Notae in the margins of Cassiodorus, “Expositio Psalmorum”

An  interesting volume has appeared this year, which unfortunately I have not seen, but that I learned about from Jesse Keskiaho on twitter.  The book is by Evina Steinová, based on her 2016 dissertation (online here, I now find), and now in a revised book form from Brepols here as Notam superponere studui : The Use of Annotation Symbols in the Early Middle Ages (2019).  I understand that it contains an interesting piece on a work by the 6th century statesman-turned-monk Cassiodorus.

Cassiodorus’ commentary on the Psalms, the Expositio Psalmorum (= Clavis Patrum Latinorum no. 900) is a long allegorical commentary based largely on Augustine.  So long a work was set forth in three manuscript volumes each containing the commentary on 50 psalms.  It was completed at the start of 548 and dedicated to Pope Vigilius; and then reworked between 560-70 with marginal “notae” or symbols, which indicate the type of content.[1]  He provided the key to these signs at the beginning of the work.

The Latin text is printed in the Patrologia Latina vol. 70.  A more modern edition by Adriaen was printed in the Corpus Christianorum 97-8 (1958), but Walsh states that it is merely a revision of the PL text, and full of mistakes.  There is an English translation by P.G. Walsh in the Ancient Christian Writers series (in three volumes 50, 51 and 52).  A new edition was intended by James W. Halporn, who published a list of the manuscripts in “The manuscripts of Cassiodorus’ ‘Expositio Psalmorum'” in Traditio 37 (1981), p.388-396 (JSTOR).  I’m unclear that any edition ever appeared, and Halporn died in 2011.  Discussion of the tradition of the text is in Richard N. Bailey, “Bede’s text of Cassiodorus’ Commentary on the Psalms”, JTS 34 (1983), 189-193.

The Patrologia Latina text, infuriatingly, omits the notae, and the introductory list.  Here is the page on which the praefatio ends, and the commentary text begins:

Inevitably the translation by Walsh from this text also omits the notae.

The marginal notae may be seen, however, in a 9th century manuscript now in the Bibliothèque Nationale Français in Paris, shelfmark BNF lat. 14491, originally in the abbey of Saint-Victor in Paris.  This is online here in an exceedingly clear microfilm copy (the download, sadly, is low resolution).  On folio 10, following the “praefatio”, there is a list of the symbols used and their meaning:

Isn’t this gorgeous?  RA = ‘rithmetic.  Mc = music… and a little star, an asterisk = astronomy.  This section appears between the “veniamus” at the end of the praefatio and the heading of the first section of the commentary.  Transcribing as best I can:

Diversas notas more maiorum certis locis aestimabimus effigiendas.  Has cum explanationibus suis subter adiuncximus.  Ut quicquid lector voluerit inquirere per similitudines earum, sine aliqua difficultate debeat invenire.  (We will find that various symbols need to be marked in certain places, according to the custom of the ancients.  We’ve added these with their explanations below.  If any reader wishes to search by using their appearance, they ought to find them without difficulty.)

Hoc in idiomatis. Id est propriis locutionibus legis divinae.   (idioms. i.e. the correct way of speaking of the divine law)
Hoc in dogmatibus. valde necessariis.  (doctrines.  Very necessary)
Hoc in diffinitionibus.  (definitions)
Hoc in schematibus.  (figures)
Hoc in ethimologiis.  (etymologies)
Hoc in interpraetatione nominum.  (the interpretation of names)
Hoc in arte rethorica. (the art of rhetoric)
Hoc in topicis.  (topics)
Hoc in syllogismis.  (syllogisms)
Hoc in arithmetica.  (arithmetic)
Hoc in geometrica. (geometry)
Hoc in musica. (music)
Hoc in astronomia. (astronomy)

Examples of the use of these notae/symbols appear in the same manuscript, starting on the page facing the list of symbols.

In the 10th century Bamburg manuscript, Staatsbibliothek Bamberg Msc.Bibl.56 (online here) we have the first page with this:

I would have made this larger, but I could see no way to download the image; only warnings about the (non-existent) copyright claimed by the German state on the image.

The 9th century Karlsruhe manuscript, Aug. perg. 155, sadly has suffered damage:

Also online is British Library Additional 16962, also 9th century, which is indeed a volume of the work, but of the third volumes: psalms 101-150.

It’s very interesting to see such a scholarly help, I must say.

  1. [1]Halporn, “Mss”, p.388.

5 thoughts on “Notae in the margins of Cassiodorus, “Expositio Psalmorum”

  1. Looking at the example in your later post, I think that in the first symbol “propriis” does not mean “proper” (“the correct way of speaking”) but “peculiar”, sc. the special meaning of some expressions in Scripture. So, the example explains “exsurge”: “Non quod Deus dormiens aut recubans excitatur, sed scripturis diuinis mos est ad exprimendam causam per tropologiam ex nostra consuetudine aliquid de Deo dicere.”

    By the way, Adriaen’s CC edition does have the symbols, so it must have been a decision by Walsh (or his editor) not to include them.

  2. I mean, Walsh says (p. 20) that his translation is based on Adriaen’s text, before pointing out its flaws.

  3. Very interesting to know that Adriaen did include the symbols. Thank you!

    Propriis – peculiar does make more sense! I will fix this.

    I would imagine that Walsh’s publisher didn’t fancy the idea of marginal symbols. Much harder for the typesetter!

  4. One more bit: In 1991 Halporn reviewed Walsh’s translation for BMCR. He wrote: ‘The editorial decision, for such I assume it was, not to include the marginal “notae” which Cassiodorus attached to his work as a guide to using the commentary, is unfortunate. It creates for the reader a totally incorrect perception of the organization and method of this kind of ancient commentary.’

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