Does the manuscript of Tacitus say ‘Christian’ or ‘Chrestian’?

Yesterday I wrote a post criticising the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence in some pretty direct terms.  I’ve deleted it; because it seems that I got hold of the wrong end of the stick.

We all know the reference to the Christians in Tacitus, Annals, book 15, chapter 44.  A discussion arose in an online forum as to whether this said ‘Christians’ or ‘Chrestians’ in the single manuscript.  The only photographs available, from an elderly facsimile, were monochrome and it was impossible to tell.  It certainly said ‘Christians’; but there was a gap after the ‘i’.

A friend saw that the only thing to be done was to get a new photograph of the page.  This he did, and let me look at it, which was kind.  But as it was monochrome also, I was under the impression that the BML had sold him a monochrome photograph.  That would be a disgraceful thing for a library to do, in 2008, when every librarian has a mobile phone with a colour digital camera built in, and I said so.

But later I learned that they had actually sold him an ultra-violet image, which was naturally monochrome!  That left me feeling quite sheepish, and I deleted the post.

The image revealed the erased ‘e’ in ‘Christians’, neatly filling the gap in the manuscript.  They charged him three or four euros for it, which is a very reasonable price, and the image was of the whole opening, not just a single page.  In fact the photograph is rather splendid, nicely displaying the two column mis-en-page.  Of course a colour image under normal light would be nice too!

The only thing that is unsatisfactory is that I cannot show the image to you.  For it is not online, and copyright in the EU probably covers it.  The image really should be on the BML website.  Here is an excerpt from the photo, although enlarged a little too much.

 Tacitus, Annals: the word 'Christians' or 'Chrestians'
Tacitus, Annals: the word 'Christians' or 'Chrestians'

But well done the BML for selling a good, useful image, very cheaply. 


5 thoughts on “Does the manuscript of Tacitus say ‘Christian’ or ‘Chrestian’?

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