If a scribe has two copies of a text in different bookhands, which will he copy?

At the renaissance there was an explosion of copies of manuscripts.  These thick neat manuscripts will be familiar to all who have handled manuscripts at all, and are found everywhere.  Fifteenth century copies are commonplace.

I’ve just been reading Emil Kroymann’s study of the transmission of the text of Tertullian in Italy, and the role played by the central book-collector of the renaissance, Niccolo Niccoli.  Niccoli was one of us.  If he lived today, he’d be a blogger.  He was an awkward chap, who enjoyed poor health, and was difficult to deal with.  He amassed a huge collection of manuscripts, which passed to Lorenzo the Magnificent after his death, and are today in the Biblioteca Mediceo-Laurenziana in Florence.

Kroymann did a journey into Italy at the end of the 19th century, and collated all the Italian manuscripts he could find.  In particular he found a manuscript in Florence, written in a gothic book-hand, and a copy of it in Niccoli’s hand, done in a Roman book-hand, both in the Laurentian.

The result of his collation was to discover that all of the Italian copies were descended from Niccoli’s manuscript.  Not one was copied direct from the manuscript in gothic book-hand, despite the fact that the two copies have always been together.  The scribes found it easier to read a copy in “Roman” font, rather than the gothic hand.

Yet the gothic manuscript was not ancient.  It too was written in the 15th century, by two Franciscans at Pforzheim in southern Germany.  Cardinal Orsini had made a  journey there, and returned carrying a copy of Plautus — THE copy of Plautus, which alone contains a mass of his plays — and this Tertullian manuscript.  Both were “borrowed” by Niccoli, to copy; Orsini was able to extract the Plautus from Niccoli’s hands, but the Tertullian he never got back.

We need to be aware of the “path of least resistance” that scribes will take, when technology changes.  There are various doorways down the years through which an ancient text must pass in order to reach us.   Probably one copy is made, in each case, in the new format; and that becomes the ancestor of all subsequent copies. 

When the roll format was abandoned in the 4th century in favour of the parchment codex book, those texts not copied into the new format doubtless speedily ceased to exist.  The compiler of the Theodosian codex ca. 450 complains even then that works by second-century jurists like Ulpian no longer are accessible.  The flimsier papyrus rolls, no longer considered the most valuable or easiest to use, must quickly have fallen apart.

Likewise when the uncial and capital book-hand of antiquity gave way to the various minuscule book hands in the 9th century, which were both more economic in parchment and easier to write, the older copies must have become inconvenient.  They were still readable, and parchment is forever; but if you had to carry a volume to a neighbouring monastery so they could copy it, would you want a big or a small volume?

We see the same phenomenon here in Italy in the fifteenth century.  The scribes could have used the copy that Niccolo used; but found it easier to copy the copy, typos and all.

Then we all know how the first text to be placed into print tended to become the ancestor of all printed texts up to the 19th century.  Again, this was  a doorway.  Yet the texts that were printed were by no means the best; they were often those which were simply most readily available.

Today we have texts being placed onto the internet.  This too, I suspect, is a doorway.  There will come a time, soon, when offline material is simply ignored.  These texts too will perish.

Poem to a senator who has converted from Christianity to the servitude of idols

There are quite a lot of scattered late Latin poems around, often attached to the works of Cyprian or Tertullian in manuscripts or early editions.  Some are interesting. This article discusses them, and I have a bunch on my Tertullian site under “spurious”. 

One of these is a poem of 85 lines here, which talks about a certain senator who has apostasised and become a devotee of the Magna Mater, Cybele.

I’ve just discovered that an English translation exists, unpublished:

THE “CARMEN AD QUENDAM SENATOREM”: DATE, MILIEU, AND TRADITION by BEGLEY, RONALD BRUCE Ph.D., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1984, 303 pages; AAT 8415790

I hope someone will get hold of it from the UMI database so I can take a look at it.  It contains interesting details about Cybele, I believe.

7,300+ visitors to Tertullian.org last month

I was interested to discover from this site that apparently more than 7,300 unique individuals used my site last month.  For a site dedicated to a subject as abtruse as the Fathers, that’s not bad going.  Perhaps we underestimate interest in early Christian history?