Bath Time at Pozzuoli

Among the 21 manuscripts uploaded May 4 to the Digita Vaticana library portal is a codex, Ross. 379, with images of group visits to the various thermal baths at Pozzuoli in southern Italy.

These illustrate a didactic poem, De Balneis Puteolanis by Peter of Eboli. This was a widely read guidebook in Latin verse to medicinal bathing written in about 1220. The information about the alleged health benefits of the various waters in the volcanic zone is probably Late Antique and the poem continues to be of interest to historians of medicine.

The pictures supposedly describe the experience of visiting a spa in the High Middle Ages (replete with ribald scenes of men who have somehow managed to gatecrash ladies' pools). I have no prior knowledge of this, but presume De Balneis was often purchased by the wealthy on account of its explicit images of nude people rather than for its scientific knowledge.

A rapid web search informs me that Ross. 379 is one of ten or more extant illuminated manuscripts of this poem. Gallica has a Parisian manuscript, BNF Lat. 8161, of the same, while e-Codices has the Bodmer's. Raymond J. Clark's 1989 article in Traditio on the poem is unfortunately behind a firewall. Of interest to mystery fans: there has been a claim that bathing images in the Voynich Manuscript, a strange fantasy book which no one has ever managed to decode, resemble those in De Balneis.

Here is the full list of releases:
  1. Borg.pers.12
  2. Borg.turc.34
  3. Ross.379, De Balneis Puteolanis, on medieval thermal baths
  4. Urb.lat.1, a magnificently illuminated Renaissance Old Testament of the Bible
  5. Urb.lat.2, another outstanding 15th-century Bible
  6. Vat.ar.351
  7. Vat.lat.841, De Regimine Principum, a guide book for princes, by Giles of Rome (Aegidius Romanus)
  8. Vat.lat.869, philosophical miscellany, with various works by Duns Scotus (c. 1265-1308), plus a few folios of Peter Abelard
  9. Vat.pers.27
  10. Vat.pers.32
  11. Vat.pers.85
  12. Vat.slav.4
  13. Vat.slav.5
  14. Vat.slav.9
  15. Vat.slav.10
  16. Vat.slav.13
  17. Vat.slav.49
  18. Vat.slav.63
  19. Vat.turc.4
  20. Vat.turc.428
  21. Vat.turc.431
From Urb.lat.2, a fine Florentine painting of Solomon pretending to have a baby chopped in half as a way to determine a dispute between two mothers:

The BAV site now has 1,980 manuscripts online. There are often no descriptions at all. As always, if you can contribute information about any of these manuscripts, use the comments pane below. [This is Piggin's Unofficial List 10.]

1 comment :

  1. Wonderful blog, very useful, especially concerning the Vatican library.