23 July 2019
Students of the Old English epic poem Beowulf (which survives uniquely in Cotton MS Vitellius A XV) may be familiar with the fight between our hero and Grendel’s monstrous mother, and the part played in that encounter by a marvellous sword. As the pair tussle, Beowulf stumbles and falls to the floor. His opponent stabs him with a knife, and he is only saved by his chain mail. Beowulf then sees a sweord eotenisc (a sword of giants, l. 1558), which he grabs and uses to kill Grendel’s mother. Seeing Grendel’s corpse, Beowulf uses the same sword to cut the monster’s head from his body. As soon as Grendel’s blood touches it, the blade melts away like ice and only the hilt is left intact.
Later, when Beowulf returns to Heorot — the hall of the Geatish people — the sword hilt is examined by Hrothgar, their king:
Hroðgar maðelode, hylt sceawode,
Ealde lafe, on ðæm wæs or writen
fyrngewinnes, syðþan flod ofsloh,
gifen geotende, giganta cyn (ll. 1687–90)
('Hrothgar spoke, the hilt he examined,
— the ancient relic — where was written
of that primordial war, when the flood slew,
with raging waves, the race of giants')
A page from Beowulf describing the marvellous sword: Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, f. 170r
The poet goes on to describe this strange sword in more detail.
Swa wæs on ðæm scennum sciran goldes
Þurh runstafas rihte gemearcod,
geseted ond gesæd hwam þæt sweord geworht,
irena cyst, ærest wære,
wreoþenhilt ond wyrmfah. (ll. 1694–98a)
('On those guards of shining gold
were runic staves, rightly marked
Their set-down shapes told a tale: for whom that sword was wrought,
best of irons, in bygone days,
with twisted hilt and serpent patterns.')
Beowulf is not easy to translate, but there are examples of ‘hypermetric lines’ in many Old English poems, including at ll. 1705–07 of Beowulf. What is important is that the sword is described as gemearcod (marked) with runstafas (runic staves). These markings gesetod ond gesæd, literally ‘set-down and said’ or ‘established and told’, the story of the sword’s original commissioner. This is quite a sword! It tells the story of the flood that killed the giants — usually thought to be a reference to the Biblical flood — and also the story, in snaking patterns and runic staves, of its own creation.
What kind of sword was the poet imagining? What was the significance of runes for the poet? What, indeed, are runes? The runic alphabet was used to write Germanic languages before the Latin alphabet arrived along with Christian missionaries. Runes are generally straight sided, hard-lined beasts. There are no round shapes in the letters as traditionally formed, probably because this made them easier to carve into wood and stone. The runic alphabet and the Latin alphabet were used in tandem in Anglo-Saxon England, and they were on friendly terms — two runic letters routinely appeared in Old English texts written in the Latin alphabet. The first was Þ (lowercase þ), which makes a ‘th’ sound. Runic letters also have names — this one is called thorn, which means ‘thorn’ in Modern English. The second runic letter was Ƿ (lowercase ƿ), which equates to a modern ‘w’. Its name is wynn, which means ‘joy’ (whence we get Modern English ‘winsome’).
These two runes appear most commonly in Old English texts written in the Latin alphabet (although the ƿ is often changed to ‘w’ in modern editions). But they weren’t the only runes that made their way into texts written in the Latin alphabet. In fact, runes crop up quite frequently in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. The poet Cynewulf (one of the very few named poets from the Anglo-Saxon period) embedded runic signatures in his works, some of the riddles of the Exeter Book contain runes, and they also appear in the Beowulf manuscript, on the very same folio where Grendel’s sword hilt is described.
Runes in the Beowulf manuscript: Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, f. 170r
On this folio you can see an abundance of the commonly occurring runic letters, ƿ and þ, but 8 lines from the bottom, on the tattered, right-hand edge of the folio, you can see something quite unusual in this manuscript — ᛟ the ethel rune. Ethel means estate or homeland and here the scribe used it as an abbreviation for the first element in the compound ethelweard, meaning guardian of the homeland (weard means ‘guardian’ giving us Modern English ‘warden’).
Runstafas and the ethel rune: Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, f. 170r
Why did the scribe chose the runic abbreviation at this point? Were they prompted by the reference to runstafas a few lines earlier? This brings us back to the sweord eotenisc, the sword of giants. In considering what kind of sword the poet was imagining, archaeology provides some clues. Those of you lucky enough to visit our recent Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition may remember the Seax of Beagnoth, also known as the Thames Scramasax, a 10th-century Anglo Saxon seax (a long, single-edged knife) on loan from the British Museum. On its blade the seax boasts the only complete carved Anglo-Saxon futhorc, or runic alphabet, as well as the name ‘Beagnoþ’ ᛒᛠᚷᚾᚩᚦ, who is assumed to be its commissioner or creator.
The Seax of Beagnoth: British Museum 1857,0623.1
This seax does not contain a narrative of the kind described in Beowulf. As yet, no weapons have been discovered that have a narrative inscribed on them, and it’s hard to imagine one having enough space to tell such a story. Perhaps, in describing these runstafas, the poet was not imagining a written text as we would know it today. Perhaps the runes on the sword hilt weren’t meant to be read, but more to prompt the recollection of a particular story. Maybe the runes made by giants were more than just letters — they conveyed something powerful. Maybe the first scribe of Beowulf (only the first of the text’s two scribes used the ethel rune) echoed that power as only a scribe could, by including their own runic abbreviation just a few lines later.
If you’re intrigued by any of these questions, then why not book a place on the Library’s Adult Learning course: Writing in Medieval England, 3–4 August. There are only a few places left, so get your ticket now! Meantime, don’t forget to visit our exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark, which closes on 27 August.
11 January 2019
On 17 January, the British Library is hosting an audio description tour of our landmark Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition. This tour is designed specifically for blind and partially sighted visitors, and it will be delivered and audio-described by a member of the Medieval Manuscripts team who contributed to the preparation of the exhibition.
Among the items we will be introducing to our visitors are Spong Man, Codex Amiatinus, the Stockholm Codex Aureus, the Judith of Flanders Gospels and Domesday Book. The exhibition has received rave reviews and is already one of the most successful shows ever mounted by the British Library.
Spong Man, on loan to Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms from Norfolk Museums Service
One free ticket for a companion is available per visitor. Guide and assistance dogs are welcome. If you require any other support, or have other access requirements for this tour, please contact [email protected] or phone +44 (0)20 7412 7797. The tour is free with an exhibition ticket.
The British Library
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23 November 2018
Manuscripts are hot in the fashion world right now! Attendees of the 2018 Met Gala drew inspiration from medieval manuscripts. The actor Ezra Miller recently caused a stir at the UK première of the new Fantastic beasts film (was it inspired by this manuscript in our Harry Potter exhibition?). And this September, the British Library itself hosted a London Fashion Week event: Nabil Nayal’s presentation of his Spring 2019 collection.
Dr Nayal is no stranger to the Library. He did his research here for his PhD in Elizabethan dress, and Elizabeth I and the British Library’s manuscripts were major inspirations for his recent collection. As he said at the launch, he hoped his collection will inspire modern women to ‘stand up for what you believe and be your true self, unleash your inner queen’.
Here are the stories of just a few of the manuscripts that inspired Nabil Nayal.
Nabil Nayal SS19 dress and the page from a 15th-century Book of Hours that inspired it: Harley MS 2971, f. 13r
One of the earliest manuscripts that was featured in Nayal's collection was a Book of Hours made in Paris around the 1450s. This manuscript was possibly made for a woman: a prayer on f. 20v uses the female form 'famule tue' (‘your female servant’), although a prayer a few pages later uses the common masculine form 'miserrimo paccatori' (‘most miserable sinner’). The fine illuminations have been associated with the workshop that produced the Bedford Hours. Nayal’s dress is based on a page that shows St John the Evangelist writing while in exile on Patmos.
Nabil Nayal SS19 dress and a page from the calendar in the Beaufort Hours: Royal MS 2 A XVIII, f. 30v
Meanwhile, Nayal transformed a calendar owned by Margaret Beaufort into a chic suit. The suit is based on the page for June. Notes in the margin record victories won by Margaret’s son, Henry VII, at the battles of Blackheath and Stoke. These notes were not made by Margaret herself — she had dreadful handwriting — but were probably added by members of her household. There are also notes on the birth of her grandson, the future King Henry VIII, on 28 June. A later hand has added a note about Margaret’s own death on 29 June 1509. We love the way Nabil Nayal laid out the jacket so that one side is dominated by the Gothic script of a fine scribe working in the first half of the 15th century, while the other side has the quicker, cursive scripts of the added notes from the late 15th and early 16th century.
Nabil Nayal SS19 outfit and a page from the Tilbury Speech: Harley MS 6798
The manuscript that inspired the most outfits was Harley MS 6798. It records the Tilbury Speech, which Queen Elizabeth I supposedly delivered in 1588 at Tilbury Camp ahead of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. It includes such memorable lines as 'Let tyrants fear!' and 'I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm …' You can read the whole speech here.
Nayal has said he used this manuscript repeatedly in his collection because it ‘was so important for me to remind people of this speech. It's the moment she revealed herself to be a strong, defiant woman who was going to overcome the obstacles she faced.'
Nabil Nayal SS19 coat, that has both a similar design to garments worn in depictions of Elizabeth I's funeral and also reproduces a contemporary image of part of Elizabeth's funeral procession: Add MS 35324
Elizabeth I remained in remarkably good health into old age, but even the most powerful of queens had to contend with mortality. Depressed after the death of her second cousin and chief gentlewoman of the privy chamber, Katherine Howard, countess of Nottingham, Elizabeth stopped eating and lost the ability to speak. She died in the early of hours of 24 March 1603 at Richmond Palace in Surrey. Her funeral took place at Westminster Abbey on 28 April. The total cost of her funeral and burial was about £3,000.
Nayal’s collection included a coat inspired by drawings of Elizabeth I’s elaborate funeral procession, now in Add MS 35324. The coat features the part of the manuscript that depicts Elizabeth’s coffin draped in purple velvet, carried by six knights and surrounded by twelve barons, who bore banners displaying her pedigree. Atop the coffin is her funeral effigy, constructed of wax, wood and straw, which in turn was based on her death mask. She wore her parliament robes, with a crown on her head and a sceptre in her hand. We can get a sense of what that effigy looked like from other sources. Between 1605-7 her successor, James I, employed the Frenchman Maximilian Colt to construct Elizabeth a tomb and effigy at a cost of £965. The effigy in white marble was based on her funeral effigy, which survived until the mid-18th-century, when a reconstruction was made (still housed at Westminster Abbey). The original corset worn by the effigy also survives, and was probably one worn by the queen in life.
If you're feeling inspired, the British Library has launched a new Fashion web resource. In collaboration with the British Fashion Council and its Council of Colleges, we hope to encourage design students to use our unique collections.
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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 [email protected]. 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).
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