Medieval and Early Modern Greek Manuscripts : Psalter in Greek

Medieval and Early Modern Greek Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This manuscript is a <i>Psalter in Greek</i>, probably copied around the 1460s. 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 three of the remaining six hymns, arranged in their most usual order.</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. 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;'>Another indication that Manuel produced this manuscript in England is the presence of Latin annotations by a 15th-century hand, whose style suggests an English origin, who added occasional glosses of words and identified most of the Psalms by number and by the <i>incipit</i> of their Latin translation. These may well be the work of the manuscript's original patron, as they are absent from the first quire, whose text is in Manuel's hand but in slightly larger script than the rest. This suggests that this quire may have been a replacement produced to remedy damage to the original first quire, soon enough after the book's production for the original scribe to be commissioned to do the work, but after the Latin annotations had been added, and that those lost with the removal of the original quire were never replicated in the substitute.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The manuscript retains an early binding, which has been identified as the work of a London craftsman active from the 1450s until the 1480s, known from one of the decorative motifs he used as the "Scales Binder". This was one of the earliest English binders to produce bindings with their leather covers decorated with tooling. The design includes the name "Bhale", probably that of the owner for whom the book was bound. Study of the different decorative tools employed by the binder at different times suggests that this binding was produced in the years around 1470 and must therefore have been done not long after the copying of the manuscript. However, if the current first quire is indeed a replacement, this may nonetheless be a rebinding. This would also be suggested by the presence of stains from leather turn-ins on <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(5);return false;'>f. [ii]</a> but not on <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(3);return false;'>f. [i]</a>, suggesting that the present second endleaf was previously the first.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>In the light of this, it is peculiar that the manuscript bears no less than four sets of quire or leaf signatures, which would normally suggest that it had been rebound on multiple occasions and its quires relabelled for the purpose. One of these signature sequences numbers the quires only, in Arabic numerals, while the other three also number the bifolios within each quire. Two of these leaf signature sequences use Latin letters for quires and Roman numerals for bifolios, one of which has been identified as the work of the Scales Binder. The other is written in Greek, apparently in Manuel's own hand. 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.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr Christopher Wright</p>

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