Vatican (and Bodleian?) Greek manuscripts to go online?

Mike Aquilina writes to tell me about a new manuscript digitisation initiative.  The BBC has an article on the story:

Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries and the Vatican’s Biblioteca Apostolica plan to digitise 1.5 million ancient texts to make them available online.

The two libraries announced the four-year project after receiving a £2m award from the Polonsky Foundation.

Dr Leonard Polonsky said his aim was to ensure researchers and the public have free access to historic and rare texts.

Greek manuscripts, 15th Century printed books and Hebrew early printed books and manuscripts will be digitised.  …

Two thirds of the material will come from the Vatican Library and the rest from the Bodleian.

Well done, Dr Polonsky!!

The Catholic News Service adds:

The Bodleian-Vatican Library digitized collections will be in three subject areas: Greek manuscripts, incunabula and Hebrew manuscripts.

According to the Bodleian, the subject areas were chosen because both libraries have strong collections in those areas and because of the collections’ importance to scholars. The project will bring together online “materials that have been dispersed between the two collections over the centuries,” the Bodleian press release said.

Some 800 Vatican incunabula will be digitised, they say.

The Vatican Radio site indicates (in French only!) that 1.5 million pages from manuscripts and incunables will be digitised.  Scanning of manuscripts is already underway.  The Vatican has 80,000 manuscripts and 8,900 incunables, and has been experimenting with digitisation since 2010.  And the Prefect of the Vatican Library, Mgr Pasini, adds:

«La quantité des manuscrits numérisés grandit grâce aussi au travail du Laboratoire de reproduction et aussi aux projets visés, en collaboration avec les institutions culturelles : ainsi est en cours de réalisation la numérisation des manuscrits Palatins latins, en collaboration avec l’Université de Heidelbert. »

“The quantity of digitised manuscripts is increasing thanks also to the work of the Laboratory of reproduction, and also to existing projects, in collaboration with cultural institutions: in this way the digitisation of the ‘Palatine’ Latin manuscripts is in progress, in collaboration with the University of Heidelbert.

I presume that should read “Heidelberg”, capital of the Rheinland Palatinate. The “Palatine” collection came from there to the Vatican, as part of the settlement of the Thirty Years War.  Now that by itself is quite exciting news, for the Codici Latini Palatini are some of the most important Vatican Latin manuscripts. 

There are some Hebrew texts of no special interest here.  But there is more:

En ce qui concerne les manuscrits grecs, seront enfin numérisés d’importants témoins des œuvres d’Homère, de Sophocle, de Platon, d’Hippocrate, ainsi que des codex du Nouveau Testament et des Pères de l’Eglise, dont un grand nombre sont richement décorés de miniatures byzantines.

As for the Greek manuscripts, finally some important witnesses will be digitised of the works of Homer, Sophocles, Plato, Hippocrates, as well as some codices of the New Testament and the Fathers of the Church, of which a great number are richly decorated with Byzantine miniatures.

Hum.  Well, “pretty-pretty” books are of no real interest other than to a tiny number of art historians, but at least we see recognition of “important witnesses” to the text of various authors.  And it will include patristic authors.

The story appears elsewhere, but there seem to be no additional details.

It’s very good news!  And all thanks to Dr Leonard Polonsky, and his Polonsky Foundation.  Apparently the man has form, working with the Bodleian to digitise material and paying for the work.  A man after my own heart, this.

It is good to see that Dr. Polonsky makes clear his motivation: to make stuff accessible to us all.  If I might suggest something, Dr. P?  Make sure the libraries make the books downloadable as PDF’s, whatever other way they make the stuff accessible.  Given half a chance they will lock the images away.


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