2015-04-04

Military technology at the Vatican

The seven manuscripts digitized and released April 1 by Digita Vaticana include an important 11th-century codex explaining and illustrating contemporary Byzantine military technology, Vat. gr. 1164 (link below). Here is an armoured vehicle that let attackers approach a wall, presumably to work to undermine it, defying boiling oil and stones from above.


Twitter follower Mare Nostrum offers an image from it showing the framework used to swing a battering ram to break a heavy stone wall. It would have been slow, thump-thump work, as he comments:

  • Vat.gr.747, contains Letter of Aristeas, the earliest text to mention the Library of Alexandria.
  • Vat.gr.752.pt.2, magificent golden illuminations.
  • Vat.gr.1156, Lectionary 120, designated by siglum ℓ 120 in the Gregory-Aland numbering (Wikipedia).
  • Vat.gr.1164, Byzantine military tactics and technology, see Pinakes.
  • Vat.gr.1513, Gennadius Scholarius, Pinakes, quite short
  • Vat.gr.2195, Leontius of Byzantium.
  • Vat.lat.39, 13th-century New Testament from Verona, apparently with the newly modern chapter divisions devised by Stephen Langton
If you know more about these volumes, let us know through the comments box below.

2015-03-25

Prudentius and the odd word

Sometimes we get asked what use old European manuscripts are. The simple answer is that we need them to recover the literature and the histories of antiquity, the medieval period and the Renaissance, and we need to compare lots of manuscripts if we are to establish the most faithful editions of those texts.

Sometimes, though, when you are busy with a topic, a particular manuscript suddenly expands in importance and seems like missive from the past directed at you personally.

I am writing a book about the invention during antiquity of node-link diagrams. The book mentions the probable Latin term for such a diagram, stemma. This is not a book about linguistics, but you need to make sure there is no unseen linguistic evidence lurking there.

As often happens in research, both journalistic and scholarly, you can spend a whole day combing the forest for a catch and come home empty-handed.

In this case, there is no trace of anyone living during antiquity proper who calls one of these diagrams a stemma. My book will simply skip the whole matter, because it will not be an academic thesis and will only concentrate on the fruitful and interesting things I found. What I did discover about the word, I lodged as a bunch of notes in a new page on my website. I don't need such notes, but I routinely archive such things because they might help someone else some day.

What that page says is that stemma meant:
  • a garland of leaves, straw, wool or other materials (in Greece)
  • a niche in a Roman palazzo containing paintings of noble ancestors (in the Republic)
  • a snob's genealogy (under the Empire)
  • ancient glories (in literary vocabulary in Late Antiquity)
  • a twig-like node-link diagram as drawn by lawyers (in 620 CE)
In a poem, Hymnus Epiphaniae, Prudentius, who is among the most obscure of Latin poets, uses a formula, apostolorum stemmata, to refer to 12 rocks set up next to the River Jordan.

The Hymnus Epiphaniae can be conveniently read in full at the Perseus Digital Library if you read Latin.

The Australian coast of Victoria has got a famed set of rocks, the Twelve Apostles, off the shore of the Port Campbell National Park, and South Africa has a Twelve Apostles Range, but Prudentius (348-about 405) seems to have beaten both to the name. Perhaps pilgrims did once get such a feature pointed out to them in the Jordan. [Late addition: It seems Prudentius is referring to the biblical Book of Joshua, the writer of which says 12 stones were taken from the Joshua in the river and placed nearby and are "still" there.]

Why does the poet call the 12 rocks a stemma of the apostles? Could he have possibly meant:
  • an ancient glory of apostles?
  • a node-link diagram of apostles?
[Late correction: A recent translator and commentator on the poetry, Gerard O'Daly, thinks the proper meaning is simply "pedigree".]

As it happens, a bunch of manuscript releases by Digita Vaticana this week (here's my news item) includes a manuscript of Prudentius's poetry. Cilian O'Hogan says it is actually an important one:
What makes codex Reg. lat. 321 so interesting is that its 10th-century editor has packed it with glosses and annotations. What I liked was that the editor seemed to have been baffled by the odd word "stemmata" too. He glossed it with the meaning "ordines" written above it here.


I'm still not clear about this. A similar word does show up in one description of the Great Stemma, Genealogia ab Adam usque ad Christum per ordines linearum. But I doubt if Prudentius had diagrams in mind. More likely the poet simply imagined those rocks in a orderly row or circle to represent the rock-like perpetual authority of the church. Stemma (ancestry) was a way to say in the language of Latin poets that the rocks were a precursor to the apostles [as Daly argues].

All very arcane, and from the manuscript, I knew that an unknown editor of 1,000 years ago had been baffled and had also done his best to unpuzzle Prudentius's odd word.

2015-03-24

Ladder to Heaven at the BAV

Among the more remarkable items in the 13 codices placed online March 23 by Digita Vaticana is the Ladder of Divine Ascent by the 7th-century Greek-speaking monk John Climacus. I am told this is Lenten reading among Greek-speaking Christians. There are some vivid illuminations in this Greek manuscript giving you a good idea of how medieval readers imagined the long steady climb through 30 steps of the ladder, assisted by angels if you were doing it right:


This crop of releases takes the tally of Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV) digitizations so far to 1,865. After this Lenten issue, I wonder if they are planning any Easter presents for us?

1 Arch.Cap.S.Pietro

1 Ott.lat.

  • Ott.lat.3119, engravings of Roman personalities of the 18th century.

1 Reg.lat

  • Reg.lat.321: a fine old 10th century manuscript of the poems of the Latin author Prudentius (348-405).

2. Ross

  • Ross.251, with the ladder to heaven (above). Pinakes tells you which folios to consult for the Scala Paradisi of Iohannes Climacus.
  • Ross.555, a beautiful Hebrew codex with four fine Italian miniatures. From Evelyn Cohen I read that this is Jacob ben Asher's legal treatise, the Arba'ah Turim, and that the images depict a synagogue scene, animals being slaughtered according to Jewish ritual, a wedding and a courtroom scene. Here is the synagogue, where men and women seem to be mixed:

2 Urb.gr

2 Urb.lat.

  • Urb.lat.346, Commentary on the Aeneid, 15th-century copy, attributed to Tiberius Claudius Donatus, but believed in fact to be the work of Suetonius.
  • Urb.lat.508, poetry from Duke Federico's collection: is this Federico in the frontispiece?

3 Vat.gr.

1 Vat.lat

  • Vat.lat.14933, Carlo Labruzzi vedute, possibly a volume inadvertently missed last week.

2015-03-16

The Romance of Ruins

The 13 digitization jobs uploaded March 16 at Digita Vaticana include four volumes of vedute or landscape drawings by the 18th-century artist Carlo Labruzzi (1765-1818), mainly of ruins along the Via Appia outside Rome.

There is also a volume of views by the English artist and antiquary Richard Colt Hoare of buildings and towns on the road south to Naples.

The romance of ruins drew a steady stream in the 18th century of English visitors eager to spend plenty of money to take such pictures home with them and hang them on parlour walls. They are not great art, but certainly better composed than most of the smartphone snaps we tourists take today. It must have been a fascinating time to explore Italy's ruins, before urbanization spread over so much of the area.

The BAV digitization programme also now extends to a second Coptic codex and offers its first codex in the Bulgarian language. Here is my unofficial list:

1 Vat.ar.

1 Vat.copt.

  • Vat.copt.59, one of a series of significant 9th-10th-century Coptic Bohairic manuscripts from Wadi el-Natrun

4 Vat.gr.

5 Vat.lat.

  • Vat.lat.14929, 18th-century drawings of the Via Appia by Labruzzi, bound in London and formerly owned by Thomas Ashby, vol 1
  • Vat.lat.14930, ditto, vol 2
  • Vat.lat.14931, ditto, vol 3
  • Vat.lat.14932, ditto, vol 4
  • Vat.lat.14934, views 1790-91 by the English artist Richard Colt Hoare of ruins and towns on the road between Rome and Naples, with his annotations (in English of course); the BAV online catalogue lists this as a Labruzzi, but that seems to be a mistake.

 1 Vat.sir.

1 Vat.slav.

The new total: 1,852 items. As always, enter corrections or advice about the significance of these items in the comment box below.

2015-03-13

Treasures of Urbino

Here's a list of the latest rush of newly digitized manuscripts at the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. This release of 52 items was uploaded late on March 12 and brings the total number of Vatican Library works available on the internet to 1,839.

The oldest treasures this time are from the chapter library (Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.) which has only been part of the BAV since 1940.

Nearly half the items this week come from the great Renaissance library created by Federico da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino, who died in 1482 after a rambunctious life as a brutal mercenary general (he never fought for free) and refined man of culture (he had his own team of scribes at Urbino and a library considered the greatest in Italy after the pope's).

A couple of centuries after his death, that envied library was integrated into the Papal Library at the Vatican in 1657. We are now all privileged to be able to read Federico's exquisite books online. Here is a fine illuminated capital "S" from one of them, Urb. lat. 348, in a passage explaining the word stemmata.

13 Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.


13 Borgh.

1 Pal.gr.

2 Reg.lat.

18 Urb.ebr.

4 Urb.lat.

1 Vat.lat.

  • Vat.lat.3836, Sermons of Augustine of Hippo, Leo the Great and others
As always, if you see an unmarked gem here, or can explain to us the significance of one of these items to scholarship, or can point out an error, please add a comment in the box below. Most of these items have been discussed in scholarly literature that is not mentioned in the BAV's own very sketchy online bibliographies, but often with variant shelfmarks. Scholarly publications use a great variety of abbreviations to denote such manuscripts. For Arch.Cap.S.Pietro. above, try alternate searches using forms such as "cod. ..." or "cod. cap. ..." or "arch. cap. s. petri ..."

2015-03-10

Older than the Oldest

After my post Is this the World's Oldest Bound Book? appeared, Cillian O'Hogan, who is the curator of classical and Byzantine studies at the British Library, kindly tweeted some comments making out a case that papyrus books older than the Codex Vaticanus do exist, and met the objection from Roger Pearse, who is an eminent citizen-science blogger, that only a bundle with more than one quire to it counts as a "book". He then wrote:
All those Ps refer to papyrus finds, along with numbers given to them by Christian scholars seeking the earliest texts of the New Testament. Some of these things are not online at all, but acceptable images of the 75 leaves of P66 are at EarlyBible.com. This is the one that is probably contemporary with the Codex Vaticanus.

As for the item Cillian O'Hogan dates to 200 CE, the biggest bit (P67) is in the fourth-century Barcelona Papyrus, which I discussed some years ago on my website. Sadly, that papyrus has never been viewable online. However there is an image of P4 at EarlyBible.com and P64, the three small fragments making up MS Gr. 17 at the Magdalen College Library, Oxford, are accessible online as the following tweet points out:
In addition, I pointed out myself that the 102 battered pages at the BAV in Rome of Hanna Papyrus 1, also known as P75, are supposed to date from approximately the same period. It has not been digitized yet, but there are a couple of leaves visible at VatLib. For low-res images, see P75 at CSNTM.

Finally, it was pointed out that there is a very old leaf of a secular work, Homer's Odyssey, dated to the period 200-400 CE. Click on the link below to see it:
In addition, Cillian O'Hogan pointed to a very fine Medieval Fragments blog post by Erik Kwakkel (@erik_kwakkel), a medieval book historian at Leiden University, in December 2013 with a different tack on the topic, What is the Oldest Book in the World?

So where do we stand? A case could be made that one or all of these four items are books older than the Codex Vaticanus, but would they, in their incomplete and damaged state, be accepted by the average teenager as "books" in the common garden sense of that word? They have no covers and have been torn apart.

The Codex Vaticanus may not be in its original binding, and indeed it has had leaves inserted in it to replace its lost pages, but it exists as a bound codex that people (see the first post) have continued to open and shut (and handle without using tweezers) right up to the present day. I would compare this to the difference between a shipwreck and a ship. Every wreck was a ship, but is a ship no longer, unless it can be refloated and patched up and made to sail again. No one would dream of messing with the papyrii or "repairing" the indignities done to them by illegal diggers and dealers in Egypt, so I think that we would have to consider them, for now at least, to be the remains of former books.

2015-03-05

Nearly 100 new digitizations at the BAV


On March 4, 2015, the digital library of the BAV or Vatican Library placed online nearly 100 newly digitized manuscript codices and map folders.

As is usual, there was no public announcement of this. I have no contact with Rome, so I can only speculate as to the reasons for such a silence. It may be that the library's server has a limited capacity and could not cope with the acute surge of requests that would follow any publicity.

Or there may be no funding to conduct public relations for a project that is being mainly funded by corporate and private sponsorship. It is possible too that funding institutions such as the Polonsky Foundation, which has a key role in digitizing the Hebrew manuscripts, wish to make their own public presentations at a later date. Polonsky announced February 24 it had reached the 1-million page mark.

But perhaps there is simply a modest sense at the BAV that this is no big deal yet, given that the project started years ago and the intermediate goal of getting 3,000 manuscripts online may not be met until 2016 at this rate. To get the entire stock of 82,000 BAV manuscripts digitized may take four decades, and at the same time, the BAV has committed to separately digitizing thousands of incunables. (See the presentation of one of the world's oldest printed cookbooks.)

Nevertheless the release is quite remarkable.

Less than a year ago, the manuscripts site consisted only of clones of independent digitizations by the Heidelberg state library in Germany and a paltry 24 Roman manuscripts, as I noted at the time. Today the BAV site offers a total of 1,787 works and has surpassed the tally of digitized manuscripts offered online by the British Library (1,220 at the last tally) or by e-codices of Switzerland (1,233).

Of the 151 collections making up the Rome library (see the BAV’s own list), 50 are now represented in some way in this digital presence.

Using comparison software, I have identified the following 97 newcomers this week. I have added notes on content which are in some cases guesses more than anything else.

2 Barb.gr.

5 Barb.lat.

  • Barb.lat.2724, Chronicon Vulturnense: Miniatures, most of them showing the handing over of donation charters to St. Vincent
  • Barb.lat.4076, is an autograph of Francesco da Barberino's Renaissance poetry. Here is an illumination showing some impressive rapid-fire archery in all directions:

1 Borg.gr.

1 Borg.isl.

2 Borg.lat.

24 Borgh.

Here's a miscreant in blue hauled into court on 147r of Borgh 372 ...



... and here's a widow under the heavy burden of a no-incest provision in Borgh 374 at 4r:


1 Borgh.Carte.naut.

This is Diogo Ribeiro's 1529 map "in which is contained all that has been discovered in the world until now." Less than four decades after Columbus’s first voyage across the Atlantic, it shows the Americas in detail, but not New Zealand, which the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman was not to document until l642 and which James Cook was not to circumnavigate and map until 240 years after this map was drawn. Jerry Brotton's History of the World in Twelve Maps features it.

Unfortunately the resolution of this digitization, welcome as it is, falls short of what one would hope for. The section above is the Gulf of Mexico, and it is impossible to zoom in far enough to read the place-names. I would presume the map has been scanned at much higher resolution, and I hope @DigitaVaticana can upload this so that the fourth and closest zoom level provides legible text.

4 Chig.

1 Ferr.

  • Ferr.30, letters of Giuliano Ettorre

1 Ott.gr.

6 Ott.lat.

2 Pal.gr.

1 Reg.gr.

5 Reg.lat.

Here's one of the fine pictures. I think it is Diana about to sock it to Actaeon, who will be trying desperately to explain that he is not a stag. With those feeble arms, she really ought to spend less time at home curled up on the couch and more time at the gym:

13 Ross.

27 Urb.ebr.

1 Vat.ebr.

  •  Vat.ebr.71, Ḳimḥi, David ben Yosef, c.1160-c.1235, Commentary on Latter Prophets
There is so much here that it will take some time to trawl through all the digitizations. If any codex which I have listed is of especial interest to you, why not use the comment box below this post to briefly introduce it and explain its importance to other readers.

Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for more news of these digitizations.