Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Manuscript of the Month: To Transcribe, or Not To Transcribe, That is Not the Question

July 28th, 2020

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz is conducting research on pre-1600 manuscripts at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Each month she will be writing about a manuscript she has worked with and the current KU Library catalog records will be updated in accordance with her findings. 

Kenneth Spencer Research Library Pryce MS P4 has received renewed attention in the past weeks as we ventured into an international transcription competition: “La Sfera Challenge.” The “International La Sfera Challenge” involves transcribing multiple copies of a single text, Gregorio (Goro) Dati’s La Sfera. There are over 150 surviving manuscripts containing this fifteenth-century geographical treatise in Italian, and one of these is Pryce MS P4. During the first iteration of the challenge earlier this year, three different manuscripts were transcribed, and the second, ongoing at the time of the publication of this blogpost, will add to that count five more manuscripts, including Pryce MS P4. The project is supported by the IIIF ConsortiumFromThePage and Stanford Libraries, and the transcriptions of all the manuscripts and other related scholarly products resulting from the “La Sfera Challenge” are being made available open access to scholars and the general public. Led by Laura Ingallinella, Karen Severud Cook and myself, Team Spencer consists of a group of ten scholars from across Europe and the US with different fields of expertise who are set to transcribe Pryce MS P4.

Transcribing a manuscript text is a great way to gain insight into the making of a manuscript and the different stages of copying and illumination. It is a very intense process in which one needs to consider carefully every single mark left on the leaves and its potential implications not only for the meaning of the text but also for the production of the artifact. This is particularly true for manuscripts for which we do not have a lot of information, such as Pryce MS P4: neither the scribe nor the place or the date of production is known. A collaborative transcription effort, such as the “La Sfera Challenge,” allows us to discover more about a manuscript, especially compared to a solitary exercise, as there is more than one person asking similar questions and a group of transcribers discussing what is on the page.

Image of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library's copy of Dati's La Sfera (Pryce MS P4), open to the end of Book II on folio 13v and the beginning of Book III on folio 14r.
The end of Book II on fol. 13v and the beginning of Book III on fol. 14r. Gregorio Dati, La Sfera, Italy, mid-fifteenth century. Call # Pryce MS P4. Click image to enlarge.

The text of La Sfera is constructed very methodically: it contains four books, with each book containing 36 stanzas and each stanza containing eight lines. In most cases, this even spread of the total 144 stanzas over four books enabled scribes to create uniform-looking layouts when copying the text. La Sfera is found on fols 2r–25r in Pryce MS P4, in two gatherings, both of which are composed of 12 leaves. Each folio contains 24 lines; i.e., three stanzas. Book I occupies fols 2r–7v, Book II fols 8r–13v, Book III fols 14r–19v and Book IV fols 20r–25r. However, only the beginnings of Book II and Book III are signaled in the manuscript on the upper margins of fol. 8r and fol. 14r respectively. Therefore, if there was no comparative material, one would easily think that there were only three books. The omission of the division between the third and fourth books occasionally also occurs in a number of other manuscripts of La Sfera. Furthermore, in Pryce MS P4 Book IV is missing three stanzas: it begins on fol. 20r, which contains stanzas one to three and then on fol. 20v it continues with the seventh stanza, while skipping the fourth, fifth and sixth stanzas.

How the books and chapters of a text are divided or whether there are any missing or additional parts of text are the kinds of peculiarities that enable scholars to make connections between different manuscript copies of a certain text. These kinds of alterations from one manuscript to the other can help determine, for example, whether or not a manuscript might have been copied from another existing manuscript, or whether two manuscripts might be related in some other way. Since the text continues from one side of the leaf to the next in Pryce MS P4, loss of a leaf for the missing stanzas is out of the question. Either the scribe got distracted or misremembered where they left off and began copying the seventh instead of the fourth stanza, or their exemplar—the manuscript from which they were copying—was also missing these three stanzas. There is no indication in the manuscript that the scribe or later readers spotted that there were missing stanzas; indeed, this is one of the things that was hitherto unnoticed about the copy of La Sfera in Pryce MS P4. Thus, in Pryce MS P4, each book occupies six leaves, with the exception of the last one, which is copied on five and a half leaves with the verso of the final leaf (fol. 25v) left blank.

Image of of folio 15r of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library's copy of Dati's La Sfera (Pryce MS P4), with enlarged sections illustrating examples of different letterforms for letters r and z.
Examples of different letterforms for letters r and z on fol. 15r of Pryce MS P4. Click image to enlarge. Full transcription of fol. 15r can be found on FromThePage.

The text of La Sfera in Pryce MS P4 is not given a title nor is it attributed to an author. The main text was copied by a single scribe. Since we do not know the identity of the scribe or exactly when and where they might have copied the manuscript, a detailed examination of any distinguishable textual and scribal features becomes very important. An interesting paleographical and orthographical feature in Pryce MS P4 is that the scribe uses two different letterforms for the letter r as well as two different letterforms for the letter z. Whereas the use of two different letterforms for the letter r might be due to scribal practices of the times, the different letterforms for the letter z are almost certainly due to the different phonetics of the words, even though they are both represented with the letter z in modern Italian. When pronounced unvoiced, the letter z produces the “ts” sound and when voiced, the “dz” sound. Therefore, for example, we have decided to distinguish between the two different letterforms used for the letter z in the manuscript and represent these as “ç” (for “ts”) and “z” (for “dz”) in our transcription, which can now be viewed in full on FromThePage.

Image of of folio 16r of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library's copy of Dati's La Sfera (Pryce MS P4), with enlarged sections illustrating the preference for /ct/ instead of /tt/ in the spelling of words.
Examples of preference of /ct/ instead of /tt/ in the spelling of words on fol. 16r of Pryce MS P4. Click image to enlarge. Full transcription of fol. 16r can be found on FromThePage.

The scribe of Pryce MS P4 also displays some familiarity with the Latin language. For example, the beginning of Book II and Book III are marked with rubrics in Latin: “liber secundus” (book two) and “liber tercius” (book three) on the upper margins of fol. 8r and fol. 14r respectively. This in itself is not indicative of knowledge of Latin, as it was relatively common to use Latin in the rubrics even when the main text was in a vernacular language. The scribe, moreover, in many cases seems to favor spellings in Latin when writing in Italian. For example, they consistently use the Latin form /ct/ instead of /tt/ in the spelling of words, writing “quactro” for “quattro” (four), “octo” for “otto” (eight) and “tucti” for “tutti” (all), etc.

Image of of folio 7 verso of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library's copy of Dati's La Sfera (Pryce MS P4), with blown up segments showing examples of Latin abbreviations, such as "per" and "con."
Examples of Latin abbreviations on fol. 7v of Pryce MS P4. Click image to enlarge. Full transcription of fol. 7v can be found on FromThePage.

Another significant characteristic of the scribe of Pryce MS P4 is the use of abbreviations that derive from Latin even though the text copied is in Italian. Albeit limited in number, the use of Latin abbreviations is pretty consistent throughout the text, notably the letter p with stroke through its descender representing letters /per/ and the sign resembling the Hindu-Arabic numeral 9 for letters /con/ as well as the combination of the letter q and the letter n with a macron as an abbreviation for the word “quando” (when), which derives directly from Latin.

Image of of folio 10 verso of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library's copy of Dati's La Sfera (Pryce MS P4), with blown up segments show spaces left for initials at the beginning of each stanza.
Spaces left for initials at the beginning of each stanza on fol. 10v of Pryce MS P4. Click image to enlarge.

As mentioned, each folio contains 24 lines; i.e., three stanzas. These 24 lines are continuous and there are no spaces left in between stanzas therefore it looks like there are no indications of stanzas in Pryce MS P4. A closer look, however, reveals otherwise. A space was reserved for an initial letter (presumably decorated) at the beginning of each stanza by the scribe. Consistent throughout the manuscript, at the beginning of each folio, there is a 3-line space left for the initial of the first stanza of that folio and a 1-line space for each of the initials of the second and the third stanzas. Thus, either the scribe was aware that the text was in stanzas of eight lines or the exemplar they were using had some sort of division of stanzas.

The decorated initials, however, were never filled in. In most cases, another hand, possibly the one responsible for supplying the rubrics, has supplied the initials in the form of somewhat enlarged letters. Yet, this was not done in a consistent or systematic manner. On fol. 10v, for example, the first initial, the letter S, was supplied in the 3-line space left for the initial of the first stanza, the second initial was completely forgotten and then the third initial was supplied incorrectly as the letter d, only to be corrected later on as the letter Q. In other cases, such as fol. 21, it seems that only guide letters—small letters placed in the spaces provided for initials that indicate which letters are to be added later—were provided. Presumably the guide letters also were inserted by someone other than the main scribe of the text, as their presence is not consistent.

Image of of folio 21r of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library's copy of Dati's La Sfera (Pryce MS P4), with blown up segments showing spaces left for initials, which now only contain guide letters, at the beginning of each stanza.
Spaces left for initials, which now only contain guide letters, at the beginning of each stanza on fol. 21r of Pryce MS P4. Click image to enlarge.

Although there are not a lot of interventions in the main text that can definitively be ascribed to another person, it is clear that others have worked on Pryce MS P4 in addition to our anonymous scribe. Not only are there different strategies for supplying the initials but also the handwriting of the rubrics and the labels of the maps and other illustrations found in the manuscript is markedly different than that of the main text. There may even have been readers leaving their marks on the leaves as there are manicules—symbols in the shape of a pointing hand that are used to draw attention to certain parts of the text—on two separate folios. As we complete our transcription Pryce MS P4 this week, we will surely find more interesting features.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library purchased the manuscript from H. P. Kraus in 1968, and it is available for consultation at the Library’s Marilyn Stokstad Reading Room when the library is open. In the meantime, you can see more of Pryce MS P4 on Digital Scriptorium and FromThePage.

Read more about Pryce MS P4:

“La Sfera Challenge” website also maintains a wider bibliography on La Sfera and its manuscripts.

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz
Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher

Follow the account “Manuscripts &c.” on Twitter and Instagram for postings about manuscripts from the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Manuscript of the Month: What Is in a Medieval Chronicle?

June 30th, 2020

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz is conducting research on pre-1600 manuscripts at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Each month she will be writing about a manuscript she has worked with and the current KU Library catalog records will be updated in accordance with her findings. 

The description of Kenneth Spencer Research Library MS B90 was titled “Contemporary Manuscript of the World Chronicle of Martin of Troppau” in William Salloch’s Catalogue 258 dated to 1968. Marianne and William Salloch were the founders of the successful bookselling business based in New York, William Salloch, Old, Rare and Scholarly Books. William (1906–1990) was a medievalist by training and the 422 catalogs he and Marianne issued between 1939 until 1989 went beyond being simple sales listings for rare books and manuscripts, becoming reference books in their own right. Over the years, the University of Kansas acquired several manuscripts from the Sallochs, including this one and another, MS D13, that was the topic of my blogpost last month.

The author in question, Martin of Troppau, is better known in English today as Martin of Opava or Martin of Poland (from Martinus Oppaviensis or Martinus Polonus in Latin). Based on contemporary references, it is thought that Martin was from Opava (Troppau in German), today a city in the Czech Republic, and was born sometime before 1230. A Dominican friar, he became active in Rome and served the Papacy first under Pope Alexander IV (1199 or around 1185–1261) and then under several of his successors until his own death in 1278, shortly after being appointed Archbishop of Gniezno in central-western Poland. As the author of the Chronicon pontificum et imperatorum (The Chronicle of Popes and Emperors), Martin of Opava is considered by many scholars to be the most influential European chronicler of the later Middle Ages. The Chronicle is estimated to have survived in around 500 manuscripts in the original Latin as well as in several translations, including Greek, Armenian and Persian in addition to western European vernacular languages. It was also used as a source or continued with current events by later chroniclers.

Soon after the acquisition by the Spencer Library of item no. 10 in the Sallochs’ Catalogue 258, the manuscript was given the shelfmark MS B90 and was cataloged under the name “Martinus Polonus” in the in-house manuscript catalog of the Library called Catalog IV. This information was later transferred to the description in the online catalog of the University of Kansas Libraries and later also to that of the Digital Scriptorium website, which serves as an online union catalog and image repository for US institutions, of which Spencer Library is a member.

It was noted in the Salloch’s catalog description that “the history of the text and its tradition is quite complicated since Martin of Troppau revised his own history several times; each manuscript offers an original and different text.” This warning in disguise was followed by a list of scholarly works including Ludwig Weiland’s 1872 edition of the text in the renowned Monumenta Germaniae Historica series, which remains the only modern edition of Martin of Opava’s Chronicle. During the half century since the manuscript was purchased by the Spencer Library in 1969, no one has embarked on verifying the information provided by the bookseller, that is, whether or not the work in MS B90 is in fact Martin of Opava’s Chronicle. Despite her careful examination of the contents of the manuscript, Ann Hyde, the former Manuscripts Librarian at the Spencer Library, noted in the entry she made for Catalog IV: “I did not examine these works [the edition of the text and the other reference works mentioned in the description by Salloch] and do not know where our version stands in the text-pedigree, or if it is known at all.”

The text preserved in MS B90 is one of the so-called “pope-and-emperor chronicles,” a famous model for chronicles in the Latin Middle Ages, in which short biographies of popes and emperors of Rome were narrated in chronological succession from Antiquity to the contemporary present day. Martin of Opava was certainly not the first author to compile such a chronicle and he utilized several previous histories and chronicles as his sources. He envisaged, however, a novel layout for his Chronicle, in which each page had fifty lines and each line corresponded to a year. He further arranged his chronicle so that the history of the popes faced the history of the emperors in any given opening of the book. Thus, each opening would depict a fifty-year period, with the papal and imperial histories also chronologically aligned. In the final version of his Chronicle, this tabular history of the popes and emperors was prefaced by a geographical and historical introduction, especially focusing on Rome.

Image of Front Cover (wooden board) and folio 1 recto of Spencer Research Library manuscript MS B90.
Interior of the front cover on the left and the beginning of the text on fol. 1r on the right. Cathalogus sive cronica omnium pontificum et imperatorum Romanum [Catalog or Chronicles of All Popes and Emperors of the Romans], central Europe or Italy?, last quarter of the thirteenth century? Call # MS B90. Click image to enlarge.

Not all later scribes adhered to Martin of Opava’s original layout of tabular, parallel histories when they copied his Chronicle. It can be immediately seen that a parallel layout was not the case in MS B90 either. Written by a single hand, the text in MS B90 runs like a narrative with no schematic arrangement and the papal accounts precede the imperial ones. The manuscript opens with the following rubric (fol. 1r):

Incipit cathalog(us) sive cronica om(n)iu(m) ponti | ficum (et) imp(er)ato(rum) Romano(rum) ubi anni et | menses (et) dies eo(rum) ponunt(ur) (et) notabilia f(a)c(t)a | eo(rum) (et) distinguit(ur) quis imp(er)ator sub quo | papa sedit. Incipiens a (Christ)o q(ui) fuit p(ri)mus (et) | su(m)mus pontifex (et) ab Octaviano Augusto | q(ui) ei(us) t(em)p(or)e imp(er)avit p(er)tingens usque ad Hono | riu(m) t(er)ciu(m) papa(m) et ad Fredericu(m) qui nu(n)c ad imp(er)iu(m) sublimat(ur).

In this very brief preface, the reader is told that this is a chronicle of all popes and Roman emperors and that it will begin with Jesus Christ and the Emperor Augustus, who reigned during Jesus’s youth, and continue until Pope Honorius III and Emperor Frederick, who is now in power. Pope Honorius III was the head of the Catholic Church from 1216 until his death in 1227. During that time, Frederick II was the Holy Roman Emperor, between 1220 and 1250. The mention of Honorius III and Frederick II as the endpoint of the chronicle indicates that they were the author’s contemporaries, which in turn provides a time frame in which this preface was put down into writing: not before 1220 and not after 1227. This is when Martin of Opava was probably not even born.

Indeed, this same preface is found in another pope-and-emperor chronicle, written by Gilbert of Rome, which was among the many sources Martin of Opava listed in his much longer preface to his Chronicle. Nothing is really known about Gilbert (also known as Gilbertus Romanus) except that he was perhaps a native of Italy and that he was active in Rome. The 1879 MGH edition of the text, which again remains the only modern edition of Gilbert of Rome’s Chronicle to date, identifies less than 20 surviving witnesses of his Chronicon pontificum et imperatorum Romanorum (The Chronicle of Popes and Emperors of Rome). What is more, the majority of the accounts of the popes in MS B90 follow Gilbert of Rome’s Chronicle almost to the letter. Some of the popes, however, such as Pope Sylvester II (999–1003) and Pope Gregory VII (1073–1085) receive a longer treatment than it is found in any of the other known witnesses of Gilbert’s Chronicle. Furthermore, the accounts of the popes do not conclude with Pope Honorius III as was promised in the preface but instead continue seamlessly until Pope Clement IV (1265–1268). These observations on the papal accounts indicate, on the one hand, that the prologue in MS B90 was copied from Gilbert’s Chronicle and the text is heavily based on it (up to the 1220s) but, on the other hand, that there are additions that take the accounts of the popes to the late 1260s.

Image of folios 16v-17r of MS B90, showing the end of the accounts of the popes on fol. 16v and the beginning of the accounts of the emperors on fol. 17r.
End of the accounts of the popes on fol. 16v and the beginning of the accounts of the emperors on fol. 17r. Call # MS B90. Click image to enlarge.

Whereas the account of the popes concludes with Pope Clement IV, whose papacy ended on November 29, 1268, the account of the emperors ends with the year 1270 in MS B90. Although this seems like a discrepancy at first sight, it is not surprising. Following the death of Pope Clement IV came the longest papal election in the history of the Catholic Church and the successor of Pope Clement IV, Pope Gregory X, only began his office on September 1, 1271. This special set of circumstances enables us to date the text to sometime in 1270 or early 1271.

Most of the accounts of the emperors in MS B90 have additions to them that are not found in Gilbert’s Chronicle but neither do they match exactly that of Martin’s. The closest account that matches that of Martin’s is perhaps the account of Emperor Frederick II. This is in fact the last account in Gilbert of Rome’s Chronicle. After the narration of Frederick II’s reign, both MS B90 and Martin of Opava’s Chronicle begin narrating the events by year, starting with 1250. This final part of the text in MS B90 again does not match fully with that of Martin of Opava’s Chronicle. For example, the years 1259 and 1263, which get a special mention of events in Martin’s Chronicle, are completely left out in MS B90.

Picture of the opening Folios 50v-51r of MS B90, giving the end of the accounts of the emperors and the beginning of the account on the life of Jesus Christ on fol. 51r
End of the accounts of the emperors and the beginning of the account on the life of Jesus Christ on fol. 51r. Call # MS B90. Click image to enlarge.

Following the end of the accounts of the emperors with the year 1270, MS B90 has an additional account on the life of Jesus Christ that spans fols 51r-52v. And, this is in fact how Martin’s account of the popes with Jesus Christ begins in his Chronicle. Although again not an exact match, the version in MS B90 is quite close to what is recorded in Martin’s Chronicle. The fact that this extended, longer version of the account of Jesus Christ is appended to the end of the text as a discrete section, especially when another version of the account is already narrated in the very beginning where it supposed to have been narrated, is quite intriguing. Relying on past sources, adding, subtracting, redacting and every aspect imaginable of réécriture were at the heart of medieval historiographical writing and in that regard MS B90 is no exception in displaying how texts came to be in the Middle Ages.

It is certain that the version of the Chronicle of Popes and Emperors we have in MS B90 was composed sometime around 1270. Whether the manuscript was also copied around the same time is another matter. A series of paleographical features in MS B90 such as the crossed Tironian et sign (⁊) and the letter a with open upper bow as well as certain codicological features such as the manner in which the wooden boards are attached to the bookblock may very well indicate that this manuscript was copied at the end of the thirteenth century, as suggested by Salloch. Therefore, it seems as though MS B90 is a clean copy of a very early draft of Martin of Opava’s notes, which consisted a copy of Gilbert of Rome’s Chronicle with expansions of some of the earlier accounts and additions until the year 1270. Since MS B90 has virtually no corrections or annotations, this cannot be Martin of Opava’s working copy, but rather a copy made from his notes before he began to expand and rewrite the majority of the accounts. Alternatively, this could be an expansion and continuation of Gilbert of Rome’s Chronicle, independent of Martin of Opava’s work, which may even have served as one of Martin’s as yet unidentified sources. Although it is clear that we can no longer call MS B90 a witness to Martin of Opava’s Chronicon pontificum et imperatorum, a closer investigation into the manuscript might reveal clues as to the earlier stages of his composition of his Chronicle.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library purchased the manuscript from William Salloch in January 1969, and it is available for consultation at the Library’s Marilyn Stokstad Reading Room when the library is open.

Editions of both texts are available online:

  • Gilbert of Rome. Chronicon pontificum et imperatorum Romanorum, ed. Oswald Holder-Egger. In Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Scriptores, SS 24, 117–140. Hannover: Hahn, 1879. [open access]
  • Martin of Opava. Chronicon pontificum et imperatorum, ed. Ludwig Weiland. In Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Scriptores, SS 22, ed. Georg Heinrich Pertz, 377–475. Hannover: Hahn, 1872. [open access]

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz
Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher

Follow the account “Manuscripts &c.” on Twitter and Instagram for postings about pre-1600 manuscripts from the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Manuscript of the Month: A Fifteenth-Century Compendium of Illustrious Men

May 26th, 2020

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz is conducting research on pre-1600 manuscripts at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Each month she will be writing about a manuscript she has worked with and the current KU Library catalog records will be updated in accordance with her findings. 

Kenneth Spencer Research Library MS D13 is a fifteenth-century manuscript that includes two works, both of which contain short biographies of classical historical figures. The first work is attributed to the fourth-century grammarian Aemilius Probus with the following rubric:“ Probi Emilii liber de excellentissimis ducib[us] exterarum gentium felicer incipit” (“Aemilius Probus’s book, ‘On the Most Eminent Generals of Foreign Peoples,’ happily begins”). The second one, on the other hand, is assigned to the first-century natural scientist Pliny the Elder with the following rubric: “Plinii Veronensis de viris illustrib(us) liber incipit feliciter in no(m)i(n)e d(omi)ni” (“Pliny of Verona’s book, ‘On the Illustrious Men,’ happily begins in the name of the Lord”). Both of these attributions, to Aemilius Probus and Pliny the Elder respectively, are in fact incorrect.

Even though the first work is attributed to Aemilius Probus in many of the surviving manuscripts, including MS D13, it is believed that the work known with the title De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium (“On the Eminent Generals of Foreign Peoples”) is part of a larger work by Cornelius Nepos, an author of the late first century BCE who himself was from Verona. This larger work, titled De viris illustribus (“On Illustrious Men”), is thought to have comprised at least sixteen books but not much has survived intact other than the De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium. The second work, attributed to “Pliny of Verona” in a number of medieval manuscripts, including MS D13, is usually titled the De viris illustribus urbis Romae (“On Illustrious Men of the City of Rome”). It once was thought to have been written by the fourth-century author Sextus Aurelius Victor, but is now believed to have been composed by an anonymous author of the fourth century referred to as pseudo-Sextus Aurelius Victor.

Image of the Beginning of the De excellentissimis ducibus exterarum gentium, with decorative blue and red initial (fol. 2r) Italy, fifteenth century.
Beginning of the De excellentissimis ducibus exterarum gentium. Italy, fifteenth century. Call # MS D13. Click image to enlarge. See additional images from this manuscript in the Digital Scriptorium.
Image of Beginning of the De viris illustribus, with illuminated initial (folio 66 recto). Italy, fifteenth century. Call# MS D13.
Beginning of the De viris illustribus. Italy, fifteenth century. Call # MS D13. Click image to enlarge. See additional images from this manuscript in the Digital Scriptorium.

In MS D13, the De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium opens with a preface and includes twenty-three biographies ranging from that of Miltiades (around 555–489 BCE), the Athenian general who defeated the Persians at the Battle of Marathon, to that of Hannibal (247–183/181 BCE), the Carthaginian general who commanded the army of Carthage against Rome during the Second Punic War. The De viris illustribus urbis Romae follows the De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium with no preface, and includes seventy-seven somewhat shorter biographies beginning with that of Procas, the great grandfather of Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome, and ending with Pompey the Great, a leading Roman general of the first century BCE. Ordinarily, this work has eighty-six biographies.

Even though the decorated initials that open each work in MS D13 are in starkly different styles, the manuscript was probably written by a single scribe. It was also very well planned, consisting of nine quires of ten leaves each (the final leaf, which was probably blank is missing). There is no indication that there were other texts before or after either of the two works. Therefore, it may be argued that the scribe had carefully planned to copy both of these works one after the other and intended to create this larger book of biographies by juxtaposing these two works.

John C. Rolfe, the translator of the Loeb edition to the text states that “Nepos arranged his biographies in groups of two books each. The first book of every group included the distinguished men of foreign nations, for the most part Greeks; the second, those of Rome. From references of Nepos himself and others the categories of generals, historians, kings and poets have been determined” (“Introduction,” ix). The argument that the book on the generals of foreign peoples was supposed to be followed by a book on the Roman generals is also supported by the closing words of the De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium:

Sed nos tempus est huius libri facere finem et Romanorum explicare imperatores, quo facilius, collatis utrorumque factis, qui viri praeferendi sint possit iudicari.

But it is time for us to put an end to this book and give an account of the Roman generals, to make it easier, with the deeds of both gathered together, to judge which men ought to be given the higher rank.

Thus, the fact that in MS D13 the book on the generals of foreign peoples by Nepos, which has survived, is followed by a series of illustrious individuals from Roman history, somewhat restores the work back to its original form, to the way it was intended to be read.

Unfortunately, P. K. Marshall, who wrote the most detailed study of the manuscript tradition of the De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium, did not comment on MS D13, even though he indicated that he had examined the manuscript. In his 1977 study, Marshall lists 86 witnesses to the text including MS D13, two of which had already been lost. He does not, however, comment on what other texts are contained in the manuscripts that include the De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium. In addition, to my knowledge there is no detailed study of the manuscript transmission of the anonymous De viris illustribus urbis Romae other than the brief discussion included in the Teubner edition. Thus, we do not know how common it was to cut the text short and not include all the eighty-six biographies. Similarly, we do not know which other works the De viris illustribus urbis Romae was associated with in the manuscripts. It would be interesting to see whether the two works found in MS D13 are arranged in the same way in other surviving manuscripts or whether this was the idea of the compiler of this particular manuscript.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library purchased the manuscript from William Salloch in 1956, and it is available for consultation at the Library’s Marilyn Stokstad Reading Room when the library is open.

  • See the edition and translation of the De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium: Cornelius Nepos. On Great Generals, On Historians. Trans. John C. Rolfe. LCL 467. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984. ISBN: 978-0-674-995-514-7.
  • See the edition of the De viris illustribus: Sexti Aurelii Victoris Liber de Caesaribus; praecedunt Origo gentis romanae et Liber de viris illustribus urbis Romae, subsequitur Epitome de Caesaribus. Ed. Franz Pichlmayr. Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1911. Public domain.
  • Read about the manuscripts of the De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium: P. K. Marshall. Institute of Classical Studies Bulletin Supplement No: 37: The Manuscript Tradition of Cornelius Nepos. February 1977.

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz
Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher

Follow the account “Manuscripts &c.” on Twitter and Instagram for postings about manuscripts from the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Manuscript of the Month: A Previously Unknown Witness to a Medieval Dictionary and the Origins of Librarians

April 29th, 2020

In memory of Richard Sharpe (1954-2020)

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz is conducting research on pre-1600 manuscripts at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Each month she will be writing about a manuscript she has worked with and the current KU Library catalog records will be updated in accordance with her findings.

MS 9/2:16 is one of dozens of fragmentary medieval manuscripts that are part of the holdings of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Originally part of a larger manuscript, this single parchment leaf was cut to size to be used as the cover of another book. Since the fragment was folded to fit this new host and the folds left quite an impression on the parchment, it can be estimated that the dimensions of the book our fragment was covering were about 156 x 96 x 43 mm. We do not, however, know what this book was.

Image of a manuscript fragment (recto) possibly from Papias the Lombard’s Elementarium doctrinae rudimentum [Elementary Introduction to Learning]. France? Netherlands? 13th century? The fragment had been repurposed as the cover of a codex.
Recto of a manuscript fragment containing a list of terms, which was used as the cover of another book. Call #: MS 9/2:16. Click image to enlarge.
Image of a manuscript fragment (verso) possibly from Papias the Lombard’s Elementarium doctrinae rudimentum [Elementary Introduction to Learning]. France? Netherlands? 13th century? The fragment had been repurposed as the cover of a codex.
Verso of the manuscript leaf, which served as the inner side of the cover of the book. Call #: MS 9/2:16. Click image to enlarge.

As it stands, 27 lines of text in three columns on both sides of the leaf remain. The three-column layout with ample margins on either side suggests that this fragment was part of a manuscript of substantial size. The widest part of the width of the fragment measures approximately 290 mm. We can therefore estimate that the original manuscript leaf perhaps measured something like 450 x 300 mm. That is to say, this parchment leaf is now perhaps half the size it used to be. A reading of the text immediately reveals that this is some kind of glossary, dictionary or encyclopedia, as it contains an alphabetical list of terms with explanations. The part we have includes terms that begin with the letter L, and that is why there are repeated decorated initial Ls on both sides of the leaf, two of which are pen flourished in red and the other two in plain blue. We can see that not all the terms begin with a decorated initial but only the ones that have relatively lengthier explanations.

Ordinarily, a glossary would be at the end of a book or accompany a text and include terms particular to that work. It is, however, difficult to see what the terms in this fragment might have in common as they vary not only in the length of their descriptions but also in their subject matters. For example, the words included on the recto page range from “liber” (book) to “liberalis” (of or belonging to freedom), “libia” (Libya, a country in North Africa) and “libidinosus” (passionate).

As it is seen in the images of the manuscript above, the fragment has sustained significant water damage which caused some of the ink to bleed and smear on the page, especially on the recto side. In order to uncover the text on the parchment that was lost due to the water damage, I applied some digital manipulation techniques to the images before I began transcribing the text. Different contemporary image processing techniques can be applied to images of manuscripts to recover ink that is not visible to the naked eye. And, sometimes even only recalibrating the sharpness and the contrast of images will yield results, depending on the extent of the damage and the erasure. The images of this particular fragment required a little bit of more work than that but the results were really promising.

Image of a manuscript fragment possibly from Papias the Lombard’s Elementarium doctrinae rudimentum [Elementary Introduction to Learning]. France? Netherlands? 13th century?, digitally processed to enhance the legibility of water-damaged text.
Recto of MS 9/2:16 after image processing with ImageJ/Fiji. Click image to enlarge.

As I was transcribing, at first I thought this was a copy of part of the Etymologiae [Etymologies] by Isidore of Seville (c. 560–636). Also known as the Origines, Isidore’s work is an etymological encyclopedia. Due to its comprehensiveness and the overall encyclopedic mindset of medieval scribes, authors and compilers, the Etymologiae was one of the most copied and consulted books throughout the Middle Ages. The entirety of the Etymologiae consists of twenty books but it is common to see selected books, chapters or even individual passages copied in medieval manuscripts. If you have read my last blogpost on MS C189, you may remember that I mentioned that another work by Isidore of Seville, the Sententiae (Sentences), also was fairly popular during the Middle Ages, and selected parts of this work were found in manuscripts as part of larger compilations.

When I compared the text of MS 9/2:16 with Isidore’s Etymologiae, I noticed that the fragment did not follow the order of books and chapters of the work, although individual passages certainly were directly taken from the Etymologiae. For example, on the recto side of the fragment, the text moves from the fourteenth chapter to the twelfth chapter of the sixth book of the Etymologiae in the first column with no apparent break and then on to the fifth chapter of the ninth book in the second column before going to the fifth chapter of the fourteenth book in the third.

These kinds of textual rearrangements are no surprise when it comes to medieval manuscripts. Many texts were not simply copied but reorganized and rewritten in the Middle Ages to better suit the particular needs of individual scribes or authors at given times. Moreover, in MS 9/2:16, I found out that there were sentences, albeit only a handful, that did not originate from Isidore’s Etymologiae. This phenomenon of additions to existing texts is also not uncommon in medieval manuscripts and could have been done by the scribe of this manuscript. Yet, in this case, I think the scribe of MS 9/2:16 was just following an existing exemplar and not necessarily making new additions. I now believe Spencer’s fragment is not directly from Isidore’s Etymologiae, but from a copy of Papias the Lombard’s Elementarium doctrinae rudimentum [Elementary Introduction to Learning].

Described by Richard Sharpe as the “first fully recognizable dictionary,” the Elementarium was composed sometime before 1053, probably over several years in the 1040s. One of the sources for Papias’s Elementarium was the Etymologiae, and that is why we find passages that go back directly to the Isidore’s seventh-century encyclopedia in this fragment. A notable feature of Papias’s Elementarium is that it is organized in alphabetical order based on the first three letters of each word. We can easily confirm this by looking at MS 9/2:16, in which each entry starts not only with the letter L but also with the letters LIB before moving on to LIC and then to LID. Among other features of the work, this alphabetical organization in itself has been considered very innovative for its time.

It is very serendipitous that MS 9/2:16 as we have it begins in the middle of a chapter entitled “De librariis et eorum instrumentis” in Isidore’s Etymologiae (VI.xiv). We would be justified in reading the title of this chapter as “on librarians and their instruments” since the adjective “librarius” (“librariis” in dative) means a person concerned with or employed about books when it is used as a noun, and that is what librarians do! In the Middle Ages, though, “librarius” usually referred to a copyist, scribe, secretary or bookseller. Yet, the Latin word “librarius” is indeed the origin of the word “librarian” in English and all the way into the eighteenth century the word “librarian” still (also) carried all these meanings in English.

According to A Census of Medieval Latin Grammatical Manuscripts by G. L. Bursill-Hall, over a hundred manuscripts of Papias’s Elementarium survive. There are also at least four print editions dated before the fifteenth century, the first of which was published in Milan in 1476. (Three of these incunabula dated to 1485, 1491 and 1496 respectively are digitized by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Germany.) Perhaps the high number of the witnesses in addition to the complexity of the work are the reasons why a full edition of the Elementarium has not been undertaken in modern times. Since there is no modern edition of the text with which our fragment can be compared, I soon will make available an annotated transcription of MS 9/2:16.

For an introduction to medieval dictionaries, read Richard Sharpe, “Vocabulary, Word Formation, Lexicography.” In Medieval Latin: An Introduction and Bibliographical Guide. Ed. by F. A. C. Mantello and A. G. Rigg (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1996). 93–105.

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz
Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher

Manuscript of the Month: A Manuscript, Wrapped in a Mystery, Inside an Enigma

April 1st, 2020

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz is conducting research on pre-1600 manuscripts at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Each month she will be writing about a manuscript she has worked with and the current KU Library catalog records will be updated in accordance with her findings.

A small quarto manuscript, MS C189, previously belonged to Alpha Loretta Owens (1877–1965), a graduate of the University of Kansas. Born in Rockwell City, IA, her family moved to Lawrence, KS, after she finished high school. She completed her first degree over a century ago, in 1901, at the University of Kansas and went on to receive an MA in 1903, also from KU. She then attended the University of Chicago, where she later worked at the John Crerar Library until 1918. Following a brief post teaching French at the University of Kansas ROTC, between 1919 and 1926 she taught French at Baker University in Baldwin City, KS, where she became Head of the French Department. In 1929, she completed her PhD at Johns Hopkins University and became Professor of Modern Languages in West Virginia at Morris Harvey College (now the University of Charleston). She taught French, Spanish and German there until her retirement in 1947. Subsequently, she returned to Lawrence, where she resided until her death. Owens also was the previous owner of another manuscript currently in the holdings of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library, MS J1:2, a fragmentary Torah scroll. Paul Mirecki from KU Religious Studies has been working on the history of this manuscript, the details of which were outlined in an article last year in the KU Alumni Magazine.

Portrait of Alpha Loretta Owens (1877–1965) when she was part of the faculty at Morris Harvey College in 1933. Source: The Harveyan, 1933.
Portrait of Alpha Loretta Owens (1877–1965) when she was part of the faculty at Morris Harvey College in 1933. Source: The Harveyan, 1933, courtesy of the Internet Archive. Click image to enlarge.

MS C189 is one of three manuscripts that were listed under “The Library of Miss Alpha Loretta Owens, Barboursville, West Virginia” in the famous Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada prepared by Seymour de Ricci with the assistance of W. J. Wilson and published between 1935 and 1940. According to the Census, all three manuscripts were examined by Wilson in 1935, when Owens was working at Morris Harvey College and living in Barboursville, WV, where the University of Charleston was originally founded and based. This is all we know about the history of MS C189; that the manuscript was purchased by Owens sometime before 1935. It is not known when, where and from whom she acquired the manuscript. Nor do we know any other previous owners or the origin of the manuscript.

A sample opening from MS C189, displaying the end of Porphyry’s Isagoge on folio 18v and the beginning of Aristotle’s Perihermenias on folio 19r.
A sample opening from MS C189, displaying the end of Porphyry’s Isagoge on folio 18v and the beginning of Aristotle’s Perihermenias on folio 19r. For more detailed information on the texts and for additional images of the manuscript, please see the record for MS C189 in the Digital Scriptorium. Click image to enlarge.

MS C189 is a remarkable object beyond the texts it contain. The textblock of the manuscript is homogeneous; that is, MS C189 is composed of a single codicological unit which was produced in one process and most openings look pretty much like the example provided above. It does not look like there are any missing leaves or like there were more gatherings either in the beginning or at the end. Parts of other manuscripts, however, were used as practical means to preserve this small book of 34 leaves as well as to support it. The binding of MS C189, which is presumably original, comes from another manuscript, as do the flyleaves in the front and the back from two others. Thus, we have one medieval manuscript that is placed inside fragments of two different medieval manuscripts and then wrapped with another one.

Front cover of MS C189 showing re-use of a manuscript bifolium Back cover of MS C189 showing re-use of a manuscript bifolium

Left: Front cover of MS C189. Right: Back cover MS C189.

MS C189 has a limp binding, in which a bifolium (that is, two conjoint leaves) from another manuscript is used as a cover in the form of a case. The repurposed parchment cover is attached to the bookblock by means of split lacing double sewing supports made out of leather. The sewing-support slips are laced out of each side of the cover through three single exit slits and then each double support returns through two separate slits, one at approximately 45 degrees above and the other at 45 degrees below the exit slits, creating a V shape. What used to be the upper margin of the bifolium (now the fore-edge turn-in of the front cover) is trimmed, with all edges of the cover left large enough to allow for turn-ins. The cover has lapped mitres; the fore-edge turn-ins lie on top of the head and tail turn-ins at the corners. There is no lining or any kind of other reinforcement and the sewing-support slips, which are mostly intact, are fully visible.

Opening with interior of the front cover of MS C189 on the left, displaying the lapped mitres and the exposed sewing-support slips, and on the right the first front flyleaf, a repurposed fragment from another manuscript.
Left: Interior of the front cover of MS C189, displaying the lapped mitres and the exposed sewing-support slips. Right: The first front flyleaf, a repurposed fragment from another manuscript. Click image to enlarge.

Considered original, in the Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, the binding of the MS C189 is described as made from two leaves of a twelfth century theological manuscript. There is no other information provided regarding the fragment. Furthermore, since then, neither MS C189 as an artefact nor this fragment now fashioning the cover of the manuscript seem to have attracted any attention from scholars.

The parchment leaf that now forms the outer cover (the recto side of the first of the two folios) of MS C189 is almost fully visible without any intervention. Except for the trimmed upper margin, it looks like the entire leaf is preserved. Moreover, there seems to be no loss of text due to trimming. Most of the text also is still readable on the cover and the turn-ins. I was able to identify the existing text as a part of Isidore of Seville’s Sententiae (Sentences). Composed in the early seventh century, the Sententiae employs the ancient and medieval literary form of collecting brief passages on a given topic. The work as a whole consists of three books (in thirty-one, forty-four and sixty-six chapters respectively) in which Isidore creates a compendium of essentials of theology in an organized manner.

Isidore of Seville’s Sententiae was fairly popular and there are many copies of manuscripts that survive from the Middle Ages. Indeed, we have another manuscript, MS C54, that contains the Sententiae. Therefore, when I identified the text, I was expecting the conjoint leaf whose verso is partly visible on the interiors of the cover to contain a different part of the same text. The text on the outer cover is from Book 10.11 of the Sententiae, a chapter entitled “De angelis” (On the Angels). The text on the inner cover, however, is not from the Sententiae but instead is part of a sermon attributed to John Chrysostom, who was the Archbishop of Constantinople at the end of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth centuries. The sermon is simply known by the title “De misericordia” (On Mercy) or by its opening words, “Tria sunt quae in misericordiae opera,” which are not visible in MS C189.

Further research revealed that this chapter of Isidore of Seville’s Sententiae was sometimes used as part of medieval homiliaries. A homiliary, or a book of homilies, is a collection of short texts consisting of lectures or discourses on a moral theme, which are also known as sermons. More research (and perseverance) revealed that there is at least one other manuscript in which both of these texts are found. In Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Latin 3783(2), known as the Moissac Homiliary, not only do they both exist in the same manuscript but they are also in the same order that we have them.

Image of folio 279v from Latin 3783 (2) at the Bibliothèque nationale de France Image of folio 286r from Latin 3783 (2) at the Bibliothèque nationale de France

Left: The portion of “De angelis” in Latin 3783(2), folio 279v that corresponds to MS C189. Right: The portion of “De misericordia” in Latin 3783(2), folio 286r that corresponds to MS C189. Source: Gallica, Latin 3783(2), Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits.

According to the description of the Moissac Homiliary, Isidore of Seville’s “De angelis” opens a gathering of eight folios and the pseudo-John Chrysostom’s “De misericordia” closes it, with a series of shorter texts with similar topics in between the two (folios 279 to 286). The Moissac Homiliary is dated to the mid-eleventh century and is thought to have been compiled in Moissac Abbey in south-western France. What is now the binding of MS C189 probably looked like this manuscript in its original form. Both the cover of MS C189 and the Moissac Homiliary are written in late Caroline minuscule and both are laid out in two columns on folios of approximately the same size. The cover of MS C189 has 38 lines to a page whereas the Moissac Homiliary has 37 but seems to be a little bit more compact and has large initials in the beginning of each section. (We do not know whether the cover of MS C189 originally had any illuminated initials in the same places.) If the biofolium we have as the cover of MS C189 was indeed part of a larger book with a similar arrangement with six bifolia in between the two leaves we have, the two texts would fall more or less to the same places. It seems more than likely, therefore, that MS C189 and the Moissac Homiliary are related, possibly one copied from the other.

Additional research on MS C189, with all of its features and fragments, would certainly yield further answers as to how the manuscript came to be and perhaps even how it ended up in Alpha Loretta Owens’s collection in the early twentieth century.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library purchased the manuscript from Book Nook in May 1966, and it is available for consultation at the Library’s Marilyn Stokstad Reading Room when the library is open.

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz
Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher