06 September 2018
As regular readers of this blog will be aware, we are hosting an international academic conference on manuscripts from the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms on 13–14 December 2018. This conference is now sold out. However, tickets are still available for the one-day Early Career Symposium on Saturday 15 December (9.00–17.30).
Detail of the Harley Psalter, made in Canterbury in the 11th century: Harley MS 603, f. 16v
Speakers at the Symposium and their topics will be:
Colleen Curran (Junior Research Fellow, Corpus Christi College, Oxford)
‘960 and All That: An Earlier ‘Style’ of English Caroline Minuscule’
Robert Gallagher (Junior Research Fellow, St Cross College, Oxford)
‘Latin Verse and Book Culture in the Age of Æthelstan’
Louise Garner (doctoral candidate, Durham University)
‘Underneath the Arches: Pigments in the York Gospels and the Wider Canterbury Context’
Alison Hudson (Project Curator, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, The British Library)
‘Laymen, Churchmen and Literacy around the Turn of the First Millennium AD: Multispectral Imaging of Æthelweard’s Chronicle’
Eleanor Jackson (Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts, The British Library)
‘Consolation in the Labyrinth: A Picture Poem in Cambridge University Library, MS Kk.3.21’
Rebecca Lawton (doctoral candidate, University of Leicester)
‘Papyrus, Performance, Prestige: Examining the Physicality of Papal Letters in Early Anglo-Saxon England’
Esther Lemmerz (doctoral candidate, University of Göttingen)
‘Visualising Latin in the In Cena Domini Version in London, British Library, Cotton Faustina MS A IX’
Stephenie McGucken (University of Edinburgh)
‘The Psychomachia in Late Anglo-Saxon England: Transmission, Adaptation, and Manipulation’
Alexandra Reider (doctoral candidate, Yale University)
‘The Search for the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Codex’
Simon Thomson (Research Assistant, Ruhr Universität, Bochum)
‘Scribal Interactions: The Communal Making and Remaking of Manuscripts in Late Anglo-Saxon England’
Jiří Vnouček (doctoral candidate, University of York)
’The Parchment of Codex Amiatinus and Ceolfrith’s Bibles’
Christine Voth (Dorothea Schlözer Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Göttingen)
‘Intellectual Professionals in Anglo-Saxon England: A Case Study of the Medical Manuscript London, British Library, Royal 12 D XVII’
If you would like to be added to a waiting list to attend the first two days of the conference, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. The conference and symposium are being held in connection with the Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdom: Art, Word War exhibition, which opens on 19 October.
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22 April 2018
On 30 April the British Library is hosting the launch of a new novel by the award-winning novelist Madeline Miller, whose book, Circe, revisits the powerful story of this mythological witch known from Homer’s Odyssey.
The beginning of Circe’s story in a 15th-century copy of Homer’s Odyssey: Harley MS 6325, f. 81v
Circe’s story features in Book 10 of the Odyssey, where Homer describes how the crew of the wandering Odysseus reached Circe’s beautiful island, where they met this powerful sorceress. Circe invited Odysseus’s comrades to a fatal dinner, offering them a potion that transformed them into pigs while retaining their human souls. Arriving slightly later, Odysseus learned about the imminent danger from the god Hermes, who gave him a special drug making him resistant to Circe’s transformative potions. Realising that Odysseus was immune, Circe not only transformed his crew back to men but offered her love to Odysseus and hosted the entire crew for a year of feasting, while instructing them about their journey home. Circe's advice guided Odysseus through the dangers of the seas and the netherworld and finally back home to his wife.
Circe and her herd of human-beasts with Odysseus’s crew, from the works of Christine de Pizan (Paris, c. 1410–c. 1414): Harley MS 4431, 140r
This strange story of dark magic and unearthly love is full of puzzling details, which lend themselves to a variety of interpretations. Why does Circe transform the men into beasts so that she is surrounded by a herd of human-minded animals? When she realises that Odysseus is immune to her charms, why does she suddenly agree to help the hero? These questions have intrigued generations of readers and have resulted in many interpretations and retellings of the story, of which Madeline Miller’s book is the most recent.
Circe as a frivolous lover surrounded by her animals from a French translation of Boccaccio’s work on famous women (Rouen, c. 1440): Royal MS 16 G V, f. 42v
Some people have regarded Circe as a simple prostitute, who charmed her clients and held them captive by desire, and whose ultimate aim may even have been to emasculate her lovers. Other interpretations are more subtle. In a marginal note in one Greek manuscript, Circe is explained as an allegory to unchaste pleasure, that for the sake of short-lived satiety offers a life more pitiful than pigs. Odysseus alone is strong and disciplined enough to resist her pleasures and even his own nature.
Marginal note from a 13th-century copy of the Odyssey: Harley MS 5674, f. 52r
Another interpretation is preserved in a 16th-century collection of philosophical extracts at the British Library. The text is attributed to Porphyry, a 3rd-century Greek philosopher, and describes Circe’s story as "the most wonderful theory about the human soul". The enchanted men have an animal form but their mind remains as it was before, and so Circe represents the circular journey of the soul, dying in one form and awakening in another, becoming death and rebirth at the same time. According to this manuscript, "This is no longer a myth nor poetry but the deepest truth of nature”.
An explanation of Circe’s story in a 16th-century philosophical compendium: Harley MS 6318, f. 127r
Re-reading Circe’s story did not stop with the arrival of Christianity. Medieval interpreters regarded her as a demon or an embodiment of fortune or even as the Apocalyptic Whore of Babylon. James Joyce’s Ulysses inherited the age-old understanding of Circe as a prostitute, while Margaret Atwood regarded her as a demon. We are looking forward to hearing Madeline Miller in conversation with Kate Mosse, talking about her new book. You can discover more about Circe's world on our Greek manuscripts website.
The British Library
30 April, 19.00–20.30
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22 October 2017
As a general rule, we don't like to start our blogposts with the words, 'We are delighted to announce'. But there's always an exception, and this is it! We are delighted to announce that the British Library's amazing new exhibition, Harry Potter: A History of Magic is now officially open to the public.
Our exhibition celebrates the 20th anniversary of the first publication in the United Kingdom of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, originally released in 1997. But, in a new departure, the exhibition also examines the history, mythology and folklore that lie at the heart of the Harry Potter stories. As well as original drafts and drawings loaned by J.K. Rowling herself, alongside artwork by Jim Kay (who is illustrating the Harry Potter books for Bloomsbury), you'll find on display a range of glorious items from the British Library's own collections, including Chinese oracle bones, papyri and a host of medieval manuscripts.
The Ripley Scroll, dating from around 1600, and explaining how to make your very own Philosopher's Stone. The entire manuscript, all 5.9 metres of it, is on display in the exhibition.
Tickets are selling fast — this Potter thing might just catch on one day — but we'd love you to visit London to see the show in person between now and its final day, 28 February. In the meantime, here is a sneak preview of some of the manuscripts you'll be able to see.
Harvesting a mandrake, medieval style (so that's how you do it!)
A phoenix plucking twigs to make its own funeral pyre, before rising from the flames (please don't try this at home)
How to protect yourself against malaria? Write out the word 'abracadabra' repeatedly on a piece of parchment (it's obvious when you think about it).
Harry Potter: A History of Magic is on at the British Library from 20 October 2017 to 28 February 2018. Tickets can be purchased here. The exhibition has been staged by the British Library in partnership with The Blair Partnership (representing J.K. Rowling) and Bloomsbury Publishing, with the kind assistance of Pottermore and Google Arts and Culture, and the generosity of numerous lenders.
The exhibition books Harry Potter: A History of Magic and a version designed especially for younger people, Harry Potter: A Journey Through the History of Magic, are available to buy through the British Library's online shop. (They're quite good, really: note to reader, I helped to write them.)
You may also like to join our online conversation about the exhibition, using the hashtag #BLHarryPotter, with tweets by @britishlibrary, @BLMedieval and the exhibition curators. Even J.K. Rowling has joined in! Hope to see you in London soon.
Julian Harrison (Lead Curator, Medieval Historical Manuscripts and
Harry Potter: A History of Magic)
Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval
The British Library, London
20 October 2017–28 February 2018
06 September 2016
A reminder for your diaries, for everyone who is interested in Greek and Byzantine manuscript culture. The British Library is holding a day conference on our Greek manuscripts on 19 September 2016, featuring an international panel of experts (from the United Kingdom, Greece, Bulgaria and France). This is the culmination of the third phase of our project to digitise all the British Library's Greek manuscripts, and to mark the launch of our fantastic Greek Manuscripts Online Resource.
The Theodore Psalter, AD 1066: Add MS 19352, f. 100r
We'd love you to be able to join us: you can book your tickets here. You can also book tickets to both the conference and an evening lecture by Michael Wood at a reduced rate. Not only will you hear discussion of illuminated manuscripts, palimpsests and Greek written culture, but coffee, a sandwich lunch and a reception are also provided to those attending the conference.
Please don't delay, book today. Places are limited, so don't miss out!
Greek Manuscripts at the British Library
British Library Conference Centre
19 September 2016
10.00–17.00, followed by a optional evening lecture by Michael Wood, The Wisdom of the Greeks (18.30–20.00)
- Registration and Coffee
- Welcome: Scot McKendrick (British Library)
Chair: Peter Toth (British Library)
- Sebastian Brock (University of Oxford): Greek Undertexts in Syriac Manuscripts from Egypt in the British Library
- Elizabeth Jeffreys (University of Oxford): A New Planet Swims into our Ken: Editing Greek Texts in the Digital Era
- Lunch (sandwiches provided)
Chair: Antony Eastmond (Courtauld Institute)
- Georgi Parpulov (Plovdiv, Bulgaria): Illuminated Byzantine Manuscripts – Digitized
- Maria Georgopoulou (Gennadius Library, Athens): British Collectors of Greek Manuscripts: A Glimpse from Athens
Chair: André Binggeli (Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes, Paris)
- Christopher Wright and Philip Taylor (Royal Holloway, University of London): An electronic edition of a post-Byzantine Greek manuscript of the British Library (Royal MS 16 C X)
- Charlotte Roueché (King’s College London): Linked Data: The Role of Manuscripts
- An end or just a beginning? Discussion on prospects for digitization and cataloguing, introduced and moderated by André Binggeli and Charlotte Roueché
- Reception for conference participants
- Michael Wood: The Wisdom of the Greeks
Abstracts and Biographies
Greek Undertexts in Syriac Manuscripts from Egypt In the British Library
Almost all Syriac manuscripts earlier than the 12th century have been transmitted through two monastic libraries in Egypt: St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, and Deir al-Surian in the Nitrian Desert. The latter was the source of much of the British Library’s extensive collection of Syriac manuscripts, and among them are some 65 palimpsests, the subject of this paper. Although for the most part the undertexts are in Syriac or Christian Palestinian Aramaic, in a number of manuscripts it is Greek (in one case, Homer).
Sebastian Brock is a former Reader in Syriac Studies at the University of Oxford’s Oriental Institute and a Professorial Fellow at Wolfson College.
A New Planet Swims into our Ken: Editing Greek Texts in the Digital Era
This paper will consider the Greek manuscripts in the digitization programme: what they are, how are they accessed, and what can one do with them. There will be a focus on the manuscripts collected by Frederick North, 5th Earl of Guilford (d. 1827).
Elizabeth Jeffreys was Bywater and Sotheby Professor of Byzantine and Modern Greek Language and Literature, University of Oxford, and Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, 1996–2006. She is now Emeritus Professor and Emeritus Fellow of Exeter College.
Illuminated Byzantine Manuscripts – Digitized
Manuscript digitization is of enormous benefit to those who are primarily concerned with the physical appearance of books rather than their textual contents. In the miniatures of Add MS 11870, the peculiar manners of different artists can be distinguished. Add MS 36928 shows how a scribe and a miniature painter collaborated. The richly illustrated and as yet unstudied Egerton MS 3157 reminds us that digital images ought to be supplemented with relevant catalogue information.
Georgi Parpulov studies Greek and Slavonic Manuscripts, Byzantine Palaeography and codicology, and Bulgarian history with a special focus on illuminated manuscripts.
British Collectors of Greek Manuscripts
John Gennadius assembled an extensive collection of Greek manuscripts from the 1870s onwards when he held a diplomatic post in London. Some of the most important manuscripts in his collection are now at the Gennadius Library in Athens, several examples of which belonged to Lord Guilford.
Maria Georgopoulou is director of the Gennadius Library, The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece. Her publications focus on the artistic and cultural interactions of Mediterranean peoples in the Middle Ages.
An electronic edition of a post-Byzantine Greek manuscript of the British Library (Royal MS 16 C X)
Dr George Etheridge, former Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford, addressed a Greek Encomium to Queen Elizabeth I on King Henry VIII for the Queen’s visit to Oxford in 1566. It is now uniquely preserved in Royal MS 16 C X. The electronic edition of the text employs an original interface that graphically links words or phrases in the digitized manuscript image with their counterparts in the transcribed or edited Greek text and in the English translation, supported by multiple dynamic scholarly apparatus including a lexical analysis of each word with direct links to several online dictionaries. This exploratory editorial project is accessible at http://hellenic-institute.rhul.ac.uk/Research/Etheridge/.
Christopher Wright is a research fellow at the Hellenic Institute in the Department of History, Royal Holloway, University of London.
Philip Taylor is an Honorary Research Associate at Hellenic Institute of the Royal Holloway, University of London.
Linked Data: The role of manuscripts – or Now What?
The Greek manuscripts project makes rich materials available to a worldwide audience. Manuscripts are bearers of meaning: the challenge now is for those who have the expertise to make this meaning apparent, to ensure that these are more than just images. But no one person – or even group of people – has all the relevant knowledge. Instead, in the spirit in which Tim Berners-Lee developed the web, we need to think in terms of Linked Open Data. We need to link this material to other resources which can enhance what we see. The modern owner of a manuscript might be linked to an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; earlier owners, or scribes, might be linked to their entries in one of the series of Byzantine prosopographies. Locations can be linked to an online gazetteer. As resources develop, it will be increasingly possible to link manuscripts to the texts which are based on them: the pioneering work here has been done by the Homer Multitext Project. This is just a beginning!
Charlotte Roueché is an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Classics at King’s College London. For many years she has explored the use of digital tools for the analysis and publication of Greek texts. She is particularly concerned with using the Internet to bring the highest possible level of scholarship to the widest possible audience.
Closing Discussion: An end or just a beginning?
What are the implications of making these rich materials available online? How can we support scholars in exploiting them? What will the ordinary reader need? How will we keep track of what journeys our manuscripts now undertake?
31 August 2016
Tickets are selling fast for a special lecture at the British Library on 19 September. Michael Wood, television presenter, writer and Professor of Public History, will be speaking on The Wisdom of the Greeks in an evening event held at our conference centre. He promises to examine how the legacy of Greece and Byzantium in science, religion and literature was transmitted to the Latin West, and to tell fascinating stories about texts and ideas, scribes and scholars. There may even be references to Anglo-Saxon kings, Crusader knights and Renaissance humanists!
Michael's talk will be the conclusion of our Greek Manuscripts in the British Library conference, to be held that same day. This event marks the completion of the third phase of our Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project and the launch of the Greek Manuscripts Online web resource. The day itself starts with an academic conference, including invited experts, to discuss a variety of topics related to the British Library’s digitised Greek collections, such as Greek-Syriac palimpsests, Byzantine illuminated manuscripts, Greek written culture and the digital humanities and the cultural interactions between Greece and Britain. The conference runs from 10.00 to 1700, and attendees can purchase a ticket to the evening talk at a reduced rate.
The Wisdom of the Greeks by Michael Wood is on 19 September 2016 (18.30–20.00), and tickets are £10 (£7 for under 18s, with other concessions available).
30 June 2016
To mark the completion of the third phase of the Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project and the launch of the Greek Manuscripts Online web resource, the British Library is hosting a one-day conference devoted to Greek Manuscripts on 19 September, 2016. Confirmed participants include Sebastian Brock (Oxford), Charalambos Dendrinos (Royal Holloway), Elizabeth Jeffreys (Oxford), Charlotte Roueché (King’s College London), Maria Georgopoulou (Gennadius Library, Athens) and Giorgi Parpulov (Plovdiv, Bulgaria). Speakers will discuss a variety of topics related to the Library’s digitised Greek collections, such as Greek-Syriac palimpsests, Byzantine illuminated manuscripts, Greek written culture and the digital humanities and the cultural interactions between Greece and Britain.
Page from the Theodore Psalter, Constantinople, February 1066, Add MS 19352, f. 36r
The conference will be accompanied by an evening lecture by Michael Wood on ‘The Wisdom of the Greeks’. Michael will be looking at how the legacy of Greece and Byzantium in science, religion and literature was transmitted to the Latin West. Fascinating stories about texts and ideas, scribes and scholars will come to life in the course of this illustrated talk that will include Anglo-Saxon kings, Crusader knights and Renaissance humanists - and even a well-known Elizabethan dramatist!
Please book your place in advance and register online at http://www.bl.uk/events/greek-manuscripts-in-the-british-library-day-ticket . The full programme can be found here: Download British Library Greek Conference Schedule.
03 December 2015
Booking has opened for the British Library’s first open day dedicated to postgraduates working on our pre-1600 western heritage collections. The open day will be held on Monday 1st February 2016 and is aimed at first year PhD students who are new to the Library. You can reserve a place on our website now at http://www.bl.uk/events/pre-1600-collections.
Papyrus deed of sale of a slave boy (P. Lond. I 229), with original seals, Syria, 24 May 166, Papyrus 229
The open day will introduce our very wide ranging manuscript and early printed collections to students working on history, literature, the history of art, religion, and the history of science and medicine. The day will help students to understand the practicalities of using our collections in their research and to find out about our catalogues and other online resources. In the afternoon there will be an opportunity to meet several curators who work with pre-1600 manuscripts and printed books, and to have a look at some collection items. There will also be sessions led by reading room staff and by one of the Library’s digital curators.
The pre-1600 day is part of an annual series of open days covering different Library collections. The other open days available in 2016 are:
Asian & African Collections – 18 January 2016
News & Media – 25 January 2016
Music – 05 February 2016
Social Sciences – 12 February 2016
17th & 18th Century Collections – 19 February 2016
19th Century Collections – 22 February 2016
20th & 21st Century Collections – 26 February 2016
Page of music from Magister Sampson, Benedictus de Opitiis and others, Motets, Antwerp, 1516, Royal MS 11 E XI, f. 4r
To make the most of the day, you may wish to register for a free Reader Pass in advance if you don’t already have one. Each open day costs £5 and includes lunch and refreshments. Booking in advance is essential as a limited number of places is available. We are looking forward to meeting lots of new postgraduate students on 1st February.
Prologue with woodcut from 2nd edition of Caxton's Chaucer, G.11586, f. 3v
- Claire Breay, Head of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts
25 June 2015
This week has seen the launch at the British Library on Monday and at Trinity College, Dublin on Wednesday of a new book, The St Cuthbert Gospel: Studies on the Insular Manuscript of the Gospel of John, edited by Claire Breay, Head of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts at the British Library, and Bernard Meehan, Head of Research Collections and Keeper of Manuscripts at Trinity College, Dublin.
The St Cuthbert Gospel is the earliest intact European book and a landmark in the cultural history of western Europe. Now dated to the early eighth century by Richard Gameson and Leslie Webster, the manuscript contains a beautifully written copy of the Gospel of John in Latin and is famous for the craftsmanship and outstanding condition of its contemporary decorated leather binding. Found in Cuthbert's coffin when it was opened in Durham Cathedral in 1104, the Gospel was acquired for the national collection following a major fundraising campaign in 2011-12.
One of the most exciting aspects of the long preparation for the new book on the Gospel was the day that we took the manuscript to the Natural History Museum for a CT scan. The videos produced from this scan have allowed us to look inside the book as never before, to appreciate the many remarkable features of this manuscript. We were able to examine the extraordinary refinement and careful shaping of the wooden boards, establishing that at their maximum the left (front) board measures only 2.4mm thick and the right (back) board only 1.5mm. We could see the cords beneath the raised frames in the decoration and we could examine for the first time the much-debated foundation material lying beneath the raised plant-motif decoration in the centre of the left cover. Roger Powell had suggested that the foundation material might be cord or leather, while Jim Bloxam and Kristine Rose found more recently (in making a facsimile of the binding which they generously made available to the project) that gesso could be used to produce comparable results. It was immediately apparent from the CT scan that neither cord nor leather had been used for the foundation of the central motif, as it is a clay-like material which completely fills the space between the leather and the board.
In the CT scan and in an X-ray image this clay-like material shows as a dull grey, completely different from the gesso used in the most accurate modern facsimile by Rose and Bloxam, which shows as black in the X-ray image.
Christina Duffy, Imaging Scientist at the British Library, has produced videos of the St Cuthbert Gospel from the CT scan which show the manuscript, its wooden boards, the cords which lie under the raised frames in the decoration and a cross-section through the whole manuscript showing the structure of the book and the raised decoration. You can watch the video (courtesy of Christina Duffy) here:
In his chapter in the new book launched this week, Nicholas Pickwoad explains in detail how the central motif on the binding appears to have been made using a matrix, carved with the plant design, to impress the wet leather over the clay-like material on to the wooden board.
This new collection of essays is the most substantial study of the book since the 1960s, and is the culmination of our work to promote new research on the Gospel since its acquisition by the British Library. As well as Nicholas Pickwoad's chapter on the structure and production of the binding, the book includes detailed commentary on: Cuthbert in his historical context by Clare Stancliffe; the codicology, text, script and medieval history of the manuscript by Richard Gameson; the decoration of the binding by Leslie Webster; the Irish pocket Gospels by Bernard Meehan, the other relics found in Cuthbert's coffin by Eric Cambridge; and the post-medieval ownership of the book by Arnold Hunt. The book, which significantly revises the existing scholarship on one of the British Library's most recent acquisitions, is now available through the Library's online shop.
- Claire Breay
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