2015-07-01

Strange Beasts

The caladrius was an all-white bird, which, when placed on the bed of a sick person, supposedly foretold if they would live or die. If the person were not going to recover, the caladrius looked away from them, but if they were to live, the bird looked directly into their face and drew the sickness into itself.

Medieval bestiaries, of which the digitized Aberdeen Bestiary is a fine example from the 12th century, were based on the Physiologus, an anonymous Greek-language book dating back to perhaps the 2nd century. On June 30, the BAV in Rome digitized and published online a 17th-century Greek manuscript of it, Ott.gr.354. Here is its caladrius giving a bearded man his doom on folio 64r:


All of the images in the Ottoboniani Physiologus are of great interest. Here is one of the sirens, from folio 45r:

This early Christian compendium contains 48 stories about the nature of real and mythical animals, plants and stones. In its mixture of fact and fiction, it is no more reproachable than the infotainment and "science documentaries" with half-truths, portentous voices and dramatic music which air on daytime television.

A Physiologus for TV with similar self-important commentary would be a great satire. Imagine the stock film clips which could be dug up for the elephant (folio 13r), of which we are told it cannot bend its legs, rarely has the desire to mate and practices water birth.


The Physiologus was once as well known as any TV series is today. It was translated into Latin and had enormous influence in the medieval world. Translations and adaptations from the Latin introduced the Physiologus into most languages of western Europe. Its magnificently bogus science shows up in most European literatures including the works of Shakespeare.

Below is the full list of 44 digitizations on June 30. For the Ottoboniani group, you can consult Pinakes or the old printed catalog at Archive.org for more details.
  • Barb.gr.105, Aesop's Fables, 6th century, Pinakes
  • Barb.gr.109, Epitome logica, Pinakes
  • Barb.gr.113, Manuel Chrysoloras, Pinakes
  • Ott.gr.174, Narrationes monachorum,
  • Ott.gr.219, Gregorius, etc: homiliae, apologia, etc., 
  • Ott.gr.223, Athanasius: vita, epistulae, etc. 
  • Ott.gr.242, Michaelis Glycae Capita Theologica ad varios directa, praemisso indice, 
  • Ott.gr.268, Miscellanea praesertim Patrum Graecorum incl. Gregorii Nazianzeni, 
  • Ott.gr.279, Alexandri Aphrodisiensis In Aristotelis Meteorologica, 
  • Ott.gr.281, Miscellanea homiletica, incl. Gregorii Nysseni, 
  • Ott.gr.282, Ioanis Tzetzi, 
  • Ott.gr.283, Andreae Caesariensis Commentarius in Apocalypsin, 
  • Ott.gr.296, Speculum beatitudinis humanae of 1581, 
  • Ott.gr.302, Porphyrii In Aristotelis Categorias Commentarium, 
  • Ott.gr.305, Miscellanea praesertim Patrum Graecorum, incl. Eusebii Pamphili in Cantica Canticorum, 
  • Ott.gr.320, Anatomia hominis, a.k.a. De partibus hominis, anon., 
  • Ott.gr.327, Pindari Odae / Carmina, 
  • Ott.gr.329, Arrianus super Epictetum, 
  • Ott.gr.331, Theodori Gazae Grammatica
  • Ott.gr.332, Platonis operae, plus Basilius Caesarensis, ad juvenes, 
  • Ott.gr.333, Miscellanea praesertim Patrum Graecorum, incl. Gregrorii Nysseni, etc, 
  • Ott.gr.334, Theoremata in Odyssaeam Homeri (on Homer), 
  • Ott.gr.337, Opuscula varia diversorum, 
  • Ott.gr.339, Miscellanea, 
  • Ott.gr.341, Isidori Pelusiotae, letters, 
  • Ott.gr.342, Homeri Ilias,  
  • Ott.gr.345, Maximi Planudi, notationes variae, 
  • Ott.gr.346, Miscellanea poetarum scaenicorum Graecorum, incl. Aristophanes, 
  • Ott.gr.347, Theodori Gazae introductionis grammaticae libri quattuor, 
  • Ott.gr.348, Ignatii et Polycarpi epistolae, 
  • Ott.gr.349, Didymi Alexandrini De Trinitate, 
  • Ott.gr.350, Niconis canones et decreta et constitutiones ad monachos spectantes 22, incl. Basilii canones poenitentiales, 
  • Ott.gr.351, Euripidis opera, 
  • Ott.gr.353, Gemini introductio in meteora, 
  • Ott.gr.354, the Physiologus, an Alexandrian work of Christian allegory attributed to Epiphanius; this is one of the H manuscripts in Sbordone's edition. I haven't yet recognized the unicorn in this manuscript. (Who can help me?)
  • Ott.gr.355, Miscellanea, incl. Aristophanes, 
  • Ott.gr.357, Expositio in III librum Regnorum et in loca quaedam biblica, incl. catena, 
  • Ott.gr.358, Miscellanea praesertim hagiographica, incl. Vita d. Theodori Studitae, 
  • Ott.gr.364, Polyaeni militaria, 
  • Ott.gr.368, Basilius in Isaiam, 
  • Ott.gr.369, Isaaci Tzetzae opera (poetry), 
  • Ott.gr.383, Isidori epistularum, 
  • Ott.gr.386, Aristotelis Analytica priora, 
  • Vat.ebr.16, a Targum Onkelos of the early 14th century, the translation of the Bible to Babylonian Aramaic (many thanks to Tuomas Levänen for pointing this out). This manuscript was used for variants in A. Berliner's edition of Targum Onkelos (Berlin 1884).
Below is a second rush of material digitized and placed online on July 1, which I will not blog about separately. The posted total on the Digita Vatica portal now stands at 2,321 items.

If you can correct any of these entries, tell me via the comments box below. This is not an official or expert list and I simply copy what I can find online about these manuscripts. I do so as a public service. The best way to thank me is to follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin), where I will keep providing news of manuscript digitizations.

2015-06-23

Ancient Science

Ancient science was kept alive through the Middle Ages by constant copying and anthologizing. One compilation that has come down to us was gathered at Constantinople at the end of the 13th century and contains the soundest text we possess of the Geography of Ptolemy of Alexandria. His work is one of the greatest scientific achievements of the ancient world.

Here is a Ptolemy diagram from the introductory book, How to Draw a Map of the World, with a simple trig lesson showing how to transfer arcs relative to your standpoint (at left). It's at 129r. One can read the text explaining the concept in part 1.2 of the Berggren-Jones translation at Google Books.

This codex contains Ptolemy's coordinates, but not his world maps. Some of the most exciting research of the past decade has examined the possibility that Ptolemy was hit by a garbage-in-garbage-out situation whereby he unwittingly relied on false experimental data (the earth's circumference), leading to some spectacular failures in his essentially brilliant atlas.

Klaus Geus and Irina Tupikova argued in 2013 that mystery locations on Ptolemy's map are none other than the Gulf of Finland and Poland's Vistula River if one adjusts the false data. We now stand a good chance of identifying all 6,400 places for which Ptolemy gives coordinates in the Geography.

Various other scientific texts by authors as diverse as Euclid and Abu Ma'shar of Baghdad are all bound into the Vatican's massive 397-folio volume. Here is an unidentified diagram from folio 209v.

This codex, which is a kind of album of the best of ancient science, was brought to Rome by Isidoros, (c. 1385 to 1463), metropolitan of Kiev and later a Roman cardinal, and it thus ended up in the Vatican collection of Greek manuscripts as Vat.gr.191. It is one of the treasures that has finally entered our modern album of science, the internet. Digita Vaticana placed it online on June 22.

Renate Burri's description of the codex (in German) can be consulted on Google Books. Burri has argued that the first diagram above is by a Byzantine editor, Manuel Chrysoloras, not by Ptolemy.

Also new in the uploads this week is one of the books that is known as a Barberini Codex, this one being an evangeliary made at one of the two main centres of monasticism on Lake Constance, either Reichenau or St Gallen, just a few years before 1000 CE. Here is its illumination of the Ascension (folio 84v): 

Below is my own list of the 64 new items uploaded June 22, which take the posted total to 2,264. As always, I have compiled this in haste, using web searches to grab keywords, so this is subject to correction. The materials below with the shelfmark Borg. copt. are a variety of biblical and other materials, some of them only single leaves or papyri. For more information about the materials from the Capponi collection, Cozzo's 1897 printed catalog can be consulted at Archive.org.
Two more images from the Barberini Codex show the Three Magi (fol. 18v) and the Presentation at the Temple (fol. 24v)

As always, if you can add any information about any item, write in the comments box below, or tweet to me at @JBPiggin

2015-06-17

They Don't Make Hats Like This Any More

All 40 of the additions made on June 16 to Digita Vaticana come from the collection of Marquess Alessandro Gregorio Capponi (1683-1746), which became part of the Vatican Library at his death. Capponi did not collect classical books at all, but left many manuscript documents with a bearing on eighteenth-century Roman life, drawings from the period and archaeological notes.

There is a very old catalogue (Christies sale) and the 1897 catalogue by Cozzo on archive.org, but very little information is attached to the manuscripts online at the BAV, making it hard to browse them. Here is a 17th-century heraldic blazon with a fanciful hat, from Cappon. 51, described in the catalog as a stemma di tipo flammingo: Look closely for the head.

Digita Vaticana seems to be bringing manuscripts online by a series of campaigns on individual collections: the Archcapitular Library of St Peters was first up, and now the Capponi collection is in focus. If you are hanging around for material in the Vat.lat. series, it may be a long wait. Here is the full June 16 list:
Above is a fine little borderless map (Cappon. 56) of the Near East with Damascus, Jerusalem and the Red Sea, which is satisfyingly .... red.

Still to come is one of the most interesting Capponiani items: autograph writings of Machiavelli in Cappon.107, comprising parts of his drafts of his History of Florence and his Letter to Vettori, according to Silvia Ruffo-Fiore.

As always, if you can tell us more about any of these items, use the comments box below.

2015-06-15

Byzantine Saints

The Digita Vaticana program to digitize manuscripts at the Vatican has just placed one of most noted and colourful Byzantine illuminated manucripts online. Known as the Menologion of Basil II and dating from about 1000 CE, codex Vat. gr. 1613 shows half a year of saints' feasts and depicts a great deal of blood, torture and martyrdom.

The image here shows Fausta (a 13-year-old girl), the sage Evilasius and the eparch Maximus being boiled alive in a cauldron for their faith:


Here is the full list of this most interesting batch of 83 new items uploaded on June 15. The posted total has now reached 2,160:
As ever, if you can identify any of these further, please add a note in the comments box below.

2015-06-02

Duke's Cookbook

Among the treasures of the library of the dukes of Urbino was a manuscript of the greatest cookbook of Imperial Rome, De re coquinaria ("On the Subject of Cooking"), attributed to a certain Apicius. It contains some 450 recipes, including 138 sauce recipes. The book will be familiar to the many fans of Neill George's Pass the Garum blog as our principal surviving guide to Roman epicureanism.

Only two manuscripts of this work exist. The other, from Fulda, is at the New York Academy of Medicine and was rebound nine years ago. The Vatican's manuscript, Urb. lat. 1146, has been reproduced by an Italian publisher as a facsimile costing 1,560 euros, but since June 1, it has been possible to read it for free at Digita Vaticana. Here is one of the illuminations, showing a couple of birds destined for the pot:


Unlike a modern cookbook, De re coquinaria skimps on essential information about ingredient quantities and cooking times. It lacks the glossy photographs of calamari balls in beds of salad which we would now consider obligatory in a cookbook. It is easiest to enjoy it in the 1926 translation to English by Joseph Dommers Vehling, which has been lovingly digitized for your tablet computer at Project Gutenberg. Vehling's edition is enriched with line drawings adapted from other Roman sources.

Apicius is refreshingly blunt in his views on food purity: taste was what mattered, not the 21st-century obsession with avoiding adulteration. Ut mel malum bonum facias (spoiled honey made good) is one of his straightforward counsels: How bad honey may be turned into a saleable article is to mix one part of the spoiled honey with two parts of good honey. Quite. Where's the problem?

The other major arrival in the June 1 batch of digitizations is the sole oldest surviving manuscript, Reg. lat. 1024, of the Liber Judiciorum, the code of laws of Visigothic Spain.

When the Goths conquered Spain, they initially barred intermarriage between their own people and their Roman subjects and maintained separate legal systems for the two populations. But in time, the legal systems were merged and the Liber is the resulting synthesis, a masterwork of jurisprudence which was drawn up in about 654 under King Recceswinth.


This copy, which once belonged to Queen Christina of Sweden, was penned in the early 8th century [probably: see comment below] in Urgell, Spain and is number 287 in Ainoa Castro's survey & blog of Visigothic-script manuscripts.

Here is the full list of 58  manuscripts added June 1, raising the posted total to 2,077:

If you can add more information about any of these, please use the comments box below.