Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Manuscript of the Month: The Art of Excerpting and the Encyclopedic Mind of the Middle Ages

January 27th, 2021

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 C65 is a mid-fifteenth-century collection of theological writings focusing on topics such as vices, virtues, sin and penance. There are three short texts in the manuscript, all of which are largely based on excerpted quotations and passages from previous authoritative sources, including the Bible: the Viridarium consolationis (Garden of Consolation) attributed to Jacobus de Benevento (1r-28r), an anonymous text titled Confessio beati Bernardi ad Eugenium (Confession of the Blessed Bernard to Eugenius) (folios 28r-39v) and the Speculum ecclesiae (Mirror of the Church) attributed to Hugh of Saint-Cher, but which in this manuscript is attributed to Hugh of Saint-Victor (folios 41r-58v).The Viridarium consolationis is a treatise on vices and virtues, the Confessio deals with the seven deadly sins and confession, and the Speculum ecclesiae is a commentary on the Mass.

Although there are clearly overarching themes, the eclectic nature of the works is also reflected in the copying of the manuscript, with several interruptions to the flow of the text in MS C65 to accommodate different parts, chapters, and sections in each work. In addition to rubricated section headings and initials, there also are several paragraph marks in red throughout the manuscript marking individual sentences or smaller portions of the text. Furthermore, in two cases, the mnemonic quality of the text makes the scribe express the sentences in small diagrams, such as the tree depicting the different circumstances according to which sin becomes more serious on folio 35r.

Image showing the layout of the Viridarium consolationis by Jacobus de Benevento on folios 14v-15r in MS C65
The layout of the Viridarium consolationis by Jacobus de Benevento on folios 14v-15r. Collection of theological writings, Italy (?), 1449. Call # MS C65. Click image to enlarge.
Image of opening showing Tree depicting the different circumstances according to which sin becomes more serious as part of Confessio beati Bernardi ad Eugenium, 35r in MS C65.
The tree depicting the different circumstances according to which sin becomes more serious as part of Confessio beati Bernardi ad Eugenium on folio 35r (right). Collection of theological writings, Italy (?), 1449. Call # MS C65. Click image to enlarge.

Medieval writing practices relied heavily on excerpting past authoritative works and reusing selected phrases, sentences or passages while creating new works. This was especially true for theological works, for which commenting on certain subjects or authorities was an essential aspect of any new piece of writing. When phrases or passages from earlier sources or the Bible were excerpted, even when they were copied word for word, they were not always referenced as one would reference a direct quotation today. Nevertheless, the readers were expected to recognize the allusions to other works even when a clear mention was absent. And they often did, as the people of the Latin Middle Ages had encyclopedic minds, and memory functioned differently in both writing and reading from how it does today. Thus, quotations in a text were often made from memory with no effort or need to look them up.

The three works in MS C65 conclude with a colophon at the end of the Speculum on folio 58v, providing the date in which the copying was completed: “Scriptum mccccxlviiiio die v ap[ri]lis” (Having been written on April 5, 1449). Unfortunately, we do not have the name of the scribe or the place of writing. However, from the features of the script, we can surmise that the manuscript was copied somewhere in Italy. After the colophon, which is usually thought to be the final element of the text in a medieval manuscript, there is additional text copied to the manuscript on folio 59r. This is, in fact, not uncommon in medieval and early modern manuscripts. Writing materials were precious and hardly a leaf was left blank without a good reason. In several manuscripts, it may be observed that scribes planned their writing in such a way that there were no empty leaves left. On other occasions, the unused leaves were excised intentionally to be used elsewhere. In the case of MS C65, the empty leaf was available for recording more writing.

Image showing The end of the Speculum ecclesiae by Hugh of Saint-Cher on folio 58v (left) and further passages added in two separate hands on 59r (right) in MS C65
The end of the Speculum ecclesiae by Hugh of Saint-Cher on folio 58v (left) and further passages added on folio 59r (right). Collection of theological writings, Italy (?), 1449. Call # MS C65. Click image to enlarge.

Based on the differences in ink and script on folio 59r, we can be certain that there are two hands. That there is more than one hand in a manuscript does not always mean that they were written by different people, however. In this case, though, these passages do seem to have been added in two stages by two different people; the first probably by the scribe of the rest of the manuscript and the second most likely a contemporary of theirs. The text with the smaller script on the upper part of folio 59r is a verse on the death of Christ, possibly serving as a prayer. So, the scribe, either omitted this passage by mistake and appended it to the end, or having found a relevant prayer after the completion of the manuscript, decided to copy it too.

The two passages on the lower part of folio 59r also are interesting. The first is about the conditions of confession in the form of a mnemonic verse:

Iste sunt [con]diciones [con]fessionis
Sit simplex humilis [con]fessio pura fidelis
Adq[ue] frequens nuda discrita libens vere[con]da
Integra secreta lacrimabilis accelerata
Fortis et accusans [et] sit parare parata.

These are the conditions of confession:
Let the confession be simple, humble, pure, faithful,
And frequent, unadorned, discreet, willing, ashamed,
Complete, secret, tearful, prompt,
Strong, and reproachful, and prepared to obey.

These sixteen conditions that must be met address both the confessor and the sinner. The origin of this passage in MS C65 is a passage in Thomas Aquinas’s Commentary on Peter Lombard’s Libri Quattuor Sententiarum (Four Books of Sentences). Considered one of the most influential theologians of the Catholic Church, Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) also was declared a saint fifty years after his death. Listed by Aquinas as part of his much larger commentary, these components of a good confession were very well known in the Middle Ages.

The second passage, on the other hand, originates from a longer verse (lines 52-55) known with its first words, “Peniteas cito peccator” (Let the sinner quickly repent), which is thought to have been composed by William de Montibus (approximately 1140-1213):

Ista sunt que agravant peccata
Agravat ordo locus persona peccata sientia tempus
Etas [con]dicio numerus mora copia causa
Et modus [i]n culpa status altus lucta pusilla

These are the conditions that aggravate sins:
Order aggravates sins, [and] place, person, knowledge, time
Age, condition, number, procrastination, wealth, motive
And manner of sinning, high status and weak resistance.

In his 1992 book on William de Montibus, Joseph Goering describes “Peniteas cito peccator” as “one of the most popular vehicles for conveying the essentials of penance to medieval European confessors” and argues that it is less of a poem but more of a collection of discrete units of didactic verse (p. 107). Perhaps because it is made up of smaller units, different parts of it were separated from its longer version and copied independently throughout the medieval and early modern periods, as is the case in MS C65.

Furthermore, there is evidence that the longer “Peniteas cito peccator,” which is about 150 lines in its longest versions, was used for education, as an introductory text in grammar and theological schools. Thomas Aquinas’s teachings, moreover, were almost certainly taught at schools as well, not least because he was an educator himself for most of his life. Therefore, the copyist of these passages could have learned them at school (or might have been teaching them) and could have just committed them to the end of the leaf from memory. It is also possible that the scribe only knew these passages and not the entire text of either work. These two additional passages on folio 59r seem to have been copied fairly often in a variety of medieval manuscripts. However, it is not always easy to identify the sources of such passages as the scribes rewrite or rephrase certain parts, especially the beginning of these short texts, as is the case in MS C65. And, if one looks closely, one will see that the tree depicting the different circumstances according to which sin becomes more serious on folio 35r is essentially the same text that is derived from the “Peniteas cito peccator,” which was copied on folio 59r!

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library purchased the manuscript from Bernard M. Rosenthal Inc. in July 1960, and it is available for consultation at the Library’s Marilyn Stokstad Reading Room when the library is open.

  • For additional selected images from MS C65, see the Digital Scriptorium.
  • For an overview of medieval thoughts about sin and confession, see Thomas N. Tentler. Sin and Confession on the Eve of the Reformation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977. [KU Libraries]
  • For Thomas Aquinas’s works, see Corpus Thomisticum. [open access]
  • For more information and an edition of “Peniteas cito Peccator,” see Joseph Goering. “Peniteas cito Peccator.” In William de Montibus (c. 1140-1213): The Schools and the Literature of Pastoral Care. Studies and Texts (Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies) 108. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1992. 107-38. [KU Libraries]

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: The Genealogy of Christ, Medieval Edition

December 29th, 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 9/2:29 contains part of the Compendium historiae in genealogia Christi (‘Compendium of the History on the Genealogy of Christ’) compiled by Peter of Poitiers (approximately 1130–1205/1215). Peter’s Compendium is a condensed summary of biblical history arranged in the form of a genealogical tree of Christ that traces his lineage back to Adam. In the text, biblical personages such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesse and David are all presented as being directly related to Jesus. Like many of its medieval counterparts, the history is organized according to the concept of the “six ages of the world,” which was first formulated by Augustine of Hippo (354–430). According to this traditional periodization, each of the first five ages lasted approximately a thousand years, with the first extending from Adam to Noah, the second from Noah to Abraham, the third from Abraham to David, the fourth from David to Zedekiah, and the fifth from Zedekiah to Christ. The birth of Christ commences the sixth and final age of the world. Instead of a continuous narrative detailing the events through these ages, however, Peter’s Compendium utilizes a graphic genealogical tree made up of roundels connected by lines and includes brief entries that surround this linear genealogy.

Image of Acephalous text beginning with Jesse on folio 1r. Peter of Poitiers, Compendium historiae in genealogia Christi, Central Europe (?), around 1300 (?). Call # MS 9/2:29.
Acephalous text beginning with Jesse on folio 1r. Peter of Poitiers, Compendium historiae in genealogia Christi, Central Europe (?), around 1300 (?). Call # MS 9/2:29. Click image to enlarge.

Peter of Poitiers taught theology at the University of Paris, where he succeeded Peter Comestor (approximately 1100–1178/1179) as chair in 1169. He was also Chancellor of the University of Paris from 1193 to his death. It is argued that Peter wrote the Compendium as an educational tool, somewhat continuing in the footsteps of his predecessor Peter Comestor, who also composed a biblical history spanning from the Creation to the Ascension titled the Historia scholastica (‘Scholastic History’). Peter Comestor’s Historia is known to have been included as part of the university curriculum and indeed, in several manuscripts, such as Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 029 dated to the early thirteenth century, Peter of Poitiers’s very short Compendium is found together with Peter Comestor’s much longer Historia.

Jean-Baptiste Piggin provides a work-in-progress list that includes over 200 manuscripts that contain the Compendium. Some of these are designed in the form a roll (also called rotulus) that is supposed to be read vertically from top to bottom, which is ideal for the genealogical arrangement of the work and highlights the direct descent of Christ from Adam. Several manuscripts, on the other hand, are in codex format like MS 9/2:29, which, as it stands, consists of only a single bifolium (two conjoint leaves) that contains only part of the text. The Compendium takes up somewhere from 3 to 8 leaves in other codices that are approximately the same size as MS 9/2:29, depending on the layout of the text. Although the narrative and the main points are essentially the same in most witnesses, the decorative program in the manuscripts varies greatly. They all utilize genealogical trees that are linked together with roundels. Yet, while some contain roundels with only names of individuals and mentions of significant events with no illuminations, others are illuminated with busts of historical figures and miniatures of historical scenes.

Image of Folio 2 (right), which begins with the announcement of the birth of Christ. Peter of Poitiers, Compendium historiae in genealogia Christi, Central Europe (?), around 1300 (?). Call # MS 9/2:29.
Folio 2r (right) commences with the announcement of the birth of Christ. Peter of Poitiers, Compendium historiae in genealogia Christi, Central Europe (?), around 1300 (?). Call # MS 9/2:29. Click image to enlarge.

Folio 2r of MS 9/2:29 contains the final portion of Peter’s Compendium, the sixth age, which begins with the birth of Christ. The life of Christ continues to take up the central space from previous leaves, beginning with the announcement of his birth (“Christus natus”: Christ is born). This is then linked to the infancy of Christ and his crucifixion. The left column commences with the line of Antipater (113-43 BCE), father of Herod I (37-4 BCE), the King of Judea at the time of Christ’s birth. Depicted on the right is Caesar Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, who reigned from 27 BCE until 14 CE, again corresponding to the time of Christ’s birth. This type of parallel narration of events was very common especially in the later Middle Ages, and in the context of the Compendium it serves to place the story of the life of Christ into the broader historical context.

On the right-hand side of folio 2r, we also see the genealogy of the extended family of Jesus, which is known in literature as “holy kinship.” The lineage begins with Hismeria and Anne who are indicated to be sisters (“sorores”). According to this version of the life of Christ, Anne is the mother of Mary and grandmother of Christ. Through her three different marriages (identified as Salome, Joachim and Cleopas in MS 9/2:29) she has three daughters, all called Mary (that is, the virgin Mary, Mary Cleopas, and Mary Salome). Half-sisters of Mary are portrayed as mothers to some of the apostles, which make them direct cousins of Jesus. Anne’s sister Hismeria, on the other hand, is the grandmother of John the Baptist through her daughter Elizabeth. This version of the story of the family of Jesus is thought to have been developed by Haimo of Auxerre (d. approximately 865) in the mid-ninth century and it was prevalent in medieval biblical historiography until it was rejected during the Council of Trent, the 19th ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, in the mid-fifteenth century.

Text-only genealogical roundels on folio 7v. of Heidelberg, Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Sal. IX,40, Salem Abbey, Germany, around 1300. Source: Digital Library of the University of Heidelberg.
Heidelberg, Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Sal. IX,40, folio 7v. Salem Abbey, Germany, around 1300. Source: Digital Library of the University of Heidelberg.
Image of genealogical roundels featuring the busts of figures on folio 4r of W.796, Baltimore, MD, The Walters Art Museum.
Baltimore, MD, The Walters Art Museum, W.796, folio 4r. England, early thirteenth century. Source: The Digital Walters.
Image of Cologny, Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cod. Bodmer 183, folio 5r (detail), with an illumination of the holy family in the manger.
Cologny, Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cod. Bodmer 183, folio 5r (detail). England or France (?), mid-thirteenth century. Source: e-codices.

As mentioned above, the decorative program in the manuscripts of the Compendium varies greatly. For example, Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Sal. IX,40, dated to around 1300, does not contain a single illumination even though it does depict a carefully designed genealogical tree. The Walters Art Museum, W.796, dated to the early thirteenth century, on the other hand, is the exact opposite, with each individual person or event mentioned in the genealogical tree not only named but also visualized inside the roundels. In yet other manuscripts, such as Cologny, Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cod. Bodmer 183, certain personages and events are given prominence with much bigger miniatures while the rest of the roundels remain unillustrated.

In the case of the partial genealogical tree surviving in MS 9/2:29, it is seen that not all names or events that are mentioned are chosen as part of the illustration program. The manuscript is considerably more colorful than other manuscripts of the Compendium in charting the genealogical tree as well as featuring a less rigid layout. What is perhaps most striking is the selection and placement of the images. In similar genealogical works from the Middle Ages, including other manuscripts of the Compendium, illuminations, whether they are of persons or events, are usually placed inside roundels. Yet, in MS 9/2:29, a series of illustrated figures are placed atop the roundels. Furthermore, women such as Hismeria and Anne (as well as Abigail on folio 1r) are given visual prominence in line with the narrative, an aspect that is also uncommon in other manuscripts of the Compendium. Not only do these decorative choices set this manuscript apart, but the gaze and the powerful gestures of these illustrated figures as they are depicted in MS 9/2:29 also create a more dynamic reading of the text.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library purchased the manuscript from Bernard M. Rosenthal Inc. in July 1975, and it is available for consultation at the Library’s Marilyn Stokstad Reading Room when the library is open.

  • You can read more about Peter of Poitiers and his works including the Compendium in Philip S. Moore. The Works of Peter of Poitiers, Master in Theology and Chancellor of Paris (1193-1205). Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 1936. [public domain]

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: Charting a Late Fifteenth-Century Journey

November 24th, 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. 

Written in Humanistic cursive by a single hand during the last decade of the fifteenth century, Kenneth Spencer Research Library MS B21 contains a travel itinerary from Italy to France and back. Currently consisting of only five folios, it was probably part of a larger book. It seems that each stop on the journey was recorded between February 1493, with a departure from Naples, Italy, and January 1494, with a return to Sermoneta, Italy, after going all the way to Paris, France. The majority of the text comprises the names of the cities, with occasional mentions of arrival or departure dates and a series of numbers in the margins that probably denote distances between the stops. Unfortunately, no personal name or a reason for the journey is mentioned, but from the language of the text and the style of handwriting we can surmise that the diary belonged to an Italian traveler.

Image showing the text from the beginning of the journey in February 1493. Travel Itinerary, Italy and France, 1493-1494. Call # MS B21.
Beginning of the journey in February 1493. Travel Itinerary, Italy and France, 1493-1494. Call # MS B21. Click image to enlarge.

The journey begins on February 21, 1493, in Naples, Italy. 24 days later, on March 16, the traveler arrives at Marseille, France. There are thirteen stops noted for this first leg of the journey between Naples and Marseille. Most of them were relatively easy to identify:

Gayeta = Gaeta
Hostia = Ostia
Civita Vechya = Civitavecchia
Mo[n]te Arge[n]taro = Monte Argentario
Livorno = Livorno
Porto Vener[e] = Porto Venere
Ienoa = Genoa
Villa Francha = Villefranche-sur-Mer
Nirza = Nice
Santa Margarita = Île Sainte-Marguerite
Insola de Heres = Îles d’Hyères

I was not so sure about where “Poncio” is, which is mentioned as a stop between Gaeta and Ostia but I decided it must be Pontinia, which is located almost right in the middle of the two places. I also had my doubts about where “Cornito” might be. It is mentioned as a stop between Civitavecchia and Monte Argentario. Although there are other places with this name in both Benevento and Campania regions of Italy, the contemporary name of the place we are looking for in this stretch is probably Tarquinia, whose name has changed from Corneto to Tarquinia in the last century.

Map of Naples-Marseille itinerary in MS B21. Created using Tableau.

After I identified the stops for the first leg of this journey between Naples and Marseille, I decided to place them on a map and see how it looks: indeed, all the places lined up in a neat route along the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea and southern coast of France. What is striking is that all the places I was able to identify are on either the coast or an island close to the shore, such as Monte Argentario and Île Sainte-Marguerite. This gives us reason to think that this part of the journey was undertaken by ship along the coast of the Tyrrhenian and Ligurian Seas instead of by land. Now that we know the route, how long it took and the possible mode of travel, I was curious to compare this data. At that point, I turned to ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World. Called by some “a Google Maps for Ancient Rome,” ORBIS allows one to analyze movements of people and goods along the principal routes of the ancient Roman world by taking into account different modes and means of transport and even the season in which the travel took place.

Map of Naples-Marseille (Neapolis-Massilia) itinerary according to Roman coastal sea routes. Source: ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World.
Map of Naples-Marseille (Neapolis-Massilia) itinerary according to Roman coastal sea routes. Source: ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World. Click image to enlarge.

Since Roman travel networks and routes continued to be used during the Middle Ages, the approximations created in ORBIS would provide us a reliable comparison point. According to ORBIS, if one travels only by daylight the journey between Naples and Marseille on coastal sea takes 18.7 days during winter. Although by this route there seem to be fewer stops compared to what is recorded in MS B21, the major ports, such as Ostia and Genoa, remain unchanged. The traveler of MS B21 noted that they arrived at Marseille after 24 days. Given that there are more stops mentioned in the manuscript and that we do not know if they spent any considerable time in any of these places, 24 days seem reasonable.

Image of leaf containing the last place mentioned as part of the journey in MS B21: Sermoneta.
Last place mentioned as part of the journey: Sermoneta. Travel Itinerary, Italy and France, 1493-1494. Call # MS B21. Click image to enlarge.

According to MS B21, it seems that the anonymous traveler spent between April and August 1493 in Paris before going to Tours via Orléans and staying there until January the year after. The traveler began their return from Tours, France to Italy on January 23, 1494. On the way back, they traveled exclusively by land, passing through cities such as Turin, Milan, Parma, Bologna, Florence, and Rome. Instead of going back to Naples, where they started, however, they stopped at Sermoneta, approximately 100 miles north of Naples. Unfortunately, the date of arrival is not recorded in the manuscript. If the anonymous traveler of MS B21 was a member of a diplomatic legation, as suggested by Bernard Rosenthal, from whom the Kenneth Spencer Research Library purchased the manuscript, this was a tumultuous time and there would have been good reason for such a journey, for in this very year the Kingdom of Naples was under threat of invasion by Charles VIII, king of France.

If the anonymous traveler was on a mission to the French court, that would also explain their spending time not only in Paris but also in Tours. Palais des Tuileries was the Parisian residence of most French monarchs but Charles VIII and his court also spent considerable time in Tours and had a royal residence there, Château de Plessis-lèz-Tours. Furthermore, we know that the French king may have been traveling from Paris to Tours that very August as Queen Anne is recorded to have had a premature birth and that the baby was buried at Notre-Dame de Cléry, a place mentioned also in MS B21 as the next stop after Orléans on the way to Tours.

King Ferdinand I of Naples died only two days after the departure date mentioned in the manuscript, on January 25, 1494, after 35 years of reign. Although succeeded by his son Alfonso II, the death of Ferdinand I allowed Charles VIII to lay claim to the throne and invade the Kingdom of Naples later in 1494. This marked the beginning of the Italian Wars, also known as Habsburg-Valois Wars, which took place between 1494 and 1559, during which the Kingdom of Naples was the focus of dispute among different dynasties and constantly changed hands.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library purchased the manuscript from Bernard M. Rosenthal Inc. in July 1960, 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

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

Manuscript of the Month: The Making of a Medieval Codex

October 27th, 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. 

We have very little information about the past history of Kenneth Spencer Research Library MS C195. When, where and by whom it was made are unknown. This is not surprising; the origins of many medieval manuscripts are uncertain. Scholars utilize different evidence to determine the circumstances in which a manuscript was produced as well as its history since its production. The only hint about the past of MS C195 comes from  a note dated to 1841 glued onto the front pastedown according to which the manuscript previously belonged to the library of the Charterhouse of Montrieux (Chartreuse Notre-Dame de Montrieux) in Méounes-les-Montrieux in southeastern France. This Carthusian monastery that was originally built in 1137; yet even if MS C195 was in their library at some point, it does not mean that it was made there, although it could suggest the general region in which it was created.

MS C195 contains a copy of Petrus Riga’s Aurora, a verse commentary on the januvia-sitagliptin.net. Also known as Peter Riga (approximately 1140–1209), Petrus was a canon of the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Reims and later a Canon Regular of the Order of St Augustine at St Denis, also in Reims, France. It is thought that the Aurora was written over a long period of time at the end of the twelfth century, between 1170 and 1200. The modern editor of the Aurora, Paul E. Beichner, argues that there were three different editions of the work, all by Petrus Riga, over this thirty-year period as well as two later redactions by Petrus’s disciple, Aegidius of Paris (also known as Egidius or Gilles de Paris, approximately 1160–1223/1224). The text as it is contained in MS C195 is a copy of the third edition of the Aurora except that the beginning is missing and it does not include the chapter titled “Recapitulationes.”

Identifying the text contained in a manuscript only takes us so far in terms of understanding and appreciating the book as an object. On the other hand, a detailed physical examination, although it will not provide all the answers about the origin of a manuscript, allows us to discover the circumstances in which the manuscript was produced and used. When it comes to understanding the history of a manuscript, codicology, the study of manuscripts as physical objects, is as vital as the study of the texts contained in the manuscripts. When we look at MS C195, the first thing to be noticed is that the manuscript is no longer in its original binding. The current binding, which is probably early modern, is leather over paper boards, with both of its covers and spine blind-tooled. That the manuscript was rebound at some point requires one to be more careful when conducting an examination of the bookblock as there might be alterations such as added leaves or reorganized gatherings that were introduced—both knowingly and unintentionally—during the rebinding.

Scraped off writing still partly visible on folio 64r on the right. Petrus Riga, Aurora, Spain or southern France, first half of the thirteenth century. Call # MS C195.
Scraped off writing still partly visible on folio 64r on the right. Petrus Riga, Aurora, Spain or southern France, first half of the thirteenth century. Call # MS C195. Click image to enlarge.

MS C195 is a parchment manuscript. As we leaf through the manuscript, we see that some leaves are thicker than others, some have yellower tint than others, several leaves have holes and cuts, and dozens of stubs are visible in the gutters. Furthermore, there are at least a few leaves that are palimpsests, still bearing visible traces of former writing on them. The variety of thickness and color of the parchment may indicate that these were made of different animal skins or prepared at different times or in different ways. Holes and cuts in the parchment usually occur during the preparation of animal skins, especially when hair was being scraped off with a knife. The existence of stubs mean smaller, single parchment leaves were added or inserted into the gatherings instead of using bigger sheets of parchment (or, in some cases that the existing leaves were cut out). Taken together with the existence of palimpsests in the manuscript, these features all indicate that the manuscript was made at a time and a place in which the resources were limited and that the scribe (or the compiler) of the manuscript made use of whatever material was available. 

Holes and cuts visible on folios 107v and 108r of Spencer Library's copy of Petrus Riga, Aurora, Spain or southern France, first half of the thirteenth century. Call # MS C195.
Holes and cuts visible on folios 107v and 108r. Petrus Riga, Aurora, Spain or southern France, first half of the thirteenth century. Call # MS C195. Click image to enlarge.
Stub conjoint to folio 130 visible in the gutter between folios 124 and 125 of Spencer Library's copy of Petrus Riga's Aurora (Call # MS C195).
Stub conjoint to folio 130 visible in the gutter between folios 124 and 125. Petrus Riga, Aurora, Spain or southern France, first half of the thirteenth century. Call # MS C195. Click image to enlarge.

In most cases, the imperfections in the parchment in MS C195 are found in the margins. Other times, when it was not possible to arrange the leaves so that the holes and the cuts remained in the margins, the scribe worked around these defects to complete the text, as seen, for example, on folio 107v and folio 108v. As for the stubs visible in the manuscript, all of these seem to be additions of single leaves to the gatherings made by the scribe as part of the original design. As it stands, MS C195 consists of 233 parchment leaves arranged in 31 quires. There are some signs of rearrangement. For example, the first two leaves of the original second gathering (now the third quire) were dismembered and are missing, and the last two leaves of the same gathering were misbound (now the second quire). Nevertheless, most of the quires seem to be intact and in their original order.

Although it is not particularly complex, the collation of the manuscript displays the resourcefulness of the scribe. The collation formula of MS C195 is as follows:

14 + 24 (wants 1 and 2) + 34 + 48 (2 and 7 are singletons) + 58 (2 and 7 are singletons) + 610 (3 and 8 are singletons) + 78 (3 and 6 are singletons) + 88 (2 and 7 are singletons) + 98 + 1010 +1112 + 1 leaf after 10 + 128 + 1 leaf after 3 + 13-148 + 156 + 1 leaf after 1 + 168 + 178 (5 and 7 are singletons) + 188 (2 and 7 are singletons) + 19-208 + 218 (2 and 7 are singletons) + 228 + 238 (2 and 7 are singletons) + 242 + 1 leaf after 1 + 25-278 + 288 (2 and 7 are singletons) + 298 (2 and 7 are singletons) + 308 (2 and 7 are singletons) + 314 (wants 4).

Even for the trained eye, such a collation formula might be intimidating. Furthermore, as detailed as this formula is, it still provides limited information as to the materiality of the manuscript and how the manuscript was actually put together. As it is seen in the collation formula, the majority of the quires are quaternions, that is, gatherings of 8 leaves which are usually made up of 4 folded sheets. In MS C195, however, 11 of the 22 quaternions are formed by putting together 3 folded sheets, which make up six conjoint leaves, and two single leaves. In the seventh quire, the third and the sixth leaves are singletons, and in the remaining 10 quires the second and the seventh leaves; but the arrangement of the leaves with respect to sewing are not always the same.

Visualization of the collation of quires 4 and 5 of MS C195 (Petrus Riga's Aurora), which all include two added single leaves. Created using VisCodex
Visualization of the collation of quires 7 and 8 of MS C195 (Petrus Riga's Aurora), which all include two added single leaves. Created using VisCodex
Visualization of the collation of quires 4, 5, 7 and 8 of MS C195, which all include two added single leaves. Created using VisCodex.

A visual representation of the collation of the manuscript provides more information as to the arrangement of the leaves in each quire. In the visualization, it is seen clearly that even though quires 4, 5 and 8 are formulated in the same way, the manner in which they appear in the manuscript is not the same. An interactive version of the full collation of MS C195 can be viewed on VisCodex. Part of Digital Tools for Manuscript Study developed by the University of Toronto Libraries Information Technology Services and the Old Books New Science Lab at the University of Toronto, VisCodex is a web application based on VisColl, a system for modelling and visualizing collations of manuscripts created by Dot Porter and Alberto Campagnolo.

Writing collation formulas or indeed creating visualizations for collations is not a recent development, but as it is the case here, digital tools dedicated to manuscript studies can help us understand the physicality of artefacts better and share our knowledge with wider audiences. There are several other codicological aspects of MS C195, such as ruling and pricking, that can be examined and visualized in a similar manner to its collation in order to see what kinds of patterns can be detected. Findings of these examinations in turn can enable scholars to compare MS C195 with similar manuscripts, and perhaps even one day to pinpoint its date and place of production.

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

  • Edition of Petrus Riga’s Aurora: Aurora: Petri Rigae Biblia Versificata. A Verse Commentary on the Bible. Ed. Paul E. Beichner. 2 vols. Publications in Mediaeval Studies 19. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1965.

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: An Unstudied Fragment of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae

September 15th, 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 9/1:A22 contains an unstudied fragment of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae [‘History of the Kings of Britain’]. Geoffrey of Monmouth (approximately 1095 – approximately 1155) completed his Historia, also known as De gestis Britonum [‘On the Deeds of the Britons’], sometime before January 1139. One of the most renowned works of medieval historiography, Geoffrey’s Historia received acclaim almost instantaneously and was very influential not only in Latin but also in vernacular writing throughout the Middle Ages. The Historia opens with a prologue in which Geoffrey claims to have translated into Latin “a very old book in the British tongue” that he received from Walter, archdeacon of Oxford. The reason why he decided to translate this work, Geoffrey explains, is because he was not able to find any information about the early kings of Britain in other renowned historical works he consulted. Thus, in the Historia, Geoffrey traces the history of Britain from its first king, Brutus of Troy, to the end of the reign of Cadualadrus (Cadwaladr, reigned from approximately 655 to 682) in the seventh century.

There are close to 230 witnesses of Geoffrey’s Historia but the version of the text contained in MS 9/1:A22 is found in only ten surviving manuscripts, including this fragment. This rewriting of Geoffrey’s Historia is conventionally called the First Variant. Scholars have argued that the revision was done by a contemporary of Geoffrey and was completed before his death in around 1155, within a mere fifteen years after the Historia began circulating. The extant manuscripts of the First Variant date from the beginning of the thirteenth century and later. We know that the First Variant must have existed by 1155 because it was one of the sources used by Wace (approximately 1110–after 1174) in his Roman de Brut, a verse adaptation in Anglo-Norman of the Historia regum Britanniae. In its broad outlines, the narrative in the First Variant corresponds to the original of the Historia regum Britanniae. The majority of the chapters, however, are shortened and almost entirely rewritten. There are also a few additions to the narrative, some of which are deemed significant in changing the storyline, such as supplementary information about the history of Rome that was derived from the Historia Romana [‘Roman History’] of Landolfus Sagax.

Recto side of a fragment of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae (First Variant), England, first half of the thirteenth century. Call # MS 9/1:A22.
Recto side of the fragment. Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia regum Britanniae (First Variant), England, first half of the thirteenth century. Call # MS 9/1:A22. Click image to enlarge.
Verso side of a fragment of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae (First Variant), England, first half of the thirteenth century. Call # MS 9/1:A22.
Verso side of the fragment. Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia regum Britanniae (First Variant), England, first half of the thirteenth century. Call # MS 9/1:A22. Click image to enlarge.

The portion of the Historia regum Britanniae in the fragmentary MS 9/1:A22 contains parts of Chapters 31–39. Based on the variations, the text as it is preserved in MS 9/1:A22 most closely matches with that of Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, MS 13210D, one of the eight witnesses that was collated for the edition of the First Variant by Neil Wright in 1988. The beginnings of Chapter 34 (begins with “Succedente …” on line 3 on folio 1 recto, column b), Chapter 36 (begins with “Quod …” on line 4 on folio 1 verso, column a) and Chapter 39 (begins with “Rex …” on line 1 on folio 1 verso, column b) are present in MS 9/1:A22. However, Chapters 34 and 36 continue with no break and only the beginning of Chapter 39 is signaled with a paragraph mark (the sign that looks like a capital letter “C”). The initial R of the Latin word rex (“king” in English) that begins the chapter is also highlighted in red ink, although it is now somewhat faded. This shows that the text in the Spencer fragment is divided differently than how it is presented in the modern edition, and perhaps the manuscript as a whole was laid out differently from the other existing witnesses.

Parts of the text preserved in MS 9/1:A22 deal with Cordeilla, the youngest of the three daughters of King Leir, who became queen after her father’s forty-six year reign. In the Historia, Leir is credited with building a city by the river Soar, named after him Kaerleir in British, and Leicester in English. According to the story, Leir had no sons but three daughters: Gonorilla, Regau and Cordeilla. When the time came to marry his daughters and split his kingdom, he put them to a test to decide who would receive the largest share and asked each of his daughters how much they loved him. The elder daughters, who responded as their father wished, were married off to dukes of Cornwall and Scotland. Cordeilla, however, did not resort to flattery like her sisters did, and despite being the favorite of her father, she was punished by being married off to Aganippus, king of the Franks and sent away from Britain with no land or money. Leir split his kingdom and his wealth between his two elder daughters. As the King got older, he had a falling-out with both his elder daughters who eventually deprived him of his kingdom and royal authority. Running out of options, Leir sought out his youngest daughter Cordeilla, who, with her husband Aganippus, helped her father restore his power in Britain. Three years later, when he died, Cordeilla became the queen of Britain. This story, which first appears in Geoffrey’s Historia, was picked up by many later authors and inspired several works, including the famous King Lear by William Shakespeare (1564–1616).

As it stands, MS 9/1:A22 is less than half of the original leaf. Based on the stitch holes visible on the fold in the lower margin of the fragment, we can speculate that it was somehow bound in its current form, probably used as a flyleaf of another manuscript or printed book. We do not have any information about the origin or the early history of MS 9/1:A22, other than it was part of the famous library of Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792–1872), a detail which seems to have escaped notice until now.

On one side of the fragment there are annotations in pencil in modern hands that were inscribed prior to its acquisition by the University of Kansas: an encircled number “18” on the upper right corner and “XIth century” to the right in the lower margin. Based on other existing examples, it is possible to determine that the “XIth century” inscription was left by Ralph Lewis of William H. Robinson Ltd, a bookseller based in London that in 1946 purchased a thus far unsold portion of the library of Sir Thomas Phillipps. The fragments purchased from Phillipps’s library were sorted by Lewis, who noted down the century to which he thought a fragment was dated as well as a valuation. On his website, Peter Kidd, former Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library, provides further examples of ownership marks and bookseller annotations, specifically those that are found on Phillipps manuscripts.

Only the note on the date remains on MS 9/1:A22; Lewis’s eleventh century date, however, must be wrong given that this text did not even exist before the mid-twelfth century. This tells us that the bookseller had not yet identified the text and was making an educated guess. In addition to the date of the work, there are paleographical features, such as the consistent use of the crossed Tironian et sign (⁊) and round r after the letter o, which would indicate that this manuscript was copied at the earliest in the second half of the twelfth century. Features such as the letter a with a double bow, however, make it more likely that MS 9/1:A22 dates from the thirteenth century. The encircled number “18,” on the other hand was probably made by Bernard M. Rosenthal, a bookseller who operated first from New York and later from San Francisco, from whom the University of Kansas purchased several manuscripts and early printed books. I have not yet been able to locate an acquisition record for this fragment but it is likely that it was purchased from Bernard M. Rosenthal or one of his relatives, who were also renowned booksellers operating in Europe and who had regular dealings with the University of Kansas.

Kenneth Spencer Research Library also holds a 1517 edition of the Historia regum Britanniae printed in Paris, which is essentially a reprint of the first edition dated to 1508 apart from minor corrections (Summerfield B2889). Both the early edition and the manuscript fragment are available for consultation at the Library’s Marilyn Stokstad Reading Room when the library is open.

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.