Codex Sinaiticus Project Goes Live July 24, 2008

Folio 42v of Codex Sinaiticus

Codex Sinaiticus f. 42v

The Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important mss. we have, and the oldest extant New Testament. The fourth century (c. 350) Greek ms. is over 1600 years old and contains the complete Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. The other central “complete” ms. bible is Codex Vaticanus, which varies in several ways from this carefully corrected ms. The Codex Sinaiticus has been in four sections for several hundred years. In 1844 a German Biblical scholar, Konstantin von Tischendorf, found several folios of the ms. at Saint Catherine’s Monastery by Mount Sinai. He brought part of the ms. to Leipzig University Library. Later he brought other sections to Russia. The Project, a collaborative work between the Russian National Library, the British Library and Saint Catherine’s Monastery, has digitized the entire ms. and will be placing high resolution images on the Internet starting July 24 here. You’ll note, if you look at the sample image aboveimage from the end of Jeremiah and the beginning of Lamentations, that the Codex was written before word spaces were used.

A Psalter in the Bog

A driver of a backhoe in Ireland’s midlands has discovered a small psalter. He was digging peat for use in commercial potting soil. The tannin in the peat preserved the image of the closed muddy psaltervellum, or specially prepared cow hide, used to make the medieval manuscript much as the Irish bogs preserve bodies for hundreds of years. Once the backhoe operator realized what he had found, he immediately covered the medieval psalm collection with moist peat, very cleverly preventing it from being destroyed by exposure to air. Bernard Meehan, the curator of manuscripts at Trinity College Library, Dublin (the eventual home of the psalter), said

Initial impressions place the composition date of the manuscript at about 800AD— but how soon after this date it was lost we may never know.

The psalter is bound in leather, with a fairly common style of thick wrap-around leather cover (often compared to a wallet) and contains about twenty large folios, with about 45 letters per line and a maximum of 40 lines per page. The actual ms. is now loose within the cover. When it was found, it was open to Psalm 83, in the Vulgate, or 84, in the modern numbering system (modern English Bibles follow the Masoretic or Hebrew numbering of the Psalms). In other words, it’s part of this:

In finem pro torcularibus filiis Core psalmus quam dilecta tabernacula tua Domine virtutum concupiscit et defecit anima mea in atria Domini cor meum et caro mea exultavit in Deum vivum etenim passer invenit sibi; domum et turtur nidum sibi ubi ponat pullos suos altaria tua Domine virtutum rex meus et Deus meus beati qui habitant in domo tua in saecula saeculorum laudabunt te small image of a text pagediapsalma beatus vir cui est auxilium abs te ascensiones in corde suo disposuit in valle lacrimarum in loco quem posuit etenim benedictiones dabit legis dator ibunt de virtute in virtutem videbitur Deus deorum in Sion Domine Deus virtutum exaudi orationem meam auribus percipe Deus Iacob diapsalma protector noster aspice Deus et respice in faciem christi tui quia melior est dies una in atriis tuis super milia elegi abiectus esse in domo Dei mei magis quam habitare in tabernaculis peccatorum quia misericordiam et veritatem diligit; Deus gratiam et gloriam dabit Dominus non privabit bonis eos qui ambulant in innocentia Domine virtutum beatus vir qui sperat in te

News reports keep mentioning the Book of Kells, probably because it’s the most famous Irish manuscript; a better comparison would be the Cathach of St. Columba, R.I.A. MS 12 R 33, c. A.D. 560-630. This is not the same period as the bog find, but it’s a better match in terms of the type of ms. than Kells is. The text of the Psalms is in Latin, but there are glosses and rubrics in Old Irish, making this the earliest extant example of Irish (exclusive of ogham inscriptions). Kells is a huge book, containing the text of the Gospels, and extensively ornamented; not something to be used daily. Kells is and was an exhibition piece; this new find looks to be a working psalter.

UPDATE 8/5/2006: More fragments of the psalter have surfaced in the bog owned by Kevin and Patrick Leonard in Faddan More in north Tipperary. Pieces of the cover, and a leather bag used to carry and protect the book were also located. Some years previously a fine leather bag was located in the same bog, which perhaps lends credence to the current theory that the psalter was deliberately hidden by someone who intended to collect it later, some thousand or so years ago.

Gawain and Gough

In a 1990 seminar Derek Pearsall made a passing reference to the Gough Map, in a discussion of the journey Gawain makes across the realm of Logres, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

The Gough Map is the oldest surviving road map of Great Britain, dating from around 1360. It’s roughly oblong in shape, made of two pieces of vellem, and is half map and half sketch. Not much is known about its provenance; the map was given to the Bodleian library in 1809 by its owner, Richard Gough. The dating is based on the inks and materials used to make the map, and on the place names.

691. Now rideȝ þis renk þurȝ þe ryalme of Logres,
692. Sir Gauan, on Godeȝ halue, þaȝ hym no gomen þoȝt.
693. Oft leudleȝ alone he lengez on nyȝtez
694. Þer he fonde noȝt hym byfore þe fare þat he lyked.
695. Hade he no fere bot his fole bi fryþez and dounez,
696. Ne no gome bot God bi gate wyþ to karp,
697. Til þat he neȝed ful neghe into þe Norþe Walez.
698. Alle þe iles of Anglesay on lyft half he haldez,
699. And farez; ouer þe fordez by þe forlondez,
700. Ouer at þe Holy Hede, til he hade eft bonk
701. In þe wyldrenesse of Wyrale; wonde þer bot lyte
702. Þat auþer God oþer gome wyþ goud hert louied.
703. And ay he frayned, as he ferde, at frekez þat he met,
704. If þay hade herde any karp of a knyȝt grene,
705. In any grounde þeraboute, of þe grene chapel;
706. And al nykked hym wyþ nay, þat neuer in her lyue
707. Þay seȝe neuer no segge þat watz of suche hwez

Thanks to the exceedingly excellent S. Worthen, I know about the exceedingly excellent interactive version of the Gough map.

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Beunans Ke Update

If Sara Zettle sent you, I’m especially pleased that I can tell you there’s more news about the medieval Cornish mystery play fragment rediscovered in 2000. Thanks to Alan Hawke, I can tell you that the National Library of Wales has added high quality digital images of both the Beunans Ke manuscript NLW MS 23849D and the Beunans Meriasek manuscript Peniarth 105B, to their Digital Mirror collection. Andrew Hawke adds that Michael Polkinhorn has provided a collaborative translation online here.

The Macclesfield Psalter

I’m going to cheat by starting with an excerpt from a press release sent out by a British cultural charity, the National Art Collections Fund.

The National Art Collections Fund is spearheading the campaign to save the remarkable 14th-century Macclesfield Psalter for the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

The Macclesfield Psalter is a jewel-like treasury consisting of 252 richly-illustrated pages providing a fascinating record of medieval English humour, and teeming with highly surreal and imaginative marginal illustrations. This exquisite manuscript was sold to the Getty Museum, California, at auction in June for £1,717,335. However, the Government’s export system, which recognised the outstanding importance of the Psalter to this country, gave the UK the chance to match this sum.

As of today, only £96,511 more needs to be raised in order to keep the Macclesfield Psalter on view in the UK for all to see. We have until 10 February 2005 to raise the remaining funds.

Ordinarily, I’m in favor of the Getty buying manuscripts; they’re in my back yard, so to speak. But this is a special case. We know a fair bit about the manuscript; it was almost certainly a local product in every sense of the phrase, created in East Anglia (likely in Goreleston) for a local landowner. There are incredible miniatures, and fascinating marginal figures. The miniatures, which are of such high quality that it’s clear they’re the work of a master, include images of the patron saints of Suffolk and the Gorleston church, localizing the manuscript. The marginal “border” illustrations are particularly interesting because they feature the kind of “world upside down images” that are subversive comments on the main images, or, more likely in this case, (following Dr. Ruth Mellinkoff’s argument) attempts to distract or avert the devil or other evil influences.

The scribe of the Macclesfield Psalter is likely the scribe of the no longer extant Douai Psalter and the Gorelston Psalter. Some illumination by the same artist was part of the Douai Psalter (destroyed inadvertantly because of poor storage during World War I when the Douai Psalter was buried in a zinc box to hide it from enemy troops).

You can read more about the Macclesfield Psalter here, and see some images here, and donate online here. They’ve come very close to matching the Getty price; they’ve enough for 245 of the 252 leaves.

Digital Medieval Manuscript Editions

One of my very first interests in terms of computers and scholarship was the potential of digital editions; I wrote about it a bit in my “What’s a Digital Medievalist” page. On my static web site, I have a page on digitizing manuscripts, one on Celtic medieval manuscripts, and one on manuscripts in general. I’ve been bookmarking sites for a while, thinking I’d update those pages, but digital manuscript editions are fortunately increasingly common, and I’m pretty preoccupied right now. My current obsession, and the necessity of paying tuition fees, mean that I’m not going to be updating those pages until next year.

Thanks to, I’ve started accumulating links to complete digital manuscripts, and making them publicly available. I’m not trying to be complete about this, and I’m not trying to bookmark the individual manuscripts of frame-based sites like the excellent Irish Script on Screen site for Irish mss. I’m also not really tracking digital manuscripts that are Latin only; I’m a vernacular person. Mostly. I’ll add links if people send them to me. I’m not including the flash-based sites, like the otherwise excellent British Library Turning the Pages manuscripts. The Digital Manuscripts links page is here, and there’s an .RSS feed you can subscribe to, so you’ll be notified of updates.

Late Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts on the Web

I’m still working on the, you know thing, but I stumbled across the Late Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts – Books of Hours 1400-1530 guide from The Institute for the Study of Illuminated Manuscripts in Denmark, and wanted to point it out. And while I’m posting, I ought to mention this article which discusses the British Library’s recent purchases of three of the missing leaves from the Sforza Hours. While you’re at the British Library’s site, you should definitely visit their Illuminating the Renaissance site about Flemish manuscript painting.

It’s May!

I’m going to be lazy, and link to a post from two years ago about May day. This calendar image from a book of hours is an image of a Maying boat expedition.

An image from a medieval book of hours showing a boating scene on one page and the calendar of holy days and feasts for May on the other page

The British Library’s Golf Book f. 22v–23

The image is from British Library manuscript Additional 24098 folio 22v. It’s a sixteenth century book of hours from the Netherlands workshop of Simon Bening; the work the page is from is The Golf Book. The image shows a characteristic aristocratic Maying scene, in its depiction of a spring landscape (Bening is known for his landscapes), with green leaves, and branches of greenery in the boat. You’ll note there’s a lutenist, and a pipe player in the boat, presumably performing a Maying song or May carol. There appears to be an additional Maying party on the bridge above.

The style of the images is very similar to that of panel paintings, more “painterly” than earlier illuminated manuscripts, and typical of Bening’s workshop. The Golf Book is a partial ms. that consists of calendar images, similar to those in other Books of Hours, with an emphasis on leisure rather than seasonal labor. It is particularly well known for the miniature border images showing people playing games (like golf—this work has a calendar page showing people playing a game like golf, hence the title). You can see other images from The Golf Book here and here, in a calendar scene for June, showing jousting. Some medievalists may be particularly interested in the toy windmills, or in the spectacles visible in this self-Portrait of Bening.

Margins and Meta Data

In his latest Info World column “Filling in the Margins,” Jon Udell writes:

Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) alumnus Austin Henderson says that “one of the most brilliant inventions of the paper bureaucracy was the idea of the margin.” There was always space for unofficial data, which traveled with the official data, and everybody knew about the relationship between the two.

As Udell makes clear, he’s paraphrasing the forthcoming research of Austin Henderson, and it’s an interesting comment. It’s not, however, quite accurate.

Yes, marginal glosses are used in medieval (and earlier—think Egyptian papyri) manuscripts just that way. But the “everybody knew about the relationship,” well, no, they didn’t, and no, we don’t. Those marginal comments, or glosses, were used by readers to make reflective annotations, to add reference material by other authorities, to make corrections, or even to doodle. Scribes also used margins to make corrections, or sometimes, just comments. And of course marginal comments weren’t restricted to the right and left margins, or even the top and bottom—readers made interlinear comments too, like these in the Book of Lindisfarne which provide Old English translations of the Latin Gospel. And then for certain texts, and classes of texts, the glosses were soon seen as a sort of textual appendix, one that was right on the page with the main text (what, you didn’t know hypertext was a manuscript tradition? Think of the Talmud.) Remember that manuscripts were copied by hand, often by professional scribes, in or out of the monastary, and often by private individuals. Professional or not, scribes get tired, and hungry, and have trouble with the light, and often, are copying texts in languages they can’t read. And sometimes, a scribe didn’t realize a marginal gloss was a gloss, and so the gloss was incorporated into the main text. OK, a lot of times— it happens so regularly that it’s a field of paleographic specialization. Once a gloss is incorporated into the body of a text, it’s frequently transmitted, so the error perpetuates, and even propagates.

My point, which I realize is somewhat divorced from John Udell’s context, is that as we work out semantic data and metadata and document standards, we need a way to do “digital marginalia” so that meta data identifying marginalia travels with it, because it’s a real pain comparing versions of an ancient text in an effort to determine whether text that appears corrupt is in fact part of the text, or a scribal error of addition. I don’t even want to think about doing that with a digital record.