Medieval and Early Modern Greek Manuscripts : Greek Catena on the Psalms

Medieval and Early Modern Greek Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This manuscript, probably copied in the mid-to-late 16th century, contains a <i>Greek Catena on the Psalms</i>, a compilation of extracts of commentary on the text, compiled by the 11th/12th-century scholar and teacher Niketas of Herakleia, also known as Niketas of Serres. This is the only catena on the Psalms whose compiler's identity is known (Bram Roosen, 'The works of Nicetas Heracleensis (ὁ) τοῦ Σερρῶν', <i>Byzantion</i> 69 (1999), pp. 119-144 at p. 135).</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The author was a nephew of the bishop of the city of Serres in Macedonia. He pursued an ecclesiastical career in Constantinople and became one of the senior teachers in the patriarchal school at Hagia Sophia, the most eminent educational institution in the Byzantine Church, which provided tuition in secular as well as religious studies. In the theological sphere, the school employed three teachers to give tuition on the Gospels, the Epistles and the Psalms, posts which the same individual often held one after another. Niketas also produced catenae on the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles, so it is likely that he held all three posts in the course of his career, and that his catenae were compiled in support of his teaching (Roosen, pp. 138-139, 142-143). Near the end of his life he was appointed Bishop of Herakleia Pontika in north-western Anatolia.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The bulk of the manuscript is a product of the 16th century, while the opening leaves were added in the 17th. The process by which the main body was produced is rather ambiguous. A sharp discontinuity occurs between ff. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(740);return false;'>409</a> and <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(741);return false;'>410</a>. A single scribe copied the whole of the preceding part of the manuscript's main body, <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(25);return false;'>ff. 9r-409v</a>, but from <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(741);return false;'>f. 410r</a>, the beginning of a new quire, a different copyist was responsible, while modest ornament in red ink also appears from this point and there is a change in the type of paper. The text on the last few folios of the preceding quire was increasingly large and widely spaced, indicating that the scribe was stretching it out to fill the remainder of the quire and reach a predetermined end-point on its last page. This is despite the fact that this was not the end of the text.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The second portion of the manuscript is distinguished not only by the features already mentioned but by the appearance of a second set of quire signatures. One sequence runs continuously through the entire manuscript, but from <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(741);return false;'>f. 410r</a> it is joined by another, oddly beginning from the number 2. This suggests that the second part of the text was originally supposed to form a distinct entity, together with an additional first quire, now lost, although the text on <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(741);return false;'>f. 410r</a> picks up from the point where that on <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(740);return false;'>f. 409v</a> ended. It could be that the two portions were originally supposed to form a two-volume set, which would be very plausible given the unwieldy thickness of the manuscript as it now exists. Alternatively, the latter part of the text may for some reason have been selected for copying on its own, but subsequently augmented by the addition of the earlier part. In either case, it would seem that the original first quire of the second portion was either lost or deliberately removed to smooth its integration with the first.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Certainly the way that the text of the first part is stretched at its end towards the point where the second begins indicates that by the time the copying of the first was being completed, the second already existed in its present form. It is likely that, even if the first part was an expansion rather than an originally intended part of the project, it was commissioned only a short time later and in the same context, since one of the various types of paper occurring in the manuscript appears in both parts, while the last quire of the second part (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(1181);return false;'>ff. 630r-633v</a>) was copied by a different scribe from the rest, who appears to be same one responsible for the first part.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>A note on <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(25);return false;'>f. 9r</a> records that the manuscript was at one time the property of Metrophanes Kritopoulos (1589-1639), a monk of Mount Athos, who in about 1621 travelled to study at Oxford, presumably bringing this manuscript with him. He went at the instigation of the Patriarch of Constantinople Cyril Loukaris (1572-1638), who in the early 17th century established a close relationship with the Anglican Church, as a result of his attraction to Calvinist theology and the wish for cooperation against Catholic encroachment. Loukaris was particularly concerned to bolster the intellectual means available to counter the arguments of Catholic missionaries, owing to the limited character of the education the Orthodox Church could now provide. Loukaris made arrangements with the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbot (1562-1633), to send Greek clerics to study at Oxford.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The first of these was Kritopoulos, who studied for a time at Balliol College, but fell out with Abbot and left England in 1623, having seemingly given away or sold this manuscript in the meantime. He would pursue his studies and contacts with Protestant churches in other parts of Europe for several years before returning home around 1630, soon being elevated to the post of Bishop of Memphis and later Patriarch of Alexandria.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The manuscript was soon afterwards found in the hands of the royal librarian Patrick Young (1584-1652), who may well have acquired it directly from Kritopoulos, along with another catena on the Psalms previously owned by Kritopoulos, now MS O.4.21. He extensively annotated it and apparently had it rebound, adding some additional leaves at the front (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(7);return false;'>ff. 1r-8v</a>) on which he had copied excerpts from a number of Greek commentaries on the Psalms out of a manuscript belonging to the Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher (1581-1656). Young recorded that he completed this work at his house in London on 4 June 1628 (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(24);return false;'>f. 8v</a>). He also collated the text of the catena of Niketas with a manuscript belonging to Ussher, probably the same one. In 1637 Young also published an edition of a catena on the Book of Job which he attributed to Niketas, although this is strongly disputed (Roosen, p. 135).</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The last folio of the main body of the manuscript, <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(1187);return false;'>f. 633</a>, has been pasted to the first of the endleaves added with the current binding, hiding the text on <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(1188);return false;'>f. 633v</a>, although this can still be read by shining a light through the paper.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr Christopher Wright</p>


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