Entries Tagged as 'Articles'

The Beginnings of the Codex


ARTICLE: The Beginnings of the Codex, by Cillian O’Hogan.

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.

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”.

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.

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Due miniature per Giorgio Morandi


ARTICLE: Anna Melograni, Due miniature per Giorgio Morandi, in Bollettno d’Arte, a. XCIX, 2014, fascicolo 21, pp. 123-142.

Il museo di Casa Morandi in via Fondazza a Bologna, dove il pittore abitò con le sorelle fino alla morte nel 1964, conserva tra gli oggetti non esposti, ma consultabili su richiesta, due miniature ritagliate di cui viene proposta una nuova attribuzione. I due fogli pergamenacei furono donati al pittore dall’amico e collezionista Luigi Magnani negli anni Cinquanta del secolo scorso, in due distinte occasioni. Si tratta di opere provenienti da codici liturgici emiliani che, con ogni probabilità, Magnani acquistò sul mercato antiquario bolognese. La prima, raffigurante la Pentecoste, si deve all’anonimo miniatore noto come Maestro di Seneca (o Primo Maestro di San Domenico) ed è databile al primo quarto del XIV secolo; la seconda, raffigurante una inusuale iconografia di Cristo creatore degli astri, va invece riferita a Bertolino de’ Grossi (prima metà del XV secolo). Inoltre, grazie al ritrovamento di alcune lettere, l’autrice ricostruisce il legame tra Magnani e Pietro Toesca, il maestro degli anni romani della specializzazione e della propria formazione nell’ambito della storia della miniatura.

English Version

Book on a Stick


ARTICLE: Book on a stick, by Erik Kwakkel.

Both medieval manuscripts and their modern counterparts are designed to accommodate human readers. Our two hands can keep an open book under control with ease by applying gentle pressure on the outer margins of the pages. Release the pressure with your right hand and a page lifts up in the air, just enough to conveniently flip it.

With a rustling sound it travels from right to left, moved along by an impatient reader that is left in suspense for a second or two. The proportions of the page, too, are designed to accommodate consumption by human beings.

Our eyes can handle only a small number of consecutively placed words, no more than eight or so, depending on the size of the letter. As a consequence, medieval page design shifted to presenting a text in two columns rather than one, a transition that occurred over the course of the twelfth century ….

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The Evolution of a Royal Book


ARTICLE: Collaboration and Customisation: The Evolution of a Royal Book, by Hannah Morcos.

As we draw to the end of Paris fashion week, let us turn to a manuscript that exudes the best of Parisian style. The haute couture of book illumination, this glorious Book of Hours showcases the work of the French capital’s most in-demand fifteenth-century illuminators.

It is the eponymous manuscript of the Egerton Master, whose mastery is elsewhere illustrated in the stunning two-volume Bible historiale that starred in our exhibition, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination. The Egerton Master collaborated on several occasions with other fashion­able painters of the day. These included the Mazarine Master, who helped to complete the miniatures and decoration towards the end of this lavish manuscript, along with two lesser-known Parisian artists.

One of the more unusual characteristics of Egerton MS 1070 is the unique border decoration. Angels carry freshly unearthed branches of acanthus, roots intact, which extend up the vertical margins.

Following the original commission, this exceptional Book of Hours passed into the hands of a number of monarchs, including Henry VII, before entering the British Library’s collection (via a short residency at a Jesuit College in Krakow). Today the manuscript is identified by the name of one of its fifteenth-century owners, René of Anjou. ‘Le bon roi René’ (‘good king René’) was an influential European leader, patron of the arts and occasional author, whose many titles included duke of Anjou, duke of Lorraine and Bar, and count of Provence, as well as king of Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem.

When the book came into René’s possession, it was carefully customised to suit its new owner and assert his status. This is evident from the beginning of the book: two full-page miniatures depict firstly René’s coat of arms and, on the facing page, Jerusalem, the capital of his kingdom in the Holy Land. Painted by Netherlandish artist Barthélemy d’Eyck, they reflect the early stages of the close relationship between this artist and his patron.

Texts were also added to personalise the manuscript for René’s own private devotion, such as the prayer below which incorporates his name.

The additions also permeate into the borders: many of the angels find the burden of their flight eased by billowing sails, which carry René’s motto ‘En Dieu en soit’ (‘in accordance with God’s will’). As well as furthering his devotional appropriation of the book, they function as a graffiti artist’s tag, stamping René’s ownership in his own distinctive manner.

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Written on the Edge

ARTICLE: Written on the Edge, by Cillian O’Hogan.

When you think of a bookshelf, an image comes immediately to mind: books in an orderly row, arranged alphabetically, thematically, or perhaps by height or colour, but (usually!) standing upright, with spines facing outward. But it does not necessarily follow that books were always kept in this way.

In fact, our earliest visual evidence for bookshelves, or book storage, suggests that books were laid flat, sometimes on individual shelves, and often with fore-edge or lower edge facing outwards, rather than the spine. Some evidence that this continued to be the case, both in the Latin west and in the Byzantine world, is given by the existence of decorations, titles, or other writing, on the edges of manuscripts.

Writing on edges could potentially be of great use to scholars in reconstructing Byzantine libraries, or in assigning provenance. But the barriers to such research are daunting, not least since the details of such writing are not always recorded in catalogue entries.

Moreover, the text is often extremely difficult to read, because of the dirt that has accrued on the edges that have faced outwards in a library or study for centuries. And it is a challenge to photograph edges clearly, especially in manuscripts that have been rebound, such that the binding extends beyond the text-block and casts a shadow over the edges.

But it would be very interesting to know whether, for instance, the relative brevity or length of titles could give clues as to whether the manuscript was owned by a private individual (who may only have needed one copy of a Nomocanon) or by a monastic or imperial library.

In the hopes of making such a study easier, we provide here a brief list of Greek manuscripts in the British Library with writing on the fore-edge or lower edge. Unfortunately, not all of these edges can be seen online at present, but those not online have been transcribed where possible.

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A Humanist Printer for Humanist Readers


ARTICLE: Aldus Manutius (1452? – 6 February 1515): A Humanist Printer for Humanist Readers. Aldine Editions at Cambridge University Library, by Laura Nuvoloni.

Tuesday 6 February 1515 was a sad day for the Venetian literati. Aldus Manutius, the ‘Prince’ of Renaissance printers, had died.

His death was not unexpected though. He had in fact complained of having been unwell for sometime in the letter dedicated to his former pupil Alberto Pio in his last book, the Lucretius of January 1515. The loss of such remarkable a printer and editor was nevertheless mourned by Venetian scholars, humanists and “bibliophiles”.

On Thursday 8 February it was mentioned in his diary by Marin Sanudo, the Venetian politician and chronicler: “Two days ago don Aldus Manutius the Roman died here in Venice; he was an excellent humanist and Greek scholar and was the son-in-law of the printer Andrea [Torresani] of Asolo. He produced very accurate editions of many Latin and Greek works with prefatory letters addressed to many, dedicating a number of little works to me, Marin Sanudo. He also wrote an excellent grammar … This morning, the body having been placed in the church of San Patrinian with books surrounding it, the funeral rites were held. An oration praising him was recited by Raphael Regio, public lecturer in humanita in this city”.

The 500th anniversary of his death is celebrated this year by libraries and institutions all over the world. Cambridge University Library joins in with a small exhibition of books published by Manutius between 1495 and 1515 (plus a couple of others) on display in the library Entrance Hall, from Monday 6 February to Saturday 7 March 2015, with an enlarged online version.

Drawn from the library holdings of incunabula and early sixteenth-century Aldine editions, the exhibition celebrates Aldus’s achievements as the most successful editor, printer and businessman in Renaissance Italy. The individual history of some of these books also illustrates his importance as a highly respected humanist, scholar, linguistic and grammarian who could converse at equal level with humanists of the stature of Pietro Bembo and Erasmus of Rotterdam.

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The Episcopal Body in Late Medieval England


ARTICLE: The Episcopal Body and Sexuality in Late Medieval England, by Dr Katherine Harvey (Birkbeck College, University of London).

Abstrcat: This paper examines the significance of episcopal sexuality in medieval England, with a particular focus on the twelfth and thirteenth centuries – that is, the first two centuries after the Gregorian reform movement made celibacy an obligation for all priests, and a period which has been described as a golden age of episcopal sanctity in Western Europe.

This new emphasis on clerical celibacy meant that the sexual behaviour of would-be saint bishops was intensely scrutinised; such men needed to be unquestionably celibate, and preferably virginal, if they were to stand any chance of being formally canonised. The author approached episcopal sexuality through the prism of contemporary ideas about medicine and the body, in order to shed new light on the lived experience of clerical celibacy from the perspective of a group of men who were particularly devoted to this troublesome ideal.

Questions to be addressed include: How was long-term celibacy thought to affect the health of religious men? How could medical knowledge help clerics to achieve bodily purity? How did sexuality relate to the ascetic lifestyle, and how did hagiographers use this relationship to suggest that their subjects were truly celibate? And how could such ideas be subverted, in order to suggest that a less-than-saintly bishop was falling far short of the standards expected of him?

Dr Katherine Harvey gave her paper on The Episcopal Body and Sexuality in Late Medieval England at Institute of Historical Research on October 7, 2014.

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Greek MSS from the Circle of Aldus Manutius


ARTICLE: Between Manuscript and Print: Greek Manuscripts from the Circle of Aldus Manutius, by Cillian O’Hogan.

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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

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