Montfaucon and the manuscripts

I’ve started to read the English translation of Montfaucon, and some of his remarks seem curiously relevant even now.

What a singular favour, and token of your extraordinary generosity was it, that you should cause that catalogue of manuscripts [of the Laurentian library] composed by men excellently learned with great care and industry, whereof there was but one copy, to be delivered into my hands, and permitted to be carried into France! — p.iv, dedication to Grand Duke Cosimo III of Tuscany.

For you allow all natives and strangers that have attained the reputation of learning, and employ their labour and industry in the advancement of literature and service of men addicted to it, an easy access to that mighty collection, thinking it unreasonable that so many and such valuable volumes, brought together by your own and your ancestors’ care, at so vast an expense, should lie in obscurity eaten up with dust and kept from public use.  I could heartily wish that all those who have libraries of manuscripts were of the same mind; some of whom, led away by an incredible mistake, imagine that famous books become the more valuable by lying concealed and lose of their price by being exposed for public use; whereas, on the contrary, if they lie hid, they are of no use to themselves, their owners and the learned world; and if made public, they gain themselves and their owners renown, and are an improvement and a help to literature. — p.v.

Lynne Brindley and the directors of the British Library — this means YOU.

…in some places I cut short, and applied myself the less, lest I should be obstructed in my design by longer delays, forasmuch as those in whose power the libraries were had no inclination to see me upon that work.  — p.ii, discussing the detail of his lists of mss.

I had at first designed to visit not only the Roman, Milanese, Venetian and Florentine libraries, but also those of Calabria and Sicily.  For I have been informed… by the accounts of many creditable persons that there is a considerable number of Greek manuscripts in those parts.  For the Greek tongue having been not long since used in those countries; now that has worn out, there are still many Greek manuscripts neglected and unregarded in the libraries of churches and monasteries.  But unexpected business and occasions calling me away, I laid aside that design, and yet it were worthwhile to go make a search in those parts, for as I have been certainly informed, in the remoter parts of Calabria and places far from the Great Road, there are many manuscripts perishing, eaten up with worms and destroyed in filthy uses.  And during my stay in Venice… I was preparing to pass over to the coasts of Dalmatia and the Morea.  For not far from Ragula is a Grecian monastery full of Greek manuscripts, and in several parts of the Morea there are still manuscripts, which may be bought for a small matter from the Greeks now living in misery and ignorance. — preface, v.

Would that we could go and find those manuscripts now.

The next day, we went to the Ambrosian libray and embraced the renowed Antony Muratorius, one of the two chief library keepers, with whom I had been familiarly acquainted and conversant by letter.  He always made it his principal care to forward our designs… — ch.2, p.16.

Imagine meeting Muratori himself.  Then follows a list of authors and works, including

Emanuel Paleologus, the emperor, his disputes concerning the faith with a learned Persian. …

There were enough among the Greeks that applied themselves to the vain and dangerous study of judiciary astrology.  There are three authors of that sort in one volume, under false names, in all likelihood because perhaps it was not lawful openly to profess that art….

There is a much greate number of authors in a book of the art of making Gold, number 193.  modern and silk.  Stephanus Oecumenius de Physica consideratione.  An epistle to Theodorus; the abridgement of the holy art; instructions to the emperor Heraclius;…

The alchemical manuscripts that contain Stephanos of Alexandria are all collections of bits by various authors,  but this is clearly the lectures of Stephanos.

Leave a Reply