Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Manuscript of the Month: Manuscript Waste Not, or a Case in Fragmentology

August 31st, 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 9/2:31 is one of the fragments in the “Paleographical Teaching Set” that was gradually put together in the second half of the twentieth century for facilitating teaching and learning of Greek and Latin paleography at the University of Kansas. We do not have any information about the origin or the history of the fragment, and the Latin text it contains had not been identified until now (no surprise, perhaps, given the largely illegible and mutilated nature of the parchment). The manuscript has been known at the Spencer Library as the “gaudio fragment.” The reason for this is that the word “gaudio” [joy], which is repeated twice on one side of the fragment, is one of the few easily legible words. Without the identification of the text it contains, this became a practical way to refer to MS 9/2:31.

Careful investigation now has revealed that MS 9/2:31 contains part of the first chapter of the first book of the De ecclesiasticis officiis libri quatuor [Four Books on Ecclesiastical Offices] by Amalarius of Metz (approximately 780–850). Amalarius was employed at the courts of both Charlemagne (748–814) and his son and successor Louis the Pious (778–840). He was the bishop of Trier (812–813) and Lyon (835–838), and in 813 was sent as the Frankish ambassador to the Byzantine Empire, to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey). Written between the years 820 and 832, the De ecclesiasticis officiis was dedicated to Louis the Pious.

Picture of a manuscript fragment from from Amalarius of Metz's De ecclesiasticis officiis libri quatuor used as a comb spine binding (recto side, formerly designated as verso), Germany?, around 900. Call # MS 9/2:31.
Amalarius of Metz, De ecclesiasticis officiis libri quatuor. Recto side, formerly designated as verso. Germany?, around 900. Call # MS 9/2:31. Click image to enlarge.
Picture of a manuscript fragment from from Amalarius of Metz's De ecclesiasticis officiis libri quatuor used as a comb spine binding (verso side, formerly designated as recto), Germany?, around 900. Call # MS 9/2:31
Amalarius of Metz, De ecclesiasticis officiis libri quatuor. Verso side, formerly designated as recto. Germany?, around 900. Call # MS 9/2:31. Click image to enlarge.

Since the text was previously unidentified, the sides of MS 9/2:31 were also misattributed, with the text beginning on what is thought to be the verso side and continuing some fifteen lines later on the other side. As it stands, MS 9/2:31 is less than half of the original leaf. It measures approximately 100 x 170 mm, with 12 lines of text remaining, of which only 2 lines are fully visible on each side. Although the fragment contains an early witness to the De ecclesiasticis officiis by Amalarius of Metz, its later use as a binding component is more interesting for book history.

The peculiar shape of MS 9/2:31 is due to the fact that it was repurposed at some point in its later history; the leaf was cut to shape and used as a spine lining of another codex. It was then detached from this codex before it was incorporated into the collections of the Spencer Library. Until recently, it was common for repurposed fragments to be removed from their bindings, either by booksellers or by the holding institutions, and to be inventoried (or sold) separately. There are annotations in pencil in a modern hand in the lower margin of the recto side of MS 9/2:31: “Dutch,” or more likely “Deutsch [German]” and “17th cent.” This inscription probably refers to the codex from which the fragment came, perhaps a manuscript written (or a book printed) in the seventeenth century in Germany (or the Netherlands). This specific type of lining is called comb spine lining, which takes its name from its appearance of a comb with wide teeth due to the slots along one of the edges of the parchment.

Reconstruction of MS 9/2:31 as a comb spine lining.
Reconstruction of MS 9/2:31 as a comb spine lining. Click image to enlarge.

As a comb spine lining, MS 9/2:31 would have been used vertically and it would have had another tooth, which is now missing, as seen in the reconstruction above. Furthermore, it probably had a counterpart as comb spine linings usually consist of two parchment (rarely paper) parts. A similar example of a comb spine lining, also detached from the codex in which it was found, is Cambridge, Trinity College, R.11.2/21. In this case, both parts of the lining survive, and not only that, they are made from the same leaf. So, it is more than likely that the other half of the original leaf of MS 9/2:31 was used as its counterpart in the comb spine lining.

Image of a a reconstruction of MS 9/2:31 employed as a comb spine lining inside a codex.
Reconstruction of MS 9/2:31 employed as a comb spine lining inside a codex. Click image to enlarge.

In the codex, the teeth of the two parts of the comb spine lining would have lain over each other in the spine panel. The outer halves of each lining (the parts that are not slotted), which are called lining extensions, probably would have been adhered to the inside of the boards of the codex. From this reconstruction we can tell that the codex for which the spine lining was used was approximately 170 mm in height and had four sewing supports, which would have corresponded to the empty slots created by the teeth of the spine lining. Comb spine linings were used from the later Middle Ages onwards in continental Europe, most notably in Germany, Italy and France. The survival of fragments such as MS 9/2:31 is significant not only because of the texts they contain; they also enable scholars to study and understand medieval and early modern book structures, and in some cases localize and date manuscripts. Although often called “manuscript waste” in scholarship because the original manuscripts were discarded for whatever reason, these repurposed fragments clearly did not go to waste and there is still much we can learn from them.

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 Early Fragment of the Old French Bible?

March 31st, 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 D40 consists of two gatherings that contain parts of the Gospel of Matthew in French. The first gathering is made up of a bifolium, possibly missing six leaves, whereas the second gathering seems to be more or less intact, with all eight leaves still surviving. We have no information on the history of MS D40, but it is clear from its current state that these leaves were once used as part of a binding of another book. The outer edges and corners of several of the leaves are cut off in different shapes and a number of the leaves, which are also very worn, are soiled.

When MS D40 was purchased by the University of Kansas in 1964, the fragmentary manuscript was dated by the bookseller to “ca. 1425.” Over the years, the librarians at Spencer revised this dating first to sometime in the 1300s, then to around 1400, then to around 1400 or earlier, and finally to 1385-1399. Still, Ann Hyde, the former manuscripts librarian at Spencer, noted in her unpublished in-house description of the manuscript, “Why not earlier?” Since its purchase, MS D40 has been examined by a series of researchers at the University of Kansas and has been used for different classes; however, as far as I am aware, no one has published any study of it. I should also mention, there are over 240 known translations of the Bible into French from the tenth century to 1450 (Sneddon, p. 251).

At the time of its purchase, MS D40 was accompanied by photostats of Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Français 899. These belonged to the previous owner of the manuscript, who remains unknown to us. Dated to around 1260, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Français 899 is considered to be the earliest surviving copy of the Old French Bible. Known as the Bible française du XIIIe siècle, the Old French Bible is the first (full) prose translation of the Bible from Latin into French and is thought to have been undertaken sometime after 1220 and before the Paris manuscript was produced in around 1260. It is also the first complete vernacular Bible translation in Western Europe.

As it stands, MS D40 contains the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 2:16-4:25, 9:22-10:28 and 12:1-21:35. There is no indication in our records at Spencer Library as to whether Ann Hyde or any of the researchers who studied the manuscript ever compared it to the version of the text in the Paris manuscript. After careful examination, I found that the passages in MS D40 correspond very closely to the copy of the Old French Bible found in Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, français 899, folios 271vb-272vb; 276ra-276vb and 277vb-288va. Thus, this manuscript could be not any French vernacular Bible but a hitherto unknown fragment of the Old French Bible. Not only that, there are reasons to suspect that it might be dated earlier, to the thirteenth century.

Image in which of the ghost of another book is almost visible in MS D40, folios 1v-2r. Bible Fragment, northern France (?), second half of thirteenth century (?). Call # MS D40.
The ghost of another book is almost visible in MS D40, folios 1v-2r. Bible. French (Gospels), incomplete, northern France (?), second half of thirteenth century (?). Call # MS D40. Click image to enlarge.
Image showing Chapters 17 and 18 of the Gospel of Matthew in MS D40, folios 7v-8r.
Chapters 17 and 18 of the Gospel of Matthew in MS D40, folios 7v-8r. Click image to enlarge.
Image of Chapters 17 and 18 of the Gospel of Matthew in Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Français 899, folios 282v-282r.
Chapters 17 and 18 of the Gospel of Matthew in Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Français 899, folios 282v-282r. Source: Gallica. Click image to enlarge.

Indeed, not only is the text in MS D40 very close to that of Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Français 899, but also the illumination program in both manuscripts is very similar. The beginnings of chapters 2, 3, 10, 12-21 of the Gospel of Matthew are present in MS D40. All chapters open with two- to three-line alternately red and blue initials with penwork in the opposite color as well as chapter numbers in Roman numerals preceded with a pilcrow (paragraph mark), also in red and blue. The manuscript also has running titles in red and blue (MA | TE to indicate Matthew) in upper margins. What I identify as the blue color in MS D40 is almost completely faded in all of the leaves, now visible to the naked eye as pale gray. Similar initials with penwork, chapter numbers in Roman numerals and running titles, all of which are also in two alternating colors, are present in Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Français 899.

According to Clive R. Sneddon, the Old French Bible survives in some 20 witnesses. The oldest Paris manuscript is incomplete and mutilated, with almost all of its illuminations, which were at the beginnings of books, having been excised and removed. More complete copies include New York, The Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.494; Chantilly, Bibliothèque et archives du musée Condé, 4 and Chantilly, Bibliothèque et archives du musée Condé, 5 (two volumes); London, British Library, Harley 616 and London, British Library, Yates Thompson 9 (two volumes). All dated to the last quarter of the thirteenth century, these three copies of the Bible seem more similar to each other than they are to Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Français 899, especially in terms of their decoration programs. There are also several fragmentary manuscripts, some of which are seemingly related to the Paris manuscript. Some of these fragments are repurposed manuscripts as well, and they are still in situ, such as leaves from a fourteenth-century manuscript that now form the front flyleaves of Oxford, Bodleian Library, 4o I 1 Th. Seld.

Image of Detail from MS D40, folio 10v., showing Gothica textualis libraria script in MS D40, Bible fragment (Gospels), incomplete, northern France (?), second half of thirteenth century (?).
Detail from MS D40, folio 10v. Click image to enlarge.

MS D40 is written in Gothic script. Although the Gothic script has been surveyed extensively, the focus has been mostly on manuscripts written in Latin. As Marie-Hélène Tesnière points out “the [thirteenth-century] script in [French] vernacular manuscripts has to date not been the object of a palaeographical study” (p. 334). My understanding is that the vernacular script was less formal, smaller and closer to Praegothica, a blanket term used to describe transitional scripts between Carolingian script and Gothic script during the twelfth century. Nevertheless, the general features still apply. Albert Derolez outlines the most common features of the most common form of Gothic script known as textualis as follows: a in two compartments; f and tall s not going beneath the baseline; b, h, k, and l without loops on their ascenders. All of these features fit with the script used in MS D40 as is seen in the detail from folio 10v above. Since the script (and the layout) in our manuscript is less formal and less rigid than what would be called formata, it may be classified as Gothica textualis libraria.

Detail showing the form of the “falling d” (no. 49) as identified by Albert Derolez in The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books: From the Twelfth to the Early Sixteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 87.
The “falling d” (no. 49) as identified by Derolez. Source: Albert Derolez, The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books: From the Twelfth to the Early Sixteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 87.

It is possible to find manuscripts written in Gothica textualis libraria from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. Certain characteristics of the writing, however, allow us to speculate on the date of a manuscript. I will give two such examples as to why I think MS D40 might be dated earlier, to the thirteenth century: these concern the letter a and the letter d. In her discussion of manuscripts produced in France, Tesnière states that “toward 1300, the a is made with a double bow. It will close truly into the form of a box in the fourteenth century” (p. 326). Derolez similarly maintains that “the top of the shaft of a turns over to the left in the thirteenth century, and […] the bow thus formed tends to be closed from the fourteenth century” (p. 84). In MS D40, there is only one shape of a: it is the “double-bow a,” which is in two compartments (as in the words “ma,” “sera,” “apelee” on line 2, folio 10v). As for the letter d, here is what Derolez observes: “When writing Textualis at the Currens and Libraria levels, scribes trained with the documentary tradition sometimes took advantage of the space offered by the left-hand margin to extend the shaft of the Uncial d at the beginning of the line to the left and might even start with an upward movement of the pen” (p. 87). He calls this type of d, a “falling d.” The letter d is found in two shapes in MS D40: Uncial d and this very “falling d.” Both are displayed in the first line of folio 10v, in the first word “de” and the fourth word “doient.” What is interesting, moreover, Derolez states that “this phenomenon of ‘falling’ d (sometimes also observed in the middle of lines […]) seems to be limited to manuscripts of the thirteenth century and early fourteenth century” (p. 97). These observations lead me to hypothesize that MS D40 might be dated to much earlier than it was previously suggested. I therefore look forward to further investigations on MS D40 by specialists of thirteenth-century French vernacular manuscripts and those working on French Bibles.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library purchased the manuscript from Martin Breslauer, Inc. in November 1964, and it is available for consultation at the Library’s Marilyn Stokstad Reading Room when the library is open.

Further reading:

  • Pierre-Maurice Bogaert et al., Les bibles en français: histoire illustrée du Moyen Age à nos jours. Turnhout: Brepols, 1991. [KU Libraries]
  • Clive R. Sneddon. “The Bible in French.” In The New Cambridge History of the Bible. Volume 2: From 600 to 1450. Edited by Richard Marsden and E. Ann Matter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 251–67. [KU Libraries]
  • Albert Derolez. The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books: From the Twelfth to the Early Sixteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. [KU Libraries]
  • Marie-Hélène Tesnière. “Gothic Script in France in the Later Middle Ages (XIIIth-XVth Centuries).” Translated by Frank T. Coulson. In The Oxford Handbook of Latin Palaeography. Edited by Frank Coulson and Robert Babcock. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020. 321–90. [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: 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

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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