More on the lost manuscript of Eusebius’ “Quaestiones” and the deeds of Cardinal Sirleto

One of the mysteries attached to the Gospel Questions and Solutions by Eusebius of Caesarea is the question of what became of the last known manuscript of the full text.  It was seen “in Sicily” in 1563 by Cardinal Sirleto (who became a cardinal only in 1565, but was already librarian at the Vatican at that time), together with a manuscript of ps.Eustathius on the Hexameron.  Sirleto intended to publish the text, but never did.  A manuscript of the Eustathius, copied in the same year in a South Italian hand, is in the Escorial Library in Spain.  According to the IRHT catalogue it does not contain the Eusebius.

This evening I was reading the cheap reprint copy of Harnack’s Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur I.1 that I received a couple of days ago, and browsing the section on the manuscripts of Origen.  On p.393 I came across repeated references to “Cod. Sirl. xxxx (Miller, Esc. 123)”. 

19th century tomes loved to abbreviate.  Sometimes we may reasonably curse them. But I can think of no library which might be abbreviated “Sirl.”, and “Esc.” sounds an awful lot like “Escorial”.  Are the manuscripts of Sirleto all in the Escorial, I wonder?

An article by Irene Backus, Le cardinal Guglielmo Sirleto (1514-1585), sa bibliothèque et ses traductions de saint Basile, online here, tells me that Sirleto was appointed Cardinal-protector of the Basilian Greek monasteries in Southern Italy in 1571.  On p.899 it continues (my translation):

No doubt the contacts of Sirleto with the Basilian communities of the South (he had been  named Visitor on 4th March 1566 [38]) had facilitated a nomination above all honorific, and which was not a cause of great regret to him.  Likewise this facilitated his access to the monastic libraries, the engagement of copyists, and perhaps even the borrowing of certain manuscripts.  It is on the other hand certain that Sirleto collected Greek manuscripts from the decaying Italo-Greek monasteries of Calabria — and also in the East (cf. Vat. lat. 9054) — and he was set to reform these monasteries in collaboration with Cardinals Savelli, Carafa, and Santoro.[39]

The footnotes on this are also of interest:

[38] Commodaro, p. 126 (Calabria, Sicily and Basilicate).  {{which I presume from BBKL is P.E. Commodaro, Il Card. Sirleto 1514-1585, in: La Provincia di Catanzaro 3 (1985) Nr. 4}}

[39] One of the most celebrated Basilian monasteries, S. Giovanni Teresti, was situated in Sirleto’s native country (Stilo).  On the decay of the monasteries and their reform undertaken by Sirleto, see the very well documented expose in Commodaro p. 126-132.  It also served the aims of Philip II, who, as sovereign of Southern Italy, desired to acquire manuscripts for the Escorial Library; ibid. p. 141, n. 8.

I know that some of Sirleto’s papers are in the Vatican, and the Backus article makes this clear.  But … are the manuscripts in the Escorial?  The Backus article certainly suggests that an investigation there might pay dividends.  

I don’t think we should be deterred by one aspect that always clouds searches at the Escorial; the fire in the Greek manuscripts.  I do wish, tho, that I could consult Gregorio de Andrés, Catálogo de los códices griegos desaparecidos: de la Real Biblioteca de El Escorial (1968).

That said, a note in Simon Ditchfield, Liturgy, Sanctity and History in Tridentine Italy, p. 61, is discouraging: he tells that Sirleto built up a library of almost 2,000 mss, which Philip II considered buying but found the price too high:

… Sirleto subsequently became Prefect (1570) and finally Cardinal-Librarian (1572-85). In addition to the familiarity which he enjoyed with this the largest and most comprehensive library of liturgical and church history in Christendom, we have already seen that Sirleto himself owned a notable personal library, which was considerably enriched by material that had come from Cervini’s collection, containing almost 2,000 manuscripts in Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Arabic and valued at 20,000 scudi at his death.[171]

[169]  E.g. a single ms.: BAV, Vat. lat. 6191 … consists entirely of letters to Sirleto, 1571-73. On Sirleto the best monograph is still G. Denzler, Kardinal Guglielmo Sirleto (1514-1585) … (Munich, 1964). For a list of mss. in the BAV which contains material by, to and from Sirleto see ibid. p. ix. Cf. L. Accattatis, Le biografie degli huomini illustri delle Calabrie, vol. 11 (Cosenza, 1870; repr. Sala bolognese. 1977), pp. 31-6 and P. Paschini, ‘Guglielmo Sirleto prima del cardinalato’ in his Tre ricerche sulla storia della chiesa nel ‘500 (Rome, 1945), pp. 155-281.

[171] Philip II of Spain deputed his ambassador Count Olivares to investigate the possibility of buying this library for the Escorial but the king decided the price was too high. See P. E. Commodaro, ‘Il Cardinale Guglielmo Sirleto’, pp. 171-3. Cf. L. Dorez, ‘Recherches et documents sur la bibliotheque du Cardinal Sirleto’, Melanges d’archeologie et d’histoire, 11 (1891) pp. 457-91.

It seems to me that there is a trail to be followed here.

6 thoughts on “More on the lost manuscript of Eusebius’ “Quaestiones” and the deeds of Cardinal Sirleto

  1. If you want, I can take a look at “Catálogo de los códices griegos desaparecidos: de la Real Biblioteca de El Escorial”. It seems to be present in our library…

  2. Wieland, I agree that it would be wonderful to find the book again. And there can be no certainty that it is not out there. People just do not look. Manuscript libraries resist visitors. All sorts of treasures await the investigator.

    Andy, I have delayed responding because I discovered that a copy of the book was available for sale online. I was resisting the urge to buy it, and struggling somewhat. But really it should be a PDF.

    Yes, if it wouldn’t be a great bother, please do have a look and see if there is any mention of (a) Eusebius (b)Eustathius (c) Cardinal Sirleto (d) mss from Sicily.

    Interestingly I came across a blurb for the book online which told me that a number of supposedly burned books had turned up in other collections. The fire in 1671 was catastrophic, and hundreds of Greek mss were lost. But … you can never tell.

  3. Thank you very much. Just pasting the details here for safety:

    “Cardinal Sirleto’s library is discussed by K. Lake in “The Greek monasteries in South Italy”, published in four parts in “Journal of Theological Studies”, 4(1903), 345-368, 517-542, 5(1904), 22-41, 189-201. On Sirleto: 5 (1904), 197-199. Philip II wished to buy the libarary. The transaction was prevented by Carafa. Carafa bought 35 mss. (Now in the Vatican.) The rest of the libarary was bought by Colonna. Colonna’s library was bought by Altemps, but 100 mss were given to Paul V. Many mss from the Altemps’ library were bought by Mabillon for the libarary of Louis XIV. Alexander VIII purchased the reminder of the collection and placed it in the palace of the Ottoboni. 50 years later Benedict XIV bought the Ottobonian libary. Lake (p. 199): “Thus, after so many changes of ownership , the Sirleto mss came into the Vatican library and joined the 35 selected mss which had been already brought there by cardinal Carafa. We may therefore expect to find a considerable number of South Italian mss among the Ottobian mss in the Vatican.”

    Lake’s series of articles is extremely interesting. It provides a nice history of the way NT mss and texts travelled from the East via Sicily and Calabria (Ferrar group!) to libraries in Europe (Vatican, Grotta Ferrata, Venice, Escurial).

    Teunis van Lopik
    Leidschendam, the Netherlands”

    This is most interesting. I think the JTS articles may be online, as well.

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