Analysing the manuscripts of the Life of St Nicholas by John the Deacon

I have made a full collation of all the 9-10th century manuscripts of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas, as far as the beginning of chapter 6, where manuscript Q (BNF lat. 17625) breaks off.  I’ve recollated the first chapter, since I did that in a rather perfunctory way.

But how do I work out the relationships of the manuscripts?  I’m doing this blind – I can find no “how to” guide – so I’m just guessing, and trying things out.

This evening I decided to pick three places in chapter 1, where the collation already suggested differences in the manuscripts, and collate the 11th century manuscripts for these places in the text.  I’ve put a “heading 3” in my text, so that I can see the Latin around the area:

Screenshot of my Word text with H3 markers visible

I’m experimenting with a trial of Adobe Acrobat Pro 2020 (permanent license), which allows me to open the PDFs in tabs, unlike my elderly copy of Acrobat Pro 9.  I took the opportunity to add bookmarks and stickys to the PDF of each manuscript, as far as chapter 6, as I went.

After I had collated the 10 manuscripts for the three places in chapter 1, I felt the results were a bit thin.  So decided to collate another three places from chapter 5, where I knew that a line, or a phrase, was omitted.

This I did in a separate Word document.  I had a list of manuscripts; and I indicated the 6 places, comma-separated, against each.  In retrospect a spreadsheet might serve better.  They all started out as black text.

But the results were rather interesting, and here they are:

List of manuscripts and variants

Once I was done, I colour-coded manuscripts that were basically the same.  I have three groups!

Not all of my “places” were significant, at least in the 11th century.  Thus I chose “inclammationem” because I had a bunch of witnesses on both sides:

  • “inclamationem”, “crying out against” – Fal., M, P, Q, O, B, C; “in cachinnationem”, “in immoderate laughter” – Corsi, A, Linz 473 (13th), Munich Clm 12642 (14th); “in vocem” – Mom., Lipp.;

But in actual fact there was no variation on this, at least not in the 11th century.  It looks as if it must originate later.  Likewise the sentence beginning “hactenus” and the clause starting “trade” are unimportant.

But “et laudem / ex laude” and “aede / sede” form a clear group.  Likewise the weird Nacta / Notata / etc lines up with them, and splits the “ex laude” group further.

That’s a useful result.  I have learned a bunch about ten manuscripts from this exercise, which took me less than an hour.

So far so good.  Onward.


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