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Medieval and Early Modern Greek Manuscripts : Greek Psalter

Medieval and Early Modern Greek Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This manuscript is a <i>Greek Psalter</i>, probably copied in the second half of the 15th century. The Psalms are followed by the Odes, the sequence of hymns excerpted from various Biblical books, also known as canticles, which in the Orthodox tradition constitute a separate book of the Bible. The first nine of these are the basis for the canons which are a central component of Orthodox hymnography. This manuscript contains this basic set and two of the remaining six hymns.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The manuscript has been identified from its distinctive script as the work of a copyist named Manuel, originally from Constantinople, who produced a number of other manuscripts and whose identity is known from his colophon on a New Testament manuscript (<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Leicester, The Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, MS 6 D 32/1</a>), addressed to George Neville, Archbishop of York (c. 1433-1476) and dated 1468. The likelihood that Manuel had settled in England is reinforced by evidence from other manuscripts that he collaborated with another known Constantinopolitan scribe, Ioannes Serbopoulos, who lived and worked in Reading, producing dated manuscripts between 1484 and 1500.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Although he was able to find work as a copyist, it seems likely that Manuel had not been professionally trained as a scribe. His hand is not very elegant and somewhat unconventional, and his accentuation is erroneous, using acute accents wherever a grave accent should appear. He was perhaps a refugee from the Ottoman conquest who adopted a new trade after settling in the West, taking advantage of the potential market value of a basic level of Greek literacy in England, where such skills were rare.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>It is notable in this regard that the quires in this manuscript are marked with leaf signatures in Greek, apparently in the scribe's own hand, a feature also found in other examples of Manuel's work. While the use of quire signatures was a normal feature of Greek manuscripts, leaf signatures were not usual in the Byzantine tradition. Manuel's adoption of this practice may be a further reflection of his residence in western Europe, and perhaps of his lack of formal scribal training, leaving him to learn aspects of his trade in the West rather than retaining habits acquired in Constantinople. This manuscript also features quire signatures in Arabic numerals in a medieval style, which may also be in Manuel's hand, presumably added for the benefit of an English binder.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>A structural peculiarity of the manuscript is that the bifolios of the early quires are arranged with the less attractive hair side outermost, a departure from normal practice, and which is reversed in the latter part of the manuscript. The practice followed in the early quires could be another sign of Manuel's uncertain professional standards, an error identified and redressed in the course of copying the manuscript.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Another Psalter copied by Manuel, now Cambridge, Trinity College, MS O.3.14, is similar in many respects, including the scribe's use of leaf signatures, but differs in that a new line is begun at the start of each verse, whereas in this manuscript the text is written continuously. This difference could reflect differing requirements from patrons, or a refinement of Manuel's technique, if the Trinity manuscript was copied later.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>In the late 15th or early 16th century, the Psalter was annotated by Richard Brinkley, a Franciscan friar based in Cambridge, who served as Provincial Master of the Order in England in the 1520s. This is close enough to the likely date of production that it may give some indication of the context in which the manuscript was originally commissioned.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr Christopher Wright</p>

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