Fragments of a 4th century manuscript of Cyprian’s Letters

A tweet from the British Library medieval manuscripts account drew my attention to five damaged leaves in a British Library manuscript, Additional 40165 A.  They are portions of Cyprian’s Letters, letters 55, 74 and 79.  This is CLA II 178.

What makes them exciting is the early date – 4th century, according to the BL twitter account (the online page does not give a date) – and the location, which is North Africa.  The Trismegistos site gives the date as 375-400 AD, and location as Europe or North Africa.

The manuscript was the subject of an article by no less than Cyprian scholar Maurice Bévenot in the Journal of Theological Studies[1]  Sadly this is not accessible to me.  (My access to JSTOR is provided by Oxford University alumni, so it is curious that an Oxford University Press journal is not included.)

Catalogue:

Three fragments from St Cyprian’s epistles:.

1. Epistle LV, p. 645, 1. 11, “facit daemoniis” – p. 647, 1. 16, “inuenerint iudica[bit].” (f. 1r);

2. Epistle LXXIV: ‘[re]tro nusquam'(p. 801, 1. 12), to ‘effectus/m est.’ (p. 808,11. 9, 10) (ff. 2r-4r);

3. Epistle LXIX: ‘aepiscopo legitima’ (p. 752, 1. 11) – ‘episco[po] alium sibi’ (p. 754, 1. 17) (f. 5r).(References [to pages.lines] in Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, Vol 3, Part 2).

The manuscript of which these fragments formed part, appears to have been the archetype, (at least in these three letters) of the English group of manuscripts (classed by von Soden, 1904) as ‘n’, which includes Royal MS 6 B XV, Oxford, Bodley Latin MS 210, New College MS 130, and Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 25. Decoration: Biblical quotations in red.

ff. 1-5: Origin: North Africa (Carthage?). ?Theodore of Tarsus and Hadrian, perhaps brought to England by them in the 7th century. In England by the 8th century: insular letter forms, e.g. ‘vr’ written over uncial ‘UR’ (f. 2v) (see Schipper 2004, p. 160). ff: 6-7:

Origin: England, S. W.?

Provenance of all parts : Used as flyleaves for a 12th-century Latin manuscript, now Additional 40165B: a table of contents of this manuscript in a hand of the 13th century covers an erased portion of the text (f. 3r).Bernard Howard, 12th Duke of Norfolk (b. 1765, d.1842): his bookplate in Additional 40165B.Purchased by the British Museum (with Additional 40165B) in the anonymous sale of manuscripts at Sotheby’s on 20th December 1921, lot 504, for £40.

Purchased by the British Museum (with Additional 40165B) in the anonymous sale of manuscripts at Sotheby’s on 20th December 1921, lot 504, for £40.

Here’s the twitter image:

The pages were cut-down and used as fly-leaves in the binding of a 12th century manuscript, which is how they survive.

Here’s the full leaf (3v), the bible stuff is the middle column.

The page is also of interest for indicating a means of citation – indenting one or two letters, and text in red.  This may be seen lower down, where the bible quote ends, and the original text resumes, outdenting by two letters[2]

It is unclear whether we can see paleographical evidence for origins in Roman North Africa.[3]  The pages have been trimmed, but Bévenot states that the original pages were written in four thin columns; very unusual, and a hang-over from the usage in the papyrus roll.

Very interesting to see!

  1. [1]M. Bévenot, “The oldest surviving manuscript of St. Cyprian now in the British Library”, in: Journal of Theological Studies (new series) 31, 1980, 368-377.  JSTOR.
  2. [2]See Patrick McGurk, “Citation marks in early Latin manuscripts. (With a list of citation marks in manuscripts earlier than A. D. 800 in English and Irish libraries)”, in: Scriptorium 14, 1961, 3-13.  Online here.
  3. [3]R. Rouse, “North African literary activity : a Cyprian fragment, the stichometric lists and a Donatist compendium”, Revue de histoire de textes 30, 2001, 189-238.

6 thoughts on “Fragments of a 4th century manuscript of Cyprian’s Letters

  1. I mention this manuscript in my recent paper on quotation practice in Latin commentary manuscripts, available at:
    https://research.birmingham.ac.uk/portal/en/publications/the-layout-of-early-latin-commentaries-on-the-pauline-epistles-and-their-oldest-manuscripts(7f2ca504-4651-4d45-aa2a-22314bb20c07).html

    I also have a forthcoming chapter on “Christian Manuscripts and Translations of the Bible in Roman North Africa” which features an image of this manuscripts as well.

    Hugh Houghton

  2. Hi Roger. An old (6th-7th century A.D.) manuscript of Cyprian’s “De Unitate” exists at the BnF.

    Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Latin 10592

    Which tantalizingly breaks off the page before he quotes 1st John 5:7(8) in Chapter 6.

    https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b103088974/f80.item.zoom

    https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b103088974/f81.item.zoom

    Chapter 5, tails off at Folio 34v, with the words: “nec unitas corporis separatur. Ramos [suos]…” and the next page, where (going by memory when I was researching this several years back) you would find the quotation, the page is ripped out! Very frustrating!

    This is the oldest, as far as I know, manuscript for “De Unitate.”

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