Some pages from a manuscript of Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies

A post at the British Library manuscripts blog by Sarah J. Biggs about the Etymologiae of Isidore of Seville is rather interesting, and illustrated with some pages from the 11th century digitised ms. British Library Royal 6 C. i:

Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636), the bishop of Seville from about 600 to his death, is better known as an author than as an administrator.  His most famous work is the Etymologies, a work of tremendous influence throughout the Middle Ages.  One eleventh-century manuscript (Royal 6 C. i), probably copied at St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury, is now available on the Digitised Manuscripts website.

The Etymologies is famous for its sometimes quirky explanations of the history of words.  In some cases, when Isidore takes the word apart based on what it sounds like, the explanation that results can be extremely engaging, …

In other cases, Isidore’s etymologies, while colourful, are spot-on.  The one he gives for the words Fornicarius and Fornicatrix (male and female prostitute) explains that these terms come from the Latin word for ‘arch’ (fornix), and refers to the architecture of ancient brothels.  Prostitutes were understood to lie under such arches while practising their trade.  This is the same explanation for the word ‘fornicate’ offered in the Oxford English Dictionary today!

Great to have an image of some pages of raw text for a change.


4 thoughts on “Some pages from a manuscript of Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies

  1. This is also particularly interesting:

    “‘The grandfather of my paternal uncle,’ it reads across one line, ‘is my propatruus, and I am to him the niece or nephew of his son or daughter’.”

    There is a figure called the ‘propater’ who shows up in early Patristic reports on the heresies. Might be useful to explain that figure.

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