The Amiata Stemma

We can be quite certain that a copy of the Great Stemma was at the Benedictine Monastery of San Salvatore on Monte Amiata in Italy in the eleventh century, because it inspired an author-artist on the mountain to attempt his own adaptation of it, "correcting" it, abridging it and extending its content up to "modern" times.

In this update, the structure and essential text of the diagram were retained, but most of the stemmata that fill its central space were discarded and replaced by a vast tableau of successive rulers of the western world in 128 roundels, spanning fifteen centuries from Darius the Great to Henry III. The latter name allows us to date this document, because Henry III must have been the current Holy Roman Emperor when this remix was laboriously copied by the scribes onto four blank folios at the back of a book of commentaries by great theologians on books of the Old Testament. Henry III ruled Germany and Italy between 1039 and 1056. His year of death is added in another hand to a list of kings elsewhere in the same codex.

This graphic adaptation of the Great Stemma scheme for a new age must have existed in multiple copies, but we only possess one of them,which has been penned into a codex which was made and kept at Monte Amiata and is preserved today in the Laurentian Library in Florence under the name Codex Amiatinus 3. The diagram spanning eight pages (ff. 169r-172v) in Amiatinus 3 is demonstrably not the original, because the artist evidently laid out his first draft on a wide scroll, and that is how I have sketched it here:

It is not too difficult to prove that the drawing now spread over eight pages must have once occupied a single sheet. The tableau of 128 kings, which is designed to be read left-to-right in eight rows of sixteen roundels, has been split and placed on two sides of a folio. This obliges a reader who wants to read it in historical order to continuously turn the page back and forth: a situation which would never have been intended by the artist. The split is merely the consequence of sectioning the overall diagram into frames so that it would fit in a codex.

In the above plot, I have drawn a black rectangle around the 128 historic rulers of the west. The succession (it makes many wild jumps) comprises Achaemenid rulers, emperors of Rome, kings of Italy and Holy Roman Emperors. Some of the authors below perceive this as a documentary forerunner to the translatio imperii doctrine.

It is conceivable that this remix (which dispenses with most of the stemmata except for the families of Adam and Isaac) was compiled before Henry III came to power, and was merely updated to keep up to date with changes in political control. The revision contains a list of popes which the scribe has not bothered to update. This roll-call of the papacy ends with Agapitus (pontificate 946-955), so it is conceivable that the re-drawing took place in the middle of the tenth century.

Very little has been published about this document, although a plot of it, not quite as accurate as mine, appeared some years ago in an article by Gert Melville. The latter two authors below appear not to have realized that the abbey possessed a copy of the Great Stemma from Spain which mentions the Visigothic King Wamba. None of them explore the theological position of the Amiata drawing, which rejects the Joachimite account of Jesus's ancestry and restores an orthodox genealogy that exactly follows the text of the Luke Gospel with 42 generations from David to Christ via Nathan.

Gorman, Michael. ‘Manuscript Books at Monte Amiata in the Eleventh Century’. Scriptorium 56 (2002): 225–293: 268–271. Lists the contents of Amiatinus 3 and discusses the Amiata scriptorium. See my earlier discussion of this article in respect of the Liber Genealogus.

Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane. L’ombre des ancêtres. Paris: Fayard, 2000. Discusses the Amiata Stemma at pp. 72-73.

Melville, Gert. ‘Geschichte in graphischer Gestalt. Beobachtungen zu einer spätmittelalterlichen Darstellungsweise’. In Geschichtsschreibung und Geschichtesbewusstsein im späten Mittelalter, edited by Hans Patze, 57–154. Vorträge und Forschungen / Konstanzer Arbeitskreis für Mittelalterliche Geschichte 31. Sigmaringen [Germany]: Thorbecke, 1987. Contains a drawing of the Amiata Stemma on a fold-out, making clear that Melville also interpreted it as a single-page diagram. Given the work that went into the plot, one is surprised by the brevity of the discussion at pp. 66-67.



The Florence copy of the Great Stemma appears in a codex which seems to be an idiosyncratic scrapbook containing snatches of ancient things. I described in an earlier post how Michael Gorman reconstructed its putative source, a library book at Monte Amiata that doubtless had as its title work the Etymologiae, a copious dictionary of legal, religious and other terms by Isidore of Seville, the seventh-century Spanish bishop.

A good many blank pages had evidently been left free at the end of the Monte Amiata copy of the dictionary, and a monkish user, perhaps a teacher or an abbot, had used them as a kind of scrapbook, copying into them a personal miscellany of the sort of items often formerly appended to dictionaries: a guide to syllables, vowels and consonants; Bede's alphabetical directory of Latin grammar exceptions; how to study the bible; the list of Lombard kings; brief repetititions from the Etymologiae; four different chronologies of biblical time; and our diagram.

Seen on its own, each item seems absurdly and wilfully truncated, but if one assumes that its learned user only copied what he really needed - the things he could not easily remember - this begins to make sense. The items belong to a class of things that in my student days I would have photocopied and kept on a window-sill, and that I might now scan and tuck into a miscellaneous folder on my computer.

The book by Junilius, for example, is a collection of thoughts about bible education written in 551 CE and seemingly aimed at a teaching audience. It was published and comprehensively discussed by Kihn (link below to archive.org). John F. Collins prepared a 20th century introduction and English translation, now on James O'Donnell's Cassidorus website.

Other items in this anthology are intended handbook-style for the classroom or self-study.

An illuminating dissertation by Carin Ruff translates sample sections of Bede's De Orthographia and stresses  that it was mainly written to instruct the intermediate student of Latin in the many exceptions of usage and declension in Latin grammar. It is in alphabetical order of keywords. It sets out for example verbs that take the dative. A sample:
Noceo, obsum, incommodo, maleficio, officio, in una significatione ponuntur, quod graece dicitur βλάπτω, et cuncta datiuum casum trahunt. (Noceo, obsum, incommodo, maleficio, officio, are used in one sense (“hinder”), which in Greek is βλάπτω, and they all take the dative case. Translation by Ruff.)
You can read this on the 10th line of the left column of folio 12v of the Florence manuscript Plutei 20.54 (the scribe seems to have got the Greek wrong). Ruff quotes a suggestion that the intended audience for Bede's manual was "the less-experienced copyist or glossator who might 'be dissuaded from making a rash emendation' if he could find an apparently anomalous reading discussed in a readily accessible manual."

The inclusion of four or more contradictory chronologies should not suggest the book's owner had a burning interest in chronography or in resolving the differences among them. Quite the opposite: he clearly wanted something comprehensive which he could look up when he came across a seeming error in a book, resolve quickly whether the anomaly had a genuine source or was merely a "typo" and then move on. He seems to have regarded the Liber Genealogus as a handy quick guide to biblical names and the Great Stemma doubtless served for him a similar purpose.

I deliberately term the Etymologiae here a dictionary, although it is conventionally termed an encyclopaedia, because our modern conception is that an encylopaedia should summarize scientific and scholarly knowledge whereas a dictionary is mainly an aid to finding and correctly spelling the words with which we write about such things. The Monte Amiata handbook must have been much more the second of these things, and it occurs to me that I had just such a book when I was a school pupil and student: Pears Cyclopaedia.

When I first began working as an editor at dpa in the 1980s, the newsroom had no ready references and I arranged for the purchase of a Pears and a Quid. Both had their heyday before the internet and were useful to editors and proofreaders who faced all sorts of unexpected dilemmas over correcting texts and needed this kind of omnibus collection of seemingly useless facts. The cyclopaedia, which is subtitled "A Book of Background Information for Reference for Everyday Use" and was conceived in the medieval spirit as something in between a modern encycylopaedia and a handbook, begins with a chronicle of events from the formation of the Earth.

The appendices to the Monte Amiata copy of the dictionary were probably accumulated with a similar intent: not to transport the texts themselves (which are only excerpted and are largely offered without the necessary metadata such as author's names) but simply to have key facts close to hand. It is interesting that not even a very erudite later owner of Plutei 20.54, Coluccio Salutati, seems to have realized that the handlist of Latin exceptions was a work of Bede, although Coluccio was familiar with Bede's church history. Coluccio began writing out the headwords of the alphabetical list, but only got as far as C and never finished. He never attached the author's name to the list, and his own Latin doubtless became solid enough that he no longer needed such an intermediate-level reference for himself.

Kihn, Heinrich. Theodor von Mopsuestia und Junilius Africanus als Exegeten : nebst einer kritischen Textausgabe von des letzteren Instituta regularia divinae legis. Freiburg: Herder, 1880. Archive.org. Edition and discussion of a work found near the Great Stemma in a codex in Florence.

Ruff, Carin. ‘The Hidden Curriculum: Syntax in Anglo-Saxon Latin Teaching’. University of Toronto, 2001. Website. Usefully translates samples from and discusses Bede’s De orthographia. Follow link to dissertation, go to chapter 4, which is a PDF containing Part II, section 2.



Today's virtual tour is to Tábara in Spain, where the Morgan Beatus was made. There is not much to see. Today's church of Santa María occupies the site of the old monastery, which was probably sacked by Almanzor, the Muslim chancellor and warlord of al-Andalus, during his late 10th century campaigns against the Christian kingdoms of northern Spain.

We start at the old church which is romanesque and dates from well after the time of the monastery, though it may be partly built of dressed stone from the abbey.

If you can get Google Street View to work, turn around and consider getting a coffee from the Scriptorium Cafe on the other side of the highway. There is a good account of the history at Arteguias, which you can translate into English with Bing.

John Williams now thinks the Morgan Beatus was commissioned from Maius by San Miguel de Moreruela Abbey, a sister house which was less than two hours' walk away. Here is a map of how to get there by road.

At Moreruela, the present-day church of San Miguel Arcángel de Moreruela also dates from long after the abbey days.

The Catholic parish there has its own website with a little more information. The church appears to have various pieces of stonework of the old abbey incorporated into it:

As far as I can see, San Miguel Abbey was here, not on the nearby site of the later Cistercian abbey at Granja de Moreruela:


Books, Books, Books

I have just refreshed the bibliography on the Great Stemma which now runs to more than 180 items. The  major change is that it is now annotated, following the urging of Phoebe Acheson of the University of Georgia (Athens) Miller Learning Center, who founded the Ancient World Open Bibliographies (AWOL). She added the original bibliography to her list in May 2011, where it is tagged under both information architecture and paragraphy.

Additions include the article by Helena de Carlos which I recently posted about as well as a rather shallow discussion by Carlos Miranda in 2000 of the differences between the Great Stemma, Lesser Stemma and Compendium of Peter of Poitiers:
Miranda García, Carlos. ‘Mnemonics and Pedagogy in the Compendium Historiae in Genealogia Christi by Peter of Poitiers’. In Genealogia Christi, edited by Maria Algàs, translated by Anne Barton de Mayer, 29–89. Barcelona: Moleiro, 2000.

This appears in a very interesting volume devoted to a Rome manuscript in roll form of the Compendium. To my astonishment this is quite a rare book: there is only one copy as far as I know in any research or public library in the north of Germany (and only two in the south, at Passau and Munich). As an insert, it contains a printing of what I would guess is the first-ever digital plot of a medieval stemmatic diagram. The work on this very impressive poster-style, fold-out sheet is credited in the book (page 15) to Enrique de Castillo. I will give it a bibliographic reference of its own when I do a medieval book-list.