Indexes in manuscripts of Pliny the Younger’s letters

Six folios survive of a 5th century manuscript of the Letters of Pliny the Younger.  They are in New York, in the Pierpont Morgan collection, where they have the shelfmark M.462.[1]  They contain letters from Book 2, Letter XX, line 13, to Book 3, Letter V, line 10.  But I learn that they also contain “one of the indices (to Book 3) which are a special feature of the Ten-Book tradition” of the letters of Pliny.[2] 

The Letters of Pliny reached us by a complicated process.  Originally possessing ten books, copies of this kind began to be cut down during the middle ages into a collection of 100 letters.  Another family also existed, which contained only nine books, and circulated in various more or less complete forms.

The ancient manuscript of the ten-book family was still complete in the 15th century, when it belonged to the library of Saint-Victor in Paris.  It is mentioned in the 1514 catalogue of that library, which was made by Claude de Grandrue,[3] and published in 1983.[4]  At what date thereafter it was dismembered, we cannot now say.

This detail, about the “indices” is mentioned only in passing.  But to those of us interested in chapter titles and tables of contents in ancient books, this is most interesting. 

So where may these “indices” be found?  Clearly in the Morgan manuscript there is one.  I have emailed Robert Parks, Director of Library and Museum Services there, and asked if the ms. could be digitised and placed online.  It will be interesting to see what he says.  They have some images from books of hours and similar online, but those are more pretty than useful.

There’s a 1903 edition online at Google Books here (and is it me, or is Google Books making it harder and harder to find the PDF that we all want to download, in order to promote its crappy commercial ebook reader?)  This doesn’t give the indices, no siree.  Hey, they’re only present in a 5th century copy!  This casual negligence towards the manuscript data is infuriating!

Where can they be?

  1. [1]The catalogue is here, which tells us these are “6 leaves (1 column, 27 lines), bound : vellum ; 287 x 180 mm”; “The original manuscript was in France at least by ca. 1380 (dated with reference to the inscription on folio 51); owned by the Abbey of Saint Victor Library in Paris up to 1505 (foliated by the librarian Claude de Grandrue and listed as missing/stolen in the 1514 catalogue); discovered around 1500 at the Saint Victor Library by the Dominican Fra Giovanni Giocondo of Verona, who initially transcribed some of the letters and sent them to Aldus Manutius in Venice, and later borrowed or simply removed the manuscript from the abbey in 1505 and perhaps sold it to Aloise Mocenigo, the Venetian ambassador in Paris, who took it to Venice and lent it to Aldus Manutius; by the 18th century the manuscript had been fragmented and the surviving 6 leaves were purchased by Marchese Francesco Taccone of Naples (1763-1818); sold by his heirs to Tammaro de Marinis in 1910; purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) from De Marinis through Alexandre Imbert but shipped by Quaritch, in 1910.”  Publication: A sixth-century fragment of the letters of Pliny the Younger / E.A. Lowe and E.K. Rand. Washington : Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1922.
  2. [2]L. D. Reynolds (ed.), Texts and Transmissions, 1983, p.317.
  3. [3]Reynolds, p.317, n.5: “Where it was foliated and described by the librarian Claude de Grandrue.”
  4. [4]Les manuscrits de l’Abbaye de Saint-Victor : catalogue établi sur la base du répertoire de Claude de Grandrue (1514) / Gilbert Ouy. Turnhout, Belgium : Brepols, 1999, v. I p. 30-31, v. Ii p. 630, and Le catalogue de la bibliothèque de l’abbaye de Saint-Victor de Paris de Claude de Grandrue, 1514 ; introduction par Gilbert OUY ; texte et index établis par Veronika GERZ-VON BUREN, en collaboration avec Raymonde HUBSCHMID et Catherine REGNIER… ; Paris : Editions du C.N.R.S., 1983 ; in-8°, Lxii-734 pages.

3 thoughts on “Indexes in manuscripts of Pliny the Younger’s letters

  1. There are photographs and a transcription of all six folios in the work you mention at the end of footnote 1: Lowe-Rand 1922. Since this is a 1922 work, pdfs of the book have appeared on the web, I am told. For more bibliography, try
    1. Robbins, F.E. (1910). ‘Tables of contents in the MSS of Pliny’s Letters,’ Classical Philology 5: 476-87.
    2. Merrill, E.T. (1895). ‘The codex Riccardianus of Pliny’s letters’, American Journal of Philology 16: 468-90.
    3. More generally on ancient tables of contents: Riggsby, A. (2007). ‘Guides to the wor(l)d’, in König and Whitmarsh (eds.), 88-107 = König, J. and T. Whitmarsh (eds.) (2007). Ordering Knowledge in the Roman Empire, Cambridge.

  2. Thank you very much — it should certainly be possible to find the first two online! The third sounds interesting also, if it’s accessible.

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