04 April 2016
Isidore of Seville died on this day in 636. Isidore, who was born in 560, was the bishop of Seville from about 600 to his death. He is better known, however, as an author than as an administrator. His most famous work is the Etymologies, a vast reference work, which functioned as an etymological encyclopaedia. The text was highly influential throughout the Middle Ages. It represents Isidore’s ambitious attempts to condense a huge body of knowledge into a single work.
Hedgehogs feed their young from a Bestiary attached to Isidore of Seville's Etymologies, c 1200-c 1210, Northern or Central England, Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 8v
As well as containing information on a range of subjects, like mathematics, canon law, philosophy, the human body, geography, ship-building, weights and measures and rhetoric, it also has some excellent (and highly dubious) zoological information. According to Isidore, hedgehogs feed their young by visiting vines, plucking the grapes from the plant and rolling over them in order to impale them on their spines. In the image above we can see the hedgehog doing a sterling impression of a 1970s canapé tray.
Diagrams of the path of the Sun and the phases of the moon; from Isidore of Seville, Etymologies, England, last quarter of the 11th century, Royal MS 6 C I , f. 30r
Given its ambitious scope, many manuscripts of the work contain a complex extra-textual apparatus to help readers navigate the work. You can see an example of this apparatus – in this case a table of contents – in a ninth century copy of the work, below. (This is not the only ninth century copy held by the library: Harley MS 3941 has also been digitised.) It is for this reason that Pope John Paul II nominated Isidore to be the patron saint of the internet. Isidore is the perfect candidate. Like the internet, his Etymologies contains a large body of information which requires a complex searching mechanism to help you find information about medicine or law or just cool stuff about hedgehogs.
Table of contents, Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies, Northern France, 9th century, Harley MS 2686, f. 5r
A particularly striking example of a 'search function' in one copy of the work-- an eleventh-century manuscript (Royal MS 6 C I), probably copied at St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury-- is the affinity diagrams, laying out the relationships within members of a family. Who exactly is your second cousin twice removed? Fortunately for the reader, a simple chart should sort out the confusion. 'The grandfather of my paternal uncle,' it reads across one line, 'is my propatruus, and I am to him the niece or nephew of his son or daughter'. Relationships are labelled with both the terms for the relative and the term by which he or she would refer to the reader: both grandfather and grandson, both uncle and nephew (or niece!). Just as the world has been diagrammed, so have the intricacies of the family tree.
Chart of familial affinities, from Isidore of Seville, Etymologies, England, last quarter of the 11th century, Royal MS 6 C I , f. 78r
The Etymologies is also famous for its sometimes quirky explanations of the history of words. In some cases, when Isidore takes the word apart based on what it sounds like, the explanation that results can be extremely engaging, if not necessarily true. The Latin word for 'beggar' (mendicus) is now believed to derive from an earlier word meaning 'deformity' or 'lack'. Isidore, however, speculates a much more charming story, of a 'custom among the ancients' to 'close the hungry mouth and extend a hand, as if speaking with the hand' (manu dicere).
Etymologies of words beginning with F and G; from Isidore of Seville, Etymologies, Book 10, England, last quarter of the 11th century, Royal MS 6 C I , f. 82r
In other cases, Isidore’s etymologies, while colourful, are spot-on. The one he gives for the words Fornicarius and Fornicatrix (male and female prostitute) explains that these terms come from the Latin word for 'arch' (fornix), and refers to the architecture of ancient brothels. Prostitutes were understood to lie under such arches while practising their trade. This is the same explanation for the word 'fornicate' offered in the Oxford English Dictionary today!
T-O map of the world, with east at the top, from Isidore of Seville, Etymologies, England, last quarter of the 11th century, Royal MS 6 C I , f. 108v
Isidore's work had an immense influence on later medieval thinkers across Europe. For example, Isidore was the first to explain the layout of the continents in what would become the classic medieval schema, the T-O map. The world is round, with Jerusalem its spiritual as well as geographical centre, standing at the convergence between the three known continents of Asia, Europe and Africa.
Opening page from Isidore of Seville, Etymologies, Low Countries (Munsterbilsen), c. 1130-1174, Harley MS 3099, f. 1v
Isidore's influence is also suggested by the number of copies of the Etymologies which survive, from every century of the medieval period, across Europe, copied by diverse scribes. We now have no less than ten manuscripts of Isidore's Etymologies available on our Digitised Manuscripts website. As well as those listed above, you can also see Harley MS 3099, which was, somewhat unusually, copied by eight female scribes (see image above). They were Benedictine nuns in the Abbey of Munsterbilsen near Maastricht (now Belgium), working in the period 1130-1174.
Excerpt from Isidore of Seville, Etymologies, Northern France, late 8th century, Cotton MS Caligula A XV, f. 37r
The earliest digitised copy is Cotton Caligula A XV which dates from the 2nd half of the 8th century and was made in Northern France. Alongside this, you can see a late 11th-century version (Royal MS 6 C I), an early 12th-century copy (Harley MS 2660), made in the Rhineland , a mid 13th-century copy, Harley MS 6 and our youngest digitised manuscript, which is a mere five centuries old Harley MS 3035.
- Nicole Eddy, updated by Mary Wellesley
11 August 2015
Written c. 1208 – 1213 for Roger, chastellan of Lille in Flanders, the Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César recounts world history from Creation up to Caesar’s conquest of France. Although its author initially intended to continue his story up to 13th century Flanders, the project was prematurely abandoned. Nonetheless, the Histoire ancienne is considered the first extant universal chronicle in French. Drawing on Latin and French sources, the chronicle offered an exciting digest of episodes from Genesis, the tragedies of Thebes, adventures of Greek heroes and the destruction of Troy. Additionally, the text tells the history of Rome, starting with Aeneas’ wanderings and the founding of the city, interrupted by a biography of Alexander the Great. Surviving manuscripts suggest that the Histoire gained markedly in popularity from the mid-thirteenth century, when manuscripts were produced in ateliers in Northern France (cf. below, Add MS 19669), in the Latin East (cf. below, Add MS 15268), and sometime later also in Italy. From this point onwards, the chronicle was ready to go viral. For a fuller picture see the article on the Medieval Francophone Literary Culture Outside France website.
Throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, ateliers in Paris, Flanders and the Mediterranean manufactured copies of the Histoire. In some cases, entire episodes were deleted, inserted, rearranged or replaced by different accounts. The most obvious reason for this was to produce a text that was more pleasing in its new surroundings, answering to local or more recent needs. A good example of this is Royal MS 20 D I, produced in Naples c. 1340. Firmly rooted in the Italian production of Histoire manuscripts, the Genesis and Alexander sections are cut, a much longer version of the Troy story is introduced, and the subject matter rearranged so as to provide a continuous history of Rome.
Brought to Paris sometime before 1380, where it was copied several times, this deliberate adaptation generated a new, distinct version of the text. In the following I will focus on two earlier manuscripts, kept in the British Library, both of which are characterized by their own centre of production and each with its own history.
By c. 1260, manuscripts of the Histoire had reached Acre in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The decoration of locally manufactured copies (British Library Add MS 15268, Dijon, Bibliothèque municipale MS 562, Brussels Koninklijke Bibliotheek / Bibliothèque royale MS 10175, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale fonds français MS 20125) demonstrates the fruitful cohabitation of both Western and Islamic aesthetics with iconographic traditions from Byzantium. Elements of their illustration, for instance those images depicting Alexander’s army in the exotic Orient, may reflect the real-life experiences of the expat military elite in Acre for whom these copies were most probably produced.
Add MS 15268 is no doubt the most exquisite of this group. Consider the manuscript’s frontispiece, which depicts creation in a sequence of eight medallions, reminiscent of Byzantine icon painting. The banquet scene in the upper margin has distinct oriental characteristics.
Some have surmised that this manuscript was produced as a gift for Henry II of Lusignan (1270-1324) to mark his entry into Acre in 1286, but there is no real evidence to support this. Brussels, Koninklijke Bibliotheek / Bibliothèque royale, MS 10175 can, however, be associated with the Lusignan family: in the 1430s, the husband of Isabeau Babin (probably Guy of Lusignan, illegitimate son of King Janus of Cyprus) recorded information on their children’s birth and baptism on the flyleaves. These marks also provide evidence of how, after the fall of Acre, manuscripts of the Histoire ancienne like Add MS 15268 made their way to the West, which explains why some manuscripts produced in Italy in the early 14th century show the influence of sources brought from the Crusader Kingdom.
Another four surviving codices were produced at approximately the same time miles away in Flanders or Northern France. Three of these (British Library, Add MS 19669, The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek MS 74 D 47, Pommersfelden, Schloss Weissenstein - Schönbornsche Schlossbibliothek MS 295) share an illustrative programme, which demonstrates that they are intimately related. Nevertheless, none of the individual cycles is slavishly copied from another and there are variations in the scenes that were selected for illustration.
For instance, Add MS 19669 is the only manuscript to depict Achilles’ death. The miniature on folio 84r sets the Greek champion’s demise alongside Hector’s, thus intimately linking their deaths. Note that Paris’ arrows do not hit Achilles in the heel, as we might expect: the account of Achilles’ death in the Histoire differs from tradition. Here, Achilles is wounded in ‘many places’ and not, as legend has it, in the ankle, his only vulnerable spot after his mother Thetis had dipped him in the river Styx.
The design of the historiated initial letter at the beginning of the text is common to all four manuscripts and shows Creation in a series of seven medallions around a central mandorla.
This page is also interesting because a second set of decorative borders was added in the 15th century, probably to restyle the page according to contemporary decorative trends. A later owner may have judged that some modern accents could give this vintage codex a new lease of life. This manuscript fashionista should probably be identified as Jean d’Averton, given the coats of arms that were inserted on several folios and the ex-libris:
The updating of Add MS 19669 for a more modern readership is by no means unique. In the late 15th or early 16th century, the Brussels manuscript was fitted with a modern table of contents and a new frontispiece. While the table is written in a modern littera hybrida, the text on the illustrated page is a more old-fashioned littera textualis, chosen no doubt to harmonise better with the script used in the following, 13th-century text. The added folios may have replaced damaged or lost ones, but this is not the only plausible explanation. They bring a touch of contemporary style and again added heraldry provides a means of identification. The coat of arms inserted in the lower margin of f. 20r is that of the Du Périer family, which suggests that by the end of the 15th century, the Brussels manuscript had travelled from Cyprus to the South of France.
These books demonstrate the mobile and agile nature of medieval vernacular texts and manuscripts. Not only do they break down the idea of one clear-cut and ‘fixed’ text, they show that each new manuscript, be it through its material realisation, through editorial interventions or a combination of both, had the potential to be a radical remake. Moreover, this potential did not necessarily end with the delivery of the finished manuscript: throughout its existence, new situations, readers and owners could endow a manuscript with renewed relevance. A full list of Histoire ancienne manuscripts may be accessed through the Medieval Francophone Literary Cultures Outside France database.
- Dirk Schoenaers (University College London and the University of St Andrews)
04 August 2015
Today we feature a guest-post by members of the AHRC-sponsored project, Medieval Francophone Literary Culture Outside France, a partnership between King's College London, University College London and the University of Cambridge, working with the British Library. Several of the project's manuscripts are housed at the British Library, and we're pleased to say that they have been newly digitised and added to our Digitised Manuscripts site. We're delighted to be able to support research of this kind, and hope that it encourages further investigation into the origins, dissemination and uses of these fascinating texts.
‘Lengue franceise cort parmi le monde’ (‘the French language runs throughout the world’, wrote the 13th-century Venetian chronicler Martin da Canale (d. 1275) at the start of his history of Venice, which he chose to write in French. This echoes another 13th-century Italian writer, Brunetto Latini (d.1295-96), who wrote in his very popular encyclopedia, the Tresor, that French was ‘la parleure […] plus delitable et plus comune a touz languages’ (‘the most delightful and popular of all languages’). French language texts were composed and copied in many parts of Europe outside (and even a little beyond) present day France in the Middle Ages, most notably in the British Isles, Flanders and the Low Countries, the Rhineland, Italy, Catalonia, Cyprus, Greece and Palestine. Whereas traditionally this has been seen mainly as a sign of the prestige of French culture, recent research shows that the reasons for the use of French in such a diverse range of places were more complex, often pragmatic, and also that many parts of medieval Europe were profoundly multilingual. French was in fact a supralocal language in much of medieval Europe alongside Latin (and in some places where French was used alongside Greek, Hebrew and even Arabic).
This mobile use of French is nowhere more graphically illustrated than in Matthew Paris’s famous maps showing the route from England to the Holy Land, one copy of which is to be found in Royal MS 14 C VII (ff. 2r-5r). This manuscript was made in the 1250s, almost certainly at St Albans. The language used for the text of these maps is French (with just a bit of Latin). Thus on ff. 4v-5r we see a map of the Holy Land, focusing on the City of Acre (which was to fall in 1291) with explanations almost entirely in French (the flaps on f. 4v relate to Rome and Sicily, which are on f. 4r).
As French is also used in the descriptions of Italy, France and England, French quite literally ‘runs throughout the world’ in this manuscript.
The project Medieval Francophone Literary Culture Outside France aimed to gauge the under-researched phenomenon of the production and circulation of French language manuscripts outside France, since traditional scholarship has often focused on manuscripts that were made in France: One immediate consequence of paying more attention to French language manuscripts that were made outside France is that a rather different view of the literary canon emerges. For example, the vast Arthurian prose cycle, Guiron le Courtois, little known today compared to the other two prose Arthurian cycles the Lancelot en prose and Tristan en prose, is remarkable for its European trajectory. The oldest parts of Guiron were probably written in northern France or francophone Flanders, c. 1230-1240. About 40 manuscripts of Guiron survive, dating from the end of the 13th to the beginning of the 16th century. Direct and indirect attestations are found from Sicily to Britain and from Catalonia to Venice. Unlike Lancelot and Tristan, which were translated and re-written in all the major European languages, as far as we know parts of Guiron were only translated or re-written in Italian. Indeed the cycle had special ties with Italy. Its first attestation is probably in a letter from Frederick II's chancery in Foligno, near Perugia. The letter is dated 1240, and makes reference to 54 quires sent, or about to be sent, to Frederick from Messina after the death of one 'Johannes Romanzor'.
Some important Italian witnesses are held in the British Library collections. For example Add MS 12228 (Naples, c. 1352-1362), despite its relatively late date, goes back to an early source and transmits the Roman de Méliadus, the oldest part of the cycle, in a pre-cyclic form. It was commissioned in the context of the Ordre du Nœud, a chivalric order founded by Louis of Taranto, the Capetian and francophone King of Naples on his coronation in 1352 with a view to giving his somewhat discredited court some courtly and chivalric gloss. The hand and some of the illustration appear to be close to Paris BnF ms fr. 4274, which is a presentation copy of the Order's statutes.
Guiron le Courtois was composed after Lancelot and Tristan as a sprawling prequel, telling the story of the older generation of knights: Méliadus de Leonois, Tristan's father; le Bon Chevalier sans Peur, father of Dinadan and Brunor le Noir; Lac, Erec's father; and so forth. It is a world without Merlin and without the Graal, muscular and misogynist, in which most of the strongest warriors belong to Guiron's family, the Bruns. They appear larger than life, incredibly strong, isolated – loners who spend their time wandering far from court. They periodically disappear below the surface of the plot, but resurface later in a complex web of intertwined stories. In Old French, Brun recalls the taboo name of the bear. The Bruns’ ancestor, Fébus le Brun, renounced the crown of France: though he was the legitimate heir, he preferred to go seek adventure in England.
In another remarkable Italian witness, Add MS 23930 (Bologna-Padua, before 1369), the beginning of the story of Fébus has a typical northern Italian frontispiece, with bright colours and large motifs, proof of the text’s status among Italian manuscript producers and readers. In several Italian copies, this episode circulated independently from the main narrative, was successful, and underwent many adaptations.
Add MS 23930 once belonged to the Gonzaga family: the coat of arms on f. 1r and f. 27r are identical for instance to those at f. 2r of Venice, Biblioteca Marciana, MS fr. Z. XVIII, another of our project manuscripts, transmitting the Roman de Troie. Both manuscripts are part of a rich group of medium sized manuscripts, copied in a southern Textualis, some of which are wonderfully illustrated in the bas de page, that circulated in northern Italian courts – where Guiron was appreciated well into the 16th century.
- Simon Gaunt (King’s College London)
- Nicola Morato (University of Cambridge and Université de Liège)
21 March 2015
Being a royal librarian could be a lucrative business in the fifteenth century, as the career of Quentin Poulet illustrates. Born in Lille, he went from obscure scribe in a book-producer’s confraternity in Bruges in 1477-78, to keeper of the library of Henry VII in 1492. From the few records of his life that survive, we know that on 26th July 1497, he was paid £23 sterling for ‘a boke’ with a bonus of 10 marks on top from the royal purse. The ‘boke’ in question may well be Royal MS 19 C VIII, a copy of the Imaginacion de la vraie noblesse, which has just been photographed and uploaded to Digitised Manuscripts.
Miniature showing the young knight observing an archer and a carter as models for princely conduct, surrounded by a naturalistic scatter border, from the Imaginacion de la vraie noblesse, London and Bruges, c. 1496-97, Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 41r
One might imagine why Henry was so chuffed with the present. The text is a knightly ‘mirror’ text, intended to offer moral guidance and instruction in courtly behaviour to its aristocratic reader – and what better reader than the ten-year-old Arthur Tudor, prince of Wales? For the heir apparent to Henry VII, this book could plausibly have formed part of his schooling. It offers edifying exempla: from the three aspects of nobility – love of God, love of justice, and love of good reputation – personified as three women, to the virtues embodied by the archer (his skill of focusing on a target) and the carter (his determination, or drive if you’re in the mood for a pun!). It warns how poor counsellors can lead a prince astray, while illustrating the divine right of kings in ruling over their realms.
Detail of the colophon of Quentin Poulet, Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 97v
Poulet copied the manuscript himself, writing the text in an elegant Bâtarde script – a style of handwriting common among manuscripts produced under the patronage of the Burgundian court (as illustrated by the copy of the Mystère de la Vengeance made c. 1465 for Philip the Good, acquired last year by the British Library and now Add MS 89066/1 and Add MS 89066/2).
Miniature of Lady Imagination taking her leave of the young knight at the end of his pilgrimage, with the city of Halle in the background, Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 90r
The text was not widely known in England: the only other known insular copy was made for Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, in 1464 (now Geneva, Bibliothèque publique et universitaire, MS fr. 166). Its obscurity may explain why Poulet was able to pass the work off as his own. The narrative frame of a pilgrimage from Lille to Halle (which town is illustrated in the background of many of the miniatures), and its attribution to a member of a prominent Flanders family, Hugues of Lannoy, also explain the text’s appeal to Poulet.
Detail of an historiated initial depicting the presentation of the manuscript by Quentin Poulet to Henry VII, Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 1r
Poulet cannily repackaged the text, changing the title slightly from the Enseignement to the Imaginacion de la vraie noblesse, prefacing it with his own dedicatory introduction, and incorporating his name into the colophon at the end (which records the manuscript’s completion at the royal palace of Sheen on 30th June 1496). A historiated initial at the beginning of the preface depicts Poulet kneeling before Henry VII and offering him the book.
Miniature showing the young knight a man with severed arms, illustrative of his lack of honour, surrounded by a naturalistic scatter border and animal-rebus on the name of Quentin Poulet, Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 32v – this image may be familiar to you from our Valentine’s Day post, An Illustrated Guide to Medieval Love
Poulet also had his name encoded into the decoration, in the form of a chicken (‘un poulet’, in French) emerging from a shell in one of the scatter borders that surround the miniatures. These borders contain naturalistic flowers and plants (pansies, roses, carnations and strawberry sprigs), animals, birds and insects (a bear, a jay, a grouse, an owl, a fly and a butterfly), and a cheeky monkey that is aping the gestures of the young knight (for more monkey business, take a look at our earlier post, Apes Pulling Shapes).
Miniature showing Lady Imagination introducing the young knight to the Three Aspects of Nobility, embodied as young women, surrounded by a naturalistic scatter border, Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 11r
The manuscript contains six large illustrations, which were completed by the Bruges illuminator known to modern scholarship as the ‘Master of the Prayer Books of Around 1500’. (A note was added in pencil to f. 81v by Frederic Madden in 1845, drawing attention to the loss of the following leaf, which presumably contained a seventh miniature). His work is also found in Harley MS 4425, featured on this blog in our posts Sex and Death in the Roman de la Rose and The Height of Fashion, and Royal MS 16 F II, a compilation including poetry by Charles of Orléans. The British Library also holds one other copy of the Enseignement – Add MS 15469 – another illustrated but much less lavish production on paper.
- James Freeman
17 December 2014
A new recording of a magnificent choirbook produced for King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, one of the great treasures in the British Library’s music collections, reached number 2 in the Classical Charts in the first week of its release in October 2014.
Detail of a historiated initial with the Tudor rose and pomegranate, from the Choirbook of Petrus Alamire, Southern Netherlands, c. 1516, Royal MS 8 G VII, f. 3r
Containing mostly motets for four voices by Josquin des Prez, Pierre de la Rue and other leading Continental composers, this volume is representative of the finest French and Franco-Flemish repertory of the time. To celebrate the first complete recording of all 34 pieces, full coverage of this beautifully illuminated volume is now freely available on Digitised Manuscripts.
Cantus and tenor parts of the motet ‘Celeste beneficium’ by Jean Mouton, Royal MS 8 G VII, f. 2v
The rich sounds of early sixteenth-century polyphony, as notated in Royal MS 8 G VII, have been recreated by the choir Alamire and the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble, under the directorship of Dr David Skinner. Here is a sound-clip of the opening piece:
Released as ‘The Spy’s Choirbook’, the CD’s title refers to the colourful history of its famous scribe, Petrus Alamire (d. 1536), from whom Skinner’s ensemble borrows its name. In addition to making several similar choirbooks for other European courts, Petrus Alamire was a composer, mining engineer, and diplomat. He acted as a spy for Henry VIII, informing him of the movements of Richard de la Pole, the exiled pretender to the English crown. Surviving letters to the King and to Richard de la Pole suggest that Alamire was simultaneously engaged in counter-espionage. Perhaps gifting this manuscript to Henry was one way for Alamire to smooth over his double-dealing.
Alto and bass parts of the motet ‘Celeste beneficium’ by Jean Mouton, Royal MS 8 G VII, f. 3r
Naturalistic foliage, birds and insects, common to the south Netherlandish style of illumination, are combined with Tudor symbols such as the dragon and greyhound ‘supporters’ of the royal arms (f. 2v), and heraldic badges including the portcullis, the double rose, and the pomegranate (f. 3r). The exact circumstances of its presentation to Henry and Catherine are unknown, and it has been suggested that the manuscript may originally have been intended for Louis XII of France and Anne of Brittany. ‘Celeste beneficium’, for example, was composed for the French couple, and its text calls upon St Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, to help bring forth children.
Detail of ‘HK’ in the place of stamens in the marginal flora and fauna, Royal MS 8 G VII, f. 2v
It is not difficult, however, to imagine the relevance of this text to Henry and Catherine’s pressing need for a male heir. The following two motets (‘Adiutorium nostrum’ and ‘Nesciens mater virgo virum’) continue this theme, and the fusion of Catherine’s emblem, the pomegranate, with the Tudor double rose, is another probable reference to the desire for progeny (see opening image above). Further evidence to support the idea that this manuscript was designed with Henry in mind appears in a tiny detail amidst the flora and fauna of the marginal decoration: the ‘HK’ which serves to substitute the stamens surely refers to ‘Henricus’ and ‘Katharina’. If the intended patrons did change, this must have occurred extremely early in the manuscript’s production.
Whatever the case, there is little doubt that this book would have greatly appealed to the King. Henry received a thorough musical education: he played several instruments, sang from sight and composed and arranged music. Indeed, it was Henry’s desire to bring the finest musicians in Europe to play and sing at his court which brought Petrus Alamire into close contact.
Now, perhaps for the first time since Henry’s post-dinner entertainment, we can appreciate the full aural and visual magnificence of this unique volume. See here for further details about the CD, and experience Royal MS 8 G VII in its entirety on Digitised Manuscripts.
- Holly James-Maddocks & Nicolas Bell
06 November 2014
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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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.
27 September 2014
Even by the standards of Rome in the first century BC, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus had an eventful life. The son of Strabo, a man so loathed by the Romans that his body was dragged from its bier during his funeral, Pomey quickly made his own mark on the world and moved beyond the shadow of his infamous father. Plutarch tells us he was helped in this in no small way by the fact that he was quite good-looking, a fact that the illuminator of this historiated initial, in a Latin translation of Plutarch, seems to have taken on board:
A string of military successes ensured Pompey’s accelerated promotion to the consulship at the unusually early age of thirty-five. Shortly after this, he took on the daunting task of ridding the Mediterranean of pirates, who at the time were causing havoc to trade routes across Rome's sphere of influence. Here is a picture of Pompey subduing the pirates:
Some time later, Pompey, Caesar, and Crassus formed the First Triumvirate, a political alliance designed to benefit all three. But this alliance was not fated to last, and after the death of Crassus in Parthia in 53 BC, conflict between Pompey and Caesar seemed inevitable.
The story of the civil war between Pompey and Caesar was hugely popular in the middle ages, best known through vernacular accounts of Roman history such as the French Histoire ancienne jusqu'à César (well represented in the British Library’s collections) and the Irish In Cath Catharda. These draw in part on the epic poem of Lucan, as well as on late antique epitomes of Roman historical works. In a number of medieval accounts, Caesar and Pompey are depicted fighting at close quarters:
Though a man of outstanding abilities, Pompey was for a bad end. Like many doomed ancient heroes, he had a vision of what was to come in a dream. The ghost of his former wife Julia (the daughter of Julius Caesar) appeared to him and warned him of impending disaster. Here are two images of this dream:
Pompey’s death itself was a sorry affair. After the catastrophic defeat to Caesar at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC, he made for Egypt. The then king of Egypt, Ptolemy XIII, was persuaded by his advisor Pothinus that Pompey should be executed in order to curry favour with Caesar. In Plutarch’s vivid account of the event, Pompey sailed to shore in a tiny skiff. Just as he reached the shore, and in full view of his men and his wife Cornelia, he was murdered by those in the boat with him:
Plutarch and Lucan tell us that as he was executed he pulled his toga up over his head, something shown in the following picture:
His assassins dumped his body on the shore and took his head away to be presented to Caesar.
11 September 2014
We are pleased to announce that selected papers from the two-day international conference associated with the ‘Royal Manuscripts’ exhibition (11 November 2011 – 13 March 2012) are now available on the Electronic British Library Journal 2014 (articles 4–10).
God creating the Heavens and the Earth, from Guyart de Moulins, ‘Bible historiale completée’, Genesis to Psalms, France (Clairfontaine and Paris), 1411, Royal MS 19 D III, vol. 1, f. 3r
Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination showcased over 150 richly decorated manuscripts associated with and collected by English monarchs between the ninth and sixteenth centuries. Drawn mainly from the Old Royal library given to the nation by George II in 1757, the exhibited manuscripts revealed a magnificent artistic inheritance and provided a vivid insight into the lives and aspirations of those for whom they were made.
The genealogical descent of Henry VI from St Louis in a book presented by John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, to Henry’s wife, Margaret of Anjou, from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, France (Rouen), 1444-45, Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 3r
On the 12-13 December 2011, seventeen speakers gathered in the British Library to discuss different aspects of the Royal collection, from the makers and users of these books to content as diverse as genealogy and law, legend and history, and liturgy. An account of the conference, its speakers and their subjects, can be read here. Many of the manuscripts displayed in the exhibition can still be seen in seven themed facebook albums (The Christian Monarch 700-1400; The Christian Monarch 1400-1600; Edward IV: Founder of the Royal Library; Instruction: How to be a King; The World’s Knowledge; Royal Identities; and The European Monarch), each featuring between 15 and 25 items. Previous ‘Royal Manuscripts’ blog posts are listed here and here, and are often richly illustrated with items featured in the exhibition.
Henry VIII at Psalm 1 (where we would expect an image of David), from the Psalter of Henry VIII, England (London), c. 1540, Royal MS 2 A XVI, f. 3r
The research for this exhibition was funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Student bursaries for the conference were generously supported by AMARC.
- Holly James-Maddocks