Palimpsest ms image of Severus of Antioch

Over at Juan Garces blog, there are a couple of images of a page from a Syriac treatise by Severus of Antioch, Contra impium grammaticum, (=Against the impious John the Grammarian).  The treatise was composed in the early 6th century, and the argument forms part of the political arguments taking place in the Byzantine empire in the guise of religious disagreements.

The image is very nice, and shows a clear and readable Serto hand.  What is particularly interesting is that the parchment was itself second-hand when the ms. was written.  The previous text had been washed off, but not very well, and it is clearly visible in the areas not written over.  The text was a Greek bible in uncial.  Juan also shows a UV image which brings up the under-text very clearly.  The manuscript itself is one of those acquired in the 1840’s from the abbey of Deir el-Suryani (=monastery of the Syrians) in the Nitrian desert in Egypt.

I don’t know whether this work by Severus has ever been translated into English.  It would certainly be nice to have the whole ms. online, tho.

Greek mss at the British Library

I have been hunting around to see which Greek manuscripts at the British Library it might be interesting to get digitised.  It is remarkably difficult to find out.

The BL catalogue is online; but it is largely useless because there is no way to restrict results to Greek mss only.  So a search for Chrysostom — every collection must have these — is pointless, because most of the results will be Latin manuscripts of translations.  This is really quite frustrating.  So far I have managed to find only a handful of mss which I might put forward.

One possible source of information would be Henri Omont, ‘Notes sur les manuscrits grecs du British Museum’, Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes, 45 (1884), 314-50, 584 (p. 335).  This is online here.  Maybe this will list some interesting volumes, if it ever downloads!

UPDATE: Indeed it does.  After a survey of the main collections, it lists the interesting previous owners and what they owned.  I need to digest this down into a list of suggestions.

Never mind the New Testament – digital mss at the British Library

All the NT people are getting excited about Juan Garces’ plan to digitise 250 manuscripts at the British Library.  But of course the rest of us have views too!  I have written today to Dr Garces asking for some classical manuscripts to be done as well.

Some time ago I went through the introductions of a large number of Loeb editions in order to get an overview of what mss of what existed where.  Since the list of mss in a Loeb is always limited, anything mentioned is probably important.

Here’s what I found that was held by the BL — 9 manuscripts in all:

  • Letters of Alciphron — British Library Harleianus 5566.  Paper. ff.141r-167v.
  • Apollodorus — British Library Harleian 5732.  (16th c).
  • Babrius, Fables — British Library, Additional 22087 (codex Athous).  Contains fables 1-122.  Corrections in the margins and above the lines by Demetrius Triclinus. 10th c.
  • Herodotus – British Library 1109 (Greek papyri in the British Museum III p.57 = Milne, Catalogue of the literary papyri in the British Museum no. 102) 1/2nd century
  • Homer, Iliad, — British Library Burney 86, 11th c.
  • Isaeus — British Library, Burneianus 95 (=codex Crippsianus).  This is a vellum manuscript containing Andocides, Isaeus, Deinarchus, Antiphon, Lycurgus, Gorgias, Alcidamas, Lesbonax and Herodes.  This was first discovered in the library of the monastery of Vatopedi on Mt. Athos.  It was then acquired by the Phanariot Greek Prince, Alexander Bano Hantzerli of Constantinople.  John Marten Cripps bought it from him at the start of the 19th century.  It then passed into the collection of Dr. Charles Burney, and thence with the rest of that collection by purchase into the British Museum in 1827.  It also has two corrector’s hands.  The first is the original scribe correcting his work against the exemplar, with the occasional conjecture.  The second may or may not involve the use of a different ms.  13th c.
  •  Isaeus — British Library, Burney 96. 15th c.
  • Thucydides — British Library 11727. Parchment  11th c.
This taken from my notes about the traditions here:

Serious excitement – copies of British Library Arabic manuscripts for less than $1?

In the NASCAS forum a poster mentioned:

Speaking of manuscripts, friends, I wanted to let you know that the Bibliothica Alexandrina has the WHOLE Arabic collection of manuscripts held at the British Library. One can obtain a digital copy for only 5 (yes five) Egyptian Pounds, i.e., 90 US cents!

Now this is very, very exciting news.  And I have an idea how this might be so.  I believe some Arab princeling paid for all the Arabic mss in UK libraries to be photographed for microfiche.  But I have never known where to access this material.  Perhaps this is the source of this.

I’ve enquired of the poster how I can get these.  I have written before that there is a manuscript of the 13th century Arabic Christian historian al-Makin (BL or.  7564) which I want.  Indeed I even ordered a microfilm copy from the BL; who sent me, at a huge price, just the second half!

If the report is true, this is very good news.  It might apply to other libraries than the BL, such as the Bodleian.  Today I also heard that the Bodleian tried to screw a scholar from Leiden who wanted a photocopy of a dissertation, and demanded 150 GBP (around $220) for a photocopy.  This hateful monopoly must be overthrown; no scholarship can happen while access to the primary texts is subject to blackmail of this kind.

Let us hope and pray this is so, and that a torrent of copies is about to be unleashed on the scholarly world!

British Library FoI: how much do they make from reproduction of mss images?

I’m still trying to find out just how much money the British Library make from charging for the reproduction of manuscript items online. I raised an FoI request here, and got an answer for all items (not manuscripts alone).  Click the tag “British Library” to see all the posts on this.

I note that the British library charges a fee to websites that use digital images of pages from manuscripts from the BL collection.  Please would you let me know, for each of the past 5 years (either calendar or financial, whichever is more convenient):

How many requests were made for use of BL collection images of these items on third party websites?

How much income was received by the BL in consideration of the use of BL collection images of these items on third party websites?

The reply: 

The table below indicates the number of requests for rights to reproduce BL collection images of manuscript items, for which a charge was made, and the income derived from those transactions for the five years in question.

  2004/2005 2005 / 2006 2006 / 2007 2007 / 2008 2008 / 2009
Number 772 845 959 527 664
Income 138,277 GBP 121,162 GBP 105,592 GBP 95,175 GBP 122,578 GBP

These figures are interesting, but still don’t indicate what proportion of this was on websites, as opposed to in printed books (which I suspect make up most of it).  I’m not quite sure how to find this out, tho.

UPDATE: I queried this, and got back the reply that they don’t hold that information on their systems!  That is, they levy charges but have no idea how many people are paying them, or if anyone is.  How very, very British Library.

I wonder if I complain to the Information Commissioner, whether they will get told to “go and find out”.  If there are 600 a year, it would hardly be a great task to look through the lot.

British Library don’t know what “manuscript” means?

From the BL, a request for clarification of my FoI query, “how many images of manuscripts did you license for online use last year?” How did I define ‘manuscript’, they asked?  I responded as courteously as possible by referring them to their own catalogue of manuscripts.  I suspect that I am dealing with a department that doesn’t get asked much about these!  Still, they’re turning it around promptly which is good, and better than I expected.

Placing stuff online – how much the British Library make from charging people for this

My Freedom of Information request to the British Library got a reply a couple of days ago.  I asked:

I note that the BL charges a fee to websites that use digital images of pages from manuscripts from the BL collection.

Please would you let me know, for each of the past 5 years (either calendar or financial, whichever is more convenient):

How many requests were made for use of BL collection images of these items on third party websites.

How much income was received by the BL in consideration of the use of BL collection images of these items on third party websites.

Looking into the finances of one of our public research libraries can only be interesting and illuminating!  I got back an interesting reply that didn’t quite answer the question, as regards manuscripts, and instead gave figures for all items in the collection.  I think someone read my question a bit too quickly, perhaps!!  So I’ve asked them to review it.

They sent the reply in a non-searchable PDF, unfortunately.  (Curiously they stick a copyright notice on the information – habit, I suppose). Here’s the reply.


We have considered your request and provide answers to your questions in turn below.

‘How much income was received by the BL in consideration of the use of BL collection images on third party websites.’

The revenue generated by charging for rights to reproduce images of items in the British Library collections for the previous five financial years (April to March) was as follows:

£                               2004/5     2005/6       2006/7         2007/8          2008/9
Total revenue    296,889      273,528     274,496        278,287         352,748

The number of requests for rights to reproduce images for which a charge was made was as follows:

  2004/5 2005/6 2006/7 2007/8 2008/9
Requests 1952 2090 2270 2770 1728

In certain cases, we waive the charge for rights for reproduction of images. Our records do no enable us to produce precise figures for this period but the approximate number of these is in the region of 800 per year.

This is very helpful, and quite interesting, all by itself.  Only a handful of requests each year, to one of the world’s richest libraries?  That feels wrong.  But who is doing the paying?  The sum is not really that high, for a major government institution, and probably can be broken down further.  We need more info, that’s for sure.

I will keep you updated!

How much does the BL make by charging websites to display images of mss?

If I buy an image of a page of a manuscript from the BL, I can’t put it here without paying the BL some huge fee a year.  So of course I don’t.  So I don’t commission the photograph either.

Imagine if it cost nothing.  Wouldn’t we all tend to use these images?  Wouldn’t we all buy more images?  We would, wouldn’t we?

So all this access is being stifled.  Well, I wondered how much the BL make from this.  After all, if they don’t make any money, they shouldn’t be doing it.

I’ve just placed a Freedom of Information request here.  Let’s see what they made over the last five years.  How many licenses they sold.

I bet it’s very few. 

UK Freedom of Information requests

I have just discovered a website that allows UK citizens to make Freedom of Information requests.  Apparently it’s being used to query why the National Portrait Gallery is picking a fight with Wikipedia.  Useful to know, however.  I wonder if there are interesting questions that might be asked of the British Library and its high-price low-quality policy on manuscript reproductions.

But I have just stumbled on the result of one, addressed to the National Portrait Gallery (also posted here).  It’s about the way they stop people using images, so they can charge for licenses.

2008/9    235 licences granted
2007/8    413 licences granted
2006/7    295 licences granted
2005/6 est.    205 licences granted
2004/5 est.    305 licences granted

2008/9 £11,291
2007/8 £18,812
2006/7 £16,573
2005/6 £10,021
2004/5 £14,915

The Gallery has not calculated the cost of specifically administering the online rights programme exclusive of other Picture Library activities and therefore it does not hold the information you have requested.

Imagine if they said “do what you like.”  The images would be freely available online and used wherever you like.  The lost revenue would be… £10k a year.

So they have prevented us all from using the images on our websites (not that I particularly want to, but in general); in order to make a gross sum of ca. £10k a year.  And they claim they have no idea whether they even cover costs!

Precious, precious information this. 

Online version of the Codex Sinaiticus; more manuscripts to follow

We’ve all seen the PR for this online manuscript, which has even caused the servers to crash, although it is back now.  The PR has been very well managed, and it can only be a good thing that more interest is being generated in online manuscripts.  The announcement of more manuscripts at the Virtual Manuscript Room at Birmingham is well-timed.

I learn that the British Library is now beginning a pilot project to place some 250 Greek manuscripts online.  The project will be led by Juan Garces, who has been involved in the Sinaiticus project.  Clearly success begets success, and we can only hope that this marks the beginning of the end of the long hostility of the British Library to putting material on the internet.

Philip Comfort’s book Encountering the Manuscripts  – about New Testament manuscripts, including Sinaiticus – should be selling very well just now!