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18 September 2014

Languages in Medieval Britain

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We are proud to announce that the Catholicon Anglicum is now being exhibited in our Treasures Gallery. The British Library acquired the manuscript, the only complete copy of the text in existence, in February this year, for £92,500, following the temporary deferral of an export licence. It had lain hidden for over a century in the Monson family collection in Lincolnshire. 

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Opening of the section for words beginning with M, from the ‘Catholicon Anglicum’, England (Yorkshire), 1483, Add MS 89074, f. 102v
 

Since its arrival at the British Library, it has been catalogued in detail (along with other late medieval dictionaries in our collection), photographed in full and uploaded to Digitised Manuscripts, and now forms the centrepiece of a display of manuscripts about the variety of languages that were spoken and written in medieval Britain. This is your chance to see this rare and precious manuscript face-to-face!

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End of the section for words beginning with
Ȝ, and the compiler’s epilogue, Add MS 89074, f. 185v 

The Catholicon was the first such dictionary to have all of its entries arranged in alphabetical order. The positioning of vernacular words first, with Latin equivalents following, shows that it was intended to be used for Latin composition not translation. It would have been of particular utility in the grammar schools that were being founded in large numbers during the 15th century. 

Harley MS 3376, f. 1v
Alphabetical glossary of rare Latin words, with glosses in Latin and Old English, England (?Worcester), 4th quarter of the 10th century or 1st half of the 11th century, Harley MS 3376, f. 1v
 

An early predecessor of the Catholicon is the first exhibit in the display: an alphabetical glossary of rare Latin words that was made in the 10th or 11th centuries, perhaps in Worcester. It may have been made for someone familiar with only basic Latin vocabulary, or as an aid to developing a more advanced command of the language. The headwords are glossed with more simplistic Latin equivalents or, sometimes, Old English words. 

Following the Norman Conquest, Old English was supplanted by French as the language of the ruling elites. The next exhibit is a 14th-century copy of a treatise written by Walter of Bibbesworth a century earlier, the Tretize de Langage. It was designed to be used by a mother to teach her two young children, and uses descriptions of everyday life and work, rhymes and riddles – even animal sounds – both to entertain and educate. 

Egerton MS 89, f. 93v
Descriptions of diseases and their symptoms, treatments and cures, from the ‘Lilium medicinae’, Ireland (County Clare), 1482, Egerton MS 89, f. 93v
 

The other two exhibits showcase languages that were spoken elsewhere in the British Isles. The Lilium medicinae, a guide to the treatment of illnesses, was written in 1303 by Bernard de Gordon, a famous physician at the University of Montpellier in France. Bernard was one of the medical authorities named by the Doctor of Physick in the General Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. This Irish translation of the Lilium was written by the scribe Domhnall Albanach Ó Troighthigh of County Clare; an inscription on the right dates the manuscript to 1482. The Latin headings name various illnesses; the subheadings ‘Signa’, ‘Curacio’ and ‘Clarificacio’ describe their symptoms, treatment and cure. 

Arundel MS 285, ff. 5v-6r
Tinted woodcut of the Flagellation of Christ at the beginning of a poem by Walter Kennedy, from a collection of Scottish poetry, ?Scotland, 1st half of the 16th century, Arundel MS 285, ff. 5v-6r
 

A collection of Scottish poetry illustrates the cross-over between manuscript and print in the early 16th century. It contains seventeen 15th-century printed woodcuts, which have been pasted into reserved spaces in the book, often at the beginning of the texts. The source of the woodcuts is not known. They may have been recycled from a previous book, or gathered from a selection of devotional handbills or flyleaves. A poem about the Passion of Christ by Walter Kennedy begins, appropriately, with a scene of the Flagellation of Christ, an elaborate rubric in red ink and the opening words in an imposing display script. 

Harley MS 4353, f. 12r
A page from ‘The Book of Cyfnerth’, Wales (?Neath), 1st quarter of the 14th century, Harley MS 4353, f. 12r
 

There were, of course, other languages spoken in medieval Britain besides these. The British Library holds manuscripts of medieval Welsh, such as this legal text known as ‘The Book of Cyfnerth’. It contains the Gwentian code of Welsh law – a witness to a legal system distinct from that of England – and was written in south-west Wales, perhaps in Neath, early in the 14th century. The scribe who made this book was also responsible for another in the British Library, Cotton MS Cleopatra A XIV, which also contains Welsh laws and a copy of the Cosmographia of Bernardus Silvestris. 

Harley MS 1782, f. 14v
Bas-de-page scene of Christ carrying the Cross, from a manuscript of a Passion poem in Cornish, England (Cornwall), 15th century, Harley MS 1782, f. 14v
 

Harley MS 1782 further illustrates the flowering of regional forms of Christianity during the medieval period that we saw in the Scottish poetry book.  This manuscript is a 15th-century copy of a poem about Christ’s passion written in Cornish.  The text is illustrated with a series of scenes from the Passion – here, Christ carrying the Cross – akin to those that marked the Stations of the Cross in medieval churches. 

- James Freeman

16 September 2014

Visualising Stonehenge

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There has been some exciting news recently about Stonehenge.  The discovery of many new archaeological features around the site itself, including chapels, burial mounds, pits and shrines (which featured in a BBC documentary last Thursday), has emphasised that the famous stone circle should not be seen as an isolated monument but as part of a wider complex in the surrounding landscape. 

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Miniature of Merlin building Stonehenge, from Wace, ‘Roman de Brut’, England, second quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3028, f. 30r
 

The British Library has a particular interest in Stonehenge, because it possesses the earliest known depiction of the monument, from a manuscript of Wace’s Roman de Brut, made in the second quarter of the fourteenth century.  The mythical figure of Merlin is shown assembling one of the famous sarsen trilithons by placing a lintel on top of two standing stones.  His actions are observed with wonderment by two mortals, emphasising Stonehenge’s legendary status as well as the mysteriousness of its purpose. 

Lansdowne MS 732, f. 1r
The beginning of Geoffrey of Monmouth, ‘Historia Regum Britanniae’, England, last quarter of the 12th century or first quarter of the 13th century, Lansdowne MS 732, f. 1r 
 

Earlier accounts, but not illustrations, of Stonehenge also survive in British Library manuscripts.  Wace wrote the Roman de Brut in French verse, using octo-syllabic couplets, and presented his work as a translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (though he included additional information). 

Geoffrey claimed that Stonehenge was built on the orders of Aurelius Ambrosius, a mythical Briton king, with Merlin fulfilling the role of supernatural architect and building contractor.  Merlin had advised Aurelius that this would be a fitting memorial to 480 of his nobles who had been treacherously slaughtered by Hengist the Saxon around the year 470. 

Although Geoffrey’s account is largely fanciful, there are implicit elements of it that have been borne out by modern archaeological study: for example, some of the stones were brought from far away (the bluestones used within the outer circle came from the Preseli mountains in Pembrokeshire), that it is related to stone circles in Ireland, and that there were burial sites in close proximity (as the recent discoveries have shown). 

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The end of the prologue and beginning of the text, from a copy of Henry of Huntingdon, ‘Historia Anglorum’, England, Egerton MS 3668, ff. 2v-3r
 

Geoffrey’s account of Stonehenge is roughly contemporary with another mid-twelfth century history, the Historia Anglorum by Henry of Huntingdon.  Henry offered no explanation of why or how Stonehenge was built, but merely related (perhaps from second-hand accounts) that the stones were ‘erected after the manner of doorways, so that doorway appears to have been raised upon doorway’.  The description is puzzling at first, since Stonehenge never had a second storey, but it probably refers to a trick of perspective gained when one trilithon is observed through another. 

Add MS 28330, f. 36r
Watercolour sketch of Stonehenge, from Lucas de Heere, ‘Corte Beschryvinghe van England, Scotland, ende Irland, England (London), Add MS 28330, f. 36r
 

The British Library also possesses one of the earliest near-accurate depictions of Stonehenge, in the form of a watercolour sketch done ‘on the spot’ by Lucas de Heere (b. 1534, d. 1584), a Flemish Protestant exile who resided in England between 1567 and 1576.  He evidently took to his adoptive country, compiling a guidebook to Britain, its history and the dress and manners of its inhabitants, entitled Corte Beschryvinghe van England, Scotland, ende Irland.  De Heere’s description and drawing of Stonehenge is important for its observations on the techniques of construction.  Tenons – raised points on the tops of the stone pillars, visible on one of the trilithons in the foreground – locked into mortises – matching indentations in the lintels – which held them in place and prevented them from slipping off.  

Stonehenge has been a source of fascination and speculation for historians, writers and archaeologists as well as casual observers, visitors and tourists.  The questions that they have all asked – how and why? – haven’t changed much over the centuries, like the stones themselves.  The answers have, though, and the recent discoveries are only the latest, exciting chapter in a very long tale of imaginings and interpretations. 

- James Freeman

13 September 2014

Apes Pulling Shapes

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Readers of our blog will be familiar, by now, with the fact that some medieval illuminators had a special enthusiasm for marginal mockery.  No matter how overtly devotional the text, its margins were not protected from a carnival parade of visual humour.  In fact, it would be easy to get the impression that the more solemn the central scene, the better the scope for marginal antics.

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Aping the Office of the Dead, from a Book of Hours, France, c. 1320s, Add MS 36684, f. 125r

The Office of the Dead, included in many Books of Hours, is a series of prayers to be said in anticipation of death, at a funeral, or in remembrance of the deceased.  This solemn miniature depicts monks standing at the foot of a coffin and singing the Office from a book.  A good incentive for our book’s owner to pray, one might think, even if he or she was a bit distracted by the hybrid form of the grave-digger with his shovel at the bottom of the page.

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Detail of the text of the Office held by the hands and hindquarters of apes, Add MS 36684, f. 125r

More difficult to ignore, however, is the episode just beneath the central scene: one ape holds the same book, another uses his hindquarters as a lectern, and the antics of both are overseen by a laughing skeleton!

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The Hours of Terce, with an historiated initial showing the Adoration of the Magi, Add MS 36684, f. 46v

Apes are frequently the cause of marginal inversion in this particular Book of Hours, such as at Terce (the third canonical Hour of the day) where the gestures of the Magi in the miniature of the Adoration are parodied by three apes in the bas-de-page (the space at the bottom of the page).  

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Detail of the ‘three wise apes’ in the bas-de-page at Terce, Add MS 36684, f. 46v

One grasps a leafy extension of the bar-frame, a vine with a bemused head, apparently the subject of their own ‘adoration’.

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Detail of an ape on stilts riding a hobby-horse and balancing a stork on its shoulders, from Jean Froissart, ‘Chroniques’, Vol. IV, part 1, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1470-1472,
Harley MS 4379, f. 113r

A quick glance, in fact, at the index in Lilian Randall’s Images in the Margins of Gothic Manuscripts reveals an astonishing 18 pages worth of ‘ape and…’ or ‘ape with…’ etc., many of which describe quite peculiar scenarios like the one above (some further examples from British Library manuscripts can be found in our post ‘Monkeys in the Margins’).

Harley MS 1251, f91r
An illuminated border containing an ape holding a piece of fruit, from a Book of Hours, France (Rouen), c. 1430-c. 1440,
Harley MS 1251, f. 91r

The Physiologus, a second-century Greek compilation of knowledge about animals and nature, attempted to redefine the natural world in Christian terms.  Apes, it was thought, were the creation of the devil, the Ape of God who mimicked His actions just as the ape mimicked human behaviour.

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Detail of an ape riding a goat (both animals noted for being lascivious) and looking at part of the Athanasian Creed (‘Perfectus deo perfectus homo’ – ‘Perfect God, perfect man’), from the Maastricht Hours, Netherlands (Liège), c. 1300-c. 1325,
Stowe MS 17, f. 81v (for more on this manuscript, check out our similar simian blog-post ‘Monkeying Around with the Maastricht Hours’)

From being a representation of the devil, the ape also morphed into an image of the devil’s victim, the sinner.  Imprisonments of the material world, such as lust and sin, were best conveyed with an ape.  Nothing said ‘sensuality’ and ‘unreliability’ better than a foolish ape holding an apple or riding a goat.

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Detail of a mother ape being hunted, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England, c. 1310 – c. 1320,
Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 107v

The Bestiary developed these themes (see the copy in Royal MS 12 F XIII here) by giving an account of a mother ape fleeing hunters and carrying twins, her favourite in her arms and her least favourite on her back.

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Detail of a mother ape losing her favourite child,
Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 108r

As she tires, she drops the child she likes while the one she dislikes will cling to her.  For the theologian John Scotus, this was an allegory of the human condition, with the favoured child representing worldly pleasures while the neglected one stood in for spiritual values.

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An ape engaged in the female pursuit of winding wool (with a goat, of course),
Stowe MS 17, f. 91v

Classical writers such as Aristotle, Pliny the Elder, and Gaius Julius Solinus, all emphasised the ape’s propensity for imitation.

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Detail of an ape wearing a bishop’s mitre and playing a trumpet, from the Bohun Psalter, England (?London), after 1356 and probably before 1373,
Egerton MS 3277, f. 22v (for more on apes and other animals in this manuscript, see our earlier post ‘Lions, Monkeys and Bears – Oh My!’)

Indeed, Isidore of Seville, the expert on etymology in the Middle Ages, explained the derivation of simius (ape) from similitudo, remarking that ‘the monkey wants to imitate everything he sees done’.

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Detail of apes at school,
Stowe MS 17, f. 109r

This group of apes is at school: one is being beaten by a master, three are being lectured, and another appears to be smelling the contents of a vase (probably a urinal), alluding to the common trope of the ‘ape as physician’ in the margins of medieval manuscripts.

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Detail of an ape sat in green wicker basket playing the bagpipes, from the Hours of the Earls of Ormond’, England (London), c. 1460-1467,
Harley MS 2887, f. 29r

Finally, apes sometimes get up to such usual activities that they become one means (in combination with a range of distinctive motifs) of identifying individual artistic personalities.  These examples come from the oeuvres of two illuminators active in England in the third quarter of the fifteenth century.  The ape sat in a green wicker basket and playing the bagpipes is a trademark of sorts for a border artist known as ‘the Owl-illuminator’ (who is also known for using owls in marginal decoration).

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Detail of a miniature illustrating a marriage ceremony, with an ape picking fleas from a human head in the border, from a Book of Hours, England (London or Oxford), c. 1450-c. 1460, Add MS 62523, f. 7r

And then there is this very helpful ape, picking (and eating) fleas from a human head – a very unusual motif and one good indication that you are looking at work by ‘the Caesar Master’.

The contemporary ‘catch all’ term for animal antics in the margins of medieval manuscripts is thought to have been babuini (Latin) or babewyn (Middle English), meaning ‘baboon-like’ or ‘monkey-business’.  It is perhaps fitting, then, that Lilian Randall’s index of ape-activities runs to 18 pages.  Reading through the list, one can’t help but think of Bernard of Clairvaux’s words in 1125: ‘To what purpose are those unclean apes…?’

- Holly James-Maddocks

11 September 2014

Royal Manuscripts Conference Papers Now Online

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We are pleased to announce that selected papers from the two-day international conference associated with the ‘Royal Manuscripts’ exhibition (11 November 2011 – 13 March 2012) are now available on the Electronic British Library Journal 2014 (articles 4–10). 

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God creating the Heavens and the Earth, from Guyart de Moulins, ‘Bible historiale completée’, Genesis to Psalms, France (Clairfontaine and Paris), 1411,
Royal MS 19 D III, vol. 1, f. 3r

Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination showcased over 150 richly decorated manuscripts associated with and collected by English monarchs between the ninth and sixteenth centuries.  Drawn mainly from the Old Royal library given to the nation by George II in 1757, the exhibited manuscripts revealed a magnificent artistic inheritance and provided a vivid insight into the lives and aspirations of those for whom they were made.

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The genealogical descent of Henry VI from St Louis in a book presented by John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, to Henry’s wife, Margaret of Anjou, from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, France (Rouen), 1444-45,
Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 3r

On the 12-13 December 2011, seventeen speakers gathered in the British Library to discuss different aspects of the Royal collection, from the makers and users of these books to content as diverse as genealogy and law, legend and history, and liturgy.  An account of the conference, its speakers and their subjects, can be read here.  Many of the manuscripts displayed in the exhibition can still be seen in seven themed facebook albums (The Christian Monarch 700-1400; The Christian Monarch 1400-1600; Edward IV: Founder of the Royal Library; Instruction: How to be a King; The World’s Knowledge; Royal Identities; and The European Monarch), each featuring between 15 and 25 items.  Previous ‘Royal Manuscripts’ blog posts are listed here and here, and are often richly illustrated with items featured in the exhibition.

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Henry VIII at Psalm 1 (where we would expect an image of David), from the Psalter of Henry VIII, England (London), c. 1540,
Royal MS 2 A XVI, f. 3r

The research for this exhibition was funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.  Student bursaries for the conference were generously supported by AMARC.

- Holly James-Maddocks

09 September 2014

The 2014 Panizzi Lectures - The Giant Bibles of Twelfth-Century England

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Why – and how – were very large, elaborately decorated, multi-volume bibles made during the twelfth-century in England?  We are very excited that Dr Christopher de Hamel will be coming to the British Library to consider these and many other questions in the 2014 Panizzi Lectures.  The lectures will take place in the Conference Centre on Monday 27th and Thursday 30th October and Monday 3rd November, 6.15pm-7.30pm.  Entry is free, but the event is not ticketed, and seats will be allocated on a first come, first served basis – so keep the dates free and get here early!

Panizzi-lectures-leaflet2014-1

In each lecture, Dr de Hamel will be taking a closer look at three outstanding examples of this kind of manuscript – the Bury Bible, the Winchester Bible and the Lambeth Bible – using evidence of their decoration, codicology and provenance to explore why these large and incredibly expensive books came into and fell out of fashion within a single century.  Further details about the lectures may be found on the British Library website and on the above leaflet.

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An inhabited initial ‘P’ at the beginning of Judges, from the Rochester Bible, England (Rochester), 2nd quarter of the 12th century, Royal MS 1 C VII, f. 27v

The British Library possesses several examples of giant twelfth-century bibles.  Here are a few to whet your appetite for the forthcoming lectures.  An outstanding example from England is the Rochester Bible. 

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Detail of a historiated initial ‘E’ showing Moses giving the book of the law to Joshua, at the beginning of Joshua, Royal MS 1 C VII, f. 2v

It is remarkable for containing the earliest English Romanesque examples of historiated initials (large letters that incorporate narrative scenes relating to the text), including this rather odd example where the scene has been orientated sideways in order to be accommodated within the letter E.  The manuscript was almost certainly made for Rochester Cathedral during the second quarter of the twelfth century, and it matches the description of a five-volume Bible given in a catalogue of Rochester’s books made in 1202.  One other volume is known to have survived and is now Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, MS W.18.

Harley MS 4772, f. 5r
Large historiated initial ‘I’ showing scenes from Creation, from the Montpellier Bible, S. France (Languedoc), 1st quarter of the 12th century, Harley MS 4772, f. 5r

Our collections also incorporate giant bibles from around Europe; clearly, this was not a phenomenon confined to England.  The two-volume Montpellier Bible (Harley MS 4772 and Harley MS 4773) is an early example, made during the first quarter of the twelfth century in southern France.  Its medieval provenance is unknown, but the manuscript is so named because it was given to the Capuchin monastery at Montpellier in 1621, by François Ranchin (b. 1564, d. 1641), the chancellor of the university there. 

Harley MS 2799, f. 185v
Detail of a historiated initial ‘I’ showing St John the Evangelist, from the Arnstein Bible, W. Germany (Arnstein), c. 1172, Harley MS 2799, f. 185v
 

An example from Germany comes in the form of the Arnstein Bible, made for the monastery of St Mary and St Nicholas, Arnstein, in two volumes, now Harley MS 2798 and Harley MS 2799.  It was copied by a scribe named Lunandus, probably around 1172. 

Harley MS 2799, f. 243r
Pen drawings of the ‘monstrous races’, Harley MS 2799, f. 243r

As well as the ornate, curling, foliate and zoomorphic initials typical of Romanesque illumination, the manuscript also contains some interesting additions on the endleaves, such as maps and diagrams, as well as sketches of ‘monstrous races’ thought at the time to live in faraway lands.

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Detail of a miniature in two registers showing the Crucifixion and an animal sacrifice, from the Floreffe Bible, Belgium (Floreffe), c. 1170, Add MS 17738, f. 187r

The Floreffe Bible was made around the same time, for the Premonstratensian monastery of Floreffe, near Namur in modern-day Belgium.  In the second part of this two-volume manuscript (Add MS 17737 and Add MS 17738), each of the Gospels is preceded by a miniature in two registers that draws allegorical comparisons between events in the Old and New Testaments.

We hope these examples have inspired you to join us for the Panizzi Lectures 2014

- James Freeman

06 September 2014

Forty-four More Greek Manuscripts Online

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We are delighted to announce another forty-four Greek manuscripts have been digitised. As always, we are most grateful to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the A. G. Leventis Foundation, Sam Fogg, the Sylvia Ioannou Foundation, the Thriplow Charitable Trust, the Friends of the British Library, and our other generous benefactors for contributing to the digitisation project. Happy exploring!

Add MS 31921, Gospel Lectionary with ekphonetic notation (Gregory-Aland l 336), imperfect, 12th century, with some leaves supplied in the 14th century. Formerly in Blenheim Palace Library.

Add MS 34059, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 939), with ekphonetic neumes. 12th century.,

Add MS 36660, Old Testament lectionary with ekphonetic notation, and fragments from a New Testament lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 1490). 12th century.

Add MS 37320, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 2290). 10th century, with additions from the 16th-17th century.

Add MS 37486/1, Detached binding from Add MS 37486, 18th century.

Add MS 39585, Octateuch (Rahlfs 426), imperfect. 11th century, written by Georgios, a monk, possibly in Constantinople.

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A much defaced miniature of the Psalmist, from a Psalter and Canticles, Eastern Mediterranean, early 11th century, Add MS 39586, f. 1v

Add MS 39586, Psalter and Canticles (Rahlfs 1090), with later additions on extra leaves, original and inserted, at beginning and end, and a much-defaced miniature of the Psalmist. Early 11th century.

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Detail of an illuminated headpiece, from a Gospel book, Greece (?Mount Athos), 12th century, Add MS 39594, f. 1r

Add MS 39594, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 551), with miniatures of the Evangelists. 12th century, with paper additions from the 15th century.

Add MS 39596, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 553). 13th century.

Add MS 39598, New Testament, Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 910), with Euthalian headings. Completed in February 1009.

Add MS 39601, Revelation (Gregory-Aland 911), imperfect at the end, with a marginal commentary by Andreas of Caesarea, Commentarii in Apocalypsin (TLG 3004.001). Originally part of Add MS 39599 (cut out by the Hegoumenos of the Karakallou Monastery), but the hand of the text (perhaps not that of the commentary) is different and a good deal smaller. 11th century, possibly written at Mount Athos.

Add MS 39604, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 344), with notes of lessons and names of months in Arabic. 12th-14th century.

Add MS 39614, Xenophon, Hellenica. Early 16th century, Venice.

Add MS 39615, Hermogenes, De constitutionibus (Περὶ στάσεων) (TLG 0592.002). Early 16th century, Venice.

Add MS 39616, [Plutarch], De liberis educandis. Early 16th century, Venice.

Add MS 39617, Demosthenes, Orationes, with the hypotheses of Libanius and occasional scholia and interlinear glosses. 15th century, Greece.

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Miniature of Jonah cast forth by the whale, from a Psalter and Canticles, Palestine/Cyprus, 2nd half of the 12th century, Add MS 40753, f. 159v

Add MS 40753, Psalter and Canticles, with twelve full-page miniatures, a member of the ‘2400 family’ of Byzantine illuminated manuscripts. 2nd half of the 12th century, probably created in Palestine or Cyprus.

Arundel MS 531, Diogenes Laertius, Vitae Philosophorum, with illuminated head- and tailpieces on f 1r. 2nd half of the 15th century, Italy.

Arundel MS 547, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 183; Scrivener evst. 257), imperfect, with full-page evangelist portraits, decorated headpieces, and zoomorphic initials. 4th quarter of the 10th century, perhaps Cappadocia or Southern Italy.

Arundel MS 536, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 187). 12th-13th century.

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Miniature of David, from a Psalter, Italy (Florence), end of the 15th century, Burney MS 14, f. 3r

Burney MS 14, Psalter (Rahlfs 1657), with two Italian miniatures and foliate borders. End of the 15th century, Florence.

Burney MS 15, Bilingual psalter (Rahlfs 1658), in Greek and Latin. 1st half of the 16th century.

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Beginning of the poems of Anacreon, from a collection of works by Greek lyric poets, France, 2nd half of the 16th century, Burney MS 61, f. 3r

Burney MS 61, Collection of works by Greek lyric poets, including Anacreon, Alcaeus, Sappho, Stesichorus, and Ibycus. Occasional marginal notes with variants of Henri Estienne and T. Faber. 2nd half of the 16th century, France.

Burney MS 70, Basil of Caesarea, De legendis libris gentilium (TLG 2040.002), and other works. Large initials in colour and gold, partial foliate border on f 1r similar to that in Burney 14. 4th quarter of the 15th century, written by Ioannes Skoutariotes at Florence.

Burney MS 71,Callimachus, Hymns (TLG 0533.015-020). c 1500.

Burney MS 88, Libanius, Epistulae (TLG 2200.001). End of the 15th century, Italy.

Burney MS 89, Lycophron, Alexandra, with the commentary of Ioannes or Isaac Tzetzes, imperfect. 1st half of the 15th century, Greece.

Burney MS 96, Minor Attic Orators. End of the 15th century, Venice.

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Life of Dionysius Periegetes including a note on the 12 winds, with diagram, from a manuscript of Pindar and geographical texts, Eastern Mediterranean, beginning of the 16th century, Burney MS 98, f. 42r

Burney MS 98, Pindar, Olympia (TLG 0033.001), imperfect, with interlinear and marginal scholia; Dionysius Periegetes, Orbis Descriptio (TLG 0084.001), with interlinear glosses and marginal paraphrase; Eustathius Thessalonicensis, Commentarium in Dionysii periegetae orbis descriptionem (TLG 4083.006); Strabo, Geographica (TLG 0099.001), extracts. Beginning of the 16th century.

Burney MS 106, Sophocles, Ajax, Electra, Oedipus Tyrannus, Antigone; [Aeschylus], Prometheus Vinctus; Pindar, Olympia. End of the 15th century.

Burney MS 108, Aelian, Tactica; Leo VI, Tactica; Heron of Alexandria, Pneumatica, De automatis, with numerous diagrams. 1st quarter of the 16th century, possibly written at Venice.

Burney MS 109, Works by Theocritus, Hesiod, Pindar, Pythagoras and Aratus. 2nd half of the 14th century, Italy.

Burney MS 110, Zenobius, Epitome collectionum Luculli Tarrhaei et Didymi (TLG 0098.001). 4th quarter of the 15th century, Italy.

Egerton MS 2390, Sticherarion for the Immovable Feasts with musical notation, from February until 29 August, and of the Feasts of Triodion and Pentekostarion, attributed to Panagiotes the New Chrysaphes. 18th century, Greece.

Egerton MS 2392, The Divine Liturgies and ordination services. Full-page portraits of John Chrysostom, Basil, and Gregory. The manuscript is worm-eaten throughout. Written in Sopoto, Kalavryta, in 1664.

Egerton MS 3125, Nomocanon fragment, comprising two gatherings. 11th century.

Egerton MS 2625, Thucydides, Historiae (TLG 0003.001), with scholia, formerly forming a single manuscript with Add MS 5110. 15th century, possibly written on Crete.

Harley_ms_5598_f248v
Text block in cruciform, from a Gospel Lectionary, Eastern Mediterranean, 995, Harley MS 5598, f. 248v

Harley MS 5598, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 150; Scrivener evst. 150) with Menologion and Gospels for some special services. 995, written by Constantine, the same scribe as Add MS 73525, ff 1-2.

Royal MS 16 C IV Part 1 and Part 2, John Tzetzes, Antehomerica, with a translation into Latin by Petrus Morellus. 1560-1603, France (Tours/Loches), in the hand of Petrus Morellus.

Royal MS 16 C VII, Constantine Manasses, Breviarium Chronicum , imperfect. Mid-15th century, Italy? Probably formerly owned by Sir Robert Cotton.

Royal MS 16 C XIV, Apparatus Bellicus, followed by extracts from Byzantine authors. 1584, probably written in Italy.

Royal MS 16 C XIX, Simplicius, Commentarius in Epicteti Enchiridion. 1st half of the 16th century, Italy (Padua?)

Royal MS 16 C XX, Isaac Argyrus, De Metris Poeticis, imperfect, with marginalia by Isaac Casaubon. End of the 16th century, Italy?

- Cillian O'Hogan

04 September 2014

Visions of the Apocalypse: A Heavenly Choir or a Lake of Fire?

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Every year has its share of blockbuster movies where you can watch the human race meeting a sticky end, either from either a ghastly pandemic, forces of evil, whether human, alien or robotic, or a natural cataclysm.  Of course, this is nothing new.  The earliest Christians believed that the end of the world was imminent, and the last book of the Bible, Revelations, contains a vision of the struggle between good and evil leading up to the Final Judgment.  Otherwise known as the Apocalypse of St John the Divine, it is believed to have been completed during the reign of the Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD), while John was exiled on the island of Patmos.

Add_ms_42555_f005r

Detail of St John on the island of Patmos, from the Abingdon Apocalypse, England (?London), 3rd quarter of the 13th century, Add MS 42555, f. 5r

The poetic imagery of the passages from the Bible, the symbols involving numbers, strange beasts and human and demonic characters, are open to a myriad of interpretations.  Beginning in the Carolingian era, illustrated manuscripts of the Apocalypse were made to help interpret the text.  At the British Library, we have a number of Apocalypse manuscripts with extensive cycles of images.  In this and a series of blog posts we will be looking at how the main themes and images are treated in some of them.

Digitised Apocalypse Manuscripts

Four of our Apocalypse manuscripts are fully digitised, and here is one of our favourite images from each:

The Silos Apocalypse

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The woman clothed with the sun, Revelation 12:1-18, from the Silos Apocalypse, Spain, 1091-1109, Add MS 11695, ff. 147v-148r

The Abingdon Apocalypse

Add_ms_42555_f010r

Detail of a priest blessing the Sacrament on the left and on the right Christ with the slaughtered Lamb, Adam weeping, Noah in the ark, Jonah and the whale, Add MS 42555, f. 10r

The Welles Apocalypse

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Earthquake and kings hiding, with John beside, from the Welles Apocalypse, England, c. 1310, Royal 15 D II, f. 131r

The Queen Mary Apocalypse

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Detail of a dragon, a woman in bed, and her child being caught up to heaven, from the Queen Mary Apocalypse, S.E. England or East Anglia, 1st quarter of the 14th century, Royal 19 B XV, f. 21r

Visions of Heaven and Hell

The dramatic imagery in Apocalypse manuscripts contrasts the mystical vision of peace in Heaven with the torments in store for wicked men on Earth in the events leading up to the Last Judgement.  For those who believed the end was nigh, these images left no question which side you should be on!

Heaven

The iconography varies from the well-known stairway to Heaven to hosts of angels with black wings to the many-storied New Jerusalem.

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The Lamb and angels and the four living creatures with saints and the chosen of Israel below, Add MS 11695, ff. 112v-113r

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Detail of the revelation of the heavenly Jerusalem to St John, Add MS 42555, f. 79v 

Yates Thompson MS 10, f. 19r

Detail of the Vision of Heaven, from the Yates Thompson Apocalypse, Paris, c. 1370-c. 1390, Yates Thompson MS 10, f. 19r

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Heaven and Earth, and the new Jerusalem, Royal MS 19 B XV, f. 40v

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A door opening to Heaven, Royal MS 15 D II, f. 117v

Hell

Hell on earth is filled with wonderfully ugly beasts, gaping mouths and lakes of fire.

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Detail of the opening of the bottomless pit, Royal MS 19 B XV, f. 15v

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Detail of a hell-mouth with three beasts, a devil and many souls inside; fire falls from above, Add MS 42555, f. 76v

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Detail of the Rider on a pale horse, emerging from a hell-mouth, with John, Royal MS 15 D II, f. 129r

For more images of hell-mouths from our medieval manuscripts, check out our blog post Prepare to Meet Your Doom!

Yates Thompson MS 10, f. 33v

Birds including a peacock, a hawk, a raven, a dove, a cockerel, a pelican, and an owl are called to eat men’s flesh and the false prophet is cast into a lake of fire, Yates Thompson MS 10, f. 33v

- Chantry Westwell

02 September 2014

Dictionaries: More Than Mere Words

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Back in March this year, we announced that we had saved an important fifteenth-century manuscript from export: the only complete copy of the Catholicon Anglicum, one of the earliest Middle English-Latin dictionaries.  Inspired by this fascinating linguistic and lexicographical source, in the intervening months we have been cataloguing other late medieval dictionaries in our collection. 

Add MS 22556, f. 47r
Entries beginning with the letter ‘G’, from the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’, England (Norfolk), 15th century, Add MS 22556
, f. 47r 

The Promptorium parvulorum (‘The Students’ Storehouse’), like the Catholicon, had its Middle English entries arranged alphabetically, but in two sections: 'nomina' (nouns, but also adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections) coming first, followed by 'verba' (verbs).  The British Library has four copies of this text in the collection: Add MS 22556, Harley MS 221, Harley MS 2274 (a fragment) and Add MS 37789

Add MS 37789, f. 1r
The prologue (‘preambulum’) to the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’, England (Norfolk), late 15th century, Add MS 37789, f. 1r

The prologue to the Promptorium tells us that its compiler lived as a Dominican friar in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, in 1440.  Two of our copies – Add MS 22556 and Add MS 37789 – can be localised to Norfolk on the basis of linguistic evidence.  The compiler described himself as a recluse, and perhaps lived in an anchorage attached to the order’s house.  Although his name is unknown, the Promptorium is commonly assigned to ‘Geoffrey the Grammarian’ on the basis of an annotation in a printed edition of 1499.    

Add MS 37789, f. 84r
The explicit to the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’ and incipit to the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, with scribal colophon of John Broke, Add MS 37789, f. 84r
 

In the sixteenth century, John Bale attributed the authorship of another late medieval dictionary to Geoffrey: the Medulla grammaticae.  The two texts had a close relationship in both manuscript and print.  In Add MS 37789, they are bound together within the same manuscript.  The title ‘Medulla grammaticae’ is sometimes attached as an alternative in early printed editions of the Promptorium parvulorum.  However, there is ultimately no evidence to support Bale’s attribution, which has proven more confusing than helpful to scholars. 

Harley MS 2257, f. 65r
The end of the list of entries beginning with ‘H’ and beginning of the list of entries beginning with ‘I’, with a pen-flourished initial, from the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, England, mid-15th century, Harley MS 2257, f. 65r
 

The Medulla grammaticae enjoyed a broader circulation than either the Catholicon or the Promptorium.  As its name suggests – Medulla grammaticae means ‘The Core of Grammar’ – its purpose was to aid the understanding of Latin grammar rather than composition, so logically the entries are arranged Latin-Middle English.  We have published detailed catalogue descriptions for each of our Medulla manuscripts, as follows: Add MS 24640, Add MS 33534, Add MS 37789, Add MS 62080, Harley MS 1000, Harley MS 1738, Harley MS 2181, Harley MS 2257, and Harley MS 2270

Add MS 62080, f. 1vb
Front endleaf (the former pastedown) bearing ownership inscriptions (Edward Lyster, Thomas Gayner), with pink-stained leather covering of the medieval binding visible at the edges, from the Medulla grammaticae, England (?Nottingham), Add MS 62080, f. 1v
 

The manuscripts of these dictionaries are functional, unelaborate objects – written for the most part in cursive scripts, usually on paper, with decoration rarely extending beyond plain coloured initials – but they are intriguing nonetheless.  Add MS 62080 (a Medulla), which retains its medieval binding, appears to have passed through several hands in the Nottingham area.

Add MS 62080, f. 2r
Detail of the opening of the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, with a grotesque figure chewing on the cadels of the intertwined letters ‘H’ and ‘A’, Add MS 62080, f. 2r
 

This copy of the Medulla also has some amusing grotesques in its initials. 

Harley MS 2274, f. 61v
Prognostication calendar relating to ‘metalles, quoynes and apparel and other necessaries’, from a composite miscellany containing a fragment of the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’, England, 2nd half of the 15th century, Harley MS 2274, f. 61v
 

The fragment of the Promptorium at the end of Harley MS 2274 is accompanied by an array of liturgical, devotional, medical and prognostication texts: including a curious zodiac calendar that advised when would be a good or bad time to ‘begynne all fyry workis’ (i.e. involving furnaces), ‘to lende mony to have it a gayne’, ‘to bye woll or woolyn clothe’, or ‘to put on nwe apparel’. 

Harley MS 221, f. 206rb
Detail of a list of ‘holsome herbes for the potte in tempore pestilenciali’, ‘a soverayne medicynne for the swetyng sekenesse’ from Master Walter Hyllum, and another ‘for the frenche pockis’, from an endleaf to the ‘Promptorium parvulorum’, England, 15th century, Harley MS 221, f. 206r
 

Harley MS 221 (a Promptorium) was one of the manuscripts acquired by Robert Harley from Sir Symonds d’Ewes on 4th October 1705, in the first of several ‘block purchases’ from other manuscript collectors.  It is one of the few dictionary manuscripts on parchment, and is written in a fine Textura script.  The last leaf contains a number of medical recipes for dealing with pestilence, sweating sickness and ‘the french pocks’ (i.e. syphilis). 

Harley MS 1738, f. 81v
Detail of a scribal colophon, from the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, England, late 15th century, Harley MS 1738, f. 81v
 

Some evidence of the production and early provenance of Harley MS 1738 (a Medulla) survives.  It may have been written by a scribe called William Harper, who wrote his name and the following verse upside-down at the bottom of the last page: ‘Si mean penna valet, melior mea littera fiet’ (‘If my pen is strong, my letter will be better’) (f. 81v).  

Harley MS 1738, f. 1r
Detail of an inscription relating to the ordering of paper, Harley MS 1738, f. 1r
 

It seems that at same point in the late fifteenth century someone wished to make a copy of this manuscript, and asked their brother Thomas to acquire the materials for them to do so: ‘Thomas brother I pray yow of halgentylnesse that yow wyl do the labor for to by me ii bokys in lyn papir for wrytyng [...] ad verssus the pralaying bokys and wel that ys callyd Medulla gramatice’ (f. 1r).  It is of particular interest to our study of book production that it was possible in the fifteenth century to purchase not just plain paper, but quires that had been already ruled and lined for writing.

Add MS 33534, f. 1r
Detail of an inscription relating to the binding of the manuscript, from the ‘Medulla grammaticae’, England, mid-15th century, Add MS 33534, f. 1r
 

A similar instruction survives in another Medulla manuscript: Add MS 33534.  This is another copy with a medieval binding, probably of the mid-fifteenth century, that once featured straps and labels on the exterior.  An inscription on f. 1r reads: ‘Brothur William Barkere I pray youe lett thys booke be bound at the utmost by myddyll Lent and my brother shall pay for the byndyng’.  The wording appears to indicate that William Barker was a monk, who perhaps was being given the book by a layman, whose brother in turn would foot the bill for its binding.

Add MS 62080, f. 31vc
Detail of the head of a woman within a pen-flourished initial ‘C’, Add MS 62080, f. 31v
 

These dictionaries are an important reminder that Latin learning was not confined the cloister, cathedral or church.  Laymen too required a functional command of the language in order to conduct business, to read and understand legal documents such as charters and wills.  There is growing evidence as well – that the Catholicon Anglicum, Promptorium parvulorum and Medulla grammaticae together reinforce – that to understand lay reading habits we must go beyond vernacular texts.  The laity did not content themselves with reading in the vernacular, but sought out and consumed popular and broadly circulating historical, literary, and religious texts in Latin for their own entertainment and edification.

- James Freeman