Greatest Brain Hack of All Time

Human beings are mostly quite good at remembering lots of faces. We automatically classify faces by shape and complexion. We mentally associate similar looking faces into families and groups. After seeing a face, we rapidly assign that person to a known category.

But if we only have strangers' names and can't see their faces, how do we begin to encompass who they might be and where they belong? Human beings are terrible at remembering multitudinous connections between abstract things like names or ideas. Without a visible presence, these are hard to grasp.

Oddly enough, storing and retrieving data about connections is a ridiculously simple task to design into a computer program. But for most people, it can take hours of reciting and revision to learn by heart how a hundred facts or words or values are interconnected. We are not built to do that well.

About 2,000 years ago, some very clever people invented a method to get around this issue. They looked for a mechanism in the human brain which operates in some other context to solve similar problems. To understand what they discovered, let's imagine we go to some beach resort for the first time.

In the first hour, you figure out the path down to the beach, recognizing some landmark you need to pass on the way, like a restaurant. You immediately note a couple of other landmarks like an especially ugly hotel and an ice-cream booth. As you walk around the village, you discover a caravan park behind the ice-cream joint and a bus-stop past the hotel. In time, you realize that the bus-stop is in a street which leads to a boat-hire place and out to the main highway.

What's developing in your head is a mental map full of branching connections. Now strangely enough, most of us can remember hundreds of landmarks and waypoints when we are out and about. We retain them much more easily than we remember interconnections between abstract facts.

So the solution devised back in the Roman Empire was a hack. If you pretend to yourself that abstractions are landmarks along forking paths, your innate guidance system will do the heavy computing work for you, and aid you to grasp the interconnections among the concepts.

All you have to do is draw a branching path, plant the facts along it, and then walk this path with your eyes. This is a drawing of the descendants of Leah, a biblical woman, as it was devised around the year 400. The manuscript you are looking at (Florence, Plutei 20.54) was accurately copied from it about 600 years after that.

You might look at this and think: OK, that's just a family tree. For us in the 21st century, diagrams where you walk paths with your eyes are common and unremarkable. But back then the invention was very new. It had not previously been realized that abstractions like a genealogy of three generations could be visualized in this way.

Because this hack was very new, the design had to respect where its readers were at. Nobody was yet educated in how to read these abstract diagrams. Readers only had their instinctive human ability to walk branching paths and find their way by landmarks back to where they started.

In our mental maps of the world, almost anything can serve as a landmark. Every waypoint has a unique appearance, but is similar in its function. So in the Roman abstract diagram, every node had unique content, but was standardized in its circular shape.

In our mental maps, it's easy to learn waypoints, but hard to learn bearings. We imagine the waypoints of every path as one behind another and we ignore slight changes of direction. So in a Roman abstract diagram, the nodes are arranged in straight lines with as few turns as possible.

This Roman diagram was only recently re-discovered. It's the only chart of its type to have been copied in the Middle Ages. It's now the only one surviving from antiquity. Because the Roman diagram is stripped down to the bare essentials, it shows the essence of how we learned to harness the brain to do something new: grasp abstract facts by treating them as if they were landmarks on paths.

This may be the greatest brain hack of all time, a kludge that's so good that we no longer even realize we are harnessing our guidance systems to do something they were not designed to do.

And because it was devised for a world that did not yet use visualizations, it provides valuable clues to how all mental maps work in humans, and indeed in most animals, and even in many insects.

We humans are not as good at thinking about abstractions as we pretend to be. But if we had not adapted our mental navigation machinery to help in the task, we would be far worse at it.


Earth Day

Around 1340, an artist in the Kingdom of Naples visualized God creating the world: first a shapeless lump of rock floating in space, then its greening. That image in the Bible of Gaulle, also known as the the Bible of Robert of Taranto, is a surprisingly modern take on the world that we should maybe dig out again next Earth Day.

The Vatican has just digitized this bible, shelfmark Vat.lat.14430, which is now bound in two volumes, A and B. The Genesis sequence is painted in a cartoon-like series that surprisingly is meant to be read from right to left. Here is the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden:

Smaller scenes later in this bible are also fascinating. Note these two ladies chatting in the front row while Jesus preaches (as always, click on my screen grab to go straight to the manuscript page):

The digitizations of 64 manuscripts by Digita Vaticana on April 22 came only a day after 33 were uploaded (see my earlier post). Here is the latest list:
  1. Reg.lat.1527, Giovanni Pontano's Lyra, the autograph, in a high, narrow codex
  2. Vat.gr.103,
  3. Vat.gr.109,
  4. Vat.gr.184,
  5. Vat.gr.1170,
  6. Vat.gr.1374,
  7. Vat.gr.1843,
  8. Vat.gr.1876,
  9. Vat.gr.1882,
  10. Vat.gr.2079,
  11. Vat.gr.2591,
  12. Vat.gr.2615.pt.B,
  13. Vat.lat.21,
  14. Vat.lat.47,
  15. Vat.lat.68,
  16. Vat.lat.118,
  17. Vat.lat.129,
  18. Vat.lat.139,
  19. Vat.lat.176,
  20. Vat.lat.177,
  21. Vat.lat.178,
  22. Vat.lat.179,
  23. Vat.lat.187,
  24. Vat.lat.190,
  25. Vat.lat.193,
  26. Vat.lat.224,
  27. Vat.lat.244,
  28. Vat.lat.266,
  29. Vat.lat.274,
  30. Vat.lat.292,
  31. Vat.lat.305,
  32. Vat.lat.322,
  33. Vat.lat.327,
  34. Vat.lat.330,
  35. Vat.lat.337,
  36. Vat.lat.340, an 8th or 9th century manuscript from Corbie with Jerome's Commentaries on Epistles. Lowe says (CLA 1 4 or 5 4, Trismegistos) the front flyleaf is from another Corbie codex, the same as  fragments in Paris (lat. 17177). Nifty how the Vatican librarian has popped an ownership stamp under the snake's chin:
  37. Vat.lat.341,
  38. Vat.lat.343,
  39. Vat.lat.545,
  40. Vat.lat.555,
  41. Vat.lat.556,
  42. Vat.lat.584,
  43. Vat.lat.600, a life of Gregory the Great and other materials, 14th century
  44. Vat.lat.604,
  45. Vat.lat.610,
  46. Vat.lat.679,
  47. Vat.lat.1322, Latin translation of the Acts of Chalcedon. Probably from Verona, late 6th or early 7th century. Lowe CLA 1 8, Trismegistos. See a discussion by Nicholas Everett who notes marginal comments in a 9th-century hand.
  48. Vat.lat.1342, Lowe CLA 1 9, Trismegistos, 8th century. On Twitter GiorgiaV, notes its record of the excommunication of Anastasius Bibliothecarius in 853 by a Roman synod, while NSCM notes some playful descenders by a scribe with space to spare. If they give you the space, enjoy it.
  49. Vat.lat.1391,
  50. Vat.lat.1801, the first-ever translation to Latin of Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War by Lorenzo Valla. This is Valla's archetypus. Jeremy Norman has a long page discussing this manuscript and its special history.
  51. Vat.lat.1991,
  52. Vat.lat.1993,
  53. Vat.lat.1996,
  54. Vat.lat.2113,
  55. Vat.lat.3361, work of Sannazzaro
  56. Vat.lat.5642,
  57. Vat.lat.7225, Gospels, GiorgiaV noticed on Twitter a fine pairing of Luke with calf and John with eagle on the openings 
  58. Vat.lat.7794,
  59. Vat.lat.8892,
  60. Vat.lat.9495, a book of hours, with St Laurence (right, and holding his grate) in conversation, probably with St Stephen (holding stones)
  61. Vat.lat.10405, the 12th-century Todi Bible, closely related to another giant bible from Rome, the Pantheon Bible. The frontispiece to the Acts of the Apostles shows an ascended Christ, and at the bottom is this a bearded apostle trying to adjust his halo:
  62. Vat.lat.14430.pt.A, the Bible of Robert of Taranto, also known as Bible of Gaulle (above), second quarter of the 14th century.
  63. Vat.lat.14430.pt.B, ditto
  64. Vat.turc.73,

This is Piggin's Unoffficial List Number 47. 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.


Monument in China

An engraved stone monument erected in 781 in a Nestorian Christian graveyard in Xi`an, China commemorated the arrival of Christianity 150 years before that in China. You can see this extraordinary historical treasure today inside the Forest of Steles at Bēilín Museum.

An ink rubbing was made from the stele in the 1630s and sent to Rome, and the discovery caused a sensation in Europe, where Chinese adoption of Christianity in 631 had been entirely unknown, as Anthony Grafton's Rome Reborn page (with a false callmark) notes.

The rubbing, now part of the bundle Barb.or.151, is one of the oriental treasures that has just been digitized by the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, posted online on April 21.
The monument is about 2.5 metres tall and capped by a carved cross. The heading, as translated in the Wikipedia entry reads, "A Monument Commemorating the Propagation of the Ta-Chin Luminous Religion in the Middle Kingdom". Ta-Chin is an old Chinese term for the Roman Empire.

Another item in this package of digitizations is an abridgement printed in the 1620s of the famed map of the world that Matteo Ricci, the first Jesuit missionary to become adept in Chinese, had produced in 1574. The hand-tinted print was made at the orders of Giulio Aleni, whose name is marked on it, as Grafton notes. Here is North America:
Also in the bundle is the printed astronomy, Chien-chien tsung-hsing-t'u by Adam Schall von Bell, of which Grafton notes: von Bell introduced the new astronomy of Galileo, including the telescope, to China. This single-sheet printed map with explanatory text shows the stars visible in the sky of northern China.
  1. Barb.or.151.pt.1, bundle of Chinese materials (above)
  2. Borg.cin.497,
  3. Borg.cin.537,
  4. Borg.cin.538,
  5. Borg.gr.27,
  6. Ott.lat.1252,
  7. Ott.lat.2358,
  8. Reg.lat.165,
  9. Reg.lat.179,
  10. Reg.lat.1935,
  11. Reg.lat.1995, the autobiography of Pope Pius II, the former Enea Silvio Piccolomini. This book, the Commentarii, is a remarkably frank autobiography and the only book he wrote after his election, in which he put his passions and prejudices on full view, Anthony Grafton notes in the Rome Reborn catalog. Enea Silvio was the first humanist to be elected to the papacy.
  12. Reg.lat.2039,
  13. Ross.184,
  14. Ross.254,
  15. Ross.276,
  16. Ross.616,
  17. Ross.701,
  18. Ross.977,
  19. Ross.1165,
  20. Urb.lat.252,
  21. Urb.lat.293, a nicely written 11th or 12th century manuscript of Vitruvius on Architecture notable for its two flyleaves, now folios 96 and 97, which date from the first half of the 8th century and contain important material from the late antique Greek medical writer Oribasius: This contains words glossed in Old German, indicating it has a German provenance: Lowe number CLA 1 116, see Trismegistos
  22. Urb.lat.367,
  23. Urb.lat.378,
  24. Urb.lat.548, a very fine Renaissance part-bible transcribed by Mattheus de Contugiis, here the start of Proverbs, showing Solomon learning wisdom from father David:
  25. Urb.lat.597,
  26. Urb.lat.644,
  27. Urb.lat.1030, a Pietro Bembo autograph
  28. Vat.ar.14, a 12th-century Arabic translation of the Diatessaron of Tatian, a combination of all four gospels into a single narrative. Thanks to Adam Carter McCollum in Vienna for pointing out this one on Twitter. Here is the colophon:
  29. Vat.ar.503,
  30. Vat.ar.581,
  31. Vat.ar.1606, a tiny and very ancient book in Arabic, apparently selections from Koran
  32. Vat.ebr.123,
  33. Vat.ebr.142.pt.2,
The Vatican scanners have also been hard at work for their Heidelberg sponsors, producing 10 new digitizations, which have just appeared on the Heidelberg RSS and are only visible on the German site:
  1. Pal. lat. 381 Ovidius Naso, Publius; Cicero, Marcus Tullius: Sammelhandschrift (Deutschland (Heidelberg?), 15. Jh.)
  2. Pal. lat. 733 Digestum vetus (14. Jh.)
  3. Pal. lat. 734 Digestum vetus (14. Jh.)
  4. Pal. lat. 735 Digestum vetus (13. Jh.)
  5. Pal. lat. 736 Digestum vetus (14. Jh.)
  6. Pal. lat. 687 Egidii (de Foscariis) ordo iudiciarius editus secundum consuetudinem bononiensem in foro ecclesiastico approbatam ; Mag. Bartholomei Brixiensis questiones dominicales et venales de iure canonico (15. Jh.)  
  7. Pal. lat. 691 Monaldi (Iustinopolitani ord. fr. minorum) summa iuris canonici (15. Jh.)
  8. Pal. lat. 695 Fratris Monaldi summa de iure canonico secundum ordinem alphabeti (14. Jh.)
  9. Pal. lat. 1525 Cicero, Marcus Tullius: Opera ; Orationes (Deutschland (?), 15. Jh.)
  10. Pal. lat. 1834 Melanchthon, Philipp; Luther, Martin; Erasmus, Desiderius: Epistolae (Wittenberg, 1536-1543 (?))
This is Piggin's Unofficial List number 46. I will fill in other details later. 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.


Trio of Vergils

The Roman Vergil is among the world's most celebrated old books: a 5th-century illustrated manuscript of the works of the Latin writer Virgil with the Vatican library shelfmark Vat. lat. 3867.

It has just entered the internet, marking a fresh historic moment in the Vatican digitization program. On the same day, the Vatican's leaves of a non-illuminated Virgil from the same period, the Vergilius Augusteus (Vat. lat. 3256), arrived online.

The even older Vatican Vergil, Vat. lat. 3225, another Late Antique illustrated book with which these two are commonly compared, has been online for over a year. These two additions make the set complete. Now you can compare all three at high resolution, in colour.

Classical Rome did not have illustrated codex books. Late Antiquity invented them in one of its major advances in media and public education. The rest as they say is history.

Here is the Roman Vergil's treatment of a shipbound Aeneas enduring a storm released by the goddess Juno against him. It is often said that the style seems like a precursor to medieval art:

The Wikipedia article Vergilius Romanus notes a theory that the Roman Vergil was made in Britain. Robert Vermaat accessibly sums up the argumentation for this. If true, the Roman Vergil is the oldest of any book from England in existence.

Here is the full list of 143 digitizations on April 11, bringing the posted total to 4,215. Click (tap) on the images to go straight to the pages. I want to rush this major news to you now, and will continue to mark the list up, with more of the goodies to be described in the next few days, so do come back.

The Bibioteca in Rome has no RSS feed, no running announcements, nothing. If you want news on what they put out, you'll have to come to my unofficial site, the only news stream on the internet covering the subject. Follow me on Twitter: there's a one-click button at right to make it easy.
  1. Borg.copt.109.cass.XVI.fasc.59, fragments, Gospel of Luke 8:36-9:41 and 12:39-14:9, looking extremely old even to my untrained eye
  2. Chig.C.IV.100,
  3. Urb.lat.603, the Breviary of Blanche of France, a major art treasure
  4. Vat.lat.29 ,
  5. Vat.lat.268,
  6. Vat.lat.284,
  7. Vat.lat.287,
  8. Vat.lat.303,
  9. Vat.lat.317,
  10. Vat.lat.326,
  11. Vat.lat.333,
  12. Vat.lat.335,
  13. Vat.lat.357,
  14. Vat.lat.358,
  15. Vat.lat.359,
  16. Vat.lat.361,
  17. Vat.lat.363,
  18. Vat.lat.365,
  19. Vat.lat.367,
  20. Vat.lat.370,
  21. Vat.lat.374,
  22. Vat.lat.379,
  23. Vat.lat.383,
  24. Vat.lat.386,
  25. Vat.lat.387,
  26. Vat.lat.388,
  27. Vat.lat.390,
  28. Vat.lat.391,
  29. Vat.lat.394,
  30. Vat.lat.395,
  31. Vat.lat.402,
  32. Vat.lat.403,
  33. Vat.lat.404,
  34. Vat.lat.406,
  35. Vat.lat.408,
  36. Vat.lat.411,
  37. Vat.lat.417,
  38. Vat.lat.419,
  39. Vat.lat.420,
  40. Vat.lat.421,
  41. Vat.lat.422,
  42. Vat.lat.423,
  43. Vat.lat.426,
  44. Vat.lat.429,
  45. Vat.lat.431,
  46. Vat.lat.432,
  47. Vat.lat.437,
  48. Vat.lat.442,
  49. Vat.lat.443,
  50. Vat.lat.447,
  51. Vat.lat.448,
  52. Vat.lat.455,
  53. Vat.lat.456,
  54. Vat.lat.457,
  55. Vat.lat.460,
  56. Vat.lat.462,
  57. Vat.lat.464,
  58. Vat.lat.469,
  59. Vat.lat.470,
  60. Vat.lat.473,
  61. Vat.lat.477,
  62. Vat.lat.482,
  63. Vat.lat.488,
  64. Vat.lat.492,
  65. Vat.lat.493,
  66. Vat.lat.497,
  67. Vat.lat.499,
  68. Vat.lat.502,
  69. Vat.lat.503,
  70. Vat.lat.504,
  71. Vat.lat.506,
  72. Vat.lat.508,
  73. Vat.lat.509,
  74. Vat.lat.511,
  75. Vat.lat.512,
  76. Vat.lat.515,
  77. Vat.lat.517,
  78. Vat.lat.520,
  79. Vat.lat.522,
  80. Vat.lat.523,
  81. Vat.lat.524,
  82. Vat.lat.526,
  83. Vat.lat.528,
  84. Vat.lat.529,
  85. Vat.lat.530,
  86. Vat.lat.531,
  87. Vat.lat.532,
  88. Vat.lat.536,
  89. Vat.lat.537,
  90. Vat.lat.538,
  91. Vat.lat.541,
  92. Vat.lat.542,
  93. Vat.lat.547,
  94. Vat.lat.548,
  95. Vat.lat.551,
  96. Vat.lat.553, Eucherius of Lyon, a 9th-century manuscript possibly originating from Germany. Lowe number, CLA 1 6  
  97. Vat.lat.554,
  98. Vat.lat.559,
  99. Vat.lat.562,
  100. Vat.lat.570,
  101. Vat.lat.574,
  102. Vat.lat.579,
  103. Vat.lat.583, Gregory the Great in an 8th-century manuscript, Lowe number CLA 1 7, with this fine fishy Q:
  104. Vat.lat.589,
  105. Vat.lat.590,
  106. Vat.lat.591,
  107. Vat.lat.595,
  108. Vat.lat.605,
  109. Vat.lat.607,
  110. Vat.lat.608,
  111. Vat.lat.613,
  112. Vat.lat.614,
  113. Vat.lat.621,
  114. Vat.lat.643,
  115. Vat.lat.1112, commentary on the Sententiae 
  116. Vat.lat.1164, theological including Giacomo da Pesaro
  117. Vat.lat.1165, theological, first half is a Spanish printed book of 1548
  118. Vat.lat.3198, Petrarch with portrait:
  119. Vat.lat.3212, Italian poetry of Antonio del Alberti, etc.
  120. Vat.lat.3256, the Vergilius Augusteus (see the Wikipedia article)
  121. Vat.lat.3305,
  122. Vat.lat.3321, a late antique glossary, in an 8th-century central Italian manuscript, Lowe CLA 1 15: a sort of dictionary and Roget's Thesauraus combined. I originally marked this as Isidore of Seville, Differentiae (Isidore was a bit of a plagiarist and fond of substituting new words in quotes to make them his own) but it seems that this is a source used by Isidore. The manuscript has been edited (see the 1834 Rome edition on Google Books) and there is a huge bibliography suggesting this is an important source for Latin lexicography and linguistics.
  123. Vat.lat.3357,
  124. Vat.lat.3437,
  125. Vat.lat.3773: Thanks to ParvaVox who was quick to point out this is an old pictorial Mexican Nahua manuscript, and to @carolinepennock, who adds that it's a tonalamatl (divinatory calendar), probably from Tlaxcala. She says it is one of only a handful believed to be pre-conquest, and another digital reproduction is available at www.famsi.org. It was probably made in the 16th century, but the manuscript's history previous to the Vatican cataloguing of 1596-1600 is unknown. She says it part of what is called the Borgia group. Here's one of the hundreds of figures in it:
  126. Vat.lat.3797,
  127. Vat.lat.3867, the Roman Vergil, in rustic half-uncial script with many illustrations (see above)
  128. Vat.lat.3869, Hippocrates' Iusiurandum translated to Greek: ETNG
  129. Vat.lat.3886, Enea Silvio Piccolomini's 1458 autograph manuscript of Germania, a famed humanist review praising the orderliness and prosperity of the new Germany. It was to appear in print in Leipzig in 1496. This second part is marked Aeneas Cardinalis Sancte Sabine ad objectiones Germanorum in a 16th-century hand on the front flyleaf. See Gernot Michael Müller
  130. Vat.lat.4104, 16th-century letters to Angelo Colocci, Fulvio Orsini and others
  131. Vat.lat.4221, 11th-century three-column bible, possibly with some Vetus Latina readings, with fine canon tables:
  132. Vat.lat.4329, folio 87, a flyleaf, is a recycled 7th- or 8th-century page with Liber Comitis on it, Lowe number CLA 1 20:
  133. Vat.lat.4777, Dante? incomplete
  134. Vat.lat.4782, Dante, two-column ms
  135. Vat.lat.4965, the 9th-century report/translation from the Greek concerning the 8th Ecumenical Council in Constantinople for Pope Hadrian II by Anastasius Bibliotecarius: he seems to have got scribes in the papal scriptorium to write up this fair copy 870-871, then wrote his corrections on it. With these remarkable alterations, this manuscript offers insights into a first-millennium translation bureau (link to Berschin). HT as well to @LatinAristotle who flags a major article by Réka Forrai about this papal translator and diplomat.
  136. Vat.lat.5697, Peter Comestor's Historia Scholastica , early 15th century, one of the masterpieces of Gothic illumination, with wonderful images such as this scene:
    This is a charming Eve about to bite the apple as the Devil tells her it's sooo good:
    Notice the selfie-like distortion? Please, somebody, post this on Instagram.
  137. Vat.lat.5704, a 6th-century Latin translation of Cassidorus's Historia Tripartita almost certainly made in his own scriptorium at Vivarium, Italy. Lowe number CLA 1 25. It has been argued by some scholars that marginal notes to the Enarratio in Canticum Canticorum of Philo Carpasianus may be by the hand of the great Cassiodorus himself:
    If we had not had the Vergils, I would certainly have headlined this week's post with this treasure.
  138. Vat.lat.5759, Ambrose of Milan on Genesis and the Evangeliorum Libri of Juvencus, late 10th century, written over the top of an 8th-century gospels probably from Bobbio, Italy. The final pages have not been refilled, so you can see clearly how a palimpsest was prepared. Lowe number CLA 1 37
  139. Vat.lat.7016, an 8th-century gospels from Italy intact, Lowe number CLA 1 51 with canon tables:
  140. Vat.lat.7189, commentary on canon law by Johannes de Turrecremata (died 1468): the missing volume of an autograph series Vat. lat. 2572-2576 (Gero Dolezalek). 
  141. Vat.lat.11258.pt.B, a book of designs and plans for baroque Rome.
    Anthony Grafton notes in the Rome Reborn catalogue that this architectural drawing (folio 200r) for the centrepiece of the Piazza Navona by Francesco Borromini was not implemented.
  142. Vat.sir.598, an 1871 copy of records of 19 oriental synods
  143. Vat.turc.150,
This is Piggin's Unofficial List 45 and not the last. Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for news of more additions to Digita Vaticana, and join this site with Google Friend Connect (right) or you'll miss out on the next releases. If you have corrections or additions, please use the comments box below.



When the first touchscreens came out, a lot of us felt vaguely uncomfortable about touching pages. We had been inoculated by schoolteachers and librarians to feel guilty at putting our fingers on text.

It was not always like this. Much-used old manuscripts were also much touched. Images of the Devil are usually rubbed out by thousands of tappings to abjure him with a prayer. And certain sorts of text had to be touched to be used properly. Which brings me to a great glory among this week's 85 Vatican digitizations, Vat.lat.3806, with some of the oldest Eusebian canon tables of the Gospels.

The codex is known as the Rocca Sacramentary, a liturgical book for use in Fulda, Germany. Its early 10th-century scribe was a monk in Regensburg. To stop it getting too worn, it was given a couple of flyleaves at the front ripped from a Gospels (you know how it is, there's always rubbish lying around the place) with some tables painted in or near Rome in the 6th century.

The tables tell the reader where matching scenes and quotes occur in the four gospels. You need your fingers to use them. When searching for a match, you turn back to the front of the book to this index, look up your references in the table, hold your place on the table with a finger of the left hand and leaf through to the different "targets" with your right hand.

Indexes require index fingers. If it gets really complicated, you might need to use four fingers in a pianist's straddle to hold four places in the tables at once. Hand gymnastics.

The invention of tables of concordance was a major advance in the history of information technology, the topic of learned books by Anthony Grafton, Martin Wallraff and others (see below). And now that we have learned again to touch our texts, we understand in hindsight that pages designed to be touched were not a sin, but one of the great inventions to engage our bodies in the work of thinking.

The canons in the Rocca codex are thought to be the oldest western (Latin) examples, going back nearly as far as the oldest eastern examples in the Rabbula Gospels (Plut 01.56) in Florence.

In the following list of the April 4, 2016 digitizations (these bring the posted total to 4,072), I have marked several other gospels with newer canon tables you can compare them.
  1. Barb.lat.525, Evangeliary (gospel book) from Florence with prayers for each of its four city quarters during a procession. Here is the page for Porta San Giovanni:
  2. Barb.lat.637, Gospels, 9th century, with capitula lists but no canon tables
  3. Barb.or.135, printed book notable for this map of China:
  4. Borg.copt.109.cass.VI.fasc.17,
  5. Borg.copt.109.cass.VI.fasc.18,
  6. Borg.copt.109.cass.VI.fasc.20,
  7. Borg.copt.109.cass.XI.fasc.35,
  8. Borg.copt.109.cass.XVI.fasc.56,
  9. Borg.copt.109.cass.XVI.fasc.57,
  10. Borg.copt.109.cass.XVI.fasc.58,
  11. Borg.copt.109.cass.XVI.fasc.60,
  12. Borg.copt.109.cass.XVI.fasc.61,
  13. Borg.copt.136.pt.1,
  14. Borg.copt.136.pt.2,
  15. Chig.C.IV.111,  a 15th-century book of hours, an illuminated prayerbook with scenes from the Virgin's life. After asking on Twitter what this peculiar harp-like instrument played with a keyboard is ....
    ... responses came from Valerie Wilhite, and Cristina Alis Raurich in Spain who actually plays one:
  16. Chig.C.VI.161,
  17. Chig.E.IV.126,
  18. Chig.L.V.167,
  19. Chig.L.V.168,
  20. Chig.L.VII.251,
  21. Chig.L.VII.253,
  22. Chig.L.VIII.292,
  23. Chig.L.VIII.302,
  24. Chig.M.VII.143,
  25. Ott.lat.84,
  26. Ott.lat.457,
  27. Ott.lat.1212,
  28. Ott.lat.1523,
  29. Ott.lat.1717,
  30. Ott.lat.2530,
  31. Ott.lat.2546,
  32. Ott.lat.2864, Dante's Divine Comedy (thanks @noah_nonsense for the tip-off)
  33. Ott.lat.2866,
  34. Reg.lat.3,
  35. Reg.lat.10, Gospels, with canon tables
  36. Reg.lat.307, Augustine of Hippo on Gospel of John, 9th century
  37. Ross.314,
  38. Ross.613,
  39. Urb.gr.99,
  40. Vat.gr.2313.pt.A,
  41. Vat.lat.50,
  42. Vat.lat.51,
  43. Vat.lat.80,
  44. Vat.lat.85,
  45. Vat.lat.235,
  46. Vat.lat.238,
  47. Vat.lat.250,
  48. Vat.lat.252,
  49. Vat.lat.255,
  50. Vat.lat.256,
  51. Vat.lat.258,
  52. Vat.lat.311,
  53. Vat.lat.323,
  54. Vat.lat.438,
  55. Vat.lat.498,
  56. Vat.lat.540,
  57. Vat.lat.573,
  58. Vat.lat.602,
  59. Vat.lat.646,
  60. Vat.lat.722,
  61. Vat.lat.785.pt.2, Thomas Aquinas: here he is with his parchment scraper and quill, hard at work with a dove (Holy Spirit) on his shoulder whispering what to write in his ear
    This is one of five Thomas codices made for Pope John XXII in the first quarter of the 14th century. Corinne Péneau suggests the iconography of the dove, taken over from past images of saints John, Peter and Gregory the Great, marks the promotion at this time of Aquinas to sainthood.
  62. Vat.lat.1995, Latin translation of Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, etc.
  63. Vat.lat.1997, ditto
  64. Vat.lat.2376, John of Alexandria, commentary on Galen
  65. Vat.lat.3741, Gospels
  66. Vat.lat.3806, Rocca Sacramentary, for use in Fulda, scribe a monk in Regensburg, with two recycled flyleaves, fols 1-2, which are in fact 6th-century canon tables in Latin (by Eusebius): see Lowe, CLA Suppl. 1766, where the tables' origin is suggested to be the area of Rome
  67. Vat.lat.4220, Jerome, Letters to Paul etc
  68. Vat.lat.5762, from Bobbio, Letters of Jerome: note the poor, cheap parchment with holes and incomplete pages: the monks used whatever they could lay hands on, and wrote around the gaps.
  69. Vat.lat.5765, another fine old uncial manuscript from Bobbio, Italy, containing Isidore of Seville's De officiis (English translation via Google Books), dated to the beginning of the 8th century: this was made within 100 years of Isidore's lifetime. See Lowe, CLA 143   
  70. Vat.lat.5859, Ovid, Metamorphoses
  71. Vat.lat.5974, Gospels with canon tables
  72. Vat.lat.6083, more Gospels with canon tables
  73. Vat.lat.7224, 9th-century Gospels from Salzburg, Austria
  74. Vat.lat.7567, Bartolomeo da Colle (1421-1484): a manuscript of Dante
  75. Vat.lat.7795, more of the Bible of Aracoeli (see PUL 43)
  76. Vat.lat.7798, ditto
  77. Vat.lat.7801, ditto
  78. Vat.lat.8176, Pietro Bembo, letters
  79. Vat.lat.8208, Baldassar Castiglione, autograph
  80. Vat.lat.8262, scraps of book pages, handwritten notes, 17th century
  81. Vat.lat.8376, a damaged Paradiso of Dante associated with Bartolomeo da Colle (see above)
  82. Vat.lat.8700, illuminated missal, of Pius II
  83. Vat.lat.14613, a set of slats with writing on them:
    I didn't know what they were, but swiftly a tweet explained they were Scandinavian runes: which is the runic "alphabet" in its common order. The letters are mirrored, and some of them also upside down. We still don't know how this little treasure got to Rome.
  84. Vat.sir.51.pt.1,
  85. Vat.sir.51.pt.2,
In Heidelberg, 10 further Vatican manuscripts have arrived online in the past few days, and as usual actually come with descriptions:
  1. Pal. lat. 631, Gregorii IX decretales cum apparatu (Ioannis Andreae) (14.-15. Jh.)
  2. Pal. lat. 632, Gregorii IX decretales cum apparatu (Ioannis Andreae) (14.-15. Jh.)
  3. Pal. lat. 658 Iohannis summa super decretum (Gratiani) (14. Jh.)
  4. Pal. lat. 656 Sammelhandschrift (14. Jh.)
  5. Pal. lat. 640 Bonifatii VIII liber sextus decretalium, cum apparatu Ioannis Andreae (14. Jh.)
  6. Pal. lat. 642 Constitutiones Clementis V, cum apparatu Iohannis Andree (1460)
  7. Pal. lat. 703, Mag. Raymundi (de Pennaforti) summa de poenitentia et de matrimonio (14. Jh.)
  8. Pal. lat. 708, Ioannis (Friburgensis) Lectoris idem opus (14. Jh.)
  9. Pal. lat. 711, Sammelhandschrift (15. Jh.)
  10. Pal. lat. 732, Digestum vetus (14. Jh.)

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 (PUL) 44.]

Grafton, Anthony, and Megan Hale Williams. Christianity and the Transformation of the Book: Origen, Eusebius, and the Library of Caesarea. Harvard University Press, 2006.

Wallraff, Martin. Kodex und Kanon. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013.