Prudentius and the odd word

Sometimes we get asked what use old European manuscripts are. The simple answer is that we need them to recover the literature and the histories of antiquity, the medieval period and the Renaissance, and we need to compare lots of manuscripts if we are to establish the most faithful editions of those texts.

Sometimes, though, when you are busy with a topic, a particular manuscript suddenly expands in importance and seems like missive from the past directed at you personally.

I am writing a book about the invention during antiquity of node-link diagrams. The book mentions the probable Latin term for such a diagram, stemma. This is not a book about linguistics, but you need to make sure there is no unseen linguistic evidence lurking there.

As often happens in research, both journalistic and scholarly, you can spend a whole day combing the forest for a catch and come home empty-handed.

In this case, there is no trace of anyone living during antiquity proper who calls one of these diagrams a stemma. My book will simply skip the whole matter, because it will not be an academic thesis and will only concentrate on the fruitful and interesting things I found. What I did discover about the word, I lodged as a bunch of notes in a new page on my website. I don't need such notes, but I routinely archive such things because they might help someone else some day.

What that page says is that stemma meant:
  • a garland of leaves, straw, wool or other materials (in Greece)
  • a niche in a Roman palazzo containing paintings of noble ancestors (in the Republic)
  • a snob's genealogy (under the Empire)
  • ancient glories (in literary vocabulary in Late Antiquity)
  • a twig-like node-link diagram as drawn by lawyers (in 620 CE)
In a poem, Hymnus Epiphaniae, Prudentius, who is among the most obscure of Latin poets, uses a formula, apostolorum stemmata, to refer to 12 rocks set up next to the River Jordan.

The Hymnus Epiphaniae can be conveniently read in full at the Perseus Digital Library if you read Latin.

The Australian coast of Victoria has got a famed set of rocks, the Twelve Apostles, off the shore of the Port Campbell National Park, and South Africa has a Twelve Apostles Range, but Prudentius (348-about 405) seems to have beaten both to the name. Perhaps pilgrims did once get such a feature pointed out to them in the Jordan. [Late addition: It seems Prudentius is referring to the biblical Book of Joshua, the writer of which says 12 stones were taken from the Joshua in the river and placed nearby and are "still" there.]

Why does the poet call the 12 rocks a stemma of the apostles? Could he have possibly meant:
  • an ancient glory of apostles?
  • a node-link diagram of apostles?
[Late correction: A recent translator and commentator on the poetry, Gerard O'Daly, thinks the proper meaning is simply "pedigree".]

As it happens, a bunch of manuscript releases by Digita Vaticana this week (here's my news item) includes a manuscript of Prudentius's poetry. Cilian O'Hogan says it is actually an important one:
What makes codex Reg. lat. 321 so interesting is that its 10th-century editor has packed it with glosses and annotations. What I liked was that the editor seemed to have been baffled by the odd word "stemmata" too. He glossed it with the meaning "ordines" written above it here.

I'm still not clear about this. A similar word does show up in one description of the Great Stemma, Genealogia ab Adam usque ad Christum per ordines linearum. But I doubt if Prudentius had diagrams in mind. More likely the poet simply imagined those rocks in a orderly row or circle to represent the rock-like perpetual authority of the church. Stemma (ancestry) was a way to say in the language of Latin poets that the rocks were a precursor to the apostles [as Daly argues].

All very arcane, and from the manuscript, I knew that an unknown editor of 1,000 years ago had been baffled and had also done his best to unpuzzle Prudentius's odd word.


Ladder to Heaven at the BAV

Among the more remarkable items to be admire in the 13 codices placed online March 23 by Digita Vaticana is Ross.251 containing the Ladder of Divine Ascent by the 7th-century Greek-speaking monk John Climacus.

I am told this is Lenten reading among Greek-speaking Christians. There are some vivid illuminations in this Greek manuscript giving you a good idea of how medieval readers imagined the long steady climb through 30 steps of the ladder, assisted by angels if you were doing it right:

This crop of releases takes the tally of Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV) digitizations so far to 1,865. After this Lenten issue, I wonder if they are planning any Easter presents for us?
  1. Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.H.56, possibly from the collection of Cardinal Jacopo Stefaneschi (c.1270–1343).
  2. Ott.lat.3119, engravings of Roman personalities of the 18th century.
  3. Reg.lat.321: a fine old 10th-century manuscript of the poems of the Latin author Prudentius (348-405).
  4. Ross.251, with the ladder to heaven (above). Pinakes tells you which folios to consult for the Scala Paradisi of Iohannes Climacus.
  5. Ross.555, a beautiful Hebrew codex with four fine Italian miniatures. From Evelyn Cohen I read that this is Jacob ben Asher's legal treatise, the Arba'ah Turim, and that the images depict a synagogue scene, animals being slaughtered according to Jewish ritual, a wedding and a courtroom scene. Here is the synagogue, where men and women seem to be mixed:
  6. Urb.gr.2, the Urbino Gospels in Greek with gold-leaf illuminations. Here is a most unusual Nativity composition and washing of the newborn, both at folio 20v:
  7. Urb.gr.162
  8. Urb.lat.346, Commentary on the Aeneid, 15th-century copy, attributed to Tiberius Claudius Donatus, but believed in fact to be the work of Suetonius.
  9. Urb.lat.508, poetry from Duke Federico's collection. This item figured in the Rome Reborn exhibition at the US Library of Congress and St Louis University, where the catalogue identified it as the Camaldulensian Disputations by Cristoforo Landino and Anthony Grafton noted of the image below: "This portrait on the inside cover shows Federigo, duke of Urbino, standing behind a parapet holding a book, gazing intently at his companion, who is probably to be identified with Cristoforo Landino."
    Federico always appeared thus: check another image at his old home.
  10. Vat.gr.344
  11. Vat.gr.699, the Christian Topography of Cosmas Indicopleustes, one of the believers in a flat earth in the face of majority educated opinion in even his own day. This is a 9th-century illuminated copy with copious imagery.
  12. Vat.gr.746.pt.1
  13. Vat.lat.14933, Carlo Labruzzi vedute, possibly a volume inadvertently missed last week.
 If you have corrections or additions, please use the comments box below. Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for news of more additions to Digita Vaticana. [This is Piggin's Unofficial List 7.]


The Romance of Ruins

The 13 digitization jobs uploaded March 16 at Digita Vaticana include four volumes of vedute or landscape drawings by the 18th-century artist Carlo Labruzzi (1765-1818), mainly of ruins along the Via Appia outside Rome.

There is also a volume of views by the English artist and antiquary Richard Colt Hoare of buildings and towns on the road south to Naples.

The romance of ruins drew a steady stream in the 18th century of English visitors eager to spend plenty of money to take such pictures home with them and hang them on parlour walls. They are not great art, but certainly better composed than most of the smartphone snaps we tourists take today. It must have been a fascinating time to explore Italy's ruins, before urbanization spread over so much of the area.

The BAV digitization programme also now extends to a second Coptic codex and offers its first codex in the Bulgarian language. Here is my unofficial list:
  1. Vat.ar.695
  2. Vat.copt.59, one of a series of significant 9th-10th-century Coptic Bohairic manuscripts from Wadi el-Natrun
  3. Vat.gr.901, miscellany; (Pinakes)
  4. Vat.gr.1418, contains Dionysius Halicarnassensis's Roman Antiquities: (Pinakes)
  5. Vat.gr.1422, (Pinakes)
  6. Vat.gr.2118, (Pinakes)
  7. Vat.lat.14929, 18th-century drawings of the Via Appia by Labruzzi, bound in London and formerly owned by Thomas Ashby, vol 1
  8. Vat.lat.14930, ditto, vol 2
  9. Vat.lat.14931, ditto, vol 3
  10. Vat.lat.14932, ditto, vol 4
  11. Vat.lat.14934, views 1790-91 by the English artist Richard Colt Hoare of ruins and towns on the road between Rome and Naples, with his annotations (in English of course); the BAV online catalogue lists this as a Labruzzi, but that seems to be a mistake.
  12. Vat.sir.599
  13. Vat.slav.27, Bulgarian codex
The new total: 1,852 items. As always, enter corrections or advice about the significance of these items in the comment box below. [This is Piggin's Unofficial List 6.]


Treasures of Urbino

Here's a list of the latest rush of newly digitized manuscripts at the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. This release of 52 items was uploaded late on March 12 and brings the total number of Vatican Library works available on the internet to 1,839.

The oldest treasures this time are from the chapter library (Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.) which has only been part of the BAV since 1940.

Nearly half the items this week come from the great Renaissance library created by Federico da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino, who died in 1482 after a rambunctious life as a brutal mercenary general (he never fought for free) and refined man of culture (he had his own team of scribes at Urbino and a library considered the greatest in Italy after the pope's).

A couple of centuries after his death, that envied library was integrated into the Papal Library at the Vatican in 1657. We are now all privileged to be able to read Federico's exquisite books online. Here is a fine illuminated capital "S" from one of them, Urb. lat. 348, in a passage explaining the word stemmata.
  1. Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.A.13, Augustine of Hippo, sermons
  2. Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.B.63, Bolognese missal, 14th century, with lustrous miniatures that are now attributed to a painter known as Pseudo-Niccolò. See his Risen Christ and an image described as defence of the book. See listing Ebner.
  3. Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.C.103
  4. Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.D.173, Augustine of Hippo?
  5. Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.D.200, Nicholas of Lyra’s Quaestio de Adventu Christi and Contra Judaeos
  6. Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.E.15
  7. Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.F.16, liturgical (Salerno Pontificale) with wonderful initials, including the sun and moon:
  8. Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.G.39
  9. Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.G.42
  10. Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.G.43, possibly the Elucidarium of Honorius Augustodunensis, 12th century
  11. Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.H.26, Chinese?
  12. Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.I.17, autograph? Gregory XVI (1837)
  13. Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.I.18.
  14. Borgh.14, liturgical
  15. Borgh.95, 14th century, legal, Arnoldus de Augusta
  16. Borgh.109, Thomas Aquinas, Summa
  17. Borgh.110, Thomas Aquinas, Summa
  18. Borgh.120, Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones
  19. Borgh.154, Tancredus, 1185-1236, Opera, 13th-14th century
  20. Borgh.194, Tuscan translation of the poem De rerum natura by Lucretius (97-55 BC); check out the 2014 book by Ada Palmer on its influence in Renaissance Italy.
  21. Borgh.195, 18th-century European politics
  22. Borgh.230, Iohannes de Lignano, 1320-1383 Lectura super decretales
  23. Borgh.326
  24. Borgh.343
  25. Borgh.367, Il Governatore Politico e Christiano by Mezentius Carbonari
  26. Borgh.377, Scripturales
  27. Pal.gr.192, Hippocratic text
  28. Reg.lat.525, hagiography
  29. Reg.lat.554, universal chronicle, description of Holy Land, copy of BN lat. 4892?
  30. Urb.ebr.3
  31. Urb.ebr.13
  32. Urb.ebr.32
  33. Urb.ebr.35
  34. Urb.ebr.36
  35. Urb.ebr.41
  36. Urb.ebr.42
  37. Urb.ebr.43
  38. Urb.ebr.44
  39. Urb.ebr.45
  40. Urb.ebr.48
  41. Urb.ebr.49
  42. Urb.ebr.50
  43. Urb.ebr.52
  44. Urb.ebr.53
  45. Urb.ebr.54
  46. Urb.ebr.55
  47. Urb.ebr.56
  48. Urb.lat.19, Psalter
  49. Urb.lat.260, Columella's Roman-era treatise on agriculture (frontispiece below).
    This is one of about 40 copies deriving from Poggio Bracciolini's rediscovery of the work in Fulda, Germany, while he was in the north for the Council of Constance exactly 600 years ago. Poggio probably stole it, as it ended up in Milan in the early fifteenth century, where is it now Biblioteca Ambrosiana L.85 su; summary. At the end of the BAV copy is a fragment of Augustine, Retractationes.
  50. Urb.lat.348, Renaissance: poems, commentary on Horace: initial at the top of this post.
  51. Urb.lat.349, Homer in Latin
  52. Vat.lat.3836, Sermons of Augustine of Hippo, Leo the Great and others.
As always, if you see an unmarked gem here, or can explain to us the significance of one of these items to scholarship, or can point out an error, please add a comment in the box below. Most of these items have been discussed in scholarly literature that is not mentioned in the BAV's own very sketchy online bibliographies, but often with variant shelfmarks. Scholarly publications use a great variety of abbreviations to denote such manuscripts. For Arch.Cap.S.Pietro. above, try alternate searches using forms such as "cod. ..." or "cod. cap. ..." or "arch. cap. s. petri ..." or ACP.

If you have corrections or additions, please use the comments box below. Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for news of more additions to Digita Vaticana. [This is Piggin's Unofficial List 5.]


Older than the Oldest

After my post Is this the World's Oldest Bound Book? appeared, Cillian O'Hogan, who is the curator of classical and Byzantine studies at the British Library, kindly tweeted some comments making out a case that papyrus books older than the Codex Vaticanus do exist, and met the objection from Roger Pearse, who is an eminent citizen-science blogger, that only a bundle with more than one quire to it counts as a "book". He then wrote:
All those Ps refer to papyrus finds, along with numbers given to them by Christian scholars seeking the earliest texts of the New Testament. Some of these things are not online at all, but acceptable images of the 75 leaves of P66 are at EarlyBible.com. This is the one that is probably contemporary with the Codex Vaticanus.

As for the item Cillian O'Hogan dates to 200 CE, the biggest bit (P67) is in the fourth-century Barcelona Papyrus, which I discussed some years ago on my website. Sadly, that papyrus has never been viewable online. However there is an image of P4 at EarlyBible.com and P64, the three small fragments making up MS Gr. 17 at the Magdalen College Library, Oxford, are accessible online as the following tweet points out:
In addition, I pointed out myself that the 102 battered pages at the BAV in Rome of Hanna Papyrus 1, also known as P75, are supposed to date from approximately the same period. It has not been digitized yet, but there are a couple of leaves visible at VatLib. For low-res images, see P75 at CSNTM.

Finally, it was pointed out that there is a very old leaf of a secular work, Homer's Odyssey, dated to the period 200-400 CE. Click on the link below to see it:
In addition, Cillian O'Hogan pointed to a very fine Medieval Fragments blog post by Erik Kwakkel (@erik_kwakkel), a medieval book historian at Leiden University, in December 2013 with a different tack on the topic, What is the Oldest Book in the World?

So where do we stand? A case could be made that one or all of these four items are books older than the Codex Vaticanus, but would they, in their incomplete and damaged state, be accepted by the average teenager as "books" in the common garden sense of that word? They have no covers and have been torn apart.

The Codex Vaticanus may not be in its original binding, and indeed it has had leaves inserted in it to replace its lost pages, but it exists as a bound codex that people (see the first post) have continued to open and shut (and handle without using tweezers) right up to the present day. I would compare this to the difference between a shipwreck and a ship. Every wreck was a ship, but is a ship no longer, unless it can be refloated and patched up and made to sail again. No one would dream of messing with the papyrii or "repairing" the indignities done to them by illegal diggers and dealers in Egypt, so I think that we would have to consider them, for now at least, to be the remains of former books.


Nearly 100 new digitizations at the BAV

On March 4, 2015, the digital library of the BAV or Vatican Library placed online nearly 100 newly digitized manuscript codices and map folders.

As is usual, there was no public announcement of this. I have no contact with Rome, so I can only speculate as to the reasons for such a silence. It may be that the library's server has a limited capacity and could not cope with the acute surge of requests that would follow any publicity.

Or there may be no funding to conduct public relations for a project that is being mainly funded by corporate and private sponsorship. It is possible too that funding institutions such as the Polonsky Foundation, which has a key role in digitizing the Hebrew manuscripts, wish to make their own public presentations at a later date. Polonsky announced February 24 it had reached the 1-million page mark.

But perhaps there is simply a modest sense at the BAV that this is no big deal yet, given that the project started years ago and the intermediate goal of getting 3,000 manuscripts online may not be met until 2016 at this rate. To get the entire stock of 82,000 BAV manuscripts digitized may take four decades, and at the same time, the BAV has committed to separately digitizing thousands of incunables. (See the presentation of one of the world's oldest printed cookbooks.)

Nevertheless the release is quite remarkable.

Less than a year ago, the manuscripts site consisted only of clones of independent digitizations by the Heidelberg state library in Germany and a paltry 24 Roman manuscripts, as I noted at the time. Today the BAV site offers a total of 1,787 works and has surpassed the tally of digitized manuscripts offered online by the British Library (1,220 at the last tally) or by e-codices of Switzerland (1,233).

Of the 151 collections making up the Rome library (see the BAV’s own list), 50 are now represented in some way in this digital presence.

Using comparison software, I have identified the following 97 newcomers this week. I have added notes on content, which are in some cases guesses more than anything else.
  1. Barb.gr.6, Maximus Confessor, 580-662, Opere spurie e dubbie
  2. Barb.gr.372, Psalter
  3. Barb.lat.2724, Chronicon Vulturnense: Miniatures, most of them showing the handing over of donation charters to St. Vincent, like Bishop John's
    This extraordinary compilation was made about 1130 and tells the history of the monastery at Volturno, Italy (Wikipedia). A monk of the monastery, Iohannes, composed the Chronicle.
  4. Barb.lat.4076, is an autograph of Francesco da Barberino's Renaissance poem, Documenti d'Amore. Here is a cartoon-style blurred action image showing some impressive rapid-fire archery in all directions:
  5. Barb.lat.4077, More Francesco da Barberino
  6. Barb.lat.4391.pt.B, maps of Roman fortifications in 1540
  7. Barb.lat.4408, working drawings for mural restorations in 1637
  8. Borg.gr.6
  9. Borg.isl.1
  10. Borg.lat.420, Coronation of Clement VII
  11. Borg.lat.561, Life of Roderico Borgia
  12. Borgh.2, texts of Leontius and of Ephraem the Syrian
  13. Borgh.4, Gregory the Great: Moralia in Job
  14. Borgh.6, collected sermons
  15. Borgh.7, Pope Boniface, Decretales
  16. Borgh.9, Porphyry of Tyre and Boethius
  17. Borgh.10, Letters of Seneca
  18. Borgh.11, Order of Consecration
  19. Borgh.12, Works of Godefridus Tranensis
  20. Borgh.13, Works of Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn Zakarīyā Rāzī, 865?-925?
  21. Borgh.17, Henry of Ghent’s Summa
  22. Borgh.18, Boethius
  23. Borgh.19
  24. Borgh.20
  25. Borgh.23, Italian sermons
  26. Borgh.24
  27. Borgh.25, Vulgate bible
  28. Borgh.26, 13th-century legal text, Apparatus Decretorum
  29. Borgh.27, Gerardus de Bononiensi
  30. Borgh.29, Wyclif?
  31. Borgh.30
  32. Borgh.131, Boethius, Variorum
  33. Borgh.174, 14th century sermons
  34. Borgh.372, Glossa on Justinian. Here's a miscreant in blue hauled into court on 147r
  35. Borgh.374: A 13th-century text of the Emperor Justinian's legal codifications including the Institutions, annotated by medieval lawyers. Justinian was emperor at Constantinople 527-565. Here's a widow under the heavy burden of a no-incest provision in Borgh 374 at 4r:
  36. Borg.Carte.naut.III. This is Diogo Ribeiro's 1529 map "in which is contained all that has been discovered in the world until now." Less than four decades after Columbus’s first voyage across the Atlantic, it shows the Americas in detail, but not New Zealand, which the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman was not to document until l642 and which James Cook was not to circumnavigate and map until 240 years after this map was drawn. Jerry Brotton's History of the World in Twelve Maps features it.

    Unfortunately the resolution of this digitization, welcome as it is, falls short of what one would hope for. The section above is the Gulf of Mexico, and it is impossible to zoom in far enough to read the place-names. I would presume the map has been scanned at much higher resolution, and I hope @DigitaVaticana can upload this so that the fourth and closest zoom level provides legible text.
  37. Chig.B.VII.110
  38. Chig.C.VII.213
  39. Chig.C.VIII.228
  40. Chig.P.VII.10.pt.A
  41. Ferr.30, letters of Giuliano Ettorre
  42. Ott.gr.314
  43. Ott.lat.1050.pt.1
  44. Ott.lat.1050.pt.2
  45. Ott.lat.1447
  46. Ott.lat.1448
  47. Ott.lat.1458, Ovid’s Metamorphoses
  48. Ott.lat.1519
  49. Pal.gr.55
  50. Pal.gr.135
  51. Reg.gr.80
  52. Reg.lat.88, French chronicle
  53. Reg.lat.695, Life of St. Denis
  54. Reg.lat.720
  55. Reg.lat.721
  56. Reg.lat.1480, Ovid in French, illuminated. Here's one of the fine pictures (folio 156r). I think it is Diana about to sock it to Actaeon, who will be trying desperately to explain that he is not a stag. With those feeble arms, she really ought to spend less time at home curled up on the couch and more time at the gym:
  57. Ross.61
  58. Ross.70
  59. Ross.74
  60. Ross.181, Missal from St Peter's Monastery, Erfurt, Germany, datable to about 1200: see the post on this by Klaus Graf (reproduced below as comment) with a search that points to comparable missals in German archives and the influence of Conrad of Hirsau, a Benedictine author, on the German scriptoria.
  61. Ross.186, Gilbert of Hoyland
  62. Ross.198
  63. Ross.206, Psalter
  64. Ross.292
  65. Ross.553, Hebrew Ms.
  66. Ross.554, illuminated Hebrew Bible
  67. Ross.556, Hebrew Psalter
  68. Ross.733
  69. Ross.817, Gilles Bellemère
  70. Urb.ebr.2, Kennicott-Rossi 225 according to @RickBrannan
  71. Urb.ebr.4
  72. Urb.ebr.5
  73. Urb.ebr.6
  74. Urb.ebr.7
  75. Urb.ebr.8
  76. Urb.ebr.10
  77. Urb.ebr.11
  78. Urb.ebr.12
  79. Urb.ebr.14
  80. Urb.ebr.15
  81. Urb.ebr.17
  82. Urb.ebr.18
  83. Urb.ebr.19
  84. Urb.ebr.21
  85. Urb.ebr.22
  86. Urb.ebr.23
  87. Urb.ebr.24
  88. Urb.ebr.26
  89. Urb.ebr.28
  90. Urb.ebr.29
  91. Urb.ebr.30
  92. Urb.ebr.31
  93. Urb.ebr.37
  94. Urb.ebr.38
  95. Urb.ebr.39
  96. Urb.ebr.40
  97.  Vat.ebr.71, Ḳimḥi, David ben Yosef, c.1160-c.1235, Commentary on Latter Prophets
There is so much here that it will take some time to trawl through all the digitizations. If any codex which I have listed is of especial interest to you, why not use the comment box below this post to briefly introduce it and explain its importance to other readers.

Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for more news of these digitizations. [This is Piggin's Unofficial List 4.]