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Western Medieval Manuscripts : Gospel lectionary (Saturdays and Sundays)

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This <i>Gospel lectionary</i> manuscript, dating to the 13th century, belongs to the briefer of the two main types, the "Saturday-Sunday" lectionary, giving the lections for Saturdays and Sundays only, except for Holy Week and the period from Easter to Pentecost, for which weekdays are also included. Much of it has been lost, including its beginning and end, but it retains most of the latter part of the <i>synaxarion</i> (readings of the mobile calendar, beginning from Easter) and the first few months of the <i>menologion</i> (readings of the fixed calendar, beginning from 1 September).</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The book shows signs of being a product of the Greek communities of southern Italy. A substantial Greek-speaking population existed in this region while it was under Byzantine rule in the early Middle Ages, and although the empire was expelled from Sicily by the Arabs in the 10th century and from the mainland by the Normans in the 11th, Greek language and culture persisted there for centuries. Worship in Greek according to the Byzantine rite continued, for which liturgical books continued to be produced.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>One of the characteristic features found in this manuscript is the poor quality of its parchment, which displays numerous holes created during the stretching and drying of the skin. When making a high-grade manuscript, any sheet in which such holes appeared would have been rejected, while even in more humble products of the Byzantine mainstream they would usually only be used if the holes were positioned where they could be kept to the margins, rather than impairing the writing surface itself. In peripheral regions such as southern Italy standards were often lower, leading to the appearance of manuscripts such as this one, in which the text is frequently interrupted by holes in the material, appearing right in the midst of the written area. That these are original to the process of production, rather than the product of later damage, is clearly visible from the fact that none of the text has been lost to them. Instead it skips over them, with the beginning of a word often appearing on one side of a hole and the remainder on the other side.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Another feature suggestive of an origin in southern Italy is the manuscript's coloured decoration. Its ornamented initial letters and headpieces often feature a pale, translucent yellow wash, common in decoration from this region but not elsewhere in the Greek-speaking world. This pale yellow has also been used to highlight headings, a characteristic south Italian feature, though one that is also found in manuscripts from neighbouring Epiros in western Greece.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The text is competently formed, though not with any particular elegance, and includes some distinctive and inventive flourished letter and abbreviation forms. However, the scribe shows a somewhat eccentric approach to the placement of diacritic marks, especially breathings. Compound words in which the stem is preceded by a prefix have often been treated as though these were two separate words, with a breathing appearing on the initial vowel or diphthong of the stem, as at the beginning of a new word. Rather than merely showing ignorance or carelessness, this displays some understanding of the structure of the words in use, but a lack of familiarity with standard orthographic practice. There are also more commonplace errors such as the omission of accents or the use of the wrong type of breathing. This haphazard grasp of orthography shows deficiencies in the scribe's training which would also seem consistent with an origin in a region somewhat detached from the mainstream of Greek-speaking culture.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>This manuscript has been variously dated to the 12th and to the 13th century. For the most part its features are consistent with the second half of the 12th century, but a form of abbreviation of the word καὶ used by the scribe is not generally found before the latter period, and it can therefore be assigned to the 13th century. It should also be noted that one consequence of the remoteness of southern Italy's Greek culture from the heartland of Greek book production was that the styles of script in use there at times lagged behind developments in areas more closely connected with metropolitan fashions.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr Christopher Wright</p>

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