Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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: To Transcribe, or Not To Transcribe, That is Not the Question

July 28th, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more about Pryce MS P4:

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

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz
Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher

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

Meet the KSRL Staff: N. Kıvılcım Yavuz

October 22nd, 2019

This is the latest installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features N. Kıvılcım Yavuz, who joined Spencer in September as Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher.

Photograph of N. Kivilcim Yavuz in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library's Reading Room with MS E71 (a manuscript copy of Vergil's Aeneid, Italy, circa the early 1400s)

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz in Spencer Research Library’s Reading Room with MS E71.

Where are you from?

I was born in Turkey and grew up there, but I spent the past eight years in the United Kingdom and Denmark, doing a PhD in Medieval Studies and working at the Universities of Leeds and Copenhagen before moving to Lawrence, KS and starting work at the Spencer Research Library this past September.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I am the first Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher of the Spencer Research Library. The position was created thanks to an endowment by Alexandra Mason, former Spencer Librarian, in honor of Ann Hyde, former Manuscripts Librarian at Spencer who specialized in medieval manuscripts. I work with the two Special Collections librarians Elspeth Healey and Karen Cook and my job entails making medieval and early modern manuscripts more accessible to the wider scholarly community and the public by conducting research and creating detailed catalog records as well as enhancing the visibility of the excellent special collections we have here, especially through digital means, social media and other outreach activities.

How did you come to work in special collections and archives?

My background is in Comparative Literature and I have always been interested in the concept of rewriting and repurposing of old stories in new contexts. I discovered the world of manuscripts during my master’s in Medieval Studies at the University of Leeds and did my thesis on two fifteenth-century historical roll manuscripts. It was an amazing experience to work on manuscripts that hardly anyone had looked at in the last century. My work with manuscripts continued with my PhD studies, also at Leeds. It was then that I came to understand even more fully the central importance of the material context of the text, and that every time a text is copied it became a new work. It was impressed on me that when looking at handwritten materials we need to change our modern expectations about a text being fixed and having a fixed meaning. Only in this way can we appreciate the scribal practices and the mindset of the medieval and early modern scribes and compilers. During visits to manuscript archives such as the National Library of France and the Vatican Library, I developed a deep appreciation not only about manuscripts themselves but also about collection development and conservation practices. I became more and more interested in how manuscripts were put together and used over time and how they travelled from one place to the other, changing hands across centuries. I also noticed how difficult it is to access information about manuscripts, because catalog information was incomplete or inaccurate, was stored in different places, or had not been recorded at all. Since I completed my doctoral studies, I have been conducting research exclusively on manuscripts in special collections and archives in Europe and most of this work is geared towards making these manuscripts better known and more accessible. I am so happy now that I have the opportunity to work at a US institution, because the ways in which European manuscripts travelled across the ocean and the people involved in their travels are an interesting research area in itself and we do not know enough about it.

What is one of the most interesting items you’ve come across in Spencer’s collections?

The medieval and early modern manuscripts at Spencer as a whole are exceptionally interesting as they reflect the collection building efforts by the former librarians of the University of Kansas, especially during the middle decades of the last century. My specialty is in the reception of the Trojan War in the Middle Ages and I am especially interested in the history of the book, so if I had to pick one item, I would have to go with MS E71, which contains an incomplete copy of Vergil’s Aeneid.

A poem about 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 throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. This means that we still have surviving copies of this work by the hundreds if not the thousands. Until recently, most scholarly research was focused on early copies of texts, so this manuscript, which contains a copy from the beginning of the fifteenth century of a text that was written in the first century BCE, would not have been considered significant. What is more is that it is defective so it does not even contain the entirety of the text! But the state of the manuscript as we have it reflects a rich history of reading, writing and ownership in the past five hundred years. Its pages are full of annotations by different hands which reflect the interests of the readers and users of this handwritten book at particular points in time.

The history of the manuscript, which probably originates from Italy, is also significant. MS E71 is part of a larger gift from Robert T. Aitchison (1887-1964), along with 42 printed editions of Vergil’s works. 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. Formerly, the manuscript belonged to Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792–1872), who owned the largest collection of handwritten material in the nineteenth century and who is recorded to have said that he wanted to own one of every book in the world. This is all to say that there are great things to discover and sometimes, the real gems are not the shiniest ones.

Bookplate of Robert T. Aitchison in the middle of the front pastedown of MS E71 (a manuscript copy of Vergil's Aeneid). The ticket of the binder, George Bretherton, is also visible on the top left corner indicating that the current binding had been done for Sir Thomas Phillipps in 1847. Sir Thomas Phillipps’s handwritten note on the recto of the first leaf of this manuscript copy of Vergil's Aeneid,MS E71 (“Phillipps MS 12281”) along with other annotations on the text by different previous hands.

Image 1 Bookplate of Robert T. Aitchison in the middle of the front pastedown of MS E71 (a manuscript copy of Vergil’s Aeneid. Italy, early 1400s). The ticket of the binder, George Bretherton, is also visible on the top left corner indicating that the current binding had been done for Sir Thomas Phillipps in 1847. Click image to enlarge.

Image 2 Sir Thomas Phillipps’s handwritten note on the recto of the first leaf of MS E71 (“Phillipps MS 12281”) along with other annotations on the text by different previous hands. Click image to enlarge.

What part of your job do you like best?

I enjoy discovering new, previously unnoticed things in manuscripts. In the past decades the interest in manuscripts solely as carrier of texts has shifted. We now know that there is more to discover when looking at handwritten artifacts: what is it made of, how was it made, what kind of processes it went through, what kind of materials was used, where did the materials come from, who was involved in the making, who was it made for, how much did it cost, what was the purpose of it, who read it over the years, who owned it until it became part of its current collection and so on. So much to discover that makes manuscripts into living creatures and not merely the carriers of texts!

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?

I love cooking and gardening. I also like visiting new places and meeting new people, even though I find the airline travel tedious. Every year, I try to go to a place I have never been before; often this involves a visit to a new library. For example, last year I taught at a summer school in Reykjavik (Iceland) and consulted manuscripts in Milan (Italy) and Stuttgart (Germany) and earlier this year I vacationed in Marrakesh (Morocco) and taught a class and looked at manuscripts at the University Library in Leipzig (Germany).

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?

Just remember that we are here to help. Do not hesitate to ask questions. If you are working on primary sources, let the manuscripts guide your research. Keep an open mind and you never know what unexpected thing you will find!

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz
Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher