The Townley Homer at the British Library

A very welcome addition to the British Library collection of digital manuscripts is announced on their blog today.  In an excellent article by Julian Harrison, Hooray for Homer!, we learn that BL. Burney 86, a 10th century manuscript with copious scholia, is now accessible here.

The article itself is really useful, giving the history of the Ms. in modern times, links to other Homer mss. at the British Library, and a bibliography.  It would be impossible and unnecessary to do this for every manuscript placed online; but it is nice to see, once in a while.

It is also very nice to see an appreciation of a manuscript that is of textual interest, rather than the “pretty pretty picture” type manuscript that tends too often to attract digitisation.

Scholia are remarkably hard to get access to, and only Eleanor Dickey’s handbook Greek scholarship is available to guide those interested.  So it is nice to see pictures in the blog article of the text, and some explanation (with translation) of what these have to offer.

Well done.


Excel spreadsheet of all manuscripts at the British Library

Someone at the British Library has had an excellent idea.  They’ve uploaded a spreadsheet listing all the manuscripts they have online, with the URL.  It’s here.  They have 856 mss online at the moment; a small proportion of their holdings, but still very useful.

The spreadsheet lists shelfmark, contents, url and the project that did the upload.  The last won’t be much use, but browsing down the list of contents is exciting!

It will be very useful to me on my current project too.


Manuscript images at the British Library are “public domain”?

There is an interesting post at the British Library manuscripts blog, Images in the public domain.

Just a reminder that images from our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts are now available under a Public Domain mark. This means that they are available for download and reuse, on condition that certain basic principles are observed: (1) please respect the creators; (2) please credit the source of the material; (3) please share knowledge where possible; (4) please consider the efforts of the British Library in preserving and making such works available, should they be used for commercial or other for-profit purposes.

Now that is extremely interesting.  It is also very laudable — well done!  That is precisely what should be the case.

This seems to apply only to the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts material, tho.  That stuff is, really, not of much interest to me, as I am interested in texts.  But it is the sort of material that might have possible commercial value, and this makes the generous gesture all the more laudable.  On the link to the “public domain mark” are the following requests for those so using the material:

  • Please respect the creators – ensure traditional cultural expressions and all ethical concerns in the use of the material are considered, and any information relating to the creator is clear and accurate. Please note, any adaptations made to an item should not be attributed to the original creator and should not be derogatory to the originating cultures or communities.
  • Please credit the source of the material – providing a link back to the image on the British Library’s website will encourage others to explore and use the collections.
  • Please share knowledge where possible – please annotate, tag and share derivative works with others as well as the Library wherever possible.
  • Support the Public Domain – users of public domain works are asked to support the efforts of the Library to care for, preserve, digitise and make public domain works available. This support could include monetary contributions or work in kind, particularly when the work is being used for commercial or other for-profit purposes.
  • Please preserve all public domain marks and notices attached to the works – this will notify other users that the images are free from copyright restrictions and encourage greater use of the collection.

I think that is more than fair.  In particular supporting the public domain is precisely what this blog exists to do.  Again … well done!

This is the sort of thing that every national collection should be doing.  By making images available in a way that promotes reuse and the creation of derivative works, they enrich the culture of today.


Unbinding the Codex Alexandrinus to photograph it

A marvellous post at the British Library manuscripts blog.  It begins with the encouraging statement:

The British Library is committed to making available online as many of its medieval manuscripts as possible.

And then it goes on to discuss how the ancient Codex Alexandrinus of the bible, currently bound in 4 volumes, had to be taken apart to be photographed.  Nor is this surprising, as anyone who has handled the British Library’s manuscripts will know.  The bindings are frequently like iron.

In the case of Codex Alexandrinus, the opening of the manuscript was heavily compromised by the last re-binding, which jeopardised our ability to photograph properly each page in its entirety. Bound books are very complex structures: they are made of many different materials and the interaction between the writing support and the mechanics of the sewing structure is vital to their survival. Unfortunately, it had been the practice in recent centuries to attach too-heavy spine linings (made of layers of stiff paper and weak fabric) to the back of book blocks, which in many cases has only served to compromise their opening. This was found to be the case when Codex Alexandrinus was examined prior to digitisation.

The first requirement was to reach the back of the book block, which entailed removal of the cover. Next, the parchment book block was gently cleaned by removing the different layers of unsuitable materials, releasing the pressure on the folds of individual sections, and improving considerably the opening of the manuscript. A new reinforcement made of archival suitable materials was then placed onto the spine to support the opening of the book, and to increase the strength of the connection between the book block and the cover. Finally, the cover was re-adhered to this volume of Codex Alexandrinus. By doing this, the manuscript could be opened sufficiently to image its pages.

What is encouraging is that the library had the wisdom to do this.  In ancient times manuscript bindings were detachable.  If the modern bindings are unserviceable, and not of historical importance, then there is no reason not to adjust them.


From my diary

I’ve commissioned translations of Ephraim the Syrian, Hymns against heresies 23 and 24, to be done by Christmas.  Looking forward to those!  Together with hymn 22, they form a group against Marcionism.

I’ve now received by ILL To Mega Biblion, on the presence of end titles and the like in ancient papyri of Homer.  It catalogues nearly 60 examples.  It’s going to take some careful reading.  But one interesting snippet, if I remember it correctly, is that end-titles as such seem to appear only from the 1st century B.C. onwards.

This evening I had intended to translate another chunk of the Life of Mar Aba.  But … I can’t find the .rtf file with the source!  Maybe another night.

On a different note, I read a rather sensible blog article at The Gospel Coalition on the appointment of a new Archbishop of Canterbury. 

Much more exciting, tho, was an article over at the British Library manuscripts blog (whose evil comment system erased an enthusiastic comment that I left). Julian Harrison has an interesting piece on the 12th century catalogue of the books of Reading Abbey, found in Ms. B.L. Egerton 3031:

The book has a remarkable history. It was discovered in 1790 in a bricked-up chamber by a workman who was demolishing part of a wall at Shinfield House, near Reading, home to Lord Fingall (whose family sold the manuscript to the British Museum).

How the cartulary came to be there remains a mystery — was the hiding place at Shinfield used by a Reading monk when Henry VIII’s followers ransacked the monastery, or was it buried in the chamber at another time?

The item then was:

…. purchased by the British Museum in 1921 using funds bequeathed by Francis Henry Egerton, 8th Earl of Bridgewater (d. 1829). …

The library catalogue only takes up four pages, but it lists about 300 books according to subject with the heading in red ink, Hii sunt libri qui continentur in Radingensi ecclesia (These are the books contained in the church of Reading). It begins with four Bibles, each comprising three or four volumes. Next were glossed books of the Bible, one of which is probably British Library, Additional MS 54230, a copy of the book of Judges with other texts. One of the largest categories contains the works of the Church Fathers, particularly St Augustine, for whom 18 volumes are listed. Following these are a small collection of classical texts and, lastly, liturgical books, such as breviaries, missals and antiphoners for use in the daily devotions.

There is an image of folio 8v (although not nearly large enough: the full size item is here), which is the beginning of the catalogue.  I wish that the other three pages were also online!!  Only the last three entries are by Augustine: the first two on Psalms and Canticles; the other de unitate dei in uno volumine.

I wonder what else Reading held?  How I wish these things were online!  It is fascinating to dig through the remains of medieval libraries.  Which patristic texts were there?  Which classical texts?


More manuscripts online at the British Library

At the British Library manuscripts blog, there is news.

Final Harley Science Manuscripts Published

We are delighted to announce that the remaining manuscripts in our Harley Science Project have now been published to the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site. All 150 manuscripts in this project have been digitised and recatalogued thanks to the generosity of William and Judith Bollinger. We hope that this resource, part of our ongoing campaign to make our collection items more accessible, will promote new research into the books in question.

I hope so too.  It can’t do the slightest harm.  The cataloguing is pretty good too, I have to say.  But … I wish we could get PDF’s of the mss, rather than being at the mercy of slow broadband and a quirky interface.  I suspect it will come, once libraries recognise that it doesn’t harm them in any way.

Access to these texts was always the problem; only a tiny handful of geographically local scholars could do much.  Now … there are NO excuses for lazy scholarship.  Get publishing articles, gentlemen!

In the current tranche, the following items will be of interest to us.

  • Harley 2686  Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae (France, 9th century)
  • Harley 3748  Galen, Opera (France or Italy, 14th-15th century)
  • Harley 3892  Miscellaneous texts on rhetoric, grammar, geometry and divination (Italy, 1400-1454) — this actually also contains parts of Horace, Ars Poetica and Letters.
  • Harley 3915  Collection of chemical, alchemical and medical recipes, and texts on the techniques and technology of various arts (Germany, 1200-1444) — Includes an extract from Vitruvius, and an autograph note by Nicholas of Cusa, indicating that this book once belonged to him (and so ought to be in Berkastel-Kues with the rest of his books).
  • Harley 3969  Works on history, natural history and rhetoric (England, 14th century) — Actually includes extracts from: Cassiodorus, De orthographia, Censorinus de natali die, Apuleius, Dares Phrygius, Pliny the Elder, and Jerome’s Letter to Helvidius.
  • Harley 4241  Aristotle, Metaphysica (Germany, c. 1450-1464) — Another of St. Nicolas of Cusa’s books.

There are a number of other Latin translations, of Euclid and Aristotle.

Good to have these.


New BL mss online: technical texts

I learn from the British Library manuscripts blog that a further bunch of manuscripts from the Harley collection have now been placed online at their site, courtesy of funding by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.  These are described as “science manuscripts”, which of course covers a multitude of things, not all of them interesting to us.  The majority are of medieval texts.  But it includes a number of ancient technical texts.

We’re all familiar with ancient literary texts: Herodotus, Cicero, Livy, Tertullian, St. Augustine, and so forth.  But the technical literature of antiquity is much less well known, and much of it has barely been edited.  Very little exists in English.  This category includes medical handbooks, astrological works, and many others.

Skimming over the BL site, I note these manuscripts of works by ancient technical authors:

  • Harley MS 1585 Illustrated compilation of texts on herbs and making up medicines (Netherlands, 12th century) including various late-antique texts.
  • Harley MS 2650 Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, book 8 (=De astronomia) (France or England, 12th century)
  • Harley MS 2660 Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae and De natura rerum (Germany, 1136), plus four letters of Isidore.
  • Harley MS 2676 Pliny the Elder, Historia naturalis (Florence, 1465-1467)
  • Harley MS 2766 Iulius Firmicus Maternus, Mathesis (Italy, 15th century), the astrological compendium.
  • Harley MS 3015 Miscellany including Bede’s De natura rerum (England, 12th century) specifically: — (f. 1v); John Chrysostom, Homilies 1-30 (ff. 2r-62r); Augustine of Hippo, Sermones (Sermo 173) (ff. 63r- 64v);Isidore of Seville, De Differentis (ff. 65v-89r); Bede, De Natura Rerum (ff. 90r-99r); Anselm, De libero arbitrio (ff. 100r-108r).
  • Harley MS 3022 Collection of texts on theology, instruction and natural history (Italy, 14th century) — 1. Giles of Rome (Aegidius Romanus), De regimine principum (ff. 1r-32r); 2. Aristotle, De natura animalium (ff. 32v-54v);3. The Life of St Veridianus (ff. 55r-57v);4. Cassiodorus, Varia (ff. 57v-67v);5. Cassiodorus, De anima (ff. 68r-79v);6. Augustine, Speculum (ff. 80r-83v); 7. Augustine, Soliloquia (ff. 83v-128v);8. Pseudo-Augustine, Liber de vita Christiana (ff. 129r-139v).
  • Harley MS 3035 Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae and De natura rerum (Germany, 1495) — much the same as the earlier one, but with five letters of Isidore. 

The one that stands out for me is the ms. of Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, and for an unusual reason.  The work was given chapter divisions by Pliny himself, as the preface indicates.  But did he also mark them in the text?  Were there numerals in the margins?  The colloquium on meta-textual elements at Chantilly in 1994 contained a paper discussing this, and noting that the editors of Pliny were “fort discrets” on these points.

It would be most interesting to know.  Ideally we would want pre-humanist manuscripts, of course; but it would still be interesting to know what this manuscript has.


British Library to place 250,000 books online — thanks to Google

It seems that the BL will allow Google to place 250,000 books published between 1700 and 1870 online.  See AFP article here.

All the works will be available for text search download and reading on the British Library’s website and at Google Books on

The cost of digitising all 40 million pages will be borne by Google, which has entered similar partnerships with Stanford and Harvard universities in the United States as well as in the Netherlands, Italy and Austria.

BBC article is here, BL press release here (and do read a few other announcements first, and laugh to see how many merely repeat the press release).

This is good news.  More.


The British Library — whoring the national library?

They say a leopard cannot change its spots, and too often, this is so.  Over the last few years I have documented various outrageous examples of greed and cynicism by the British Library. 

The BL is, remember, a body entirely funded by the money of others.  That money is not given freely.  It is exacted by the state under threat of imprisonment from people who (in the main) cannot use the library or its facilities.  

Now there is an argument for a national library, as a centre of learning, funded by taxes in order to benefit everyone.  In the age of the internet, it could and should act like Google Books, placing books online in PDF’s to disseminate knowledge.

But that is not what the BL does.  Instead, those who control it keep trying to use the internet to get money, rather than to serve the nation.   Unlike the internet model, where everyone gives away content, they keep trying to exploit it commercially. 

Today I read this heading:  Put a thousand books from the British Library on your iPad for free.  Well, it’s not much, really — think of — but it’s something.  Although… why an iPad?

I just love finding apps like this, and I think you’ll be excited too. The British Library has released 1000 books from its 19th Century collection into a free iPad app that includes novels, historical works, poetry, philosophy and scientific books.

The books have been scanned in high resolution and color so you can see the engraved illustrations, the beauty of the embossed covers, along with maps and even the texture of the paper the books were printed on.

You can search the collection, browse titles by subject, and even read commentary on some of the titles. The books can be downloaded for reading offline. …

The app only works in portrait mode, but some of the illustrations are oriented in landscape view. …

Yup.  It’s not a set of books.  It’s an “app”.  In other words, the books are locked inside some proprietary software.  As soon as I saw that bit, I knew.  I could smell it.  And sure enough…

Although the app is free, the British Library plans to charge for an enhanced version of 60,000 titles later this year.

You bet they do. 

Let us thank heavens for Google Books.  Thank heavens for 

And a raspberry to these loathsome little civil servants, selling what is not theirs to sell, in an age when even ordinary chaps like me give content away.

I award them the Bloodsucker award for June 2011.


A list of the new manuscripts online at the British Library site

At the British Library manuscripts blog, Julian Harrison is paying attention, and well done to him.  In response to comments like those here, he’s today posted a list of the 25 newly uploaded manuscripts.  Here it is, with extra text by me.

  • Additional MS 4949  – 12th c. four gospels
  • Additional MS 4950 – 13th c. Matthew, Mark, a summary of Luke, and a page of stuff from Eusebius on Jesus and the Evangelists “Ex Eusebio Chronicis”.   Anyone able to read any of the last?
  • Additional MS 4951 – 13th c. Luke, John, Menologion, plus a colophon.
  • Additional MS 5107  – 1159 AD.  Eusebius, letter to Carpianus, with a bit of a canon table, then the 4 gospels.
  • Additional MS 5111  – 6-12th century.  Eusebius to Carpianus, canons, plus Matthew and Mark.
  • Additional MS 5112  – 12th c.  Luke, John, and 3 leaves of a patristic florilegium.  Clearly written, this one!  But I can’t make out any names.
  • Additional MS 5117 – 1326-1457.  4 gospels, Eusebius to Carpianus, and a couple of other late things.
  • Additional MS 10057 – 14-16th c.  Euripedes!!! — 3 plays: the Hecuba, Orestes, and Phoenissae, plus scholia!
  • Additional MS 11870  – 11th c. Metaphrastes, Saints’ Lives for September.
  • Additional MS 14771  – 10th c. Gregory Nazianzen!!! — a bunch of his orations (1, 45, 44, 41, 21, 15, 38, 43, 39, 40, 11, 14, 42, 16), including the funeral oration for Basil the Great.  The ms. starts with a table of contents in red uncial.  I was once told such tables of contents were rare!  This manuscript once belonged to Niccolo Niccoli in Florence, then to the monastery of St. Mark, where Niccoli’s books went after his death.  Evidently someone stole it and sold it on.
  • Additional MS 18231 — 972 AD.  Dionysius the Areopagite, Gregory Nazianzen’s orations (again with table of contents): 2, 12, 9, 10, 11, 3, 19, 17, 16, 7, 8, 18, 6, 23, 22, 38, 39, 40, 1, 45, 44, 41, 33 against the Arians, 27 against the Eunomians, 29, 30, 31, 20, 28, 34, 14, 36, 26, 25, 24, 21, 15, 42, 43, 4 & 5 against Julian the Apostate, 37, 13, ; letters 101 and 102 and 202; a couple of Carmina; a vita of Gregory; ps.Nonnus’ Scholia mythologica (I wonder what these are).
  • Additional MS 18277 – (modern papers)
  • Additional MS 19387 – 13th c. 4 gospels.
  • Additional MS 20002 – 10th c.  Old Testament; Judges, with bits of Joshua and Ruth.  This was acquired by Tischendorff from Sinai.
  • Additional MS 20186 – (modern papers)
  • Additional MS 21030 – 13th c. Psalter.  Acquired in Maloula in Syria.
  • Additional MS 21061 – 15th c. Anastasius the Sinaite on the Hexameron, followed by ps.Caesarius, Quaestiones et Responsiones.
  • Additional MS 21165 – 15th c. Iamblichus! Life of Pythagoras, Protrepicus, De communi mathematica scientia, In Nicomachi arithmeticam introductionem.
  • Additional MS 21261 – 14th c. Gospel lectionary.
  • Additional MS 22733 – 11th c. Metaphrastes, more saints’ lives.
  • Additional MS 22750 – 14th c.  Hagiography: “Fragments of sermons and services in honour of the Archangel Michael, including that of Pantaleon the Deacon”, from a burned volume.
  • Additional MS 22909 – 1680 AD.  Some very late Byzantine writers.
  • Additional MS 23895 – 16th c. Onasander, Strategicus!
  • Additional MS 23927 – 16th c. Aristotle, Problemata.
  • Additional MS 35021 – (modern)

I was a bit afraid after the opening section that it would all be gospel mss.!  But thankfully not — there are some gems in there.  But what does smack you in the face is the need for a course in Greek paleography in order to make much of them.

Do add that blog to your RSS feeder.  They don’t post that often, but all the posts are interesting and useful, and usually illustrated with some precious page image.