Archive for June, 2012

June 22, 2012

Week #3, 2012

We processed about 69 films this week, working mostly on the Vatican library. Taking the lead in speed and efficiency was Vlad who became an experienced wrangler of large numbers of uncatalogued Vatican manuscript which were often piled onto one single film. He worked on Professor Ševčenko’s Vatican films and found several autographs by Nikephoros Gregoras. Roderick tackled with stoic equanimity a stack of films that no one had the strength or courage to face last summer, including some beautiful Armenian mss. from Holkham Hall and a still unidentified ms. which is a French translation (probably by Charles Texier) of an 1822 German work on describing Asia Minor at the Royal Institute of British Architects. I spent my time with the Barberini collection in the Vatican and with some of Professor Westerink’s films from the Beinecke Library.

We also had the opportunity to present and talk about our project with the staff, fellows and Greek summer school students on Friday from 2-3. We’ll be sharing some of that on the blog soon.

Repositories represented this week:

  • Brussels, Koninklijke Bibliotheek
  • Holkham Hall, Earls of Leicester Library.
  • Manchester, John Rylands Library
  • New Haven, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
  • Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana


Thanks to all for a great week!

June 15, 2012

Ὁ Μεγαλέξαντρος Ζεῖ καὶ Βασιλεύει… στὰ Βάθη τῆς Ἀσίας

Week Two for Σασκῶπον καὶ Βλαδιμηρῶπον, Week One for Σοφοκλῆ. We’re into a fairly good rhythm and moving along at a good pace, though the collection never ceases to deliver surprises (and despite the many Easter eggs that Prof. Ševčenko left for us).

We got through about 85 films this week, including several milestones: Vladimir finished Milan, Saskia finished Naples, and I finished the Escorial, guided by two great cataloguers of yore, Señores Revilla & Andrés. (See samples from over 100 Escorial scribes here, and Vogel & Gardthausen’s awesome Verzeichniß of Greek copyists here).

Vladimir and Saskia have moved on to the Vatican, while I’m cleaning up some left-behinds from last year that nobody (including me) wanted to deal with. Most of today I spent with our films from the University of Manchester Library (formerly John Rylands Library), with two of their three most noteworthy Armenian manuscripts: Cod. Arm. 20 (a tetraevangelium from 1587: click here to see the Creation of Eve) and, even cooler, Cod. Arm. 3, a spectacularly illustrated copy of the Alexander Romance (Ψευδο-Καλλισθένης ἀρμενιστί, done by Zak’aria, Bishop of Gnunik, in 1544 at Constantinople: click here to see the Father of the Mermaids conversing with two Sirens). We see, among others, Sikander’s steed Bucephalus, his real father Nectanebo (as lecanomancer and as serpent), and Othello’s Blemmyæ.


(Not from Manchester.) More Blemmyæ here.
Cynocephali [saɪnoʊ’sεfəlaɪ] here and here.


       Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle,
       Rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven
       It was my hint to speak,—such was the process—
       And of the Cannibals that each other eat,
       The Anthropophagi and men whose heads
       Do grow beneath their shoulders.

More on Armenian miniatures here.

Currently working on some illuminated Gospels from the Holkham Hall library, whose collection was once enjoyed by characters in a Jane Austen novel but is now split up between (at least) Oxford and the British Library. The olim 3, 4, 34 and 345 of Hockham Hall’s Earls of Leicester Library are now at Bodley (but available on CD-ROM for only £100 + VAT, for those who act now).

Ready to enjoy the weekend, but also looking forward to getting back to the project on Monday. It’s really great to be back, with wonderful people in a wonderful setting doing wonderful work.

—Posted by Roderick, who speaks Greek, loves books, and is available for full-time work starting the end of August.

June 11, 2012

Week #1, 2012

Saskia and Vlad resumed work on Monday, June 4th. It was a busy but beautiful day – fair temperatures and clear skies to welcome new and returning interns, new and returning Fellows, and Byzantine Greek students.  Our team participated in various orientation activities during the morning and early afternoon, but, by mid-afternoon on day #1, Saskia and Vlad had already settled in and started work, each completing 1 microfilm and starting a 2nd by the time Deb made it to their office. By 4pm on Tuesday, the team was going full speed ahead and an impressive 20 microfilm had been processed.

By week’s end, total of 71 microfilm processed – wow!  Repositories represented this week:

  • Messina, Biblioteca Universitaria
  • Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana
  • Moscow, State Historical Museum of Moscow, and
  • Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

We look forward to Roderick’s return next Monday!

June 11, 2012

Step Aside, the (nineteenth-century German) Expert is Here!

by Saskia Dirkse, June 8, 2012

One of my favorite things about our work is that we’re able to learn a great deal about the history of a manuscript, about its transmission and readership. When past readers were especially moved or struck by a passage in a manuscript they might make a note, “θαυμασιώτατον in the margins. At other times, when the words on the page were less riveting, they might doodle the alphabet or jot down their shopping list or make a comment about the weather. As I was working with the microfilms during the course of the summer, I realized that they too collect traces and evidence of their creators and users. For one blog post, I compiled a collage of microfilm marginalia (i.e. random things that happen to be visible in the frames) using my own discovered gems and those of my colleagues. The collage included paperclips, scissors, fingernails, a gold-embroidered cloth used as background in manuscript photography (a standard feature of the Iviron Monastery microfilms from the ‘70’s which helped me identify at least two unlabeled films!) and half of a holiday snapshot with mountain view (we weren’t quite sure about that one). After this first week back at work, I’ve decided that in the manner of the excellent film Inception, we need to take things one step further (or perhaps I should say, we must fall into the next reality) and look at the marginalia in catalogues. Catalogues of Greek manuscripts (especially older ones) are wonderful because one can find centuries of comments, corrections and references all penciled in with beautiful penmanship and a delightful dedication to sharing knowledge. The older Munich catalogue (published 1806-1812 under the auspices of Ignaz Hardt), which has been digitized by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek and is available on their website, is a particularly fine example of such a work of many hands.  It is from this book that I wanted to share something:

When I was looking through the microfilm of ms. gr. 366, a beautiful eleventh menologion (this film has been catalogued as Mun.1.26 for those interested in having a look), I came across the following small piece of text on the last page of the manuscript, a note by the scribe (or a reader) asking for blessings upon the scribe, the owner and the readers:


I puzzled over it for a little bit, got a few things but couldn’t quite make it out and I thought it might be worth having a look whether Hardt made any mention of it in his catalogue.  Sure enough, he did:


It’s perhaps difficult to tell from this image but I’ll add a link to the pdf where the quality and resolution are better. As you can see, Hardt (or one of his collaborators) made a noble attempt at deciphering the scribbles but there are problems with his transcription. At some point later in time, a reader came along, compared manuscript to catalogue and then proceeded to blow everyone out of the water – well, me, at least – with his amazing palaeographical skills. The transcription is really good and completely deciphers this mass of squiggles and blotches. It was a wonderful reminder for me of the expertise and dedication that so many great scholars have had for these manuscripts and their commitment to sharing that treasure of information and learning through careful cataloguing, preservation, editing and publishing.