Medieval manuscripts blog

55 posts categorized "Palaeography"

11 February 2016

The Earliest English Poet

 Today is the feast day of Caedmon, the first known English poet. As well as being the first named poet in the English literary tradition, he is also a significant figure in the history of people who hate singing in public, people who develop new talents later in life, and of cowherds.

 Caedmon’s work and the story of his life are described in the Ecclesiastical History of English People written by the eighth-century monk, Bede. An eighth-century manuscript of this work-- which was possibly even copied at Bede’s own monastery of Monkwearmouth-Jarrow-- has recently been uploaded to our Digitised Manuscripts website as part of our Anglo-Saxon digitisation project. Sadly, it was damaged in the Ashburnham House fire in 1731, but it is still somewhat legible. In it, Bede gives us some biographical detail about Caedmon. Although we might imagine that English’s first poet would have been a highly educated individual, Caedmon was, in fact, a cowherd at the monastery of Whitby who did not take religious orders ‘until he was well advanced in years’. In this sense, Caedmon is a remarkable figure in Bede’s history, as he is one of the few non-elite figures to get a mention.


Cotton_ms_tiberius_a_xiv_f025r
Detail of initials from Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, England (Wearmouth-Jarrow?), mid-8th-early 9th century, Cotton Tiberius A XIV, ff. 25r

Little in Caedmon’s early life suggested that he might become one of the greatest poets of his age. Ever the retiring type, he was so shy about singing or speaking in public that, according to Bede, when people began singing at parties, he would leave ‘as soon as he saw the harp approaching him’ (Bede, Ecclesiastical History, iv.24).

Cotton_ms_tiberius_a_xiv_f144r
Page containing Bede’s account of Caedmon, from Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, England (Wearmouth-Jarrow?), mid-8th-early 9th century, Cotton Tiberius A XIV, ff. 144r

It was only later in life that he began to write verse and compose song. Bede recounts how one night, when he was sleeping in the cowshed, Caedmon had a vision. When he woke, he remembered the song he had sung in his dream, and astounded everyone at the abbey with his beautiful poetry. Later on, he would impress the monastery’s leaders, including the abbess St Hilda, with his capacity to compose verse on complex theological topics which the monks and nuns discussed with him. (Caedmon might make a suitable patron saint for interdisciplinary work.)

Unfortunately all but one of Caedmon’s poems are lost. The sole surviving example is known as Caedmon’s Hymn and survives in manuscripts of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. Some manuscripts provide a Latin translation, while others give a Latin translation and an Old English version. The different Old English versions use various regional dialects, including Northumbrian and West Saxon. One of the manuscripts containing the West Saxon version of this very precious literary fragment is British Library Cotton MS Otho B XI. The manuscript was unfortunately also damaged in the fire of 1731, but an early modern transcript of it survives (British Library Additional MS 43703). In Old and Middle English c. 890-c.1450, Elaine Treharne translates Caedmon's hymn into modern English as:

'Now we ought to praise the Guardian of the heavenly kingdom,

The might of the Creator and his conception,

The work of the glorious Father, as he of each of the wonders,

Eternal Lord, established the beginning.

He first created for the sons of men [children of earth in West Saxon version]

Heaven as a roof, holy Creator;

Then the middle-earth, the Guardian of mankind,

The eternal Lord, afterwards made

The earth for men, the Lord almighty.'

The hymn is a work in praise of God. It grabs the reader from its opening word ‘Nu’, meaning ‘Now’, making the poem feel immediate.  From there it proceeds to celebrate all of creation in a mere nine lines. Like all Old English verse, it uses musical alliteration. It closes, powerfully, with the word ‘allmectig’, ‘Almighty’, in praise of God.

Cotton_ms_tiberius_a_xiv_f079v


Detail of an initial from Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, England (Wearmouth-Jarrow?), mid-8th-early 9th century, Cotton Tiberius A XIV, ff. 79v

Bede’s point, in his story about Caedmon, is that poetry is transformational, mystical and god-given. For, according to Bede, ‘no other English poets could compare’ with Caedmon, the humble late-comer not trained by human teachers, whose poetry in turn transformed and inspired those who read it in the Anglo-Saxon period and beyond.

~ Mary Wellesley and Alison Hudson

 

 You May Also Like:

Monsters and Marvels in the Beowulf Manuscript

Read about one of the library's treasures, the Beowulf Manuscript, which contains the earliest epic poem in English literature as well as some monsters and marvels. 

Beo shrink

 

Anglo-Saxon Invasion

Read about important fragments of Old English which have been digitised by the library. 

Orosius shrink

04 February 2016

Anglo-Saxon Chronicles Now Online

We are pleased to announce that four of the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Chronicle manuscripts have been digitised in full as part of our Anglo-Saxon manuscripts digitisation project and are now available on our Digitised Manuscripts website:

The end of the entry for the year 1066 from the D-text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
'Always after that it grew much worse': end of the entry for 1066, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle D-text, England, mid-11th century, Cotton MS Tiberius B IV, f. 80v 

The term ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ refers to a series of annalistic chronicles, arranged by year, which were written primarily in Old English between the 9th and 12th centuries. These annals record information on a huge variety of subjects from major battles and Viking invasions to famines and agricultural issues, from ecclesiastical restructurings to notes on the death of notable people from across Britain. Some annals even include poems about kings and battles. Although all the annals share some core text—the so-called ‘common stock’, which seems to have been compiled at some point during the reign of Alfred the Great— each text of the Chronicle has its own variations, omissions, and additions. It is therefore perhaps more correct to speak of ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicles’, as Simon Keynes has suggested.

The manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are still known by the letters assigned to them in the 19th century. They are:

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle A: the earliest surviving copy, now Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 173, contains entries written at different times between the 9th and early 11th centuries, with a 12th century continuation. It is sometimes known as the ‘Parker Chronicle’, after Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, who gave large parts of his collection of manuscripts to the University of Cambridge and particularly to Corpus Christi College, whose Parker Library is named after him.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle B: Cotton MS Tiberius A VI, copied in the late 10th century. This chronicle covers the period between 60 BC and 977 AD. It is sometimes called the ‘Abingdon Chronicle’ or ‘Abingdon Chronicle I’ because one of its last entries refers to Abingdon. Along with the C- and D-texts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, it also contains a series of annals known as the ‘Mercian Register’, which recount the activities of Æthelflaed, lady of the Mercians, in the early 10th century. The Mercian Register provides an important contrast to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle itself, which focuses on the exploits of West Saxon kings, at the expense of other perspectives.

The opening of the Mercian Register from the B-text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
Page with the start of the Mercian Register, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle B-text , England, c.977-1000, Cotton MS Tiberius A VI, f. 30r

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle C: Cotton MS Tiberius B I, copied in the eleventh century and related to the B-text.

A page from the C-text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
Page from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle C-text, England, 11th century, Cotton MS Tiberius B I, f. 125r

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle D: Cotton MS Tiberius B IV, copied in the mid-late eleventh century. The added information it contains about Worcester and York has led some scholars to suggest it was written in the North or based on a ‘Northern Recension.’

  A page from the D-text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, showing the start of the entry for the year 1066.
Page with the start of the entry for 1016, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle D-text, England, mid-11th century, Cotton MS Tiberius B IV, f. 66r

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle E: copied and compiled in the twelfth century at Peterborough Abbey, and sometimes known as the ‘Peterborough Chronicle’. It is currently in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud Misc 636.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle F: Cotton MS Domitian A VIII, written in the late 11th century at Christ Church, Canterbury. This is notable for being a bilingual version of the chronicle, with Latin versions of each annal following the Old English versions.

  A page from the F-text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
Page from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle F-text, England (Canterbury), late 11th century, Cotton MS Domitian A VIII, f. 32r

Additionally, several fragments of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle survive, which are kept at the British Library. These include the G fragment (in Cotton MS Otho B IX and Cotton MS Otho B X), which seems to contain early entries but was burnt in the Ashburnham House fire of 1731. Additionally, H, also known as the Cottonian Fragments, is contained in Cotton MS Domitian A IX.

The British Library has also recently digitised a separate series of Easter table annals that were kept and compiled at Canterbury in the mid-and late-11th century. These annals notably did not mention the Norman Conquest, although a later hand added ‘Her co[m] Willelm’ to the annal for 1066.

A detail of the Easter Table Annals of Christ Church, Canterbury.
Detail from Easter Table Annals, England (Canterbury), late 11th century-12th century, Cotton MS Caligula A XV, f. 135r

All these manuscripts have had varied and colourful histories, which are reflected in the medieval additions and early modern annotations scattered throughout, and in the modern period some of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle manuscripts have been bound with other interesting texts which we have now digitised as well. These include the 11th-century copies of the Old English version of Orosius’s Historia adversus paganos and the poems Maxims II and the Menologium (in Cotton Tiberius B I); the earliest surviving fragments of the early twelfth-century Latin legal compilation Quadripartitus and a list of Welsh cantrefi (in Cotton Domitian A VIII); cartularies from Ely and Gloucester (in Cotton Tiberius A VI and Cotton Domitian A VIII, respectively); and a variety of anonymous late medieval and Anglo-Norman chronicles, all now available online.

A page from a medieval manuscript, showing a diagram of the Scutum Dei Triangulum.
Scutum Dei Triangulum
, England, mid-15th century, Cotton Domitian A VIII, f. 162r

Alison Hudson

21 July 2015

Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript

We are delighted to announce the publication of a new book, Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript, edited by Scot McKendrick (Head of Western Heritage at the British Library), David Parker (Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology and Director of the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham), Amy Myshrall (Research Fellow at the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham) and Cillian O’Hogan (Curator of Classical and Byzantine Studies at the British Library).

Cover

Codex Sinaiticus was produced in the middle of the fourth century, and is one of the two oldest Christian Bibles to survive largely intact from antiquity (the other being Codex Vaticanus in Rome). It is also the oldest complete copy of the New Testament in existence. Preserved for many centuries at St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, it is now dispersed between four institutions: St Catherine’s Monastery, the British Library, Leipzig University Library, and the National Library of Russia.

The book consists of the proceedings of a conference held in 2009 to mark the launch of the Codex Sinaiticus website, and its publication marks the culmination of the Codex Sinaiticus Project. It contains twenty-two articles, dealing with all aspects of the manuscript and its history, divided into five sections: Historical Setting, the Septuagint, Early Christian Writings, Modern Histories of Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Sinaiticus Today. Together with the extensive research to be found on the Codex Sinaiticus website, the book provides the most up-to-date information available about the manuscript. It includes a general index, an index of Biblical passages, a list of papyri and manuscripts, and numerous high-resolution images of Codex Sinaiticus.

Formally launched at an event at the British Library last night, the book is published by British Library Publishing in association with Hendrickson Publishers. It is available for purchase in the UK now from the British Library Shop, and will be available in the United States from Hendrickson this September.

Add_ms_43725_f260r
John 21:1-21:25. Codex Sinaiticus (Add MS 43725, f 260r), Eastern Mediterranean (?Palestine), mid-4th century.

- Cillian O’Hogan

12 June 2015

The Beginnings of the Codex

Over the first few centuries A.D., a change occurred in how people created and consumed books in the Graeco-Roman world. In the early first century, books were on papyrus rolls. By late antiquity, the majority of books were produced as codices, not very different from the books we still use today, and parchment had supplanted papyrus as the writing support of choice. How and why this transition occurred is a question that continues to occupy the attention of anyone interested in the early history of the book. There are three main phenomena that are clearly interrelated: the transition from roll to codex, the transition from papyrus to parchment, and the rise of Christianity. That last factor may come at first as a surprise, but with only a very few exceptions (and even they are disputed) all fragments of the New Testament from the first few centuries are taken from codices, not rolls. But literary texts (especially those written in Greek) continue to be written primarily on rolls until the fourth century. Certainly, it seems that early Christians had a clear preference for the codex form. Does it perhaps mean that the rise of Christianity helped the codex to gain the upper hand, too? We still have too little evidence to tell this story as clearly as we would like, and we are always at the mercy of some new piece of evidence overturning everything we believed to be true. (The recently-discovered Peri Alupias of Galen, for instance, contains references to parchment codices at Rome in the late second century, providing further evidence for the use of the codex form at an earlier stage.) It’s also important to note that the majority of our evidence for the early book comes from Egypt, and we should be cautious about generalising too much from this: Greek books in Egypt may have looked rather different from Latin books in Rome.

Papyrus_745_f001r
Papyrus 745, recto. Fragment of an anonymous historical work, known as the De Bellis Macedonicis. Late first-early second century.

It’s against this backdrop that we present our latest addition to Digitised Manuscripts. Though only a very small fragment (85x50mm, about two-thirds the size of your average smartphone), Papyrus 745 (P. Oxy. I 30) is of particular significance for the early history of the book. It is the earliest fragment of a Latin codex yet known, and perhaps the earliest codex in any language, aside from wax tablets, such as the Posidippius codex. (P. Oxy. 470, a Greek mathematical treatise, is listed on the Leuven Database of Ancient Books as being from the first century, but it is not clear where this date comes from – all studies I have seen report it as being of the third century.) Found along with that great treasure-trove of texts at Oxyrhynchus, it is generally dated to the end of the first century or beginning of the second, primarily based on the script. Indeed, even Grenfell and Hunt, who first edited the fragment in 1898, remarked that the script was very similar to that of the De Bello Actiaco, an epic poem preserved on a papyrus found at Herculaneum (and thus to be dated before the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79).But the fact that the text was in codex form, and written on parchment rather than papyrus, led the first editors to deem it “not earlier than the third century”. A later study by Jean Mallon made clear that the fragment must date from around 100, on palaeographical grounds. Dating ancient book-hands precisely is very difficult, and in our catalogue entry we have dated the manuscript to “Late first-early second century”.

Papyrus_745_f001v
Papyrus 745, verso. Fragment of an anonymous historical work, known as the De Bellis Macedonicis. Late first-early second century.

The text preserved on the manuscript is known as the De Bellis Macedonicis (On the Macedonian Wars), as from the small amount of text we have, it clearly refers to the wars between Rome and Macedonia in the third and second centuries BC. It was initially suggested that it was an extract from Pompeius Trogus’ lost Historiae Philippicae, though a recent study by Alexander Kouznetsov has suggested, based on the fragment’s prose rhythm, that it may be the work of Lucius Arruntius.

Where does this fragment fit into the story of the development of the codex? The fact that it is a parchment codex, and written in Latin, makes it more likely than not that it was created outside of Egypt (Bischoff believed it originated in Italy). We have roughly contemporary evidence for parchment codices from the poetry of Martial, and there is additional evidence (including perhaps from the New Testament, at 2 Tim. 4:13) of parchment notebooks being particularly popular with travellers, as they were more easily transportable than bookrolls. Could we see the fragment then as supporting the hypothesis that the codex grew to prominence in Rome (in contrast to the bookrolls favoured in the East), and that our lack of additional early codices is due largely to the fact that the majority of our early books come from Egypt, and that the Latin-speaking West is seriously underrepresented in the evidence we have? It’s certainly possible. But we must be cautious. With such a small fragment we have no way of knowing, for instance, how large the original page or bifolium would have been, let alone the size of the codex itself. (We can at least be certain that it’s a codex and not a bookroll because it is clearly the same text on both sides, and when bookrolls are reused, the text tends to be upside down on the verso relative to the recto.)

There is far more to say about this fragment, but that will have to wait for another day. This tiny scrap of parchment is invaluable for the glimpse it gives us of what codices looked like in the early Roman Empire, and while the discovery of additional early Latin books would greatly help us to understand more about book production in the first and second centuries, for the moment, the De Bellis Macedonicis is assured of its status as the earliest Latin codex in existence.

-          Cillian O’Hogan

17 March 2015

Irish Manuscripts in the British Library

The British Library holds one of the great collections of Irish-language manuscripts in the world. While it is perhaps not as extensive a collection as those in Dublin or Oxford, and while most of the manuscripts are relatively recent in date, nonetheless the Library’s Irish manuscripts (over 200) contain much that is of considerable scholarly significance. In today’s post, we look at a few of the most important items in the collection.

Harley_ms_1023_f64v
Harley MS 1023, f 64v. Below the end of the prologue to John is a drawing of his evangelist symbol, the eagle. A later medieval reader has added John's name above the eagle's head: 'Ioh(ann)es'. Ireland, N. (Armagh?), 1st quarter of the 12th century.

The two Harley Gospel Books are perhaps the jewels of the collection. Harley MS 1802 was completed in Armagh in 1138, and Harley MS 1023 has been attributed to the same place and roughly the same time of origin. Both manuscripts contain the Gospels in Latin, and fine miniatures of Evangelist symbols in ink, along with typical zoomorphic initials. Harley 1802 contains partial commentary in Latin and Irish, and Irish poems and scribal notes. Harley 1023 contains only a few Irish glosses.

Harley_ms_1802_f61r
Harley MS 1802, f 61r. Decorated initial and letter 'In'(itium) with animal heads at the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. Ireland, N. (Armagh), 1138.

The Library has a particularly strong collection of Irish medical texts, including many translations of classical or medieval Latin texts. The highlight is undoubtedly Harley MS 546, a collection of medical tracts in Irish and Latin, dated to 1459, and now digitised in full. It includes such joys as the following advice on how ‘to make the face fair’ (Do gelad na haghthi), including some rather unusual uses for bull’s blood and what is translated by O’Grady as bovinum stercus.

Harley_ms_546_f039v
Harley MS 546, f 39v. Treatise on how to make the face fair. Ireland, c 1459.

Other key medical items available online include a fragment in Add MS 39583 of a 16th-century manuscript containing a translation of Hippocrates’ Aphorisms into Middle Irish, and a longer version of the same text from another 16th-century manuscript, Harley MS 4347.

Egerton_ms_88_f65r
Egerton MS 88, f 65r. Zoomorphic initial. Ireland, c 1564.

The Irish collections also include many important poetic and legal texts, but we finish with the famous Egerton MS 88, a legal and grammatical miscellany produced by the school of Domhnall Ó Duibhdábhoirenn in around 1564. This manuscript is not only important for its contribution to the study of Irish legal history, but also for the many scribal notes found throughout the manuscript, which give a vivid insight into the everyday lives (and sufferings!) of 16th-century scribes. Many of these complain about the poor working conditions in which Domhnall’s scribes have to work, and we can quote only one here: "Is fuar mairt cin dinér a Domnaill .i. ria nodlaig" (A dinnerless Tuesday is a cold thing, Donall, and before Christmas too). And it would be hard to argue with that! The later history of Egerton MS 88, including the unusual box it was housed in when it arrived at the British Museum, is another story altogether, and one that will have to wait for another day. (Parts of the manuscript are now also to be found in the Copenhagen, Kongelige Bibliotekat MS 261B, and Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 23 Q 6.)

There are great riches to be found by dipping into the printed Catalogue of Irish Manuscripts, which contains transcriptions of many of the annotations and colophons, as well as some of the shorter poems, to be found in the Irish collections. There remains a great deal of work to be done on the collections, particularly on the 18th- and 19th-century manuscripts.

Further resources for the collections:

At present the online catalogue does not include most of the Irish manuscripts. Only a few have been digitised either in full or in part, and these can be viewed on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts or on Digitised Manuscripts. Updated bibliography by shelfmark can be found on the Bibliography of Irish Linguistics and Literature housed at the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies.

The most important resource remains the Catalogue of Irish Manuscripts in the British Museum, the third volume of which contains a history of the collection and its formation. Some information on the collectors whose activities contributed to the formation of the collections now in the British Library (including Cotton, O’Curry, and Hardiman) can be found in Nessa Ní Shéaghdha, ‘Collectors of Irish manuscripts: motives and methods’, Celtica 17 (1985), pp. 1–28 (also published separately, Dublin: DIAS 1985, BL shelfmark 2702.b.93).

The composition of the Catalogue of Irish Manuscripts is a tale unto itself, as it is the work of three major figures in Celtic scholarship spanning three generations: Standish Hayes O’Grady (who compiled Volume I), Robin Flower (Volume II and III), and Miles Dillon (who revised Volume III after Flower’s death). The story can be found in the prefaces to the individual volumes of the Catalogue, while for a richer picture, a brief biography of Standish O’Grady can be found in Seán Ua Súilleabháin, ‘Standish Hayes O’Grady’, in Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh: Reassessments, ed. by Liam P. Ó Murchú, Irish Texts Society Subsidiary Series 24 (London: Irish Texts Society, 2012), pp. 77-98. (BL Shelfmark YK.2014.a.9606). An obituary of Robin Flower by H. I. Bell was published in Proceedings of the British Academy 32 (1946) pp. 353-79.

- Cillian O'Hogan

15 January 2015

Annotated, Misbound, Mutilated: John Ruskin’s Gospel Lectionary

The Victorian art critic John Ruskin, better known nowadays for his writings and for a notorious spat with the American painter James McNeill Whistler, was also a collector of medieval manuscripts. Almost ninety can be identified as having been owned by Ruskin at some point, several of which are now in the British Library. (A full list can be found at the end of this post.)

Newly digitised is Egerton MS 3046, a Greek Gospel lectionary owned and annotated extensively by Ruskin. The lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 238) dates from the last quarter of the 11th century or the 1st quarter of the 12th century. In its current condition, it contains a number of small headpieces in gold, large initials in colours and gold, and other ornamentation. Sadly, however, a large headpiece on f 2r has been excised.

Egerton_ms_3046_f002r
Egerton MS 3046, f 2r, gap where a headpiece has been excised.


It was well known that Ruskin would take apart manuscripts, presenting cuttings to friends and institutions. We should be wary, however, of seeing Ruskin’s hand behind this excision – it is very common for headpieces to disappear from manuscripts, and many other examples can be found in the Greek collections on Digitised Manuscripts.

Ruskin clearly treasured this manuscript, and worked through it carefully. His annotations reveal that he paid attention both to the form of the manuscript and its contents: noting, variously, specifics about Bible passages, or making comments on the script (which he clearly had some difficulty with).

F 45r detail
Detail of Egerton MS 3046, f 45r, showing Ruskin's notes at the foot of the page.

Ruskin’s annotations reflect a time when he was struggling with his religious beliefs. Many of his comments on individual Biblical passages express Ruskin’s displeasure with specific details or scenes. Yet he would occasionally revise his view, as the above example shows, in which an earlier criticism of John 25.6 is corrected.

F 32r
Egerton MS 3046, f 34r. Ruskin's note at the bottom reads "φ. how little they play with this letter, one would have fancied tempting".

Given Ruskin’s reputation as an aesthete, it is fascinating to see his response to the Greek script itself. Here (above), he wishes the scribe would “play” more with the letter phi. Elsewhere, he groans about the form of beta common in manuscripts of this time:

Egerton_ms_3046_f126r
Egerton MS 3046, f 126r. Ruskin's note at the bottom reads "Nothing to note in this page but its especially tiresome letter B.s. and the disagreeableness and waste of time of the story [Mk 12:18-27] always shocking to me".

The manuscript will of course have special appeal to Ruskin scholars. But the annotations are clearly of wider interest: they reveal the deeply personal responses of an educated Victorian to the Bible, and they give a great insight into the continuing relevance of medieval manuscripts in the modern era.

 

Appendix: manuscripts formerly belonging to Ruskin and now in the British Library.

(Dearden references are to J. R. Dearden, The Library of John Ruskin (Oxford Bibliographical Society Third Series 7), Oxford 2012.)

Add MS 36684, Book of Hours. France, N. (St Omer), c. 1320 (Dearden 1331).

Add MS 42125, Rules and orders of a confraternity of boatmen. Italy, N. (Venice), 1507-1780 (Dearden 2226).

Add MS 52002, The Mirandola Hours. Italy, N. (probably Ferrara or Mantua), c 1490-1500 (Dearden 1341).

Add MS 52778, York Bible. England, N. (York), c 1260-1280. (Dearden 213).

Egerton MS 3035, Breviary, Dominican use. France, Central (Paris), c. 1350 (not in Dearden’s list)

Yates Thompson MS 22, Brantwood Bible. France, N. (Arras), c.  1260 (Dearden 216).

Yates Thompson MS 27, Hours of Yolande of Flanders. France, Central (Paris), between 1353 and 1363 (Dearden 1333).

Egerton MS 3046, a Gospel lectionary. (Dearden 1048).

- Cillian O'Hogan

23 December 2014

Between Manuscript and Print: Greek Manuscripts from the Circle of Aldus Manutius

The year 2015 marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Aldus Manutius, founder of the famous Aldine press at Venice. A wide range of activities are taking place worldwide to commemorate the occasion, including a free exhibition in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery at the British Library, entitled “Collecting the Renaissance: the Aldine Press 1494-1598”.

Treasures Gallery 6 624x351
Collecting the Renaissance: The Aldine Press (1494-1598), on display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery at the British Library

Aldus’ pivotal role in the early history of the printed book is well known. For scholars of Greek literature, he deserves special thanks. Early attempts to set Greek type had proved difficult, and demand for printed books in Greek was low. While Aldus was not the first to print Greek books, he certainly was the first to do so on a large scale. Most of the principal classical Greek authors were first set in type by the Aldine press.

The texts themselves were edited by a large group of scholars, many of Cretan origin. Aldus formed a club of Greek scholars, called the Neakademia (the New Academy), at which only Greek could be spoken. The great numbers of Greek manuscripts that can be attributed, with some confidence, to Venice at the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th century are at least partly a result of the efforts of Aldus Manutius.

Erotemata 1495
Constantine Lascaris, Erotemata, with the Latin translation of Johannes Crastonus Placentinus. Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1495. IA.24382

The first edition published in Greek by the Aldine press was the grammar of Constantine Lascaris, a fifteenth-century Greek scholar who, like many other Greeks, came to Italy in the wake of the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

Harley_ms_5741_f003r
Harley MS 5741, f 3r. Constantine Lascaris, Erotemata, copied in Italy by George Alexandrou, at the end of the 15th century

A manuscript of part of the work dating from around the same time is now preserved in the British Library, copied by the scribe George Alexandrou, possibly at Rome. Though the manuscript cannot be linked with Manutius' circle, it nonetheless provides us with a fascinating juxtaposition of manuscript and print in the late fifteenth century.

Manutius 1515 grammar
Aldi Manutii Romani Grammaticae Institutiones Graecae. Edited by Marcus Musurus. Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1515

The British Library holds one of the great collections of Aldine books in the world. It also holds a number of manuscripts that can be attributed to scribes and scholars from the Aldine circle. Of course, as scribes often moved around, and worked on a variety of projects, we should be cautious of making the leap from ascribing a manuscript to an individual scribe, to localising it in the context of the Aldine press. Nonetheless, the manuscripts and scribes listed below attest to the vibrant scholarly culture in northern Italy, and in Venice in particular, at the turn of the 16th century.

A note: not all of these manuscripts have been digitised at the time of writing (December 2014), but this post will be updated periodically as the Greek Manuscripts digitisation project continues.

Some Greek scribes known to have associated with Aldus Manutius

Burney_ms_96_f144r detail
Burney MS 96, f 144r, detail, verses by Marcus Musurus

Marcus Musurus (b. c. 1470, d. 1517). By far the most important of Aldus’ Greek collaborators, Musurus was a Cretan scholar who subsequently worked with John Lascaris. His hand can be seen in Harley MS 5577, a manuscript of Dionysius Periegetes and Eustathius, and above all in Burney MS 96, a manuscript of the Minor Attic Orators completed at Florence in the early 1490s, to which Musurus appended a set of verses.

George Moschus, of Corfu, worked as a corrector at the Aldine press. His hand is to be found in part of Add MS 11890, a collaborative set of scholia on Oppian’s Halieutica, in the margins of the first seven folios of Harley MS 5611, works on Galen (not yet digitised), and the entirety of Burney MS 110, Zenobius’ Epitome.

Johannes Cuno (b. 1462/3, d. 1513), Dominican monk and German humanist. Cuno spent time in Venice in the 1490s and worked closely with Aldus. Arundel MS 550 (not yet digitised) is Cuno’s own notebook relating to Greek materials.

Burney 62 f 2r detail
Burney MS 62, f 2r, detail. Beginning of the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes, copied by the scribe known as the Anonymus Harvardianus

Anonymus Harvardianus. So named after a manuscript at the Houghton Library, Harvard (MS Gr 17), where the hand was first identified, the work of this scribe can be seen in many manuscripts with links to the Aldine press, including Burney MS 62, containing Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautica with scholia, vitae, and epigrams.

Aristobulus Apostolis (b. 1468/9, d. 1535), of Crete. His hand can be seen on two leaves (ff 54r-55v) of Arundel MS 522.

Zacharias Calliergis (b. before 1473, d. after 1524), of Crete. Responsible in part for Royal MS 16 C XXIV, a manuscript of Athenaeus’ Depinosophistae. His hand can also be seen on the outer bifolium of a quire in Harley MS 1814, now ff 1r-v and 8r-v (the text is Dionysius Periegetes).

Manuel Gregoropulus (d. 1532), of Crete, responsible for ff 9r-19v and 22r-41v of Harley MS 5597, containing the text of Artemidorus’ Oneirocritica Book 1.

John Rhosos (d. 1498). Though not a member of the Neakademia, Rhosos does seem to have associated with Aldus and his circle. He worked in particular for Cardinal Bessarion, and a number of manuscripts copied by him are now in the British Library: Add MS 10064, Burney MS 93 (not yet digitised), Harley MS 5597, Harley MS 5600, Harley MS 5658, Harley MS 5669, Harley MS 5672, Harley MS 5737, Harley MS 5790, Harley MS 6322, Harley MS 6325.

 - Cillian O'Hogan

“Collecting the Renaissance: the Aldine Press 1494-1598” will be on display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery until 25 January 2015.

06 November 2014

Greek Digitisation Project update: 40 manuscripts newly uploaded

We have now passed the half-way point of this phase of the Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project, generously funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and many others, including the A. G. Leventis Foundation, Sam Fogg, the Sylvia Ioannou Foundation, the Thriplow Charitable Trust, and the Friends of the British Library. What treasures are in store for you this month? To begin with, there are quite a few interesting 17th- and 18th-century items to look at, including two very fine 18th-century charters, with seals intact, an iconographic sketch-book (Add MS 43868), and a fascinating Greek translation of an account of the siege of Vienna in 1683 (Add MS 38890). We continue to upload some really exciting Greek bindings – of particular note here are Add MS 24372 and Add MS 36823. A number of scrolls have also been uploaded, mostly containing the Liturgy of Basil of Caesarea. A number of Biblical manuscripts are included, too, but this month two manuscripts of classical authors take pride of place: Harley MS 5600, a stunning manuscript of the Iliad from 15th-century Florence, and Burney MS 111, a lavishly decorated copy of Ptolemy’s Geographia.

Add_ch_76659 detail
Add Ch 76659, detail of lead seal of Procopius I

Add Ch 76659, Confirmations by the Patriarch of Constantinople of the stavropegiacal rights of the Monastery of Theotokos Chrysopodariotissa near Kalanos, in the province of Patras in the Peloponnese, December 1786.

Add Ch 76660, Confirmations by the Patriarch of Constantinople of the stavropegiacal rights of the Monastery of Theotokos Chrysopodariotissa near Kalanos, in the province of Patras in the Peloponnese, March 1798.

Add MS 22749, Basil of Caesarea, Divine Liturgy, on a parchment scroll. 12th century.

Add_ms_24372_fblefr
Add MS 24372, front board

Add MS 24372, Gregory of Nazianzus, Orationes; with additional leaves inserted in the 12th century taken from Symeon Metaphrastes, Passio S. Clementis Admirabilis et S. Agathangeli (BHG 353), imperfect. 11th century. Illuminated head-pieces, gilt titles and initials. Stamped leather on wooden sides and bosses, possibly the original binding, but rebacked in the 19th century, at which time the inner boards were overlaid with goatskin.

Add MS 24381, Gregory of Nazianzus, Orationes, most being imperfect at the beginning, owing to miniatures which have been torn out. Three miniatures remain on ff 2r, 41v, and 52r. One wooden board from an earlier (15th-century?) binding survives and is kept separately as Add MS 24381/1. Written in 1079 or 1088, probably at Constantinople: the hand has been identified as that of Michael, a monk at the monastery of Christ Panoikteirmon in Constantinople.

Add MS 27563, Basil of Caesarea, Divine Liturgy, on a parchment scroll. 14th century.

Add MS 27564, Basil of Caesarea, Divine Liturgy, on a parchment scroll. 14th century.

Add MS 28823, John Zonaras, Commentary on the Canons of the Apostles, of the ecumenical and local councils and of the Fathers, and related texts. 4th quarter of the 14th century.

Add MS 28825, Greek translation of Ephraem the Syrian, Homilies, imperfect, and other patristic texts, including Isaiah of Gaza, Asceticon, Neilos of Ankara, Epistola ad Diaconum Achillium. Marcian of Bethlehem, and John of Lycopolis. 12th century.

Add MS 33318, Menaion for the month of September, imperfect. f 1 should follow f 185. The text varies considerably from that of modern printed editions. 4th quarter of the 14th century.

Add MS 34554, Lives of saints and theological discourses, imperfect. 16th century.

Add MS 34820, Divine Liturgy of St Basil, imperfect at beginning and end. inc. θυσιαστήριον εἰς ὁσμὴν εὐωδίας, expl. Πλήρωμα Πνεύματος ἁγίου. With a  wooden roller attached. 14th century.

Add MS 35212, John Chrysostom, In Genesim homiliae 10-17, imperfect. 11th century.

Add MS 36635, Lives of Saints, for 9-17 January, mostly by Symeon Metaphrastes. 12th century. Illuminated headpieces and initials.

Add_ms_36636_f048v detail
Add MS 36636, f 48v, detail

Add MS 36636, Lives of Saints, for 3-13 November, mostly by Symeon Metaphrastes. 11th century. Historiated initials and decorated headpieces.

Add MS 36654, Lives of Saints for the month of October, mostly by Symeon Metaphrastes. The manuscript ends with the text set out in cruciform with the letters of the Victorious Cross set in the angles. An inscription on f 215v records that it was brought to the Euergetis Monastery in Constantinople in 1103, and was probably created around the same time.

Add MS 36669, Apophthegmata Patrum: a compilation of the Greek Church Fathers, bearing the title Λειμὼν ἐνθάδε καρπῶν πεπληρωμένος. 14th century. In a 17th-century binding of boards covered with leather with gilt ornament, the centrepiece representing on the upper cover the Crucifixion, on the lower cover David and the angel of the Lord.

Add MS 36754, Collection of homilies by Basil of Caesarea and John Chrysostom, imperfect and mutilated. 11th century.

Add MS 36821, Works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, with the marginal commentary of Maximus the Confessor, and additional texts relating to Pseudo-Dionysius. 1st half of the 10th century, possibly copied from an uncial manuscript of Pseudo-Dionysius written by Methodius, future Patriarch of Constantinople, at Rome.

Add MS 36823, Menaion for the months of November and December, imperfect, partly palimpsest. 15th century, Selymbria: donated to the Diocese of Selymbria by the copyist John Chortasmenus. Bound with bare oak wooden boards, with a 19th-century leather spine. Traces of previous leather covering on back board and nail holes from clasps or furniture.

Add_MS_38890_f003v detail
Add MS 38890, f 3v, illumination of Emperor Leopold

Add MS 38890, Siege of Vienna, Ἀποκλεισμὸς τῆς Βιέννης, an account of the siege by Turks in 1683, translated from Italian into Modern Greek by Jeremias Cacavelas. Written by the priest Nicolas at Bucharest in December 1686, at the request of Constantin Brâncoveanu (b. 1654, d. 1714), later Prince of Wallachia.

Add MS 39608, John Chrysostom, In Genesim homiliae 1-133. 13th century.

Add_ms_43868_f026v
Add MS 43868, f 26v

Add MS 43868, Iconographic sketch-book, relating mostly to religious subjects. Also included are recipes, biblical quotations and church accounts. Pen and ink sketches, with some colour washes. 18th century.

Burney MS 24, Collation of the Codex Ephesinus (Lambeth Palace Library MS 528, Gregory-Aland 71) by Philip Traherne. c 1679.

Burney MS 56, Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, 2nd half of the 16th century.

Burney MS 57, Liturgy of St Basil of Caesarea, 2nd half of the 16th century.

Burney MS 58, Ioannes Sphaciotas, letters and offices. Corcyra, 17th century.

Burney MS 100, Works of Aristotle, preceded by Porphyrius, Isagoge. Italy, N? 1st half of the 15th century.

Burney_ms_111_f001v
Burney MS 111, f 1v. Ptolemaic map of Taprobana (Sri Lanka)

Burney MS 111, Ptolemy, Geographia, with many diagrams and coloured maps, all except that on f 1v being later fifteenth-century replacements on inserted leaves. 4th quarter of the 14th century-1st quarter of the 15th century.

Egerton MS 2743, Menaion, imperfect, from the middle of 16 March until 14 August, with Gospel Lections (Gregory-Aland l 940). Decorated headpieces and initials. 13th century.

Egerton MS 2744, Menaion for the months June, July and August. Imperfect at the beginning and end, some leaves are missing from the body of the volume. 12th century, written at Epirus.

Egerton MS 2745, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 941), imperfect, with ekphonetic notation in some lections: ff 1v-23v, 60r-61r, 62v-66r, 67v-68r, 69v-70r, 71r-121r. 12th century.

Egerton MS 2785, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 715; Scrivener evan. 564; von Soden ε 364). Decorated headpieces and initials. 13th century.

Harley_ms_5600_f015v
Harley MS 5600, f 15v. Illumination of Homer surrounded by the nine muses. Medallions of four bearded figures in the four corners.

Harley MS 5600, Homer, Iliad, with prefatory material. Florence, completed on 16 May 1466. With a full-page frontispiece in colours and gold on f 15v; a full white vine border in colours and gold on f 16r; 25 white vine initials in colours and gold.

Harley MS 5620, New Testament: Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 322; Scrivener act. 27; von Soden α 550). Decorated headpieces. 16th century.

Kings MS 16, Homer, Iliad. Italy, 1431.

Royal MS 1 B I, New Testament: Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 308; Scrivener Paul. 25, Act. 20; von Soden α 456), with Euthalian prefaces to the Catholic Epistles, imperfect, being partly damaged throughout. 14th century.

Royal MS 12 A VIII, Complimentary verses to Elizabeth I on her Accession Day, 17 Nov., by Robert Twist, alumnus of Westminster School, in Latin and Greek. 1597.

Royal MS 12 A XXVIII, Complimentary verses inviting a visit from Henry, Prince of Wales, by members of Winchester College. Winchester, c 1603-1612.

Royal MS 12 A XLVII, Complimentary addresses in prose and verse to Elizabeth I on her visit to Woodstock and Oxford, 31 August 1566, by members of Oxford University. Oxford, 1566.

 

Cillian O'Hogan

Medieval manuscripts blog recent posts

Archives

Tags

Other British Library blogs