In the shadow of the book curse

In 1819 the Harvard Professor Edward Everett (d. 1865) was rummaging through monastic libraries in Greece for ancient manuscripts - as many professors were doing at the time, anyway. At Meteora he found the treasure he sought: “I saw a few MSS in this library, among which was a fine parchment Chrysostom, in several vols. folio.—I... Continue Reading →

Arabic numerals in Europe

The introduction of Arabic (Hindu-Arabic, actually) numerals into the medieval West was not a mechanical process. Apart from translations of Arabic works on arithmetic and the copying and reproducing of numerals as found in the Arabic sources, European scholars, especially those working in Toledo, turned their minds to more philosophical aspects of these numbers. One... Continue Reading →

Montaigne’s visit of the Vatican Library

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) arrived in Rome in November 1580, after a long journey across France, Germany and northern Italy. His Journal de voyage, intimate and never intended for publication, is our only source of information for what he did there. Although he constantly complained about the state of his health (renal colic, migraines, toothache, etc), he found the... Continue Reading →

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... Continue Reading →

The oldest fragment of the Vulgate Gospels

The earliest surviving copy of St Jerome's Vulgate version of the Gospels is a manuscript produced in Italy (perhaps in Verona) in about 410-420 AD, now in St Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 1395. The following leaf contains the text of John 16:30 - 17:8. Of this fragment, M.B. Parkes says: "The oldest known method of presenting... Continue Reading →

Ten medieval ways to hold a book

The good thing with illuminated manuscripts of books of the Old Testament is that there is great scope for depicting scribes, books, scrolls, pens, desks, and other elements of the medieval culture of writing and book-making. Manuscript Engelberg 76, produced in the mid 12th century at the Benedictine Abbey of Engelberg in Switzerland , one... Continue Reading →

The legends of medieval books

This blogpost is not about myths and legends, but about editorial legends, the written explanatory matter accompanying an illustration, map, chart, explaining how visuals are to be read and understood, or what they stand for. Despite their widespread use, legends are not modern. Medieval scribes, scholars and the manuscript culture these worked in made good use of legends,... Continue Reading →

Fragmentarium: because manuscript fragments count, too

Let's not be codicists! Manuscript fragments also have a story to tell, and it's usually far more dramatic. Here's where the freshly-launched Fragmentarium website comes into play. Rolled out on 1 September 2017, Fragmentarium is an international digital research lab for medieval manuscript fragments that enables libraries, collectors, researchers and students to publish medieval manuscript fragments, allowing... Continue Reading →

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