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84 posts categorized "Greek"

19 September 2016

The British Library's Greek Manuscripts Project

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Have you ever wondered what books looked like in antiquity? Perhaps you have pondered why some manuscripts are written on paper and some on parchment? Did you know that the ancient Greeks thought up machines and robots powered by steam? These issues and more are taken up on a new web resource dedicated to the study of Greek written heritage. Greek Manuscripts, which officially launches today, is intended to complement and promote the hundreds of Greek manuscripts digitised by the British Library in recent years. The website contains articles on a wide variety of subjects relating to Greek papyri and manuscripts, written by experts from the UK, continental Europe, and North America. Additionally, several videos provide short visual introductions to key topics. Collection items discussed in the articles are given separate item pages, with links to the online catalogue entry and full digital coverage on Digitised Manuscripts.

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The Constitution of the Athenians, written on papyrus in Egypt c. 100 CE (Papyrus 131).

Drawing on the rich collections of Greek manuscripts held by the British Library, the website provides succinct introductions to major themes and issues, directed towards a non-specialist audience. The project’s aim is not to present new scholarship, although some of the most exciting developments in recent research are reflected in several articles and videos. We especially hope that the website will be helpful to students, scholars in related fields, and members of the public, in orienting themselves in a subject area that can often appear daunting from the outside.

The articles are organised into five overlapping themes, reflecting some of the most important aspects of Greek manuscripts, classical antiquity, and Byzantine culture: art, religion, scholarship, the Greek world, and the makers of Greek manuscripts. They cover the entire chronological period represented by the British Library’s Greek collections, from classical antiquity down to the early 20th century. Many of the most famous items in the collections, such as the Golden Canon tables, the Theodore Psalter or the Aristotelian Constitution of the Athenians, are included on the site, but so are many lesser-known volumes that are of major importance in their own way.

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The earliest manuscript of the classical author Lucian, written in Constantinople in the early 10th century (Harley MS 5694, f. 60v).

A number of articles introduce complicated topics to the general reader. For instance, James Freeman surveys the shifting use of paper in Greek manuscripts, while Matthew Nicholls and Georgi Parpulov provide a clear overview of the history of libraries from Classical and Late Antiquity to the Byzantine Middle Ages. Other pieces take on a staggering range of material, to provide a succinct overview of a very broad theme: for instance, Dimitris Krallis’s article on Byzantine historiography, or Aileen Das’s survey of the transmission of Greek philosophy and medicine.

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The Harley Trilingual Psalter contains the text of the Psalms in Greek, Latin and Arabic. Sicily (Palermo?), c. 1230-1250 (Harley MS 5786, f. 158r).

The biblical manuscripts that make up a substantial portion of the British Library’s holdings are well-represented on the website. Kathleen Maxwell shares her expertise in the Library’s illuminated Gospels, and the multifaceted transmission of the Old Testament in Greek is also surveyed. Greek manuscripts did not develop in a vacuum: they were circulated far beyond the limits of Greek-speaking antiquity and the Byantine empire. Peter Tóth presents just some of the examples of multilingualism that can be found in Greek manuscripts, while other articles look at topics such as the tradition of schoolboy compositions in Greek in Elizabethan England.

We will introduce more articles on the new website over the coming weeks, advertising them in a series of blog posts. The project, and indeed the preceding Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project, has been generously supported by a range of donors, including the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the A. G. Leventis Foundation, the Sylvia Ioannou Foundation, and many others. We are grateful to them and to the many experts who have shared their knowledge on the site. We invite everyone to explore the articles and videos and learn more about the British Library’s unparalleled collection of Greek manuscripts!

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The Golden Canon Tables, created in Constantinople in the 6th or 7th century (Add MS 5111, f. 11r).

@BLMedieval

14 September 2016

Palimpsests: The Art of Medieval Recycling

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The art of recycling — re-using waste materials to reduce consumption of fresh raw materials — may seem alien in a medieval context. Yet when it comes to writing, past peoples were often much more sparing than many of us today.

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Miniature of the Evangelist Luke writing, in a 12th-century Gospel-book,
Add MS 5112, f. 3r

Producing papyrus sheets or parchment volumes was not an easy or cheap endeavour. In order to produce a complete Bible on parchment, the skins of approximately 200 sheep may have been needed. One way to save parchment was to write the words and sentences continuously with no punctuation at all. This might have made reading more difficult and open to misunderstanding, but it definitely saved space.

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Detail of continuous script in the columns of the Codex Sinaiticus, Eastern Mediterranean (Palestine?), 4th century,  Add MS 43725, f. 252r

Another way to save parchment and papyrus was to reuse it. Papyrus scrolls were usually written on one side only, where the fibres were horizontal and more suitable for writing, while the other side with vertical threads was usually left blank. In times of need, however, scribes reused the more inconvenient side of scrolls that they found unimportant or superfluous. The practice of writing tax receipts and payment reminders on the reverse of classical dramas and poems has sometimes saved classical literature which would otherwise have been lost. Examples at the British Library include Papyrus 787 preserving Demosthenes’s works, Papyrus 1182 with Epicurus’s treatise and Papyrus 1191 containing Homer.

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Columns from a speech by Demosthenes, Egypt, 2nd century CE, Papyrus 744 recto with later accounts from the other side of the same papyrus, Egypt, 2nd-3rd century CE, Papyrus 744, verso

Reusing parchment pages was more complicated, since books often had writing on both sides. By taking pages of books that were unused, incomprehensible or perhaps banned, it was possible to scrape or wash off the old writing to achieve a new blank page. It is the outcome of this recycling process that we call a palimpsest (the “re-scratched” page).

Many manuscripts with recycled pages are preserved and it is always intriguing to discover what the old writing contained and why it was destroyed. Deciphering undertexts is not always easy. Sometimes the recyclers did not make a very thorough job and the old writing is so transparent that modern viewers can easily read and identify the recycled pages: examples include the epics of Homer and the geometrical works of the mathematician Euclid of Megara.

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The capital letters of Euclid’s Elements recycled in a 9th-century manuscript containing a Syriac translation of a Greek theological text, Add MS 17211, f. 49v

If the recycling was done meticulously, special techniques are necessary to recover the text. Thanks to the British Library’s multispectral imaging technology, many of the seemingly unreadable undertexts can now be recovered. Recently we managed to discover remnants of at least three manuscripts in one 15th-century Greek liturgical book, including parts of a 9th-century gospelbook, some leaves from a 10th-century service book and two scraps from a 12th-century copy of a Greek commentary on Plato by the 5th-century Proclus.

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Multispectral images of a 15th-century service book showing the capital letters of a 9th-century gospel behind the script, Add MS 36823, f. 17r

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These brownish columns are what remains of a 12th-century copy of Proclus’s Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus recycled in this 15th-century liturgical manuscript:
Add MS 36823, f. 123r

Perhaps the most thrilling find yet is a double-palimpsest from Egypt, a 10th-century manuscript written in Syriac (a Semitic language of the Christian East) on pages that contain a twofold layer of Latin texts. One is a commentary on Donatus’s Latin grammar attributed to Sergius from the 7th century, written above another 5th-century Latin text preserving fragments of the otherwise lost historical work of the 2nd-century Granius Licinianus, whose writing is known only from these recycled pages.

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Cursive Latin handwriting of a 7th-century grammatical treatise under the Syriac translation of John Chrysostom’s homilies, Egypt, 10th century, Add. MS 17212, f. 7v

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Capital letters of the Latin text of the Annals of Granius Licinianus under the 7th-century cursive Latin grammatical text in the pages of the 10th-century Syriac manuscript of John Chrysostom’s homilies, Add MS 17212, f. 5r

How these precious fragments ended up in Egypt and why were they recycled to accommodate Syriac translations of Greek religious texts are questions that are very hard to answer. Sebastian Brock, one of the foremost experts on Syriac manuscripts and literature, will try to crack the puzzle in his upcoming lecture at the British Library’s conference on Greek manuscripts. You can book your place to hear the end of the story here.

Peter Toth

@BLMedieval

06 September 2016

Greek Manuscripts Conference

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A reminder for your diaries, for everyone who is interested in Greek and Byzantine manuscript culture. The British Library is holding a day conference on our Greek manuscripts on 19 September 2016, featuring an international panel of experts (from the United Kingdom, Greece, Bulgaria and France). This is the culmination of the third phase of our project to digitise all the British Library's Greek manuscripts, and to mark the launch of our fantastic Greek Manuscripts Online Resource.

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The Theodore Psalter, AD 1066: Add MS 19352, f. 100r

We'd love you to be able to join us: you can book your tickets here. You can also book tickets to both the conference and an evening lecture by Michael Wood at a reduced rate. Not only will you hear discussion of illuminated manuscripts, palimpsests and Greek written culture, but coffee, a sandwich lunch and a reception are also provided to those attending the conference.

Please don't delay, book today. Places are limited, so don't miss out!

 

Greek Manuscripts at the British Library

British Library Conference Centre

19 September 2016

10.00–17.00, followed by a optional evening lecture by Michael Wood, The Wisdom of the Greeks (18.30–20.00)

Programme

10:00–11:00
Registration and Coffee
11:00–11:30
Welcome: Scot McKendrick (British Library)

Session 1

Chair: Peter Toth (British Library)

11:30–12:00
Sebastian Brock (University of Oxford): Greek Undertexts in Syriac Manuscripts from Egypt in the British Library
12:00–12:30
Elizabeth Jeffreys (University of Oxford): A New Planet Swims into our Ken: Editing Greek Texts in the Digital Era
12:30–12:45
Lunch (sandwiches provided)

Session 2

Chair: Antony Eastmond (Courtauld Institute)

12:45–2:15
Georgi Parpulov (Plovdiv, Bulgaria): Illuminated Byzantine Manuscripts – Digitized
2:15–2:45
Maria Georgopoulou (Gennadius Library, Athens): British Collectors of Greek Manuscripts: A Glimpse from Athens
2:45–3:15
Tea

Session 3

Chair: André Binggeli (Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes, Paris)

3:15–3:45
Christopher Wright and Philip Taylor (Royal Holloway, University of London): An electronic edition of a post-Byzantine Greek manuscript of the British Library (Royal MS 16 C X)
3:45–4:15
Charlotte Roueché (King’s College London): Linked Data: The Role of Manuscripts
4:15–4:30
Break
4:30–5:15
An end or just a beginning? Discussion on prospects for digitization and cataloguing, introduced and moderated by André Binggeli and Charlotte Roueché
5:15–6:15
Reception for conference participants

Public Lecture

6:30–8:00
Michael Wood: The Wisdom of the Greeks

Abstracts and Biographies

Greek Undertexts in Syriac Manuscripts from Egypt In the British Library

Almost all Syriac manuscripts earlier than the 12th century have been transmitted through two monastic libraries in Egypt: St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, and Deir al-Surian in the Nitrian Desert. The latter was the source of much of the British Library’s extensive collection of Syriac manuscripts, and among them are some 65 palimpsests, the subject of this paper. Although for the most part the undertexts are in Syriac or Christian Palestinian Aramaic, in a number of manuscripts it is Greek (in one case, Homer).

Sebastian Brock is a former Reader in Syriac Studies at the University of Oxford’s Oriental Institute and a Professorial Fellow at Wolfson College.

A New Planet Swims into our Ken: Editing Greek Texts in the Digital Era

This paper will consider the Greek manuscripts in the digitization programme: what they are, how are they accessed, and what can one do with them. There will be a focus on the manuscripts collected by Frederick North, 5th Earl of Guilford (d. 1827).

Elizabeth Jeffreys was Bywater and Sotheby Professor of Byzantine and Modern Greek Language and Literature, University of Oxford, and Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, 1996–2006. She is now Emeritus Professor and Emeritus Fellow of Exeter College.

Illuminated Byzantine Manuscripts – Digitized

Manuscript digitization is of enormous benefit to those who are primarily concerned with the physical appearance of books rather than their textual contents. In the miniatures of Add MS 11870, the peculiar manners of different artists can be distinguished. Add MS 36928 shows how a scribe and a miniature painter collaborated. The richly illustrated and as yet unstudied Egerton MS 3157 reminds us that digital images ought to be supplemented with relevant catalogue information.

Georgi Parpulov studies Greek and Slavonic Manuscripts, Byzantine Palaeography and codicology, and Bulgarian history with a special focus on illuminated manuscripts.

British Collectors of Greek Manuscripts

John Gennadius assembled an extensive collection of Greek manuscripts from the 1870s onwards when he held a diplomatic post in London. Some of the most important manuscripts in his collection are now at the Gennadius Library in Athens, several examples of which belonged to Lord Guilford.

Maria Georgopoulou is director of the Gennadius Library, The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece. Her publications focus on the artistic and cultural interactions of Mediterranean peoples in the Middle Ages.

An electronic edition of a post-Byzantine Greek manuscript of the British Library (Royal MS 16 C X)

Dr George Etheridge, former Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford, addressed a Greek Encomium to Queen Elizabeth I on King Henry VIII for the Queen’s visit to Oxford in 1566. It is now uniquely preserved in Royal MS 16 C X. The electronic edition of the text employs an original interface that graphically links words or phrases in the digitized manuscript image with their counterparts in the transcribed or edited Greek text and in the English translation, supported by multiple dynamic scholarly apparatus including a lexical analysis of each word with direct links to several online dictionaries. This exploratory editorial project is accessible at http://hellenic-institute.rhul.ac.uk/Research/Etheridge/.

Christopher Wright is a research fellow at the Hellenic Institute in the Department of History, Royal Holloway, University of London.

Philip Taylor is an Honorary Research Associate at Hellenic Institute of the Royal Holloway, University of London.

Linked Data: The role of manuscripts – or Now What?

The Greek manuscripts project makes rich materials available to a worldwide audience. Manuscripts are bearers of meaning: the challenge now is for those who have the expertise to make this meaning apparent, to ensure that these are more than just images. But no one person – or even group of people – has all the relevant knowledge. Instead, in the spirit in which Tim Berners-Lee developed the web, we need to think in terms of Linked Open Data. We need to link this material to other resources which can enhance what we see. The modern owner of a manuscript might be linked to an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; earlier owners, or scribes, might be linked to their entries in one of the series of Byzantine prosopographies. Locations can be linked to an online gazetteer. As resources develop, it will be increasingly possible to link manuscripts to the texts which are based on them: the pioneering work here has been done by the Homer Multitext Project. This is just a beginning!

Charlotte Roueché is an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Classics at King’s College London. For many years she has explored the use of digital tools for the analysis and publication of Greek texts. She is particularly concerned with using the Internet to bring the highest possible level of scholarship to the widest possible audience.

Closing Discussion: An end or just a beginning?

What are the implications of making these rich materials available online? How can we support scholars in exploiting them? What will the ordinary reader need? How will we keep track of what journeys our manuscripts now undertake?

— @BLMedieval

31 August 2016

The Wisdom of the Greeks

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Tickets are selling fast for a special lecture at the British Library on 19 September. Michael Wood, television presenter, writer and Professor of Public History, will be speaking on The Wisdom of the Greeks in an evening event held at our conference centre. He promises to examine how the legacy of Greece and Byzantium in science, religion and literature was transmitted to the Latin West, and to tell fascinating stories about texts and ideas, scribes and scholars. There may even be references to Anglo-Saxon kings, Crusader knights and Renaissance humanists!

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Michael's talk will be the conclusion of our Greek Manuscripts in the British Library conference, to be held that same day. This event marks the completion of the third phase of our Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project and the launch of the Greek Manuscripts Online web resource. The day itself starts with an academic conference, including invited experts, to discuss a variety of topics related to the British Library’s digitised Greek collections, such as Greek-Syriac palimpsests, Byzantine illuminated manuscripts, Greek written culture and the digital humanities and the cultural interactions between Greece and Britain. The conference runs from 10.00 to 1700, and attendees can purchase a ticket to the evening talk at a reduced rate.

The Wisdom of the Greeks by Michael Wood is on 19 September 2016 (18.30–20.00), and tickets are £10 (£7 for under 18s, with other concessions available).

08 August 2016

True Colours

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Our friends at the Fitzwilliam Museum have recently opened a spectacular new exhibition, called Colour: The Art and Science of Illuminated Manuscripts. This exhibition showcases some of the Fitzwilliam's greatest manuscript treasures, integrated with scientific and art historical research into medieval painting materials and techniques.

The British Library is delighted to have been able to loan four of our own manuscripts to this show, which is open until 30 December 2016. We highly recommend that you make a special journey to Cambridge to view the exhibition, and to take in all these manuscripts in their breath-taking glory.

 

Add MS 5112, f. 134r: St John the Evangelist, from a gospel book (Byzantium, late 12th century)

This astonishingly beautiful miniature depicts St John the Evangelist, about to sharpen his quill with a knife while a blank codex rests on his lap. This is a particularly fine example of painting with gold leaf; the vermilion red and ultramarine blue of the drapery make a sharp contrast with the gold leaf, and help to distinguish between the gold background and the yellow building in the lower half of the portrait. The miniature itself was not created for the volume in which it was found, and the high quality of the materials and the painting technique strongly suggests a Constantinopolitan origin.

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St John the Evangelist, from a gospel book (Byzantium, late 12th century): Add MS 5112, f. 134r

 

Harley MS 3915: Theophilus, De diversis artibus (NW Germany?, late 12th or early 13th century)

This medieval craft treatise contains instructions for painting, glassmaking and metalworking, as well as pigment recipes and painting instructions for manuscript illumination. The pages shown below describe the manufacture of 'salt green' followed by 'Spanish green', both of which are types of verdigris; next come the production methods for lead white (cerosa) and red lead (minium). Harley 3915 is the most complete and one of the oldest surviving copies of this treatise, the script and ornament of which suggest that it was made somewhere in North-West Germany. We had it digitised a few years ago as part of our Harley Science Project.

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Making green, white and red pigments, in Theophilus, De diversis artibus (NW Germany?, late 12th or early 13th century): Harley MS 3915, ff. 18v–19r 

 

Sloane MS 1975: A medical and herbal collection (France or England, late 12th century)

This medical treatise concludes with a series of illustrations of medical procedures. The spots represent cautery points, showing doctors where to apply hot irons to treat patients suffering from ailments such as toothache, fever and kidney disease. On the second page shown here, not for the squeamish, are operations to excise haemorrhoids, a nasal growth and cataracts. This manuscript belonged to the Cistercian monastery of Ourscamp in the 14th century, and it later entered the collection of Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753).

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Cautery points, in a medical collection (France or England, late 12th century): Sloane MS 1975, ff. 92v–93r)

 

Harley MS 4336: Boethius, De consolatio philosophiae (Bourges, 1476)

Produced in Bourges in 1476, this manuscript of Boethius's famous treatise, De consolatio philosophiae, is displayed open with this allegorical figure of Fortune, identifiable by the gold letters f emblazoned on her garment. The figures that surround her may represent two different families, one blessed and one cursed by Fortune, or a once prosperous household that has fallen on hard times.

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Personification of Fortune, in Boethius, De consolatio philosophiae (Bourges, 1476): Harley MS 4336, f. 1v

Colour: The Art and Science of Illuminated Manuscripts is on at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, until 30 December 2016.

@BLMedieval

03 August 2016

The Olympic Games at the British Library

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No, we won’t be competing at the Rio Olympics and there won’t be any games or races at the British Library either! We just wanted to join in the growing anticipation as the 2016 Summer Olympics are about to begin by offering a fresh look at what our manuscripts tell us about the Olympic Games of the ancient world.

It is common knowledge that the Olympic Games are an ancient Greek tradition. But how close were these original games to what will be happening over the coming weeks in Rio? Our evidence for the ancient Olympics is scattered in various fragments, notes and remarks, many of which are held at the British Library.

The Greeks always had a special fascination with games and contests: they celebrated their gods, weddings and even funerals by organising athletic games.

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Representation of a game in a circus from the 11th-century Theodore Psalter, Constantinople, 1066: Add MS 19352, f. 127r

Every ancient Greek city, such as Delphi, Nemea and Isthmus, had their own festal games to honour their local gods, so those held at Olympia, first recorded in 776 BCE, were part of that tradition. The significance of the Olympia games increased with the fame of the local shrine of Zeus, which was honoured and celebrated by the races held there. The Games in Olympia were held every fourth year until AD 395, when the Emperor Theodosius issued an edict abolishing these last remnants of paganism.

Olympic winners held immense respect, receiving statues, coins and inscriptions dedicated in their names, besides being the recipients of plaudits by the leading poets of the time. Some victors and the sports in which they competed are recorded. It was Pindar (died 438 BCE), one of the most acclaimed Greek poets, who left us the most extensive Olympic poetry celebrating victorious runners, charioteers and wrestlers. However, it is not his subtle poetry but rather the marginal notes on his poems that convey the most precious details about the actual events at the ancient games.

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Note on Pindar’s 12th Olympic Ode, 15th century: Harley MS 1752, f. 126r

This little note on Pindar’s 12th Olympic Ode is a short biography of a Cretan runner called Ergoteles. Ergoteles won his event at the 76th Olympics in 472 BCE but, due to some obscure political treachery, he was forced to leave Crete. Re-patriated by the Sicilians, he won another Olympic title in 464 BCE.

In addition to such marginal notes, we also know of several ancient histories and novels that recorded and analysed the history of the games. These writings, like the two-volume history of the Olympic Games by a certain Phlegon or a summary by Aristotle himself, have not survived. Among the British Library's papyri, however, is an exceptional fragment that contains a portion from a similar text.

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List of Olympic champions, Egypt, 3rd century CE: Papyrus 1185

This papyrus is an administrative document from Egypt containing a financial account from the 2nd century CE. On the back is a unique list of Olympic winners copied slightly later. We have no idea why this list was added to this papyrus, but it records the names of 80 Olympic champions between 480 BCE and 438 BCE. The names are listed in the rank-order of ancient Olympic sports, according to the sequence when they were added to the Olympic repertoire.

  • running (sprint (c. 200m), mid-distance (c. 400m), long-distance (2000m)
  • pentathlon (comprising the sprint, wrestling, long jump, javelin and discus)
  • wrestling
  • boxing
  • pancration (‘all-force’ combat: a deadly combination of wrestling and boxing)

It is intriguing to find the name of the re-patriated Ergoteles in this list as the long-distance running champion at the 76th Olympics, just as the note in our Pindar-manuscript describes him.

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Detail of Papyrus 1185 with details of Ergoteles ('[Ergo]teles of Himera in dolichos (=long distance running')

Even more fascinating, perhaps, is to observe how the list of traditional Olympic contests expands when armoured combat, the four-horse-chariot race and horse-riding suddenly appeared at the 78th Olympics in 468 BCE, which must have been tremendous innovations at that time.

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A “four-horse-chariot” (tethrippon) from Add MS 19352, f. 85r

Although many of these ancient Olympic sports, such as pancration and chariot-racing, are not part of the modern Games, it is surprising to see how much is unchanged since Ergoteles won his first title in 472 BCE. Not only are running, the pentathlon, throwing the javelin and discus, boxing and wrestling part of the modern Olympic Games, but glory and failure, political intrigue and intense media attention continue to be enduring themes. The British Library is delighted to be custodians of such surprisingly rich ancient Olympic material, much of which can be viewed online on our Digitised Manuscripts site.

Peter Toth

@BLMedieval

30 June 2016

Greek Manuscripts in the British Library: Conference and Public Lecture in September

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To mark the completion of the third phase of the Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project and the launch of the Greek Manuscripts Online web resource, the British Library is hosting a one-day conference devoted to Greek Manuscripts on 19 September, 2016. Confirmed participants include Sebastian Brock (Oxford), Charalambos Dendrinos (Royal Holloway), Elizabeth Jeffreys (Oxford), Charlotte Roueché (King’s College London), Maria Georgopoulou (Gennadius Library, Athens) and Giorgi Parpulov (Plovdiv, Bulgaria). Speakers will discuss a variety of topics related to the Library’s digitised Greek collections, such as Greek-Syriac palimpsests, Byzantine illuminated manuscripts, Greek written culture and the digital humanities and the cultural interactions between Greece and Britain.

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Page from the Theodore Psalter, Constantinople, February 1066, Add MS 19352, f. 36r

The conference will be accompanied by an evening lecture by Michael Wood on ‘The Wisdom of the Greeks’. Michael will be looking at how the legacy of Greece and Byzantium in science, religion and literature was transmitted to the Latin West. Fascinating stories about texts and ideas, scribes and scholars will come to life in the course of this illustrated talk that will include Anglo-Saxon kings, Crusader knights and Renaissance humanists - and even a well-known Elizabethan dramatist!

Please book your place in advance and register online at http://www.bl.uk/events/greek-manuscripts-in-the-british-library-day-ticket . The full programme can be found here:  Download British Library Greek Conference Schedule.

~Peter Toth

21 November 2015

New to the Treasures Gallery

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As frequent visitors to the British Library will know, we regularly make changes to the items displayed to the public in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery, also known as our Treasures Gallery.  We are pleased to announce that the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts section has placed a number of new manuscripts on display.  Most of these manuscripts are fully digitised and can be found online at Digitised Manuscripts, so if you’re not able to make it to the Gallery here in London, there’ s no need for you to miss out!

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Painting of Mont Saint Michel burning,
from 'Li Romanz du Mont Saint-Michel', France (Normandy), 1375-1400, Add MS 10289, f. 45v

The ‘Literature’ section sees the addition of Add MS 10289, 'Li Romanz du Mont Saint-Michel' (the Romance of Mont Saint-Michel), a late 13th century miscellany of romances, moralistic and religious texts, and medical recipes written in Anglo-Norman.   The folio displayed shows the burning of the monastery in the year 922; much more about this fabulous manuscript can be found in our post The Romance of Mont Saint-Michel.

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Miniature of Geoffrey Chaucer, from Thomas Hoccleve’s Regiment of Princes, England (London or Westminster), c. 1411 – c. 1420, Harley MS 4866, f. 88r

Also in this section is one of the earliest copies of Thomas Hoccleve’s The Regiment of Princes, which was created c. 1411 – c. 1420, possibly under the supervision of Hoccleve himself.  This manuscript (Harley MS 4866) includes the famous portrait of Geoffrey Chaucer, holding a rosary and wearing a pen-case on a string around his neck

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Miniature of Homer in a landscape listening to his Muse, from a copy of Homer’s Iliad, Italy (Florence), 1466, Harley MS 5600, f. 15v

Three manuscripts featuring the works of classical authors have been added to the ‘Art of the Book’ section.  A 15th century Greek manuscript, copied in Florence in 1466 by Ioannes Rhosos of Crete, contains a gorgeous miniature of Homer surrounded by Muses, in a typical Florentine style (Harley MS 5600).  This Homer is joined by the works of two more Roman authors who were also hugely popular in Renaissance Italy: a late 15th century copy of the works of Cicero (Burney MS 157), and a Virgil copied in Rome between 1483 and 1485 (Kings MS 24).

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Drawing of a ‘stout woman’ from a notebook by Albrecht
Dürer, Germany, c. 1500, Add MS 5231, f. 5r

Manuscripts in another section contain material from two of the great artists of the Renaissance: Albrecht Dürer and Michaelangelo.  Dürer’s interest in anatomy are reflected in four sketchbooks now owned by the British Library, one of which includes a sketch of a ‘stout woman’ accompanied by detailed notes on how to correctly construct a human figure (Add MS 5231).  Alongside Dürer’s volume is one composed of a series of letters exchanged by Michaelangelo Buonarroti and his family.  On display is a letter Michaelangelo wrote to his nephew from Rome in 1550, offering some genial advice on the best way to select a wife (Add MS 23142).

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Text page with musical neumes, Spain (Silos), c. 1050, Add MS 30845, f. 13r

We have also updated the ‘Early Music’ section with two of our best-known musical manuscripts.  Dating from c. 1050, Add MS 30845 is a liturgical manuscript with musical notation, created in the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos in northern Spain.  This notation consists of graphic signs that indicate the direction of the melody; as the pitch is lacking, however, the original melody is now impossible to recover.  Accompanying the Silos manuscript is one containing perhaps the most famous piece of English secular medieval music, ‘Sumer is Icumen in’, which is known only from this manuscript. 

Harley_ms_978_f011v
Page with ‘Sumer is Icumen in’, from a miscellany, England (Reading Abbey), c. 1260, Harley MS 978, f. 11v

If you’re interested in more information on this wonderful piece of music (from Harley MS 978), please see our post Sumer is Icumen In.  And whether your visit is in person here in St Pancras, or virtual amongst our digitised manuscripts, we hope you enjoy yourselves!

-  Sarah J Biggs