Medieval hypertext award

Have you ever wondered how many cross-referenced texts can fit on the same medieval manuscript page? Having given this question a fair amount of thought – half an hour – I conclude that the winner of the ‘medieval hypertext award’ is, without a doubt, the ‘Canterbury Psalter’ also known as ‘Eadwin’s Psalter’ (now Cambridge, Trinity College MS R.17.1), copied by the monk Eadwine in the mid twelfth century – with six texts.

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Do not be fooled by the simplicity of this designation. The Canterbury Psalter is a glossed book. It contains the text of the psalms, but with the following twist:

  • instead of one text of the psalms, there are three (from left to right, columns 1,2 and 4): the ‘Hebrew’ version (translated by St Jerome from Hebrew); the Roman version (translated from the Greek Septuagint) and the Gallican version (that used for Mass);
  • the Hebrew version has an interlinear gloss in Old French; the Roman version has an interlinear gloss in Old English;
  • Anselm of Laon’s commentary to the Psalms (c. 1100–1130), known as ‘glosa parva‘ (the little gloss) is added alongside the Gallican version of the psalms, to the right margin (fifth column from the left) and between the Gallican and the Roman texts (third column from the left);
  • There are also short interlinear glosses in the third text (the Gallican version)
  • An illustration explaining each psalm is given at the beginning of the text.

The Old French and Old English glosses are interlinear (word-for-word), but they may be read as a continuous text. Anselm’s gloss is also a continuous text and was referred to as ‘glosa continua’.

All in all, there are six texts distributed over five columns, all related and keyed to each other. The interlinear glosses are arranged vertically, the marginal horizontally. The narrative image may also be thought of as a seventh text, but let’s not push it.

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