The February Poems in the Chronography of 354

The month of February has a number of illustrations.  In the Vatican Barberini manuscript, the 4-line poem (tetrastich) appears written down the side.  Here it is:

At quem caeruleus nodo constringit amictus,
quique paludicolam prendere gaudet avem,
daedala quem iactu pluvio circumvenit Iris:
Romuleo ritu februa mensis habet.

And he whom the cerulean cloak wraps (ties up) with a knot,
And who delights to chase the marsh-dwelling fowl,
He whom the skilful Iris/Rainbow pelts with a rain shower;
This month by the Romulean ritual has the feast of purification.

The 2-line poem (= distich) is also present.  Each distich consists of a hexameter at the foot of the left-hand page, and a pentameter at the foot of the right-hand page.  Here it is:

Umbrarum est alter quo mense putatur honore
pervia terra dato manibus esse vagis.

The second is of the ghosts, in which month it is believed,
That, after sacrifice has been made, earth is accessible to wandering spirits

The images show a figure, hunting with an eagle, while a vessel pours down water onto an Ibis.

The 16th century Vienna manuscript 3416 (online here) gives us this, evidently redrawn, image:

Vienna 3146, f. 3v – February

The 17th century R1 manuscript, Vat. (online here) gives us this, with the tetrastich and the first line of the distich, so I’ve made the picture somewhat larger:

Vatican, Barberini lat. 2154B, f.17 – February

Divjak and Wischmeyer give us an image from the important (but offline) Brussels manuscript 7543-49:

Brussels MS 7543-7549, f.201 – February

The gender of the figure must have been somewhat hard to determine in the original – Vienna has treated it as female, Rome as male, while the Brussels manuscript shows one that could be either.  The kantharos  vessel pours down upon the crane, or possibly an ibis.  A fish and some squids appear to the right.  The figure holds an eagle.

(For more information on this series of posts, please see the Introduction to the Poems of the Chronography of 354).


6 thoughts on “The February Poems in the Chronography of 354

  1. I’m looking forward to this series. With the context you provide one can really appreciate both the images and the texts.
    But why an eagle? It looks much more like some kind of waterfowl, and the first poem agrees with that: the figure has just caught the paludicolam avem. I’m sure an eagle would almost invariably be represented with hooked beak. (Not to mention that the figure should be missing an eye and a few fingers, if he was holding an eagle just like that.)

  2. In most medieval/early modern Western art, only the eagle is often shown with wings spread wide. So the viewer bias today would be toward the eagle.

    However, as noted, the other details look like a waterfowl.

  3. Columella has a sort of farmer almanac in Book 12 of De Re Rustica, and doesn’t even mention Lupercalia (which might not have been a thing outside Rome, except maybe for the legions) in February. He wants the fields plowed while damp and easy to work, the vineyards got ready, and all the orchard and olive trees planted and manured.

    But he does mention the stars rising and the prevailing winds (and earlier in the book he warns that he is only talking about where his farms are, and that climate is different elsewhere).

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