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Western Medieval Manuscripts : Byzantine Miscellany

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'> This manuscript, datable to the first half of the sixteenth century, is a <i>Byzantine Miscellany</i> comprising texts of various genres and ages, which have in common their use for educational purposes in Byzantium: two collections of gnomic <i> sententiae</i>, poems by the Cappadocian Father Gregory of Nazianzos, books 20 and 22 of Homer’s <i> Iliad</i>, the tragedy <i> Alexandra</i> by Lycophron, and two short grammatical texts on declensions. Particularly significant in this context is the presence of <i> Alexandra</i>, with scholia, a quite obscure, and difficult text, which, due to its linguistic characteristics, was very popular as a teaching text in Byzantium. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'> The texts were copied by the hieromonk Sabbas of the Dionysiou monastery on Mount Athos (RGK I, 359), who wrote his name in the manuscript. It was bought for Cambridge University Library by Richard Farmer in 1785, in the auction of Anthony Askew's manuscripts; it was probably previously owned by Richard Mead. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'> The material characteristics of the manuscript reveals a complex history behind this book. The codex is in fact formed by two contemporary parts, folios 1-24 (part I) and 25-118 (part II). Although Sabbas’s hand appears in both parts and the texts are written on the same kind of paper (the same watermark representing a bull’s head is found in both parts of the codex), the two parts are immediately distinguishable due to the presence of two non-consecutive sequences of quire signatures, written by Sabbas. The three quires which form the first part are numbered να΄-νγ΄ (51-53), while the quires of the second part are numbered κα΄-λ΄ (21-30). The signatures attest that these two parts were not originally bound in the current order, and that something is missing: the second part originally preceded the first, and quite a lot of the manuscript is now lost: <ul><li> [missing quires] - part II (quires κα΄-λ΄ [21-30]) -[missing quires] - part I (quires να΄-νγ΄ [51-53])</li></ul>.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'> One of the missing parts of MS Ff.4.47, as originally suggested by Professor Patricia Easterling, is to be found in another manuscript now in Cambridge University Library, MS Nn.3.14, which also came from the Dionysiou monastery on Mount Athos, and was owned by Anthony Askew and Richard Mead. Nn.3.14 contains tragedies by Euripides and is a composite manuscript, formed of two non-contemporary parts. The first part (ff. 1-121) is datable to the early fourteenth century and contains three plays by Euripides (<i> Hecuba</i>, <i> Orestes</i>, <i> Phoenician Women</i>). The second part (ff. 122-209) was written later, in the sixteenth century, and contains <i> Hecuba</i> and <i> Orestes</i> by Euripides followed by a grammatical text. It is this second part that was probably originally bound together with MS Ff.4.47. The same scribe, Sabbas, copied the texts; the quires are numbered [μ΄]-ν΄ (40-50) in Sabbas’s hand, partly filling the incomplete series found in Ff.4.47; the same paper is used as in Ff.4.47, with the bull’s head watermark. It is possible, therefore, to reconstruct at least a portion of the original manuscript: <ul><li> [missing quires] - Ff.4.47, part II (quires κα΄-λ΄ [21-30]) -[missing quires] - Nn.3.14, part II (quires μ΄-ν΄ [40-50]) - Ff.4.47, part I (quires να΄-νγ΄ [51-53])</li></ul>. The re-introduction of the texts contained in Nn.3.14 part II into Ff.4.47 confirms its character as a didactic miscellany: in Byzantium the tragedies of Euripides, <i> Hecuba</i> and <i> Orestes</i> in particular, were very popular texts in an educational context. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'> At present the remaining missing parts of the original manuscript have not been identified. Moreover, the exact moment when the original manuscript was dismembered remains to be precisely clarified. Surely the division and re-assembly of the manuscript’s parts had already taken place when MSS Ff.4.47 and Nn.3.14 entered the University Library: their descriptions in the catalogue of Askew’s sale correspond to the present state of the manuscripts. Therefore the rearrangement probably occurred while the manuscripts were in possession of Askew himself, or perhaps previously, when they were owned by Mead. Further research needs to be done on this point (the issue is complex and involves also the other manuscripts deriving from the Dionysiou monastery, see on the subject O.L. Smith, 'Notes and Observations on some Manuscripts of the Scholia on Aeschylus', in: <i> Classica et Mediaevalia</i> 31 (1970), pp. 14-48, Stubbings 1976, Easterling 2000, and S. McKendrick, 'Collecting Greek Manuscripts in Eighteenth-Century England: the origins, scope and legacy of the collections of Richard Mead and Anthony Askew', in: <i> Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society </i> 17.1 (2020), pp. 85-129). Such reconstructions are of course important from a philological point of view, in understanding the tradition of the texts conveyed by the manuscripts. But, as this case shows very well, they bear added significance from a historical and cultural perspective, showing how books can be used and reused in a variety of contexts. When this miscellany, a quite traditional collection of texts in a Byzantine milieu, was placed in a new context, that of English antiquarian scholar-collectors of the 17th-18th centuries, it was divided and the texts recombined in order to form new books. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'> Dr Erika Elia</p>

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