eManuSkript: New project to create digital teaching tools in palaeography funded at the University of Göttingen

Group of people sitting around a round table in the middle of a room filled with bookcases.
Göttingen students working with manuscripts at the Vercelli Spring School.

A project by Dr. Anna Dorofeeva at the Institute for Digital Humanities in Göttingen has recently been awarded €400,000 in the Freiraum 2024 competition by the Stiftung Innovation in der Hochschullehre. Over the next two years, a team of historians and programmers, working in close collaboration with BA and MA students, will develop a range of teaching and learning tools for manuscript studies, including palaeography.

There exist very few digital tools suitable for teaching the full range of skills necessary for working with medieval codices. Access to culturally important manuscript sources is restricted to those with specialized subject knowledge, which creates significant challenges for students. In addition, the immense potential of the millions of manuscript images available in interoperable IIIF format has yet to be fully exploited in teaching. This project aims to develop a series of digital tools that will make use of these images and of the expertise available in Göttingen. The tools will include apps for measuring ductus, selecting and modifying scripts, evaluating page layout, and working with manuscript bindings, among others. Further development of pre-existing tools is also planned, including improvements to applications for multispectral imaging and evaluation, for digital editing and annotation, and for forms of image storytelling. Guided student participation will be key to the development of these tools, which means that they will be rooted in practical requirements, conceived by the users themselves, and suitable for both classroom and research use.

The eManuSkript project runs for two years from 1 April 2024. Please get in touch with the team members if you have any questions or if you wish to collaborate.

Zotero bibliography

There is now a Zotero bibliography for medieval Latin palaeography here.

This is an open bibliography created by Anna Dorofeeva (University of Göttingen). Everyone is welcome to contribute! Before adding items, please note the following instructions for tagging:

1. The tagging language is English. Please only use tags in other languages if there exists no equivalent English term, or if the non-English term is more widely used.

2. Tags are added to items by users and are user-defined (they do not match any existing ontologies or terminologies). You may create new tags in Zotero, but please observe the rules described here. A file downloadable at the bottom of this page provides an overview of the current full list of tags, copy-pasted from Zotero. This file will be updated about once a year.

3. Tag all items with a date, e.g. “ninth century” (no hyphens; do not use precise years). For general / overview publications, use a broad description: “central medieval”, “early modern”, “medieval”, “Renaissance”.

4. If relevant, tag items with a place (city, country, monastery, etc.). Write out “St” as “Saint”. French placenames with “Saint” are hyphenated (e.g. “Saint-Germain-des-Prés”). Please try to use only modern names, but other kinds of names (e.g. “Francia”) are fine if they are commonly used today.

5. Tag all items by general topic or subject, e.g. “parchment”, “codicology”, “endbands”. Multiple tags can and should be used, e.g. “women” “scribes”.

6. Tag all possible script names, creating new tags if necessary. E.g. “pre-Gothic” items can also be tagged with “early Gothic” and “transitional script”. “Gothic” items can also be tagged with “cursive”, “bastarda”, “textualis”, “libraria” etc. “Half-uncial” can also be tagged with “semi-uncial”.

7. If you see an item with missing tags, or with wrong tags, please correct it!

Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro, Pavia

Introduction

In the heart of Pavia, the San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro stands as a remarkable example of medieval architecture, representing the city’s deep religious roots. As you can see from the following picture, three arches at the base of the sandstone-adorned façade are remnants of an old portico that allude to the church’s illustrious past.

Façade of the building: https://www.lombardiabeniculturali.it/architetture/schede/PV240-00258/

The church’s name, translating to “Saint Peter in Golden Heaven,” is not merely a title but a reflection of the divine inspiration behind its construction. It refers to its exquisite gold leaf mosaics nestled behind the glass tesserae of the apse ceiling, creating a radiant ambiance that bathes the interior in a soft, golden light.

The “Golden Sky” at the ceiling of the apse: http://www.augnet.org/en/history/places/4236-italy-pavia/

History

The earliest known mention dated back to the year of 604, with a record of a church of Saint Peter the Apostle in Pavia. However, it is widely believed that the church’s foundation goes back to even further. The church has experienced several significant renovations and witnessed key historical events over the years. The present Romanesque church was consecrated by Pope Innocent II in 1132.

The first major renovation was carried out by Liutprand, the King of the Lombards, sometime between 720 and 725. This renovation is closely tied to the transfer of Saint Augustine’s remains from Sardinia to the basilica. Liutprand initiated this move to safeguard the saint’s remains from desecration by the Saracens. Interestingly, Liutprand’s own tomb was later moved to this church as well, though this happened between 1169 and 1180.

Tomb of Liutprand, the King of the Lombards: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:0495_-PaviaS._PietroTomba_di_Liutprando-_Foto_Giovanni_Dall%27Orto,_Oct_17_2009.jpg

St. Augustine

Today, for modern scholars and tourists alike, the church is renowned primarily as the final resting place of St. Augustine’s remains. His remains, moved here in the 14th century, have made this church a significant pilgrimage destination.

In the center of the church, under the golden ceiling, you have a direct view of the Tomb of St Augustine.

Tomb of St Augustine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Pietro_in_Ciel_d%27Oro#/media/File:Arca_di_S.Agostino(1362),_Pavia,_S._Pietro_in_Ciel_d’Oro_16.JPG

For more information about St. Augustine, you can refer to other blogs.

Vitrual Access to San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro

In an era where technology breaks down physical barriers, the legacy of this venerable church is finding new life through digital platforms. Online resources and virtual tours are now key avenues, offering everyone, anywhere, a chance to delve into the church’s Romanesque splendor and rich history.

A screen shot from the Basilica visita virtuale: https://www.basilicasanpietroincieldoro.com/visita-virtuale-EN/?scene=63fca0405ee4a1280d09ea41

Through the webstie above, you can easily see a view of the interior of the church, including several audio description.

Besides, there are some other online resources offered by the church, for example an official Youtube channel. On this channel, you can simpliy follow the fathers with a clear introduction and experience the beauty of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro.

Bibliography

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Pietro_in_Ciel_d%27Oro
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liutprand,_King_of_the_Lombards
  • https://www.lombardiabeniculturali.it/architetture/schede/PV240-00258/
  • https://www.piercedhearts.org/treasures/shrines/san_pietro_ciel_de_oro.htm

Digital Resources

  • Basilica visita virtuale (Virtual Access): basilicasanpietroincieldoro.com/visita-virtuale
  • Basilica San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro visita virtuale (Youtube channel): https://www.youtube.com/@basilicasanpietroincieldor8393

Castello Visconteo and its library

Actually, there are more than one Castello Visconteo, e.g. Castello Visconteo di Pavia, di Locarno, di Bruzzano, di Binasco, di Voghera, di Cherasco, di San Vito, di Cassano Magnago, di Verona etc., all of which have been under the control of the noble Italian family, Visconti of Milano. 

An short introduction over the noble family, Visconti.  Briefly saying, they are a very old noble family in north Italia and have ruled Milano from 1277 to 1395. Their name comes from vice comitis, which means they had got this title as Viscount. Gian Galeazzo, whose name can be easily found in Lombards as well as history book and films, became a Duke.

Figure 1 Gian Galeazzo (1351-1402)

So what makes the Castello Visconteo di Pavia, built in the fourteenth century exactly from 1360 to 1365[1], different from other castles under the name of Visconti? There are two reasons.

Firstly, it is the city Pavia. Though it is nowadays less than Milan, Pavia has been once the capital of Ostrogothic Kingdom (Regnum Italiae), and later of Kingdom of the Lombards, as well as of Kingdom of Italy (as one of the constituent kingdoms of the Holy Roman Empire). That could be the reason why Galeazzo II, father of the first Duke of Milan, Gian Galeazzo, selected this city, which has been destroyed during the conflict between the Guelphs (i.e. pro-imperial) and Ghibellines (i.e.pro-papal), as the capital city, until the beginning of 15th century (1413). It is also the birthplace of Gian Galeazzo Visconti.

Figure 2 Il castello Visconteo di Pavia from the south-west, taken on 5th Mar.

Moreover, it is importance to us especially because of its library (i.e. Biblioteca visconteo sforzesca[2]) in the western tower, where there are a lot of manuscripts in various fields like legal and scientific texts, geography, military art, agronomy, medicine, rhetoric , as well as for personal interests: from the aristocratic passion for hunting, dancing or playing chess to the still late Gothic passion for chivalric romances, or the progressive inclination for the Latin and Greek classics, because in the mind of the people in the middle age, an ideal library should have all kind of knowledge.

The library takes shape under the careful direction of Gian Galeazzo – who makes this prestigious collection an expression of his personal power and his political unscrupulousness – through the progressive acquisition of various and more or less substantial book collections, according to various methods: by absorption of family inheritances – paternal, maternal and various family member volumes, such as those of his uncle Bernabò, who Gian Galeazzo opposed in the struggle for power -, through requisitions and confiscations of the book holdings of disgraced figures (such as the cultured ducal secretary Pacino Capelli), or as real war spoils. 

The court of the Viscontis and the Sforzas also made use of copyists and illuminators with or without a name, demanding the highest technical and formal quality, in particular for the creation of unique examples in terms of pomp, elegance, preciousness, which could serve as a sophisticated seal of dynastic and personal alliances and whose decorative features reflect, depending on the era, the style then dominant in the Lombardy area and the refined taste of the clients.

Even after capital of the Visconti dominions was moved to Milano, the Duke’s private library was still here. Visconti Library has been one of the biggest library until its transfer to Paris later in 16th century under the French rule (Louis XIV). As a result, most of the manuscripts found nowadays in Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Furthermore, I have got the DH progress about the manuscripts, i.e. the multimedial reconstruction (la ricostruzione multimediale promossa dai Musei Civici di Pavia). It’s a pity that I cannot find any reports about it in English. All the contents are in Italian, so I have to use Google translation and deepL. It is said, that the first stage was the collection of microfilm versions of almost all the volumes identified, so that they could once again be consulted and enjoyed, at least in image form, in the same monumental ‘casket’ in which they were originally kept.

Unlucky, on the 5th March, the civic museum was closed and we could not take a visit inside and have a look over the multimedial reconstruction. I have taken only one picture from the south-west, showing where the manuscripts used to be.


[1] https://museicivici.comune.pv.it/site/home/il-castello.html

[2] They have a website in Italian, of which this blog get the information about the library and its manuscripts.

Cattedrale di Sant’Eusebio/Vercelli Cathedral

Only a five-minute walk from the train station of Vercelli, you’ll find the cathedral of St. Eusebius. With its rich outer decoration and differences compared to the other buildings around it, like the Seminario Arcivescovile and the Basilica di Sant’Andrea, the cathedral shows multiple signs of its even richer history.

Facade of the Vecelli cathedral: https://www.cittaecattedrali.it/en/bces/9-cathedral-of-sant-eusebio

According to some sources, after the Death of St. Eusebius (283-371 AD), the first Bishop of Vercelli, in the 4th century a chapel was built in his name. What’s definitive is that a basilica was built on the same spot two centuries later. Both religious buildings were apparently the victims of demolition and robbery, as they are rooted to a pilgrimage route, the Via Francigena, providing many visitors and relics.

The only surviving part of the older romanesque construction is the belltower. The square tower has only one bell chamber with three arches on each side. The tower itself is divided into three horizontal levels, decorated with half columns and arch ornaments.

Bell tower of the Vercelli cathedral: https://www.cittaecattedrali.it/en/bces/9-cathedral-of-sant-eusebio

In the 16th century the church was rebuilt by Cardinal Guido Luca Ferrero. During this time in the year 1581 St. Eusebius body was found in the cathedral and remains there to this day. Ferrero started the renovation with the apse, choir and the two side chapels.

In the 18th century the nave, aisles, and transept renovation were finalized which constructed the new Latin cross shape, we still see today. As of today, the cathedral has 3 naves which are divided into a central nave and the two side aisles. These are separated by fives bays with piers to hold them. Infront of them are columns with a Corinthian capital and a marble optic. The central nave has barrel vaults, while the side aisles have dome vaults and ionic columns.

Nave of the Vercelli cathedral: https://www.cittaecattedrali.it/en/bces/9-cathedral-of-sant-eusebio

The side chapels in the transept are devoted to St. Eusebius and the blessed Amadeus IX of Savoy who is also buried there. The house of Savoy ruled over parts of the French and Italian territory. Other members of the family are also buried in the cathedral.

In that time the facade was also redone in a neo classist style by Benedetto Alfieri. Bright and in strong contrast we find minimal decoration mostly of half columns and piers. On the roof are statues of the twelve apostles and Christ as the redeemer.  

Facade and sculptures of the Vercelli cathedral: https://www.cittaecattedrali.it/en/bces/9-cathedral-of-sant-eusebio

A century later the dome was finished, and no larger construction followed, until the restoration in the 2010s.

Dome of the Vercelli cathedral: https://www.cittaecattedrali.it/en/bces/9-cathedral-of-sant-eusebio

Bibliography

https://www.cittaecattedrali.it/en/bces/9-cathedral-of-sant-eusebio

https://www.beweb.chiesacattolica.it/cattedrali/cattedrale/511/

https://www.heiligenlexikon.de/BiographienE/Eusebius_von_Vercelli.html

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/267447644_Restoration_of_historic_timber_structures_the_great_roof_strcutres_of_the_Cathedral_of_Vercelli

Trans Saints in Context, or: What counts as one manuscript?


What one counts as one manuscript can change the interpretation of the texts within it. I was reminded of this during a recent visit to the Biblioteca Capitolare of Verona as part of my project “The Latin Lives of ‘Trans(vestite) Saints’ in Context”. In this project, I study the Latin vitae of so-called Monachoparthenoi – saints who are initially described as female by their hagiographers, but take on a male monastic identity. Most of their vitae were originally written in Greek, but instead of looking at the original texts, I am interested in what scribes writing in Latin in medieval Europe made of these figures: What does copying these vitae reveal about the conceptions of gender boundaries (and the ways in which they could be transgressed) in the minds of those doing the copying?

One way to answer this question is to look at the other texts they were copying at the same time, into the same manuscripts: When the vitae of Monachoparthenoi are transmitted with other saints’ lives, the gender of these saints, their specific models of sanctity, and the general themes raised in their vitae, can provide evidence for contemporary understandings of Monachoparthenoi. Transmitted together with non-hagiographic material, their surroundings might suggest specific ascetic, exegetical, or other arguments that they were used for. In order to uncover the most common contextualizations, I am currently gathering all contents of all pre-13th century manuscripts that transmit the vitae of Monachoparthenoi in a database.

This work sometimes raises the question “What is a manuscript?” – or rather “What is one manuscript?” The manuscript(s?) now bearing the shelfmark Verona, Bibl. Cap. XCV (90) is (are?) a particularly tricky case. Three vitae of Monachoparthenoi – those of Euphrosyne/Smaragdus, Pelagia/Pelagius and Marina/Marinus – are transmitted here (fol. 180r–199v). Which of the surrounding texts should be understood to form the context of these vitae is not obvious, however: As Paolo Chiesa has shown, what looks like one manuscript now started out as several distinct codicological units.

The vitae of interest here were originally part of a small collection which otherwise only transmitted the passions of unambiguously female martyrs (Sophia and her three daughters, Margaret of Antioch; fol. 151v–173v) and a short text praising the concept of chastity (fol. 199v–200r). This context suggests that the compiler understood Monachoparthenoi as female figures. However, a quire transmitting texts on the male martyrs Vigilius, Sisinnius, Martyrius and Alexander of Trento (fol. 174r–179r) was soon inserted in the middle of this collection. It was also combined with a mixed-gender collection of passions (fol. 1r–143r) and another collection of lives and passions of female saints (fol. 203r–272v). These four parts, all written in the early 9th century, must have been combined by the 10th century at the latest, after the passions of the martyrs Sabina (fol. 179r–v), Justus (fol. 200r–202v) and Timothy (fol. 272v–273v) had been added on previously empty folios and all texts had been numbered consecutively. (Another quire [fol. 144–150] was inserted in the 12th/13th century, but is of no interest here.)

Codicological structure of Verona, Bibl. Cap. XCV (90)

Thus, the codicological structure of this manuscript suggests a certain amount of uncertainty over the gender identity of Monachoparthenoi: Did their vitae belong only with the passiones of cis female martyrs, as the compiler of the initial small collection thought? Or did they have a place in a non-gender-specific collection of saints’ lives and passions, opening up the possibility of reading them not, or at least not only, as female? In early medieval Verona, the latter view seems to have won out – but the context was never set in stone.

Verona, Bibl. Cap. XCV (90), fol. 199v–200r: End of the Life of St. Marina/us, short text on chastity (early 9th century); Passion of St. Justus (late 9th century). Foto: Michael Eber. Published with permission of Biblioteca Capitolare di Verona.

Bibliography

  • Paolo Chiesa, Note su un’antica raccolta agiografica veronese (Verona, Bibl. Capitolare, MS. XCV), Studi Medievali 28 (1987), pp. 123–153.
  • Benedetta Valtorta, Manoscritti agiografici latini della Biblioteca Capitolare di Verona. Catalogo (Quaderni di Hagiographica 18), Florence 2020.

The Vercelli Book – An Old English Codex

Flora Sophie Lemburg

From all Old English manuscripts, the Vercelli Book is surely one of the most mysterious. During the Spring School 2024 I had the chance to visit the Vercelli Book in person, in the Capitulary Library of Vercelli, fulfilling one of my dreams as a scholar of medieval English. During this entry, I would like to take you on a little journey discovering the many peculiarities of the Vercelli Book.

What is Old English?

Before we get started, we need to talk a bit about medieval English in order to understand what is exactly written in the Vercelli Book and why it is so special. When someone speaks about medieval English, they basically mean the language that was spoken in what is now (roughly speaking) England before the fifteenth century – think ‘before Shakespeare’. Scholars of English literature will divide periods of the English language and its literature a bit further:

  • Old English (sometimes also called Anglo-Saxon): 600-1100 CE
  • Middle English: 1100-1500 CE
  • Early Modern English: 1500-1700 CE
  • Modern English: 1700-1900 CE
  • Present Day English: 1900 –

For us, Old English is the most interesting one, as this is the language that is primarily written in the Vercelli Book. Old English is a Germanic language, closely related to other Germanic languages such as German or Dutch. There are also traces of Scandinavian languages detectable, especially in late Old English, which can be attributed to the contact between the natives of England and the vikings (seafaring people coming from modern Scandinavia and Russia). After the Norman Conquest (1066 CE), French became the predominant influence on the English language, and it developed into what we now refer to as ‘Middle-English’.

Old English and its Codices

Now, there is a lot written in Old English. Charters, liturgical texts, and, of course, stories. These narratives were mainly written in verse form. If people talk about Old English literature, they generally mean verse. All that we have left in this category – we assume that there was a lot more literature that is now lost to us – is kept in four Old English codices. A codex is a book made from manuscripts, basically the precursor to our modern book. Regarding Old English, there is the Nowell Codex(shelf mark: Cotton MS Vitellius A XV), which is kept in the British Library in London. It contains probably the most famous Old English narrative, Beowulf, as well as a biblical retelling called Judith, and some other texts. Then there is the Junius Manuscript(MS Junius 11), kept in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, which contains some more biblical retellings, such as Genesis, Exodus, and Daniel. The third codex is the Exeter Book (Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501) which can be found in Exeter. This holds shorter and longer works of verse, such as the poem Juliana by the poet Cynewulf, and several elegies and riddles. Last but not least, the fourth codex is our Vercelli Book, containing Christian poems and homilies written in a mix of prose and verse. This codex is not kept in the UK but has its home in the Capitulary Library of Vercelli, Italy, and has been there since at least the twelfth century. This location of an Old English manuscript in Northern Italy makes the Vercelli book so intriguing. How did it get there? Why has it been there, continuously, for such a long time?

We might find some hints in the manuscript itself…

Palaeography

The Vercelli Book consists of 135 folios (pages) made from parchment. This might seem fairly straightforward, but as it often happens in medieval studies, it is more complicated than that. The first 104 folios are primarily made from calfskin, in palaeography we call this kind of parchment vellum. On folio 105r (r refers to Latin recto, so the front of folio 105), the layout of the text changes.

Vercelli, Cathedral Library, MS 117, f. 104v-105r

Now the text takes up more space on the page. Why? One could assume that the scribe ran out of parchment. When he received additional leaves, he made more use of the space he had, maybe conscious of the likelihood that he could run out of parchment again. This theory is supported by the fact that from folio 105 onward we do not have vellum, but parchment made from sheep or goat’s skin.
The Vercelli Book was written in one hand, meaning that only a single scribe copied the entirety of the text, compiling the content from at least five different sources. The script itself is called Anglo-Saxon square minuscule. There are three different types of Anglo-Saxon minuscule, round, square, and pointed, corresponding to three phases in the development of this script. Anglo-Saxon square minuscule had its beginnings from c. 920 CE and lasted throughout the tenth century before changing into its round phase at the turn of the century. Most of the manuscripts described above are written in square minuscule.

f. 123v (Elene)

Finding out more information about this manuscript and its palaeographical features proves to be difficult at times because of the scholars who came before us. They have tried to ‘recover’ parts of the manuscript, often with destructive consequences. When the Vercelli Book was first rediscovered in Italy by Friedrich Bluhme in 1822, it was quickly sought after by other scholars and first transcribed by C. Maier. During his transcription in 1833-34, Maier tried to make parts of the texts more visible by applying certain chemical reagents.

Results of reagents on f. 001v and 002r

This was a common practice in the nineteenth century among scholars, the idea being to recover text that had faded over time. Maier used gallnut tincture, basically a mixture of gallic and tannic acids, to recover the iron gall ink that was used by the scribe of the Vercelli Book. The idea was that these acids would react with the ferrous traces of the erased script to ‘return’ some of the original colour and visibility. Sadly, the use of these reagents has done more damage than recovery and most of the folios treated with gallnut tincture have been grossly damaged. Nevertheless, with new techniques such as MSI (multi-spectral imaging) one can still recover parts of the texts through images made with various different wave-lengths, making text visible that cannot be identified with the naked eye.

Multi-spectral imaging in process

Why Italy?

While there are many theories about the provenance of the Vercelli Book and its final location – none of which is definitely proven – I wish to introduce one that appears most likely to me. Professor Winfried Rudolf has argued that an important hint to the location-question of the Vercelli Book is the German bishop Leo, who was Bishop of Vercelli from 999 CE. He was one of the most learned scholars in Europe of his time and a great bibliophile. Therefore, Leo could be someone who was involved with the Vercelli Book if its arrival coincided with his time in Vercelli. Furthermore, he was able to speak and write Old Saxon, a medieval Germanic language closely related to Old English. We know that these languages are very close to each other because of the Old English copy of the poem Genesis, of which parts exist also in Old Saxon. Placed next to each other, one can see that the texts are remarkably similar linguistically, with only minor orthographic differences. Thus, we can assume that Leo was also able to understand and read Old English, which makes him an excellent audience for the Christian content that we can find in the Vercelli Book. One final piece of evidence is the decoration of the manuscript, which is sparse but shows an interesting connection to Leo. On one page we can find a small image underneath a text depicting a lion, on another page a decorated initial probably also showing a lion’s head. In the Metrum Leonis, a text written by Leo – not to be found in the Vercelli Book – Leo portrays himself as a lion. Coincidence?

f. 49v

Texts of the Vercelli Book: The Dream of the Rood and Elene

Luckily, some of the more famous texts of the Vercelli Book have remained mostly unharmed by the aforementioned reagents. Students of Old English will be aware of the Christian poem Dream of the Rood, fewer might know the poem Elene. While these names are now the standard titles for these texts, they are actually not recorded in the manuscript.

Both texts just start with their first line, the only indication that this is a different text than the previous one is the large, decorated initial. The titles were added by later scholars who first analysed these texts in the early nineteenth century. The Dream of the Rood is essentially a dream vision. We hear first how someone dreams, after all ‘reord berend’ (speech bearers) went to sleep. This person dreams of a tree, which is a ‘syllicre treow’ (a most splendid tree). This tree is not only very big, but also decorated with gold and gems. At some point this tree starts talking – students will then wonder whether they have mistranslated something – and the tree introduces itself as the tree from which the cross was made on which Jesus Christ was crucified. The tree/cross – rood is an archaic term for cross – then retells the crucifixion from its perspective, depicting Christ as a warrior who sacrifices himself in order to triumph over death. The poem is a fascinating combination of concepts from Christianity and ideas from pre-Christian belief-systems of Germanic-speaking regions.
The poem Elene is also rooted in Christianity but centres around a female saint, Saint Helena. This is Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great who introduced Christianity to the Roman Empire in the early fourth century. According to the legend recounted in Elene, which is an adaptation of the Judas Cyriacus legend, Helena/Elene travels to Jerusalem to find the true cross (the cross on which Jesus was crucified). Of course she is successful in her endeavours, making her the patron saint of archaeologists. If anyone is ever looking for a fierce female character in Old English, I suggest taking a look at Elene and her colleagues Judith and Juliana (both characters in their own Old English poems, Judith and Juliana).

Of course there are many more texts in the Vercelli Book, such as Andreas and Soul and Body. If you are now excited to learn more about the Vercelli Book and its contents, I suggest to start here where you can find the manuscript fully digitised. Maybe you can solve the mystery of the Vercelli Book!

Bibliography:

Bock, Oliver. ‘C. Maier’s Use of a Reagent in the Vercelli Book’. The Library 16, no. 3 (2015): 249–81.

Rabin, Ira, Hahn, Oliver, Easton, Roger, Knox, Keyth T., Boydston, Ken, Heyworth, G., … Phelps, Michael. (2015). Initial inspection of reagent damage to the Vercelli Book. Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies Bulletin, 1(1), 34–45. http://doi.org/10.25592/uhhfdm.377

Roberts, Jane. Guide to Scripts Used in English Writings up to 1500. Liverpool University Press, 2015. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1gn6bd5. Accessed 20 Mar. 2024.

Rudolf, Winfried. “On the Italian Provenance of the Vercelli Book.” In Manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Cultures and Connections, edited by Claire Breay and Joanna Story, 154–167. Dublin: Four Courts, 2021.

Wittmann Zollinger, Cynthia. ‘Cynewulf´s “Elene” and the Patterns of the Past’. University of Illinois Press, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 103, no. No 2 (April 2004): 180–96.

Disticha Catonis: Greek Antiquity and Latin Learning

The Disticha Catonis is not, contrary to its name, a classical text. Though it was originally attributed to the famously conservative Roman senator Cato the Elder (or possibly his son, Cato the Younger), its true author is unknown, but probably lived in the 3rd or 4th century CE, up to four hundred years later than either Cato. However, this Latin text was extremely popular in classrooms throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, its two-line hexameters providing moral advice and guidance to diligent students who often translated the text into their own vernacular languages.

Such a translation accompanies the 15th-century copy of the text held by the Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen. The Anglicana script with its looping flourishes and long descenders records each couplet of the Disticha Catonis (sometimes imperfectly) and pairs it with an English translation, which is often several lines longer than the original Latin couplet. In addition to the Disticha, this manuscript contains several other texts within the same binding. Altogether, these texts form a motley collection in several different hands, including genealogical tables, copied letters between Pope Leo and King Charles of France, and a listing of Eastbury sheep farmers, just to name a few. Most of these hands, however, appear to be roughly contemporary—except for a few striking lines at the end of the text.

Several students gather around a manuscript during the 2023 Göttingen International Palaeography Summer School to examine the text and illustrations.

On the very last pages of the manuscript, in a darker ink and later hand, a new language appears—a few phrases of Greek at the bottom of the final folio. This is the only Greek in the manuscript, and its appearance is both exciting and startling. While Latin remained an important language, especially for Western literature, scholarship, and diplomacy, for centuries after it was no longer the lingua franca, ancient Greek language and literature was much more neglected until the Renaissance turned to an idealized vision of classical antiquity as a model for cultural excellence.

The recto of the final folio with text in the Göttingen copy of the
Disticha Catonis, with two lines of Greek finishing the page.

But Greek wasn’t totally unknown in those intervening centuries, and as interest in ancient literature, culture, and art rose again, it became a subject of study once more, appearing not only in schoolroom texts, but also sometimes scrawled in the margins of other works—like here. A closer look at this handful of lines gives a glimpse into one person’s engagement with Latin, Greek, and the relationship between language, learning, and literature.

The first pair of Greek lines (74r) reads: πολλα μέταξυ πελεῖ κυλιχος | κ[α]ὶ κείλεος αχρ[ου]. Once the abbreviations have been deciphered, the sentence is perfectly recognizable Greek—except for the word κείλεος, which simply doesn’t exist. But this puzzle is easily solved when we realize that the phrase is an ancient proverb, which has been attributed without evidence to the both the Greek writer Palladas and the more famous epic poet Homer, but first appears as an already well-known saying in the 2nd-century Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius. Locating this source reveals the anonymous writer’s error—the word κείλεος should actually be χείλεος. This in turn leads us to a complete translation—“Many things come between the cup and the topmost lip,” or, as Paton translates more idiomatically, “There’s many a slip ’twixt the cup and the lip.”

But why the mistake? In fact, the Greek letters kappa (κ) and chi (χ) sound quite similar to the English ear, so mistaking one for the other would be quite easy, especially if the writer was recalling the lines from memory or listening to someone else dictate them, rather than copying directly from another written source. Of course, there’s no way to be certain that’s what happened; the writer could also have copied from a source with an error or misread the original text. Still, this small slip in otherwise very good Greek suggests that our writer knew the language well—but perhaps not perfectly.

A similar conclusion can be drawn from the Greek on 74v, which reads: φιλωτιμος πατὴρ | ὅν φιλεῖ θεος αποθνήσκει νέος. The first line, “honor-loving father,” is fairly generic and could be equally fitting in an ancient context or a later one. The second, however, quite nearly matches a famous quotation from a fragment of Menander: ὃν οἱ θεοὶ φιλοῦσιν ἀποθνῄσκει νέος, meaning “he whom the gods love dies young.” Once again, our unknown writer has not gotten the quote exactly right—the article οἱ is missing, and we have a singular verb and subject (φιλεῖ θεος) instead of the original plural (θεοὶ φιλοῦσιν).

The verso of the
Disticha Catonis’ final folio at the end of the text.

The writer is clearly familiar with the Menander quotation, but there are small errors. The writer might have just forgotten to add the article, and we may also note the switched positions of subject and verb in the phrases φιλεῖ θεος and θεοὶ φιλοῦσιν. This is not a grammatical mistake, but not a perfect quotation either, especially given the change from singular forms to plural ones. But that change might not be a mistake at all. In the first line, φιλωτιμος πατὴρ is singular—perhaps the writer changed θεοὶ φιλοῦσιν to φιλεῖ θεος on purpose so that it agreed with the singular subject φιλωτιμος πατὴρ, intentionally changing “gods” to one God—the honor-loving Father. Is this a reflection of the cultural shift from Menander’s polytheism to Christian monotheism? It’s impossible to know for certain whether this is a clever adaptation of Menander’s original text or a misremembered quotation.

Either way, taken together, these two bits of Greek do make it clear that the writer was familiar not only with the language (note the accent marks included in the phrases), but with ancient Greek literature as well. Though there are minor mistakes, this is no newbie student practicing his alphabet. It’s also worth noting that these quotations fit the spirit of the original text, the Disticha Catonis. Though other texts fill the pages between the Disticha and the later Greek, these short additions are just the sort of quick, quippy wisdom encapsulated by the Disticha Catonis. Thus, they make a fitting finish to this delightful collection of texts!

You never know what you might find in the margins of a manuscript (or an incunable), but the little notes and details found there can add richness and depth to our understanding of the texts themselves, and the people who worked with them. Göttingen’s copy of the Disticha Catonis has passed through many hands over the centuries since it was first produced, but every reader had their own story, and the faintest traces of those stories can still be found within the pages if we look closely.

Bibliography

The Greek Anthology, Volume IV: Book 10: The Hortatory and Admonitory Epigrams. Book 11: The Convivial and Satirical Epigrams. Book 12: Strato’s Musa Puerilis. Translated by W. R. Paton. Loeb Classical Library 85. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1918.

Menander. Aspis. Georgos. Dis Exapaton. Dyskolos. Encheiridion. Epitrepontes. Edited and translated by W. G. Arnott. Loeb Classical Library 132. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979.

St. Augustine of Hippo, his works and remains

Saint Augustine of Hippo, also known as Augustine of Thagaste (354-430), is one of the most influential figures in Christian history. The tale of his life journey from a wayward youth to a renowned bishop and theologian is a remarkable one, that is also deeply relevant to a modern reader. This blog post is a re-qorked version of the presentation that I did in Pavia in March 2023 for the purpose of the Göttingen Palaeography Spring School. The topics covered in this post will range from the life of Saint Augustine and his early years to his lasting legacy, as well as where he is laid to rest.

Early Years and Education

Augustine was born on November 13, 354, in Thagaste, a small town in what is now Algeria. He was raised in a Christian family where his mother, Saint Monica, played a pivotal role in his spiritual upbringing. Augustine received an education, studying rhetoric and philosophy in Carthage, where he developed a passion for intellectual pursuits. However, despite his Christian background, Augustine embarked on a rebellious journey in his early adulthood. He embraced a hedonistic lifestyle, not only seeking pleasure and worldly success, but also starting a family and having children with his mistress. The turning point in Augustine’s life was the conversion to Christianity, which came to be through an encounter with Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. Influenced by Ambrose’s eloquence and his study of the Bible, Augustine was profoundly moved by the message of Christ’s love and redemption. In 387, at the age of 33, he underwent a dramatic conversion experience, symbolized by his baptism by Ambrose in Milan. This resulted in Augustine leaving his children and mistress to pursue Christian enlightenment.

Augustine as Bishop and Theologian

Following his conversion to Christianity, Augustine devoted himself to a life of service in the Christian Church. He became a priest and eventually a bishop. Throughout his life as a bishop, he spent most of his time preaching, writing extensive works, and engaging in debates defending orthodox Christian teachings. His works covered a wide range of subjects, most importantly theology, philosophy, ethics, and the nature of God, which have had a profound impact on Western thought and continue to be widely studied and revered. Among his most notable works are the “Confessions”, an introspective autobiography reflecting on his spiritual journey and struggles; “City of God”, a work addressing the relationship between Christianity and secular society; and “On Christian Doctrine”, a guide to interpreting scripture and teachings of the faith.

Although many of his original manuscripts have been lost or destroyed, some manuscripts still survive. The Corpus Augustinianum Veronense, which is located in the Biblioteca Capitolare in Verona, Italy, contains various works of Augustine. Notable among them is Codex Veronensis, which includes the oldest known complete copy of Augustine’s “De Civitate Dei” or “City of God” and dates back to the 8th century. Some manuscripts are also in the collections of British Library, which preserves several significant Augustine manuscripts, including Royal MS 7 C. vii, containing Augustine’s “Confessions” and “De Trinitate” (On the Trinity), and Harley MS 2803, which contains a collection of his sermons.

British Library Harley MS 3080 St Augustine, Confessiones
https://manuscrits-france-angleterre.org/view3if/pl/ark:/81055/vdc_100059346555.0x000001/f17

The Remains of St. Augustine of Hippo:

Following St. Augustine’s death in 430, his remains were initially laid to rest in Hippo Regius (modern-day Annaba, Algeria). However, during the Vandal invasions of North Africa in the 5th century, his relics were transported to Sardinia for protection. Eventually, the bones found their way to Pavia, where they have remained since the 8th century. The tomb in the Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro in Pavia houses an intricately crafted reliquary containing St. Augustine’s skull, along with bones, which are believed to be his. Additionally, numerous artistic representations of St. Augustine, both in paintings and sculptures, can be found within the basilica.

San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro (Pavia) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:San_Pietro_in_Ciel_d%27Oro_(Pavia)

Conclusion

The remaining manuscripts of Saint Augustine of Hippo’s works offers an insight into the mind of this influential theologian and philosopher. Through ongoing efforts in preservation, digitization, and scholarly study, we can continue to unlock the treasures preserved within these manuscripts.

Resources:

Brown, Peter. Augustine of Hippo: A Biography. University of California Press, 2000.

Chadwick, Henry. Augustine: A Very Short Introduction, Very Short Introductions (Oxford, 2001; online edn., Oxford Academic, 24 Sept. 2013), https://doi.org/10.1093/actrade/9780192854520.001.0001

Augustine. Confessions. Oxford University Press, 2008, pp 1-311.

Augustine. City of God. Penguin Classics, 2003.

Augustine. On Christian Doctrine. https://faculty.georgetown.edu/jod/augustine/ddc.html

The Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Pietro_in_Ciel_d%27Oro

The Catholic Encyclopedia. “St. Augustine of Hippo”. https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02084a.htm

Manuscripts:

  1. London, British Library, Harley MS 3080. https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/st-augustine-confessions
  2. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 12204. https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/bnf-an-illuminated-copy-of-st-augustine-de-trinitate

Digital Palaeography Summer School – General description

Digital Palaeography Summer School

The summer school in Digital Palaeography at the Göttingen University Institute for Digital Humanities is an intensive training course for graduate students from all around the world. It has been held every year since 2022 in the summer at the institute’s premises in Göttingen. In a two-week-long program, participating students learn about medieval Latin palaeography and digital approaches to manuscript studies, in both theoretical and practical sessions. With generous support from the Volkswagen Stiftung and in collaboration with the Göttingen State and University Library as well as the Herzog August Library Wolfenbüttel, the summer school covers all essential areas of digital palaeography at a state-of-the-art level. Its unique program means to support new researchers on their way to becoming future experts in palaeography and digital manuscript studies alike. Key areas that are covered in the summer school include palaeography and codicology, hyper- and multispectral imaging, text encoding with TEI XML, handwritten text recognition (HTR), digital editing, cataloguing, IIIF and digitisation standards, bookbinding, and more. Applications to the summer school are accepted from around February to May each year.

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