New BL mss online: technical texts

I learn from the British Library manuscripts blog that a further bunch of manuscripts from the Harley collection have now been placed online at their site, courtesy of funding by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.  These are described as “science manuscripts”, which of course covers a multitude of things, not all of them interesting to us.  The majority are of medieval texts.  But it includes a number of ancient technical texts.

We’re all familiar with ancient literary texts: Herodotus, Cicero, Livy, Tertullian, St. Augustine, and so forth.  But the technical literature of antiquity is much less well known, and much of it has barely been edited.  Very little exists in English.  This category includes medical handbooks, astrological works, and many others.

Skimming over the BL site, I note these manuscripts of works by ancient technical authors:

  • Harley MS 1585 Illustrated compilation of texts on herbs and making up medicines (Netherlands, 12th century) including various late-antique texts.
  • Harley MS 2650 Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, book 8 (=De astronomia) (France or England, 12th century)
  • Harley MS 2660 Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae and De natura rerum (Germany, 1136), plus four letters of Isidore.
  • Harley MS 2676 Pliny the Elder, Historia naturalis (Florence, 1465-1467)
  • Harley MS 2766 Iulius Firmicus Maternus, Mathesis (Italy, 15th century), the astrological compendium.
  • Harley MS 3015 Miscellany including Bede’s De natura rerum (England, 12th century) specifically: — (f. 1v); John Chrysostom, Homilies 1-30 (ff. 2r-62r); Augustine of Hippo, Sermones (Sermo 173) (ff. 63r- 64v);Isidore of Seville, De Differentis (ff. 65v-89r); Bede, De Natura Rerum (ff. 90r-99r); Anselm, De libero arbitrio (ff. 100r-108r).
  • Harley MS 3022 Collection of texts on theology, instruction and natural history (Italy, 14th century) — 1. Giles of Rome (Aegidius Romanus), De regimine principum (ff. 1r-32r); 2. Aristotle, De natura animalium (ff. 32v-54v);3. The Life of St Veridianus (ff. 55r-57v);4. Cassiodorus, Varia (ff. 57v-67v);5. Cassiodorus, De anima (ff. 68r-79v);6. Augustine, Speculum (ff. 80r-83v); 7. Augustine, Soliloquia (ff. 83v-128v);8. Pseudo-Augustine, Liber de vita Christiana (ff. 129r-139v).
  • Harley MS 3035 Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae and De natura rerum (Germany, 1495) — much the same as the earlier one, but with five letters of Isidore. 

The one that stands out for me is the ms. of Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, and for an unusual reason.  The work was given chapter divisions by Pliny himself, as the preface indicates.  But did he also mark them in the text?  Were there numerals in the margins?  The colloquium on meta-textual elements at Chantilly in 1994 contained a paper discussing this, and noting that the editors of Pliny were “fort discrets” on these points.

It would be most interesting to know.  Ideally we would want pre-humanist manuscripts, of course; but it would still be interesting to know what this manuscript has.


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