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 Art of Excerpting and the Encyclopedic Mind of the Middle Ages

January 27th, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N. Kıvılcım Yavuz
Ann Hyde Postdoctoral Researcher

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