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.

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

Collection Feature: The 1502 Strassburg Vergil’s Opera

April 17th, 2017

Of the sixteenth century Vergils in the Robert Aitchison Collection of Vergil’s Works in Special Collections at the Spencer Research Library, the 1502 Opera, printed at Strassburg by Johannes Gruninger (also known as Reinhart), is the most impressive and the oldest. It is illustrated with 214 charming woodcuts which reveal many aspects of Renaissance life from field and farm to city and tower. These illustrations, certainly the first to create so illustrious a progeny, form the basis for practically all the Vergilian illustrations of the sixteenth century as they may be seen in the 1517 and 1529 Opera of Lyon, the Giuntine Opera of 1537, and the 1546 Opera of Venice.

Aitchison D2. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Publii Virgilii Maro[n]is opera. Strassburg, J. Gruninger, 1502.
Call number: Aitchison D2. Click image to enlarge.

Aitchison D2. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries  Aitchison D2. Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Woodcuts and text from the 1502 Opera. Click images to enlarge.

Written by L.R. Lind
Adapted from The R. T. Aitchison Collection of Vergil’s Works at the University of Kansas Library, Lawrence