75 more Greek manuscripts online at the British Library – the last batch

The final batch of Greek manuscripts has gone online at the British Library.  This means that pretty much all the mss are now online, except for a few fragments post-1600 bound in other collections; and a few (how many?) not digitised because doing so might damage them.

Something that I have not mentioned, but which I really appreciate about the British Library digitisations: the catalogue entry for each manuscript, and the indication of the start of each new work.  When you see what other sites sometimes do, you’ll be all the more grateful.

Here are a few highlights:

  • Add MS 41660, Works by Ephraem the Syrian. 11th-12th century.
  • Add MS 82951, Justin Martyr, Works. Created in Venice in 1541, probably at the request of Guillaume Pelicier.
  • Arundel MS 539, Eusebius of Caesarea, Church History. Decorated headpieces in red and black ink (ff 2r, 164r).  Complete with a  table of contents.
  • Arundel MS 542, Works of St John Chrysostom (some now attributed to Severian of Gabala). 10th century.
  • Arundel MS 543, St John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew. 11th century.
  • Burney MS 34, Catena – a medieval bible commentary – on the Octateuch (Rahlfs 424), and additional theological texts. Italy, N. E. (Veneto?), mid-16th century.
  • Burney MS 35, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Interpretatio in Psalmos. Italy, Central. Written during Lent 1548.
  • Burney MS 46, Works of Athanasius of Alexandria, in two volumes, Burney MS 46/1 and Burney MS 46/2. 2nd half of the 11th century-1st half of the 12th century.
  • Burney MS 47, St John Chrysostom, In Joannem (homiliae 1-45). 11th century.
  • Burney MS 48, Commentaries of St John Chrysostom on the Pauline letters, followed by the Catholic Epistles (Gregory-Aland 643; Scrivener act 225; von Soden α 1402, X40), in two volumes, Burney MS 48/1 and Burney MS 48/2. 11th-12th century.
  • Burney MS 49, Homilies of St John Chrysostom on selected Pauline Epistles. Eastern Mediterranean (Corfu), 1430.
  • Burney MS 50, Apophthegmata Patrum (Collectio alphabetica), in two volumes, Burney MS 50/1 and Burney MS 50/2. Eastern Mediterranean (Crete) 1361-1362.
  • Burney MS 51, Two fragments of the works of St Gregory of Nazianzus, the first dating from the late 10th or 11th century, the second dating from the 14th century. Fragment I possibly from Constantinople.
  • Burney MS 52, Homilies and sermons of St Gregory of Nyssa. 12th-13th century.
  • Burney MS 53, Patristic miscellany, containing texts by Origen, Eustathius, Gregory of Nyssa, and the emperor Zeno. Italy, S. (Naples) or Central (Rome), c. 1580.
  • Burney MS 81, Heron of Alexandria, Pneumatica, with extensive Latin marginal annotations and many pen diagrams. Italy, mid-16th century.
  • Burney MS 94, Grammatical and medical treatises, including works by Manuel Moschopoulos, Thomas Magister, Rufus of Ephesus, and Oribasius of Pergamon. Italy, N. E. (Venice), 2nd half of the 15th century.
  • Burney MS 104. Commentary on and introduction to Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos. Written in 1543, possibly in Paris.
  • Burney MS 105, Pappas of Alexandria, Synagoge, imperfect, including extracts from the Mechanica of Heron of Alexandria. Italy, 2nd half of the 16th century.
  • Burney MS 408, Palimpsest, the upper (14th-century) text being homilies of St John Chrysostom on Matthew and John, and the lower fragments of a 10th century Gospel lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 338).
  • Egerton MS 265, Collection of novellae and other legal texts by Emperors Leo VI the Wise, Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, Nicephorus II Phocas, Cosmas Magister and Eustathius Romaeus. 15th century.
  • Egerton MS 2474, Collection of various texts from Pseudo-Plutarch, Synesius of Cyrene, Amphilochius of Iconium, Gregory of Nazianzus, Nicetas David and John Zonaras, with interlinear glosses and marginal scholia. Italy?, 17th century.
  • Egerton MS 2610, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 700). 11th century.
  • Egerton MS 2626, Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica (TLG 2048.001); Evagrius Scholasticus, Historia ecclesiastica (TLG 2733.001). Italy, Central (Rome), 1524.
  • Egerton MS 2783, Four Gospels, imperfect (Gregory-Aland 714). 12th-13th century.
  • Harley MS 5796, New Testament (Gregory-Aland 444; Scrivener evan. 444, Act. 153, Paul 240; von Soden δ 551). 1st half of the 15th century.
  • Royal MS 1 B II, Old Testament: Major and Minor Prophets of the Septuagint version (Rahlfs 22). 1st quarter of the 12th century. Headpieces, initials and titles in carmine ink.
  • Royal MS 2 A VI, Psalter (Rahlfs 175). 12th century. Illuminated headpieces at the start of Psalms 1 and 77 (ff 22r, 154r).
  • Royal MS 16 C XI, Galen, De diebus decretoriis libri III. Italy, 1st quarter of the 16th century.
  • Royal MS 16 C XII,Astronomical works, including John Philoponus on the construction of astrolabes. 1544-3rd quarter of the 16th century.
  • Royal MS 16 C XV,  Two works attributed to Gregory of Nyssa, with marginal notes by Isaac Casaubon and Patrick Young. 3rd quarter of the 16th century.
  • Royal MS 16 D I, Works by or attributed to St Gregory of Nyssa. 13th century.
  • Royal MS 16 D V, St Gregory of Nazianzus, Contra Julianum imperatorem 1-2 (Orationes 4-5). Italy, Central (Rome), 2nd half of the 16th century.
  • Royal MS 16 D VI, St Gregory of Nazianzus, Orationes 7, 8, 18, and 34, with the commentary of Elias of Crete. Italy, Central (Rome), 2nd half of the 16th century.
  • Royal MS 16 D VIII, Acts of the First Council of Nicaea, compiled by Gelasius of Cyzicus, followed by two works by Athanasius. Italy, 4th quarter of the 16th century.
  • Royal MS 16 D XI, St Gregory of Nyssa, selected works. Italy, N. (Venice or Trento), 2nd half of the 16th century.
  • Royal MS 16 D XVII, Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus, Hymnus Christi servatoris, and an anonymous iambic hymn. 1st half of the 16th century.
  • Royal MS 16 D XVIII, Eustathius Macrembolites, Hysmene et Hysmenias; Achilles Tatius, Leucippe et Clitophon; and [Eustathius Antiochenus], Commentarius in hexaemeron. The works are from three separate manuscripts, bound together at some point after 1697. 1st half of the 16th century.

And that is just a selection!

The only thing to wish for is a PDF download for the books.  When you need to do serious work on a manuscript, you don’t want to have to peer through an online viewer.

Marvellous to have, all the same!


More online Greek manuscripts at the British Library

Another batch of Greek manuscripts has gone online at the British Library, which is excellent news.  It’s a fairly miscellaneous batch, but that’s all to the good.  New discoveries are not likely to be made in the “mainstream” manuscripts that are turned over constantly; but rather in those which are never handled or examined.

Here are some of the highlights (and, drat them, I see that they’ve busted the copy-and-paste again):

  • Add MS 36589, Sermons by Chrysostom, Amphilochius.  Eusebius of Caesarea, Martyrs of Palestine (long recension), plus saint’s lives 12th century.
  • Add MS 39606, Gregory of Nazianzus, Orationes, followed by extracts from Pseudo-Nonnus, Scholia mythologica.
  • Add MS 39618, Athanasius, Quaestiones ad Antiochum ducem [Sp.]. (TLG 2035.077). A longer version of Quaestio 1 than is printed in the Patrologia Graeca.  16th c.  Plus a couple of other items.
  • Burney MS 60, “Apparatus Bellicis” (whatever that may be), 16th c.  Includes extracts from Julius Africanus’ Kestoi, book 7.  Might be mathematical.  There’s a table of contents on fol. 2.
  • Burney MS 75, Letters by or attributed to classical and Byzantine figures, including Libanius, Nicholas Cabasilas, Brutus, Demetrius Cydones, Gregory of Nazianzus, and others. Written in part by the scribe Δημήτριος Ραοὺλ Καβάκης (ff 138r-144v, 177r-178v); formerly erroneously ascribed to Ἰωάσαφ. Greece (Mistra) or Italy, Central (Rome), mid-15th century.  Mostly letters of Gregory Nazianzen, but various interesting bits.  Also a Life of Libanius from Eunapius.
  • Burney MS 84, Proclus of Athens, In Platonis Alcibiadem I (TLG 4036.007), imperfect. Italy, N.? 4th quarter of the 16th century.

Also some biblical stuff, and various bits of Byzantine stuff that probably would repay opening and looking!


And the tide rushes in: now self-service photography arrives at the British Library

About ten years ago, when digital cameras had appeared, I went down to the British Library and asked if I could use mine to photograph manuscript items.  The female librarian to whom I spoke looked very angry and rudely and indignantly refused.  I remember thinking that the response was more or less as if I had casually asked for the loan of her daughter for the night. 

Not long afterwards mobile phones acquired digital cameras.  But still the hard-faced refusal went on.  I commented, in these pages, on this nonsense.  Only last year I went to examine Ms. BL addit. 12150, but had to resort to verbally describing various paragraphing marks, because I had no means to take a snap of the pages.

But the tide has been with us, and finally sense has prevailed.  Yesterday I learned via a correspondent of an update to the British Library policies, here.

Self-service photography

From 5 January 2015 you will be able to photograph collection items using compact cameras, tablets and mobile phones in the following Reading Rooms:

  • Humanities – floors 1 and 2
  • Newsroom
  • Science – floors 2 and 3
  • Social Sciences

Photographic copies made may be used for personal reference purposes only and must not be used for a commercial purpose. Copyright and data protection laws may still apply.

Some material will be excluded from self-service photography, including items at risk of damage, or further damage. …

In March 2015 we will extend this service to include the following Reading Rooms:

  • Asian & African Studies
  • Business & IP Centre
  • Manuscripts
  • Maps
  • Philatelic
  • Rare Books & Music

It is very good news.  No doubt there will be teething problems, as the staff get used to the idea that snapping is normal.  But it should mean that a lot of material starts to appear online that might otherwise wait for years to appear in someone’s priority queue.

We live in fortunate times.  In the 19th century editors had to pay for collations of manuscripts, and thank the owners of the mss fulsomely for even being allowed to have such a thing.  It seems unthinkable now.  So also the nuisances of very recent times will quickly become historical curiosities.


46 more Greek manuscripts online at the British Library – mostly classical or patristic!

The British Library manuscripts blog has announced here (and in PDF form here[1]) that another 46 manuscripts have gone online. Which is always good news!

This particular group is rather special. For the first time it isn’t dominated by biblical texts. Instead we have mainly classical or patristic manuscripts. Of course a lot of these are late, humanist copies, often from the book-copying industry in Venice in the 16th century – for creating printed Greek was never an easy enterprise – but sometimes still the earliest witness to a text.

Accessing the blog was difficult, so I’m guessing that this post is attracting plenty of attention!

Here are some highlights.

  • Add MS 24371, John Chrysostom, Fragments of Homiliae in Matthaeum (58, 70-75, 78-79, 81-83) (TLG 2062.152). 11th century.
  • Add MS 28824, John Chrysostom, In Genesim homiliae 11-31 (TLG 2062.112), imperfect and mutilated at beginning and end. 12th century.

  • Add MS 28826, John Climacus, The Ladder (TLG 2907.001), imperfect, and Liber ad Pastorem, imperfect. 12th century.

  • Add MS 30518, John Chrysostom, In Genesim homiliae 1-11, 21-33 (TLG 2062.112), imperfect. Written about the year 1121.

  • Add MS 32643, Patristic miscellany, partly palimpsest, with occasional marginal scholia. Includes works by Anastasius of Sinai, Epiphanius of Salamis, Gregory of Nazianzus, Anastasius I of Antioch, John Chrysostom, Hesychius of Jerusalem, and Christopher of Alexandria, as well as Gospel lections (Gregory-Aland l 1234). 12th-14th century.

  • Add MS 34654, Gregory of Nazianzus, Orationes. 11th century.

  • Add MS 36750, John Chrysostom, Ad populum Antiochenum homiliae (TLG 2062.024), imperfect, and Ad illuminandos catecheses 2 (TLG 2062.025), imperfect. 11th century.

  • Add MS 36753, Maximus Confessor, Loci Communes (CPG 7718), which is a florilegium of classical and patristic authors.  A few pages of bits at the end. Written in 1198.

  • Burney MS 62, Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica, with scholia, vitae, and epigrams. Italy, end of the 15th century, written by the scribe known as the Anonymus Harvardianus.

  • Burney MS 66, Commentaries on Aristotle by John Philoponus and others. 1st half of the 16th century.

  • Burney MS 82, Hesiod, Works and Days (TLG 0020.002). Italy, end of the 15th century.

  • Burney MS 85, Speeches by Isocrates and Lysias, and gnomological literature. Italy, c 1500.  I don’t have the expertise to say which gnomological texts these are.

  • Burney MS 95, Codex Crippsianus, containing speeches by the minor Attic Orators. Constantinople, 1st half of the 14th century.

  • Burney MS 276, Fragments of Greek and Latin manuscripts, mostly of classical and patristic authors. 11th-17th century: Lucian, Gregory Nazianzen; Theodoret on the psalms; The Batrachomyomachia attributed to Homer; lists of homilies attributed to Chrysostom; Plutarch; Libanius, oratio to Theodosius; fragments of grammatical texts, such as Herodian;  and two leaves from a Latin commentary on Persius.

  • Egerton MS 942, Demosthenes, Orationes, preceded by Argumenta of Libanius. Florence, made for Alexander Farnese (later Pope Paul III) after 1490. This is a decorated manuscript, apparently. I wonder what the Argumenta are?

  • Egerton MS 2624, Thucydides, Historiae (TLG 0003.001) with numerous scholia and a few glosses added later. Florence, 1st half of the 14th century.

  • Egerton MS 3154, Geoponica (TLG 4080.001) attributed to Cassianus Bassus Scholasticus, imperfect. 16th century. This chap lived at the end of the 6th century and wrote on agricultural subjects. Which sounds dull, but since that was the foundation of ancient economies, it sometimes contains gems.

  • Royal MS 16 C III, Dionysius Periegetes, Orbis descriptio (TLG 0084.001), imperfect. Italy, N., end of the 15th century.

  • Royal MS 16 C XVII, Harpocration, Lexicon in decem oratores Atticos (TLG 1389.001), and Heraclitus, Allegoriae (=Quaestiones Homericae) (TLG 1414.001), imperfect. Possibly written in Italy, end of the 15th century.  The lexicon of Harpocration is probably more accessible here than anywhere else!

  • Royal MS 16 C XVIII, Scholia on the Greek Anthology of Planudes and Paraphrase of Aristotle’s Sophistici Elenchi. In two parts, bound together. Italy, N., end of the 16th century (part 1 contains a colophon dated 1580 in Venice).

  • Royal MS 16 C XXI, Aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea (TLG 0086.010), with copious Latin marginal notes, ff 3r-130v. Preceded by Latin and Greek notes, with some quotations from Greek authors, ff 1r-2v, and followed by Greek notes on f 131v. Possibly France, S?, 1st half of the 16th century.

  • Royal MS 16 C XXII, Aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea (TLG 0086.010), Books VIII-IX. Italy, Central, end of the 16th century.

  • Royal MS 16 C XXIV, Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae (TLG 0008.001), with glosses. Possibly written at Venice, 1st half of the16th century.

  • Royal MS 16 C XXV, Aristotle, De Anima (TLG 0086.002); Plato, extracts; [Plato], Definitiones (TLG 0059.037); Diogenes Laertius, Vitae Philosophorum (TLG 0004.001), Life of Epimenides. Possibly written in Messina, in the south of Italy, c 1500.

  • Royal MS 16 D X, Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae (epitome) (TLG 0008.003), with glosses, imperfect. Italy, Central, 1st half of the16th century.

  • Royal MS 16 D XII, John Tzetzes Homerica (&c), Eusebius Onomasticon, followed by bits connected with Oppian’s Halieutica, part of Philostratus’ Imagines, and a commentary on Hermogenes. Formerly three separate volumes, now bound together. 2nd half of the 16th century.

  • Royal MS 16 D XIII, Sextus Empiricus, with marginal notes by Isaac Casaubon. Italy, N. (Venice?), 2nd half of the 16th century.

  • Royal MS 16 D XIV, Works on grammar and prosody by Dionysius Thrax, George Choeroboscus, Heliodorus, Ammonius, Aelius Herodianus, Porphyry, etc. Italy, 2nd quarter of the 16th century.

  • Royal MS 16 D XVI, Polyaenus, Strategemata (TLG 0616.001), with marginal notes. Venice, mid-16th century.

  • Sloane MS 1774, Euripides, Hippolytus (TLG 0006.038) with marginal scholia in Greek and Latin. Italy, 16th century.

  • Yates Thompson MS 50, Aristophanes, with hypotheses, marginal scholia and interlinear glosses. End of the 15th century, possibly Venice.

There are quite a lot of interesting items in there (and more details and in some cases pictures in the BL blog post, although I have augmented one or two items above by looking at the full page).

  1. [1]With thanks to Cillian O’Hogan.  Sadly the manuscript links in this do not work.

More Greek manuscripts at the British Library

An announcement this morning that 44 more Greek manuscripts are now online at the British Library, thanks to funding from Stavros Niarchos.

Many are biblical manuscripts.  The following will be of interest to us.

(Apologies for any errors; some thoughtless person at the BL site has fiddled with the copy and paste, removing all formatting and adding a pointless general link at the end in plain text.  All of which makes it nearly impossible to give a list like this, and include links; you have to delete the cruft and re-add the links manually).

  • Add MS 39601, Revelation (Gregory-Aland 911), imperfect at the end, with a marginal commentary by Andrew of Caesarea, Commentarii in Apocalypsin (TLG 3004.001).  11th c., from Athos.
  • Add MS 39614, Xenophon, Hellenica. Early 16th century, Venice.
  • Add MS 39615, Hermogenes, De constitutionibus (Περὶ στάσεων) (TLG 0592.002). Early 16th century, Venice.
  • Add MS 39616, [Plutarch], De liberis educandis. Early 16th century, Venice.
  • Add MS 39617, Demosthenes, Orationes, with the hypotheses of Libanius and occasional scholia and interlinear glosses. 15th century, Greece.
  • Arundel MS 531, Diogenes Laertius, Vitae Philosophorum, with illuminated head- and tailpieces on f 1r. 2nd half of the 15th century, Italy.
  • Burney MS 61, Collection of works by Greek lyric poets, including Anacreon, Alcaeus, Sappho, Stesichorus, and Ibycus. Occasional marginal notes with variants of Henri Estienne and T. Faber. 2nd half of the 16th century, France.
  • Burney MS 70, Basil of Caesarea, De legendis libris gentilium (TLG 2040.002), and other works. Large initials in colour and gold, partial foliate border on f 1r similar to that in Burney 14. 4th quarter of the 15th century, written by Ioannes Skoutariotes at Florence.
  • Burney MS 71, Callimachus, Hymns (TLG 0533.015-020). c 1500.
  • Burney MS 88, Libanius, Epistulae (TLG 2200.001). End of the 15th century, Italy.
  • Burney MS 89, Lycophron, Alexandra, with the commentary of Ioannes or Isaac Tzetzes, imperfect. 1st half of the 15th century, Greece.
  • Burney MS 96, Minor Attic Orators. End of the 15th century, Venice.
  • Burney MS 98, Pindar, Olympia (TLG 0033.001), imperfect, with interlinear and marginal scholia; Dionysius Periegetes, Orbis Descriptio (TLG 0084.001), with interlinear glosses and marginal paraphrase; Eustathius Thessalonicensis, Commentarium in Dionysii periegetae orbis descriptionem (TLG 4083.006); Strabo, Geographica (TLG 0099.001), extracts. Beginning of the 16th century.
  • Burney MS 106, Sophocles, Ajax, Electra, Oedipus Tyrannus, Antigone; [Aeschylus], Prometheus Vinctus; Pindar, Olympia. End of the 15th century.
  • Burney MS 108, Aelian, Tactica; Leo VI, Tactica; Heron of Alexandria, Pneumatica, De automatis, with numerous diagrams. 1st quarter of the 16th century, possibly written at Venice.
  • Burney MS 109, Works by Theocritus, Hesiod, Pindar, Pythagoras and Aratus. 2nd half of the 14th century, Italy.
  • Burney MS 110, Zenobius, Epitome collectionum Luculli Tarrhaei et Didymi (TLG 0098.001). 4th quarter of the 15th century, Italy.
  • Egerton MS 2625, Thucydides, Historiae (TLG 0003.001), with scholia, formerly forming a single manuscript with Add MS 5110. 15th century, possibly written on Crete.
  • Royal MS 16 C IV Part 1 and Part 2, John Tzetzes, Antehomerica, with a translation into Latin by Petrus Morellus. 1560-1603, France (Tours/Loches), in the hand of Petrus Morellus.
  • Royal MS 16 C VII, Constantine Manasses, Breviarium Chronicum , imperfect. Mid-15th century, Italy? Probably formerly owned by Sir Robert Cotton.
  • Royal MS 16 C XIV, Apparatus Bellicus, followed by extracts from Byzantine authors. 1584, probably written in Italy.
  • Royal MS 16 C XIX, Simplicius, Commentarius in Epicteti Enchiridion. 1st half of the 16th century, Italy (Padua?)
  • Royal MS 16 C XX, Isaac Argyrus, De Metris Poeticis, imperfect, with marginalia by Isaac Casaubon. End of the 16th century, Italy?

Phew.  That was very unpleasant to transcribe and format.


The Bankes 2nd c. Homer papyrus roll now online at the British Library

I wonder how many of us have ever heard of the “Bankes papyrus”?  Certainly not I, before today.  Yet it is a fascinating item.

A tweet from Sarah Biggs alerted me that:

The Bankes Homer is now online & blog post to come! (Papyrus 114, Greek, 2nd century).

P.Lond.lit.28, British Library papyrus 114, is a 2nd century Greek roll, containing the last 16 columns of Iliad 24.

The website browser is a bit “wobbly”, but displays a single image of the whole unrolled item (which is probably the right thing to do).  I’m not sure whether a PDF of such an image is even technically possible, which is what one would otherwise want to have.

There are two images; one in a frame and one without.  The framed image is clearly just for reference, as it isn’t very zoomable.  It isn’t clear whether the verso is blank.

At the end is the colophon which consists only of “Ἰλίαδος Ω”, as is common in the papyri.[1]  If you zoom and pan, you eventually see something like this:


But of course you must look for yourself.  The digitisation is really remarkable, and the quality of the result is extraordinary.  You can probably see more, than you could if you were holding the item itself.

I learn from the page on the BL website – which is really very good, with very nice references for us to look up on Google books! – that William Bankes purchased the roll at Elephantine in 1821.  The discovery was made by a certain Giovanni Finati, acting for him, and is told as follows:[2]

… we all took our departure together for Assouan. And it was during our stay there of a few days that, on the opposite island of Elephantine, (which I have always remarked to be, after Thebes, the place where the greatest harvest of curious antiquities is brought for sale by the natives,) a roll of papyrus in the Greek character + was put into my hands, for which I bargained and fixed the price in the first place, and then took it to Monsieur Linant[3] for the money, stipulating at the time that it was to be bought on Mr. Bankes’s account.

This roll proved to be that manuscript of Homer * which is considered so precious, but which it grieved me afterwards, and ever will, to have seen sold for more than its weight in gold + to that gentleman whom I considered the owner of it, and who would certainly have had it at my hands, without any further demand.

+ In my own journey, I bought a scrap of Greek upon papyrus in a very fine clear character, which seems to be the fragment of a letter or edict. I have a great number of tiles also written in a cursive Greek character, and highly curious upon that account, which purport to be receipts of pay by the Roman soldiery at Assouan during several reigns, from Tiberius to Commodius—one of these I found myself at Elephantine; and I have an amphora, also, that has served the same purposes as a modern slate to some tradesman’s family in Roman times, with his house or shop accounts registered upon it in ink from day to day.

* It contains the last book of the Iliad, most beautifully written, in uncial letters, and the lines numbered in the margin: what is very surprising, it has had accents added to it afterwards.

+ The author, though the first who had the handling of this papyrus, seems here to have formed a very undue estimate of its weight, for the sum which I paid for it amounted to no less than 25,000 piastres (about 500l.), that being stated as the offer that had been made for it from another quarter.

It is wonderful to have this item online!  How many of us would ever have been able to see it otherwise?  I doubt many of us could have managed to induce the keeper to let us see it, as recently as 10 years ago.

For this is what an ancient book looked like.  This is a real roll, complete with the end of the book.  Not a fragment of one; but 16 columns of it.

Look, and admire, and wonder!

  1. [1]As discussed in F. Schironi, Τὸ Μέγα Βιβλίον: Book-ends, End-titles, and Coronides in Papyri with Hexametric Poetry, American Studies in Papyrology 48), Durham (NC) 2010, no. 25 (pp. 134-35).
  2. [2]W. J. Bankes, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Giovanni Finati, Native of Ferrara, 2 vols, London 1830, vol. 2, pp. 357-58. Online here.
  3. [3]Retained to search for antiquities by Bankes.

Some notes on the bindings of ancient codices

A useful post at the British Library blog here drew my attention to an interesting question: what did the bindings of ancient manuscripts look like?

We all know that ancient books in 1 AD were written on rolls of papyrus.  With these we are not concerned here.  Examples have reached us, notably the charred rolls from Herculaneum.

A roll from Herculaneum
A roll from Herculaneum

Notes for day-to-day use were written on wax tablets.  These consisted of wooden boards with a recess, filled with wax.  The notes could be written on the wax with a sharp point, and erased with the flattened area at the other end.  Examples have been found, often with much scratching on the wood!  One such example, now in the Louvre, is given here.

Roman wax tablet - Louvre
Roman wax tablet – Louvre

A natural development from this was to take a sheet of papyrus or parchment, and fold it in the middle, again to take notes.  This gives rise to the modern book-form or codex, which starts being used in the 1st century AD.

Such items are mentioned by Martial in his Epigrams, who tells the reader where his poems may be bought, written on these novel-sounding objects.  But most authors seem to have ignored this parvenu.  Snobbery is always a feature of the literary world, and it was perhaps used mainly by middle-class and business people.

One exception to this rule was the early Christians.  The municipal rubbish dump at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt has yielded immense amounts of papyrus fragments from ancient books; but analysis shows that the Christian texts tended to be written on a codex much earlier than non-Christian texts.  In this context, it is notable that the end of Mark’s gospel is lost, and plainly was lost very early indeed.  The end of a text, if it is written on a roll, tends to be well-preserved; but the last leaf of a codex can easily become detached, if the volume does not have a cover.  It has been suggested, therefore, that Mark’s gospel was originally written into a codex, and that the last leaf or two was lost, before almost any copies were made.

These early codices were unlike modern books in one respect.  They consisted of a single gathering or “quire”: you took a pile of sheets of papyrus, and folded them in the middle, and sewed a link in the centre of the fold to hold them together.  A modern example from here shows the problem nicely:

Single quire notebook
Single quire notebook

There is a maximum size to these items, and they quickly become very difficult to handle.  The solution was found in the 4th century AD, when the multi-quire codex went into general use.  Each quire was no more than 16 pages; and then the quires were sewn to each other to form a book of almost any length, and the binding attached.  A modern example again:

Multi-quire binding
Multi-quire binding

These very large codices come into use in the late 4th century AD, and of course remain in use today in modern hardback books.

The find of a collection of gnostic books at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1946 gave us a clear idea of what the ancient books of the early 4th century looked like (via here).  These were still single quire papyrus codices.

The Nag Hammadi codices
The Nag Hammadi codices

The British Library cover comes from a tax register written in 716-717.  It consists of limp leather, lined with papyrus.

British Library Papyrus 1442 - 8th century leather binding of Coptic tax register
British Library Papyrus 1442 – 8th century leather binding of Coptic tax register

Note that there is a flap: this would be covered with metal and used to keep the book closed.  It formed a catch, in effect.

The cover is decorated with ink, and, usefully, the British Library have enhanced a detail photograph to show it:

BL Papyrus 1442 - enhanced image of cover
BL Papyrus 1442 – enhanced image of cover

Let me say that, after attempting to enhance it further myself, I am full of respect for the skills of the chap who created that image!

Of course this is a fairly late example of an “ancient” binding, which happens to be that of a single-quire non-literary text.  But it is clear from the Nag Hammadi volumes that this is precisely the technology in use in the early 4th century, and no doubt earlier.  In which case, we may speculate that early – 1st century – copies of Mark’s gospel perhaps had covers of the same kind.


British Library beginning to digitise its papyri

Sarah Biggs at the British Library Manuscripts blog writes:

The British Library holds one of the most significant collections of Greek papyri in the world, including the longest and most significant papyrus of the Aristotelian Constitution of Athens, unique copies of major texts such as Sophocles’ Ichneutae, and the Egerton Gospel, as well as a wide range of important documentary papyri from Oxyrhynchus, Aphrodito, Hibeh, Tebtunis, and the Fayum.  The Department of Manuscripts in the British Museum was at the forefront of the new discipline of papyrology at the turn of the nineteenth century, and many of our predecessors are well-known to anyone who has ever consulted a text preserved on papyrus:  Kenyon, Bell, and Skeat, to name just three.

Today, we are happy to announce that selected key papyri have been digitised and are now available to view on Digitised Manuscripts, along with completely new catalogue descriptions.  Five papyri are available online now, and two more items will appear in the coming weeks  …

Papyrus 229 (P. Lond. I 229):  Latin deed of the sale of a slave boy, retaining the seals of its signatories

Papyrus 1531 (P. Oxy. IV 654/P. Lond. Lit. 222):  Fragment of the Gospel of Thomas, in Greek

Papyrus 2052 (P. Oxy. VIII 1073/P. Lond. Lit. 200):  Fragment of Old Latin Genesis, from a parchment codex

Papyrus 2068 (P. Oxy. IX 1174/P. Lond. Lit. 67):  Sophocles, Ichneutae

Egerton Papyrus 2 (P. Lond. Christ. 1/P. Egerton 2):  The Egerton Gospel

Excellent news, I’m sure we all agree.


Syriac and Manichaean-related materials on a British Library blog

Via MedievalEgypt on Twitter I learn of a valuable post on Manichaean-related materials in the British Library, here, by Ursula Sims-Williams:

One of the most important sources in the British Library is the Syriac manuscript Add.12150 which contains the treatise Against the Manicheans by Titus (d. 378) of Bostra (Bosra, now in Syria), translated from Greek. This codex is additionally important, being the oldest known dated Syriac manuscript, in near perfect condition, and copied in Edessa in the year 723 of the Seleucid era (AD 411).


The final page of Titus of Bostra’s treatise Against the Manicheans. Vellum, dated AD 411 (Add.12150, f.156r).

The article goes on to discuss the manuscript of the Prose Refutations by Ephraim the Syrian, and the efforts of Charles Mitchell to edit these.  I well remember digitising his translation and uploading it, years ago.  He was a casualty of WW1.

I hope that the BL Asian and African Studies blog will do more on Syriac materials!


British Library impressions

It has been quite a while since I lasted visited the British Library.  It has been so long, indeed, that when I found a need to do so, I found that my readers’ card had expired in 2008, five years ago.  The building is in central London, a destination pretty much barred to those of us who live outside by punitive railway and discriminatory underground pricing.

Nevertheless I needed to consult a couple of manuscripts, so, very reluctantly, I set the alarm clock for 06:15 and made the awful journey in, arriving around 08:40.

Quite a few things have changed.  The admissions process was as smooth as such things can be.   However … you then have to leave admissions, go to a reading room and find a PC, and then “upgrade” your card.  This last process is so unintuitive that I had to ask for help twice.

Once you have done this, you can place orders … or you can, if you can work out how.  The website is a surreal mess.  My colleague was completely unable ti work it; I had to guess how to do so.

After which … a wait of 70 minutes for the mss!  That was very pathetic.   So I went to the canteen on upper ground, where only junk is available that no normal person could eat.

Faux de mieux, I whipped out my ultrabook and decided to see what the BL would try to charge me for wifi.  Not that I intended to pay; I can rig up web access via my phone.   To my surprise it was free to readers; the awful process of creating an online account suddenly seemed less burdensome, now I got something for it.  Well done, British Library; such an access is a tool.

Sadly it was too slow to allow me to download a critical edition from Archive.org.  This needs to be fixed.

The library is still resisting user photography.   The admissions clerk gave a stupid-sounding excuse, which clearly neither of us believed.  This can only be a matter of time, I think.

The British Library has fought hard to hold back the progress of technology.  But it seems that things are improving.   Good!

UPDATE: While enduring the dreadful online ordering system for manuscripts, I clicked on the “feedback” link and expressed my feelings.  And today … I got a form response from some clerk, telling me that I had to have a BL readers’ card to use that option!  Still, I suppose it saved him the trouble of discovering that I did…