Medieval manuscripts blog

41 posts categorized "Greek"

25 March 2014

Codex Sinaiticus Added to Digitised Manuscripts

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Codex Sinaiticus is one of the great treasures of the British Library. Written in the mid-4th century in the Eastern Mediterranean (possibly at Caesarea), it is one of the two oldest surviving copies of the Greek Bible, along with Codex Vaticanus, in Rome. Written in four narrow columns to the page (aside from in the Poetic books, in two columns), its visual appearance is particularly striking.

Add MS 43725, f 229v, Luke 2:13-2:45.

The significance of Codex Sinaiticus for the text of the New Testament is incalculable, not least because of the many thousands of corrections made to the manuscript between the 4th and 12th centuries.

Add MS 43725 f218v detail
Add MS 43725, f 218v, correction to Mark 2:22.

The manuscript itself is now distributed between four institutions: the British Library, the Universitäts-Bibliothek at Leipzig, the National Library of Russia in St Petersburg, and the Monastery of St Catherine at Mt Sinai. Several years ago, these four institutions came together to collaborate on the Codex Sinaiticus Project, which resulted in full digital coverage and transcription of all extant parts of the manuscript. The fruits of these labours, along with many additional essays and scholarly resources, can be found on the Codex Sinaiticus website.

Add MS 43725 f 68v detail
Add MS 43725, f 68r, decorative colophon at the end of Isaiah.

As part of our ongoing project to make all the British Library’s pre-1600 Western manuscripts available online, we are pleased to announce that those parts of the Codex Sinaiticus held by the British Library can now also be seen on Digitised Manuscripts (Add MS 43725), complementing the 550 Greek manuscripts already available online, including the New Testament volume of Codex Alexandrinus. Over the next twelve months, a further 350 Greek manuscripts will be added to Digitised Manuscripts, in a project funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the A.G. Leventis Foundation, and a range of other donors.

On the Digitised Manuscripts page for Codex Sinaiticus, you will also find an updated catalogue entry, including an extensive bibliography. We hope the availability of this priceless manuscript online will facilitate further study and research.

22 March 2014


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You may recall that we asked for your help earlier this year, when we asked for your votes in the inaugural National UK Blog Awards (Vote for Us Please). We're delighted to tell you that, thanks to your overwhelming support, we have made the list of finalists in the Arts and Culture category. We understand that more than 16,000 votes were cast in total (not all for us obviously), but we are hugely grateful for your support: every little vote really did count! You can read more about the National UK Blog Awards here.

The Benedictional of St Æthelwold, from our blogpost More Unique Than Most (4 February 2014)

The awards ceremony itself takes place on 25 April. We are dusting off our snappiest suits and poshest frocks, to make a good impression on the night itself. Most of our time we spend hovering over our computers, beavering away to make our collections available online or dreaming up ever more outlandish blogposts (and a thousand other things besides). It's great to know that somebody out there is impressed by what we have been doing.

Imaging the manuscript of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, from our blogpost Gawain Revealed (23 February 2014)

Since the time we asked for your votes, here are some of the stories we have posted on the Medieval Manuscripts Blog. We hope that there will be many more like these to come. Let us know your favourite by tweeting @BLMedieval.

A Medieval Comic Strip

A Papyrus Puzzle and Some Purple Parchment

An Illustrated Guide to Medieval Love

Gawain Revealed

Medieval Drama Acquired by the British Library

More Unique Than Most: The Benedictional of St Æthelwold

She Cares Not a Turd: Notes on a 16th Century Squabble

Two Magnificent Manuscripts Saved for the Nation

The Mystère de la Vengeance, from our blogpost Medieval Drama Acquired by the British Library (6 March 2014)

Julian Harrison and Sarah J Biggs


12 February 2014

A Papyrus Puzzle and Some Purple Parchment

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Among the many treasures in the Cotton collection of manuscripts, the contents of Cotton MS Titus C XV (new to Digitised Manuscripts) are particularly intriguing.  Consisting now of five folios, drawn from three different manuscripts, Cotton MS Titus C XV is good evidence of Sir Robert Cotton’s habits of collection and dismemberment.  Folios 2-5 are four leaves of the so-called Codex Purpureus Petropolitanus, a copy of the Four Gospels in Greek written on purple parchment in the sixth century (possibly at Antioch).  This manuscript, dismembered in the high Byzantine era, is now scattered across the world (the bulk of the leaves being in the National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg, hence the manuscript’s name).

Fragment of the Codex Purpureus Petropolitanus,  6th century, Cotton MS Titus C XV, f. 4v

Perhaps even more intriguing is the first folio.  Mounted on a blank sheet of parchment is a border cut from the Breviary of Margaret of York, a 15th-century manuscript written in Ghent.  And inside the border is a small scrap of papyrus (125 x 60 mm), dating from the late 6th or early 7th century:

Detail of a papyrus fragment surrounded by a border from the Breviary of Margaret of York, Cotton MS Titus C XV, f. 1r

This may well be the first papyrus to enter the British Museum, given that the Cotton library formed one of the foundation collections of the Museum when it was established in 1753. Somewhat surprisingly, though, it was not until 2000 that this fragment was edited and published, by Robert Babcock, in an article in Scriptorium (54.2, pp. 280-88).  He identified it as a fragment from a papyrus codex of Pope Gregory the Great’s Forty Homiles on the Gospels.  Given the date suggested by the hand, it is very likely that this codex was copied in Gregory’s own lifetime.  The hand also suggests that the codex was written in France or Italy, raising the tantalising possibility that Gregory himself may have been responsible for its commissioning.

Detail of the papyrus fragment, Cotton MS Titus C XV, f. 1r

How did the papyrus end up in Cotton’s collection?  There are no records that might help us, here, unfortunately, but Babcock argues that it is most likely that the papyrus was already in England when Cotton acquired it – and if so, it may well have been in England for centuries.  At this point we are into the realm of educated guesswork and speculation.  But it is not impossible that the codex could have come over with early missionaries sent to England by Gregory.  It could even be the case that it was an early copy of the Homilies (completed in 592-3) brought over by Augustine of Canterbury when he arrived in Kent in 597.  But if nothing else, we have here the earliest attestation for Gregory’s Homilies on the Gospels, and a fascinating story about a very unusual papyrus.

-  Cillian O’Hogan

The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is delighted to be shortlisted for the National UK Blog Awards (Arts & Culture category). For more information about the nomination, see the Awards website.

30 December 2013

Papyrus Unbound

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While we have very many fragments of papyrus codices, and of early medieval parchment codices, it is not quite so common for late antique or early medieval bindings to survive.  The most famous bindings of papyrus codices are undoubtedly those from Nag Hammadi, dating from the third or fourth centuries.  Of course, the best-known early binding in the British Library’s possession is the St Cuthbert Gospel!

The digitisation of Papyrus 1442 (P. Lond. IV 1419) means that one of these early bindings, from a tax register written at Aphrodito in Egypt in 716-717, can now be viewed in great detail online.  The binding is a limp leather covering, lined with papyrus.

Exterior of the binding, Papyrus 1442

It retains its flap, which would probably have had a leather wrapping band attached, to keep the codex closed.  These early leather bindings were formed from the hide of a sheep or goat, and it was often the case that skin from the animal’s neck would be used to form the flap.  One point where this binding seems to differ from those of the earlier Nag Hammadi codices is in the shape of the flap: the Nag Hammadi flaps are generally simple triangles or rectangles.  Here, however, the flap has a bit more of a stylised shape (which seems to be intentional, and not simply a result of later damage to the binding).

Detail of the exterior of the binding, enhanced to show decoration detail, Papyrus 1442

The cover has a decoration which is fairly typical of Coptic decoration. In the centre, there is a circle around a six-pointed star, with additional interlaced and undulating patterns around the border. The decoration is drawn on with ink or paint (see above).

A look at the inside of the cover will give a better sense of how the codex itself was constructed.

Interior of the binding, Papyrus 1442

It is clear from the single line of holes in the spine that this was a 'single quire' codex, that is, it was constructed by laying all the unfolded sheets one above another on top of the binding, piercing the sheets in the middle, and folding them.  At some point, the binding came loose, and a number of leaves had already been lost from the book by the time it arrived at the British Museum.  Some of these are now in Berlin (P. Berol. inv. 25006).

- Cillian O'Hogan

27 December 2013

Your Favourite Manuscript: The Results

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Recently we asked the loyal readers of our blog and our Twitter followers (@BLMedieval) to name their favourite manuscript. We were chuffed to receive so many responses, and here is a small selection of your favourites. Some people did nominate books and manuscripts in Cambridge, Oxford, Paris and elsewhere (shame!), but we're going to restrict this list to medieval manuscripts in the British Library's collections. Well, we would, wouldn't we? Nobody went for Beowulf, interestingly -- we're assuming that's a massive oversight on your part. But they're all great choices, we think you'll find, and impossible to pick a winner!

The Theodore Psalter (Add MS 19352), nominated by Gretchen McKay, and shown below


The Caligula Troper (Cotton MS Caligula A XIV), nominated by James Aitcheson

The De Brailes Hours (Add MS 49999), nominated by @mediumaevum and Jennifer Lyons, and shown below


Gregory the Great (Cotton MS Tiberius B XI), nominated by Kevin Jackson

The Bristol Psalter (Add MS 40731), nominated by Robert Miller


A Dutch chronicle (Cotton MS Vitellius E VI), nominated by Sjoerd Levelt

A burnt Royal manuscript (Royal MS 9 C X), nominated by Andrew Prescott, and shown below


Leonardo da Vinci (Arundel MS 263), nominated by @maxinthebox

The New Minster Liber Vitae (Stowe MS 944), nominated by @saxonbowman, and shown below


Thomas Hoccleve's Regiment of Princes (Arundel MS 38), nominated by @melibeus1

The Huth Hours (Add MS 38126), nominated by @bxknits, and shown below


An Icelandic manuscript (Add MS 4860), nominated by @SMcDWer

The Luttrell Psalter (Add MS 42130), nominated by Damien Kempf, and shown below


The Travels of John Mandeville (Add MS 24189), nominated by David Jupe, whose wife, Barbara, plumped for the Luttrell Psalter.


Julian Harrison

11 December 2013

The Constitution of Athens

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Of all the Greek papyri now in the British Library, perhaps the most treasured, and certainly the most visually striking, is the Aristotelian Constitution of Athens, which describes the development of the Athenian Constitution down to 403 BC, and the operation of the government at the time of writing in the 330s or 320s BC.  The work is one of some 158 constitutions of Greek city-states known in antiquity to have been produced by the school of Aristotle (or perhaps by Aristotle himself).  Until the end of the nineteenth century, this text was known only from brief quotations by later authors, and the text seemed to be one of those key works from antiquity that we would never retrieve.

The beginning of the Constitution of Athens (Ἀθηναίων Πολιτεία), 78 – c 100, Papyrus 131.

Then, in the space of a decade or so, two separate discoveries were made.  In 1879, two leaves from a papyrus codex were acquired by the Ägyptische Museum in Berlin, dating perhaps from the second century AD and containing fragments, with marginalia, of the Constitution of Athens (These leaves are now P. Berol. 5009, formerly P. Berol. 163).  In 1890, three rolls, followed shortly afterwards by a fourth, arrived at the British Museum in London.  The rolls were quickly identified as containing the Constitution of Athens by Frederic G. Kenyon (aged only twenty-seven, and just recently hired by the Department of Manuscripts), and the discovery was announced publicly in The Times in January 1891.  A critical edition by Kenyon followed (significantly revised in subsequent editions), as did an English-language translation.  The rolls were framed and hung in the Reading Room of the British Museum for many years.

Section of the Constitution of Athens (Ἀθηναίων Πολιτεία), in its frame, 78 – c 100, Papyrus 131.

Yet to refer to the papyrus as the Constitution of Athens is to tell only part of the story.  In fact, the rolls had initially been used to record farm accounts of an estate near Hermopolis, in Egypt, in 78-79 AD.  The other side (the verso) of the first roll was initially used to record part of a commentary on Demosthenes’ speech In Midiam.  Some time around the end of the first century, the Constitution of Athens was recorded on the verso of all four rolls, and the column and a half of the commentary on Demosthenes was crossed out.

Section including the crossed-out commentary on Demosthenes, Papyrus 131.

At this time (the writing of the Constitution), some additional papyrus was attached to the end of this roll, to accommodate the eleventh column of the Constitution of Athens (now on the far left of f. 2r, or the far right of f. 2v).  On the recto of this additional papyrus are some fragments of scholia (comments) on Callimachus’ Aetia, though whether this was written before or after the section was added to the papyrus roll is uncertain.  Papyrus was frequently re-used in this way, and many other papyri in the British Library’s collection contain multiple texts (see, for example, the Gospel of Thomas, written on the back of a survey list).

For more information about the papyrus, and for further reading, see the catalogue entry either on Digitised Manuscripts or on SOCAM.

- Cillian O'Hogan

28 October 2013

Precious Papyri

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The British Library holds one of the most significant collections of Greek papyri in the world, including the longest and most significant papyrus of the Aristotelian Constitution of Athens, unique copies of major texts such as Sophocles’ Ichneutae, and the Egerton Gospel, as well as a wide range of important documentary papyri from Oxyrhynchus, Aphrodito, Hibeh, Tebtunis, and the Fayum.  The Department of Manuscripts in the British Museum was at the forefront of the new discipline of papyrology at the turn of the nineteenth century, and many of our predecessors are well-known to anyone who has ever consulted a text preserved on papyrus:  Kenyon, Bell, and Skeat, to name just three.

Latin deed of the sale of a slave boy, Papyrus 229 (P. Lond. I 229)

Today, we are happy to announce that selected key papyri have been digitised and are now available to view on Digitised Manuscripts, along with completely new catalogue descriptions.  Five papyri are available online now, and two more items will appear in the coming weeks (watch out for a separate post here on our blog!).  The items now online are:

Papyrus 229 (P. Lond. I 229):  Latin deed of the sale of a slave boy, retaining the seals of its signatories

Papyrus 1531 (P. Oxy. IV 654/P. Lond. Lit. 222):  Fragment of the Gospel of Thomas, in Greek

Fragment of the Gospel of Thomas, Papyrus 1531 (P. Oxy. IV 654/P. Lond. Lit. 222)

Papyrus 2052 (P. Oxy. VIII 1073/P. Lond. Lit. 200):  Fragment of Old Latin Genesis, from a parchment codex

Papyrus 2068 (P. Oxy. IX 1174/P. Lond. Lit. 67):  Sophocles, Ichneutae

Egerton Papyrus 2 (P. Lond. Christ. 1/P. Egerton 2):  The Egerton Gospel

Fragment of a Gospel, Egerton Papyrus 2 (P. Lond. Christ. 1/P. Egerton 2)

(A note on shelfmarks:  The British Library’s method of referencing papyri is according to inventory number. This does not always correspond to the number by which the papyrus is more widely known in its published catalogue, be that P. Lond., P. Oxy., or other.  The catalogue entries on Digitised Manuscripts give full cross-references for papyri for ease of use.  Further details on how to match inventory and catalogue numbers can be found in the British Library’s Manuscripts Collection Reader Guide 4: The Papyrus Collections.)

- Cillian O'Hogan

24 October 2013

The Etheridge Encomium

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If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you probably already know that the British Library’s collection of Greek manuscripts covers a wide variety of subjects and spans a very broad chronological period: from Homer to hagiography, from Babrius to the Bible, from Menander papyri to musical manuscripts from the 19th century.  One group of Greek manuscripts you may be less familiar with, however, form part of our Royal collections, and consist of a number of laudatory or complimentary verses and prose compositions, in Latin and Greek, dedicated to Elizabeth I, Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, Charles I, and Henry, Earl of Arundel.  These compositions were usually (though not always) written by members of public schools, such as Eton or Winchester, or of Oxford colleges. Most of these manuscripts will be digitised and made available online in the coming years.

Prose dedication to Elizabeth I by George Etheridge, Royal MS 16 C X, f. 1r

One manuscript from this group, however, has already been treated in extensive detail.  Royal MS 16 C X contains the autograph Greek Encomium on Henry VIII by George Etheridge, Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford, which was addressed to Queen Elizabeth I and delivered on the occasion of the Queen’s visit to Oxford in 1566.  The text gives us a fascinating insight into the author and how his life and career was impacted by events relating to the English Reformation, while also providing us with important information about Greek studies in Tudor England (Etheridge’s post, the Regius Professorship of Greek, was after all established by Henry VIII).  It also reflects the national concern for Elizabeth’s succession as a precondition for the security of the kingdom.

A project to digitise and edit the manuscript was undertaken by researchers at the Hellenic Institute in the History Department of Royal Holloway, University of London, and at the British Library, and an electronic edition can now be viewed online both on both Digitised Manuscripts and on a dedicated website hosted by the Hellenic Institute.  On this website, you can view the manuscript side-by side with a transcription, an edition, and a translation of the Greek text.  The site also contains a number of extremely helpful essays about George Etheridge, the text of the encomium, and the British Library’s collection of Greek manuscripts.

To view the manuscript and learn more about the project, please visit the homepage of the Etheridge Project.

-  Cillian O'Hogan