served basis. Hope to see you there!

@BLMedieval

21 September 2016

A Field Guide to Wodewoses

It’s #WodewoseWednesday, people. You might not know what a wodewose is, but you surely should. They are mythical forest creatures that are guaranteed to improve your midweek. I would describe myself as an avid wodewose-ophile and hence have compiled this handy guide to the behaviour and habits of the wodewose, in case you meet one, one day. 

Wodewose

 


Name:  Wodewose, faunis ficariis*

Range: The Wirral Peninsula, Africa

Habitat: Forest

Predators: Alexander the Great

Threat Level: Endangered, possibly extinct

*faunis ficariis is translated as 'wodewose' in the Wycliffite Bible (Jeremiah 50:39).


BEHAVIOUR 

What is a wodewose? Well, the Oxford English Dictionary defines the creature as ‘a wild man of the woods; a satyr, faun’. Wodewoses are wild creatures. They seem not to like being disturbed in their forest habitat. In this image some dogs have woken a wodewose from its nap and he is displeased. Or he might be trying to hug them. It’s unclear.

  Barking and wodewoseWodewose surrounded by dogs from the Queen Mary Psalter, England, c. 1310–1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 173r

Wodewoses do not always dwell in the forest. Sometimes they like to be involved in pageantry. This one is sporting the arms of England.

 

Wodewose pageantry

  Woodwose 2

Wodewose holding the arms of England, La Bible Historiale, c. 1470–79, Southern Netherlands, Royal MS 15 D I, f. 18

Wodewoses don’t seem to be very concerned about personal grooming. They have large bushy beards which cover most of their bodies, like a beard in onesie form.

Wodeswose luttrell 2A wodewose from the Luttrell Psalter, England, c. 1325–1340, Add MS 42130, f. 70r

Wodewoses don't often like to wear clothes. Here's a wodewose in its Sunday best, wearing a fetching leaf ensemble and matching head-dress.

Wodewose paste-in

A pasted-in wodewose from the end of Book I of John Lydgate's 'Fall of Princes', England, c. 1470, Harley MS 4197, f. 34v

It would be erroneous, however, to think that wodewoses are not sometimes quite stylish. These two dashing wodewoses are from the genealogy of the Portuguese and Spanish kings. 

Wodewose bluesteelWodewose Bluesteel, The Genealogy of the Royal Houses of Spain and Portugal (the 'Portuguese Genealogy'), Lisbon and Bruges, 1530–1534, Add MS 12531, f. 1r

  Wistful wodewoseWistful wodewose, The Genealogy of the Royal Houses of Spain and Portugal (the 'Portuguese Genealogy'), Lisbon and Bruges, 1530–1534, Add MS 12531, f. 1r 

DISTRIBUTION

Wodewoses appear to live in diverse parts of the world. In the late 14th-century romance poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, we hear how Gawain encounters wodewoses in the Wirral Peninsula in northwest England (line 721). But, they also apparently live in Africa as well. In John Trevisa’s 14th-century Middle English translation of a zoological text called De Proprietatibus Rerum (On the Nature of Things) by the Franciscan monk and scholar of the 13th-century, Bartholomaeus, there is a warning that in Africa one might find ‘satires, wodewoses, tigris, and oþer horrible bestes’. [satyrs, woodwoses, tigers and other horrible beasts]. Although, given that this text suggests that there are tigers in Africa, it might not be the most trustworthy source.

MATING HABITS

Wodewoses are terrible pick-up artists. I can’t be sure, because I’ve never met one, but it seems that wodewoses get tongue-tied around ladies. They just don’t have the right words; they can’t woo. Consequently they sometimes just have to make their affections clear to ladies after they’ve carried them off to their lairs. Unfortunately, the manuscript evidence suggests that this isn’t always a fool-proof strategy for winning the women of their dreams.

Wodewose

Ineffectual wodewose wooing from the Taymouth Hours, England, c. 1325–50, Yates Thompson MS 13, ff. 62r–63v

With thanks to the marvellous @iandouglas for stitching this little beauty together. This GIF makes us a teeny bit sad. As Ian observed, ‘poor guy. Can’t a wodewose attempt to carry off Princess Leia without being skewered for his trouble?’

In the beautiful Smithfield Decretals we can see some more wodewose wooing and wodewose repelling. In this image we’ve got a lady seemingly more taken with the embrace of a tree than that of the wodewose. Read more about this manuscript here

  Wodewose wooing 72r

Wodewose attempts to embrace lady; lady appears more taken with the tree, Smithfield Decretals, Southern France (?Toulouse), c. 1300–1340, Royal MS 10 E IV, f 72r

Wodewose wooing 72v

Wodewose votes with his feet (and captivating arms), Smithfield Decretals, Southern France (?Toulouse), c. 1300–1340, Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 72v

Wodewose and lady in redWoman demonstrates displeasure at wodewose's advances, Smithfield Decretals, Southern France (?Toulouse), c. 1300–1340, Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 73r

Smithfield 74rWodewose reaches lovingly for woman, Smithfield Decretals, Southern France (?Toulouse), c. 1300–1340, Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 74r 

Smithfield 74vWodewose rewarded for his advances, Smithfield Decretals, Southern France (?Toulouse), c. 1300–1340, Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 74v 

Smithfield 101Yet again wodewose gets speared for his trouble, Smithfield Decretals, Southern France (?Toulouse), c. 1300–1340, Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 101 

 

PREDATORS

Wodewoses have few known predators. However, some versions of the story of Alexander the Great describe the king encountering marvellous races in India, who are sometimes depicted as wodewoses. 

  Wodewose predator

Alexander the Great predating some wodewoses, 'Le livre et la vraye hystoire du bon roy Alixandre', Paris, c. 1420–1425, Royal MS B XX , f. 64

 

ADDENDUM: WODEWOSES CAN BE FIRE HAZARDS

On 28 January 1393, a masquerade ball was held at the court of Charles VI of France. The ball, held at the Palace of Saint-Pol, was to celebrate the marriage of Catherine de Fastaverin -- one of the queen's waiting women. The king and several of his companions decided to dress up as wodewoses and perform a wild dance to entertain the guests. They wore masks and linen costumes soaked in flax which made them appear shaggy. At some point in the proceedings, Charles' brother, the Duc d'Orléans, arrived with a lit torch. Disaster struck: the torch somehow came into contact with the dancers' costumes and they caught fire. 

The king was only saved when his cousin, the Duchesse de Berry threw her voluminous skirts over him to extinguish the flames. One other dancer — Sieur de Nantoillet — survived by jumping into a vat of wine. All the others were burnt to death. Impersonating a wodewose can have dire consequences. 

Health and safety

The 'Bal des Ardents' from Froissart’s ‘Chroniques’, Southern Netherlands, c. 1470–72 Harley MS 4380, f. 1

 

What is your favourite wodewose image? Send us your favourite suggestions to @BLMedieval, using the hashtag #WodewoseWednesday

Mary Wellesley

@BLMedieval/@marywellesley

 

Further Reading: 


Richard Bernheimer, Wild Men in the Middle Ages: A Study in Art, Sentiment and Demonology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1952). 

Timothy Husband, The Wild Man: Medieval Myth and Symbolism (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1980). 

 

 

`

19 September 2016

The British Library's Greek Manuscripts Project

Have you ever wondered what books looked like in antiquity? Perhaps you have pondered why some manuscripts are written on paper and some on parchment? Did you know that the ancient Greeks thought up machines and robots powered by steam? These issues and more are taken up on a new web resource dedicated to the study of Greek written heritage. Greek Manuscripts, which officially launches today, is intended to complement and promote the hundreds of Greek manuscripts digitised by the British Library in recent years. The website contains articles on a wide variety of subjects relating to Greek papyri and manuscripts, written by experts from the UK, continental Europe, and North America. Additionally, several videos provide short visual introductions to key topics. Collection items discussed in the articles are given separate item pages, with links to the online catalogue entry and full digital coverage on Digitised Manuscripts.

Papyrus_131_f001av

The Constitution of the Athenians, written on papyrus in Egypt c. 100 CE (Papyrus 131).

Drawing on the rich collections of Greek manuscripts held by the British Library, the website provides succinct introductions to major themes and issues, directed towards a non-specialist audience. The project’s aim is not to present new scholarship, although some of the most exciting developments in recent research are reflected in several articles and videos. We especially hope that the website will be helpful to students, scholars in related fields, and members of the public, in orienting themselves in a subject area that can often appear daunting from the outside.

The articles are organised into five overlapping themes, reflecting some of the most important aspects of Greek manuscripts, classical antiquity, and Byzantine culture: art, religion, scholarship, the Greek world, and the makers of Greek manuscripts. They cover the entire chronological period represented by the British Library’s Greek collections, from classical antiquity down to the early 20th century. Many of the most famous items in the collections, such as the Golden Canon tables, the Theodore Psalter or the Aristotelian Constitution of the Athenians, are included on the site, but so are many lesser-known volumes that are of major importance in their own way.

Harley_ms_5694_f060v

The earliest manuscript of the classical author Lucian, written in Constantinople in the early 10th century (Harley MS 5694, f. 60v).

A number of articles introduce complicated topics to the general reader. For instance, James Freeman surveys the shifting use of paper in Greek manuscripts, while Matthew Nicholls and Georgi Parpulov provide a clear overview of the history of libraries from Classical and Late Antiquity to the Byzantine Middle Ages. Other pieces take on a staggering range of material, to provide a succinct overview of a very broad theme: for instance, Dimitris Krallis’s article on Byzantine historiography, or Aileen Das’s survey of the transmission of Greek philosophy and medicine.

Harley_ms_5786_f158r

The Harley Trilingual Psalter contains the text of the Psalms in Greek, Latin and Arabic. Sicily (Palermo?), c. 1230-1250 (Harley MS 5786, f. 158r).

The biblical manuscripts that make up a substantial portion of the British Library’s holdings are well-represented on the website. Kathleen Maxwell shares her expertise in the Library’s illuminated Gospels, and the multifaceted transmission of the Old Testament in Greek is also surveyed. Greek manuscripts did not develop in a vacuum: they were circulated far beyond the limits of Greek-speaking antiquity and the Byantine empire. Peter Tóth presents just some of the examples of multilingualism that can be found in Greek manuscripts, while other articles look at topics such as the tradition of schoolboy compositions in Greek in Elizabethan England.

We will introduce more articles on the new website over the coming weeks, advertising them in a series of blog posts. The project, and indeed the preceding Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project, has been generously supported by a range of donors, including the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the A. G. Leventis Foundation, the Sylvia Ioannou Foundation, and many others. We are grateful to them and to the many experts who have shared their knowledge on the site. We invite everyone to explore the articles and videos and learn more about the British Library’s unparalleled collection of Greek manuscripts!

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The Golden Canon Tables, created in Constantinople in the 6th or 7th century (Add MS 5111, f. 11r).

@BLMedieval

16 September 2016

Snakes, Mandrakes and Centaurs: Medieval Herbal Now Online

Cannabis can be used to treat swollen breasts. The urine of a child has wrinkle-busting properties. Fern, mixed with wine, is a good treatment for wounds. (Sounds promising, although I might go easy on the fern part.) And should you fear encountering snakes, it is best to carry Adderwort with you. These are some of the nuggets of medical wisdom to be found in our recently digitised Sloane MS 1975. The manuscript is an illustrated collection of medical texts, made in England or Northern France in the last quarter of the 12th century.

Sloane_ms_1975_f021r

A man attempting to vanquish a serpent and an image of the Teazle plant, England or France, c. 1175–1200, Sloane MS 1975, f. 21r

Sloane 1975 contains a collection of different works, including a treatise on herbs by Pseudo-Apuleius (the name pseudo-Apuleius is used to refer to an anonymous 4th-century Roman author whose work was sometimes erroneously attributed to Apuleius), Pseudo-Dioscorides, 'De herbis femininis', and a text by Sextus Placitus of Papyra (active c. 370 CE), entitled 'De medicina ex animalibus'. It is extensively illustrated, and the images are a joy.

The image below depicts the Mandrake plant, which was used as an anaesthetic and treatment for melancholy, mania and rheumatic pain. (The plant can induce hallucinations  -- it produces tropane alkaloids: tropane alkaloids are also produced by Erythroxylum novogranatens, the plant which is used to create cocaine.) The roots of the mandrake have the habit of forking in two directions, and can appear to resemble a human figure. Depictions of it often show the plant with a human body or head. It was thought that the plant would scream when pulled from the earth and any who heard the screams would be condemned to death or damnation. Harvesting the plant would therefore pose some problems. The manuscript advises that strings should be attached to the plant and the other end of the strings attached to a dog, which would then pull the plant from the ground. Below, the dog can be seen harvesting the mandrake.

Sloane_ms_1975_f049r

A Mandrake, England or France, c. 1175–1200, Sloane MS 1975, f. 49r

The manuscript’s illustrations serve a variety of purposes. This one, below, shows the appropriate way to deal with a rabid dog. (Can you tell it’s rabid? The clue is in its *rabid*, red face.)

 

Red faced dog

Man and dog, England or France, c. 1175–1200, Sloane MS 1975, f. 24r

Should you be bitten by a rabid dog, the herbal elsewhere advises, it is best to consult a hen. If the hen has a good appetite, it bodes well for a speedy recovery.

Hen appetite

A hen bodes well for speedy recovery, England or France, c. 1175–1200, Sloane MS 1975, f. 14v

Many of the images illustrate the properties of particular plants, like the one depicting the mandrake. Others, however, appear to have a more incidental purpose. The illustration for Carmel gestures to the alternative names for the plant. Curmel is called ‘Centauria Maior’ in Greek, hence the image below depicts a centaur holding the plant.  

Sloane_ms_1975_f023r

To the left, the plant Carmel, to the right a centaur holds the plant, England or France, c. 1175–1200, Sloane MS 1975, f. 23r

Centaurs make an appearance elsewhere. This image shows the centaur Chiron giving herbs to the goddess Diana or Artemis (who was his foster mother according to some sources). He has apparently named three plants of the genus Artemisia after her. 

Artemis

Chiron gives herbs to Artemis, England or France, c. 1175–1200, Sloane MS 1975, f. 17v

The manuscript also contains a text called 'De medicina ex animalibus', which has some wonderful images of animals, including something that bills itself as an elephant, but in person looks more like a disappointed tapir vomiting up a tusk.

Elephant crop

An Elephant (apparently), England or France, c. 1175–1200, Sloane MS 1975, f. 81v

Yet, alongside endearing images of animals, this manuscript also contains grisly images of medical treatment. In this image, a patient’s hands are tied behind his back, while a doctor performs surgery on his head – a grim reminder of the realities of medical treatment before anaesthetics were discovered.

Anaesthesia

Grim images of medicine before anaesthesia, England or France, c. 1175–1200, Sloane MS 1975, f. 91v

A few folios on and the images get decidedly worse (yes, we also thought they couldn't get any worse). In the top left-hand corner of this image we can see a doctor removing haemorrhoids from a patient (the bowl on which the patient is standing may have been intended to catch the blood). Below this a doctor is excising a nasal growth, and to the right a doctor is removing cataracts. 

  Sloane_ms_1975_f093r

Variety of hideous medical procedures, England or France, c. 1175–1200, Sloane MS 1975, f. 93r

This manuscript is currently on show in Cambridge, at the Fitzwilliam Museum's Colour exhibition. Read more about this exhibition and the manuscripts we have loaned to it here

Mary Wellesley 

@BLMedieval/@marywellesley