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.


3 Comments to “Step Aside, the (nineteenth-century German) Expert is Here!”

  1. Great post, Saskia! There are so many levels of “marginal” meaning here (not to mention all the types of reproduction and transcription). It does indeed feel a bit like “Inception,” at least to me on a Monday morning.

  2. Saskia, thanks a lot for this nice note and for the story you told us. What you told us is a marginalia in its own respect, and you are part of the history of these mss.

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