Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Manuscript of the Month: Vergil’s Aeneid and the Mathematics of Bookmaking

February 26th, 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.

One of the first manuscripts I looked at after I started working at the University of Kansas in September 2019 was Kenneth Spencer Research Library MS E71. Since I am equally interested in the reception of the Trojan War in the Middle Ages and the history of the book, this incomplete copy of the Aeneid was the perfect choice. The Aeneid is an epic poem in twelve books composed between 29 and 19 BCE by Publius Vergilius Maro (70 BCE-19 BCE), more commonly known as Vergil or Virgil. It tells the story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy after the fall of Troy and who is considered to be the ancestor of the Romans.

Vergil’s Aeneid was probably the most read and most consulted classical work during the Middle Ages and beyond. One could even go as far as to say that Vergil’s Aeneid is probably the most well-known classical work of all times. It was used as part of the curriculum in Latin probably almost immediately after its composition for centuries to come. Even today, if one were to learn Latin anywhere in the world, it is more than likely that this is the first text one would encounter in class. And, if you learned Latin with Vergil, even if you forgot everything else, you would probably still remember the opening words of the poem: “Arma virumque cano” (“I sing of arms and the man”). Romans of the first century certainly were familiar with this phrase, as this is one of the most common texts found among the graffiti that survive on the walls of the ancient city of Pompeii, which was buried under volcanic ash and pumice following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79!

MS E71 was probably copied in the first quarter of the fifteenth century in Italy, many centuries after its composition. The state of the manuscript as we have it reflects the rich history of reading, writing and ownership of the manuscript over the past five hundred years, with its leaves full of annotations by previous users and owners. It is also incomplete, missing several leaves, perhaps another indication of heavy use of the manuscript over the centuries. One of the reasons why this manuscript holds a special place in the collections of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library is that MS E71 is part of a larger gift from Robert T. Aitchison (1887-1964). The manuscript was donated along with 42 rare printed editions of Vergil’s works, one of which is an incunabulum dated to 1487 (Aitchison D1). A native Kansan, Aitchison was an artist and a book collector, and served as the president and director of the Kansas Historical Society among other things. Aitchison had purchased the manuscript from Bernard M. Rosenthal in July 1961, a mere two years before he gifted it to the University of Kansas Libraries along with the rest of his collection of Vergil’s works.

Image of Bookplate of Robert T. Aitchison in the middle and the ticket of the binder, George Bretherton, in the upper left corner of the front pastedown (left) in Spencer Research Library's manuscript copy of Vergil's Aeneid, Italy (?), first quarter of the fifteenth century?. (MS E71).

Bookplate of Robert T. Aitchison in the middle and the ticket of the binder, George Bretherton, in the upper left corner of the front pastedown (left). Vergil, Aeneid, Italy (?), first quarter of the fifteenth century?. Call # MS E71. Click image to enlarge.

In the previous century, MS E71 was in the collection of another prominent book collector: Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792–1872). It is estimated that Sir Thomas had some 40,000 printed books and 60,000 manuscripts in addition to paintings, prints, photographs and other materials, which makes him the owner of the largest private collection of manuscripts in the world in the nineteenth century, or perhaps ever. The Kenneth Spencer Research Library preserves a number of manuscripts from the former Phillipps collection, which were dispersed during the years after the Phillipps’s death, such as MS C247, about which I had previously written a blog post.

According to surviving records, Sir Thomas Phillipps purchased the manuscript from Payne & Foss, an antiquarian bookseller based in London who was instrumental in procuring many of the manuscripts in his collection. It is inscribed in Phillipps’s usual manner as “Phillipps MS 12281” in ink on the lower margin of the recto of the first leaf. MS E71, a paper manuscript of currently 67 leaves, must have been unbound at the time of its purchase. It seems that it was immediately rebound by a binder who used to work for Phillipps, George Bretherton. The manuscript still has this mid-nineteenth-century half calfskin and blue cloth binding, with the binder’s ticket intact in the upper left corner of the front pastedown: “BRETHERTON, ligavit 1847” [BRETHERTON, bound 1847].

Image showing how Spencer's incomplete copy of Vergil’s Aeneid at MS E71 begins with with Book II, line 672
Vergil’s Aeneid begins with Book II, line 672 in MS E71, folio 1r. Sir Thomas Phillipps’s handwritten shelfmark in the lower margin (“Phillipps MS 12281”). Click image to enlarge.

MS E71 seems to have undergone heavy repairs in the nineteenth century, presumably during Bretherton’s rebinding process. As part of these conservation efforts, various tears and holes on the leaves seem to have been mended, usually by pasting pieces of modern paper on top of the damaged parts of the medieval paper. More importantly, paper strips were adhered to the center-folds and spine-folds of most of the leaves to support the integrity of the book. Single leaves that were presumably detached from the bookblock were also glued to other leaves, forming artificial gatherings. And finally, a lining was adhered to the spine before the book was bound. Because of all of these interventions and the rearrangement of the quires during the rebinding, the original design of the manuscript is now completely altered. For example, the current first folio of the manuscript contains Book II, lines 672-732 of the Aeneid whereas the second folio begins on Book III, line 469. So, clearly there are several leaves missing between these two leaves which now follow each other, but one would not be able to tell this immediately just by looking that the manuscript.

Image of paper strip adhered to the center-fold of folios 30v and 31r of MS E71.
Paper strip adhered to the center-fold of folios 30v and 31r of MS E71. Click image to enlarge.
Image showing the Detail from the head (top) of the manuscript showing the current quire structure for MS E71
Detail from the head (top) of the manuscript showing the current quire structure, with part of the spine lining visible. Call # MS E71. Click image to enlarge.

Due to the current condition of the manuscript, it is difficult ascertain not only which leaves originally went together as conjoint leaves but also how the manuscript was collated, that is, what the structure of the gatherings originally were. Thus, in this case, a physical examination of MS E71 alone does not help one to understand how the manuscript was actually put together.

In the past two millennia, the Aeneid was copied in manuscripts thousands of times and printed in various editions also by the thousands since its first print edition in 1469. Although there are a variety of differences on the word level in these copies, the work as a whole is fairly well-established since the early Middle Ages. That MS E71 contains this well-known work is very useful in this case because it means that we have a good understanding of how long the text is and that we can identify what parts of the manuscript are lost and even estimate how many leaves are missing. It is also helpful that the Aeneid is a verse text, meaning that each line in a given copy also would correspond to a line in this manuscript and that there would be no variations on the length of the text depending on the density of the script or the size of the leaves.

In order to compare the text of the Aeneid as we have it in MS E71, I used the Greenough edition dated to 1900, which is available open access via the Perseus Digital Library of Tufts University. The Aeneid consists of twelve books, with each book having a different number of lines. In this edition, Book I has 756 lines, Book II 804 lines, Book III 718 lines, Book IV 705 lines, Book V 871 lines, Book VI 901 lines, Book VII 817 lines, Book VIII 731 lines, Book IX 818 lines, Book X 908 lines, Book XI 915 lines and Book XII 952 lines. So, if one were to copy the entire text of the Aeneid with no break, one would copy 9896 lines of text. If one were writing 29 to 30 lines per page, the average in MS E71, then one would end up filling about 168 leaves. Ideally, such a manuscript could have been arranged in quires of 12 leaves, for example, which would make up 14 gatherings, or in quires of 8 leaves which would make up 21 gatherings. 

The text as we have it in MS E71 begins on line 672 of the second book of the Aeneid (now folio 1r). This means that, at the very least, the first 671 lines of Book II as well as the entirety of Book I (756 lines) are missing. The last line we have in MS E71 is Book IX, line 425 (now folio 67r). Ordinarily, one would think that the rest of the work was also missing from the manuscript; however, since the copying ends on the recto of a leaf and the verso is left blank, we can surmise that the scribes of this manuscript abandoned the project on Book IX, line 425 and did not copy the entirety of the Aeneid. Thus, if they copied the text continuously up to that point, they would have had 6728 lines. We can estimate therefore that originally MS E71 must have had at least 114 folios. Therefore, it is currently lacking at least 47 leaves, 24 of which are almost certainly from the beginning. We may never be able to confidently reconstruct the original collation of MS E71, but with the help of a little bit of mathematics, we can at least point to the possible number of missing leaves and where they are missing in the manuscript!

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library was gifted the manuscript by Robert T. Aitchison in July 1963, and it is available for consultation at the Library’s Marilyn Stokstad Reading Room when the library is open.

Further literature to explore:

  • Editions and translations of Vergil’s Aeneid on Perseus Digital Library: [open access]
  • Craig W. Kallendorf. A Bibliography of the Early Printed Editions of Virgil, 1469-1850. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll, 2012. [KU Libraries]
  • The Phillipps Manuscripts: Catalogus librorum manuscriptorum in bibliotheca D. Thomae Phillipps, BT. Impressum Typis Medio-Montanis, 1837-1871. London: Holland Press, 1968. [KU Libraries]
  • A. N. L. Munby. The Dispersal of the Phillipps Library. Phillipps Studies 5. Cambridge: University Press, 1960. [KU Libraries]
  • L. R. Lind. The R. T. Aitchison Collection of Vergil’s Works at the University of Kansas Library, Lawrence. Wichita, KS: Four Ducks Press, [1963]. [open access by 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 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.