The Commedia commentaries of Iacomo della Lana in the fifteenth century in Bodleian manuscripts

From Emma Barlow:

A focus on the materiality of manuscripts in cataloguing serves the purpose of better understanding the production processes behind their composition, and this can then lead to the application of this knowledge to the dichotomous changes that can be seen throughout the history of the manuscript. One must be conscious of the conservative nature of manuscript production; to a scribe copying the physical appearance of an exemplar, the material organization of the manuscript was paramount (sometimes even to the detriment of the text itself), and so the current trend towards studies of manuscript materiality is a positive one. The manuscript tradition of Dante’s Commedia is particularly vast and complicated due to the enormous number of extant manuscripts and the initial widespread transmission of the text, and so to have a deeper and more thorough understanding of the historical processes at work behind this tradition would prove invaluable to further scholarship in this area.

As part of a recent project, I wished to discover the features of the codicological and palaeographical development of Iacomo della Lana’s Commedia commentaries from the fourteenth to the fifteenth centuries. To this end, I catalogued four manuscripts contained in the Bodleian in order to compare their codicological and palaeographical features with those of fourteenth-century manuscripts of a similar tradition as described by Boschi Rotiroti in her Codicologia trecentesca della ‘Commedia’ (Rome 2004). The manuscripts I catalogued were MS. D’Orville 552, MS. Canon. Ital. 113, MS. Canon. Ital. 115 and MS. Canon. Ital. 116. The first is from the D’Orville collection, dated 1448 and acquired by the Bodleian in 1804. The latter three manuscripts belong to the Canonici collection, bought by the Bodleian in 1817, and are datable to the first half of the fifteenth century.

Completing a modern cataloguing of these manuscripts was an essential first step in commencing this project; all four manuscripts have been catalogued in various forms since the nineteenth century, but no attempt was ever made to detail their material features. This cataloguing was completed in accordance with the house style of the Bodleian Library, in particular with the descriptive catalogue of Würzburg manuscripts in the Bodleian by Daniela Mairhofer (Oxford 2014), and including details of not merely the contents but also the materiality of the manuscripts. One area of my cataloguing is slightly diverse, and that is in the codicological descriptions of the layout of the manuscripts. I followed the cataloguing norms of the “Manoscritti Datati d’Italia”, which are the norms used by Boschi Rotiroti in her cataloguing, to compare and contrast the codicological features, particularly the specific textual layouts, of the fourteenth-century Iacomo della Lana commentaries catalogued by Boschi Rotiroti with those of the fifteenth-century manuscripts that I catalogued. In this way it became possible to determine similarities and differences between the manuscripts, and detect patterns in their formation, to better understand the diachronic evolution of this particular manuscript tradition over one century.

In the four Bodleian manuscripts, three methods of manuscript production were displayed: an entire text displayed in two columns, a text displayed with commentary surrounding it in a frame, and a text with breaks between quires due to multiple scribes being involved in the copying process. Of the nineteen Boschi Rotiroti manuscripts, nine are presented in part or in whole as one column of the text of the Commedia with the commentary appearing in a frame surrounding the text (MS. Vat. Urb. lat. 367, MS. Vat. lat. 4776; Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS. Pluteo 40.36, MS. Ashburnham 832 (partly) and MS. Strozzi 169 (partly); Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS. 1005 and MS.1014 (partly); Milan, Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense, MS. AG.XII.2; Rimini, Biblioteca Civica Gambalunga, MS. S.C. 1162; Roma, Biblioteca dell’Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei e Corsiniana, MS. 44.F.3). Of the Bodleian manuscripts I catalogued, one (MS. Canon. Ital. 115) is presented entirely in this manner, and two (MS. D’Orville 552 and MS. Canon. Ital. 116) are presented partly in this way. This is not a feature particular to commentaries of Iacomo della Lana, but rather a feature of Italian Humanistic manuscripts, in particular texts accompanied by commentaries, and so it is unsurprising that these manuscripts share such a feature. The three Bodleian manuscripts seem to be most similar in layout to the Boschi Rotiroti manuscript Biblioteca dell’Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei e Corsiniana MS. 44.F.3, which features a simple rectangular text block and a plain frame of commentary surrounding it, with no complex double justifications of any kind. Aside from one manuscript (Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS. Mediceo Palatino 74), which has a variable layout, the remaining nine Boschi Rotiroti manuscripts are shaped in two columns (MS. Vat. Barb. lat. 4071, MS. Vat. Cappon. lat. 263, MS. Vat. Ott. lat, 2358; Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS. Pluteo 90 sup. 121; Frankfurt am Main, Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek, MS. lat. Qu. 57; Lucca, Archivio di Stato, Biblioteca manoscritti 93 and Biblioteca manoscritti 247, Frammento dantesco L 1592; Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, MS. A.40 inf., and Rome, Collezione dei Marchesi Guidi di Bagno), and this is another layout found in the manuscripts I have catalogued, specifically MS. D’Orville 552 and MS. Canon. Ital. 113. Again, this is a well-documented mise en page for the time period and geographical origin of these manuscripts.

A number of aesthetic features of the manuscripts I catalogued are also worthy of comparison with the Boschi Rotiroti manuscript catalogues. MS. D’Orville 552 contains yellow rubrication, as do the Boschi Rotiroti MS. Vat. Cappon. lat. 263, MS. Ott. lat. 2358 and Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS. Pluteo 40.36 and Mediceo Palatino 74, unusual given the usual red coloring of rubrication and indicating a possible connection between these manuscript traditions. There are also similarities in the presence of illustrations; MS. Canon. Ital. 115 contains a number of ink and lead illustrations copied from the Gradenighiana codex with spaces reserved for further illustrations. In the Boschi Rotiroti manuscripts, MS. Vat. lat. 4776 contains illustrations in Inferno, sketches for illustrations in Paradiso and spaces reserved for illustrations in Purgatorio, while MS. Medieceo Palatino 74 contains spaces reserved for illustrations throughout. The most interesting, however, is Rimini, Biblioteca Civica Gambalunga, MS. S.C. 1162, which is in fact the very Gradenighiana codex from which MS. Canon. Ital. 115 and 116 are copied (unfortunately, Boschi Rotiroti’s catalogue does not include measurements of the mise-en-page of S.C. 1162, and so the respective mise en page of MS. Canon. Ital. 115 and 116 could not be compared to it; this is something that would be very much worthwhile exploring further in a future project).

Another significant feature of these manuscripts is the texts that accompany them. In the Boschi Rotiroti manuscripts, MS. Vat. lat. 4776 and MS. Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Strozzi 169 contain the commentary of Iacomo della Lana interspersed with the Ottimo commentary; this is also true for MS. D’Orville 552, wherein the commentary of Purgatorio and Paradiso is a mélange of the commentaries of Iacomo della Lana and the Ottimo, so this trend appears to have been commonplace in the manuscript tradition. Collezione dei Marchesi Guidi di Bagno contains the so-called Piccolo Credo as the final text in the manuscript, while MS. Canon. Ital. 116 also includes it as one of the complementary texts at the end of the manuscript. Three of the Boschi Rotiroti manuscripts (Florence MS. Strozzi 169, Frankfurt MS. lat. Qu. 57, and Rimini MS. S.C. 1162) are accompanied by segments of the Capitolo by Jacopo Alighieri, a feature also of MS. Canon. Ital. 115 and 116 (unsurprising given that these manuscripts are copied from S.C. 1162). Another two texts found in S.C. 1162, the Capitolo of Menghino Mezzani and the Brieve raccoglimento of Boccaccio, are also found in MS. Canon. Ital. 115 (Mezzani and Boccaccio) and MS. Canon. Ital. 116 (Boccaccio), another clear indication that these manuscripts very much belong to the same tradition.

A comprehensive examination such as this can reveal much about the manuscript tradition of a particular commentary over a long time period, and about the methods of manuscript production behind the end products themselves. Further detailed and thorough cataloguing of medieval and Renaissance Italian manuscripts containing the commentaries of Iacomo della Lana in other libraries around the world could lead to a comprehensive understanding of the complete history of this commentary tradition, which at this time is incomplete, as while much is known about the original manuscripts in which the commentary survives, little is known about the precise manner of its subsequent textual transmission from manuscript to printed tradition. With the above comparative codicological and palaeographical analysis, I hope to have facilitated the eventual closing of this gap in our collective knowledge.

Cornish mystery plays

As described in this recent news story, the manuscript MS. Bodl. 791 is the unique surviving manuscript of a trilogy of plays on the Creation, Passion of Christ and Resurrection, in Cornish verse, with Latin stage directions and diagrams. The manuscript was made in the first half of the 15th century.

Bodleian MS. Bodl. 791, fol. 27r
MS. Bodl. 791, fol. 27r

Diagrams on three pages of this manuscript show major characters and locations of scenes – Heaven, Torturers, Hell, Pharoah, King David, King Solomon – arranged in a circle.

A digital reproduction of MS Bodl. 791 is available to view here.

The Chastising of God’s Children

From Martin Kauffmann

With very significant help from the Friends of the Bodleian, the Library has been successful in acquiring an important Middle English manuscript at auction (now shelfmarked MS. Don. e. 247). Written in northern England in the mid-15th century, it contains ‘The Chastising of God’s Children’ and other mystical treatises.

The text, composed around 1390, circulated widely amongst a cosmopolitan readership in the late Middle Ages in England, and is an important witness to the growing vernacular appetite for advanced spiritual guidance. It provides us with unprecedented evidence for the circulation and appropriation of continental, near-contemporary mystical writings in England, as well as affording us insights into the ongoing popularity of earlier medieval native devotional material. It also offers one of the earliest vernacular guides to discerning true contemplative visions from false, using translated Latin materials developed to support the canonisation of Birgitta of Sweden.

Eleven manuscripts containing full versions or close derivatives are already known: many have close textual and codicological links to English Charterhouses or to the Birgittine House at Syon. The emergence of this new manuscript is of real significance to scholars of medieval vernacular literature and thought. Of particular interest is its collocation in this copy with other devotional texts which were known to have appealed to a shared audience of nuns and devout laity: the book therefore becomes an important witness to this complex reading community. Of the existing versions, five are already in Oxford. Taken together with the Bodleian’s manuscript holdings of other Middle English religious texts, this makes Oxford a very suitable centre for further study on the text.

Oxford also has a large concentration of scholars working on materials of this kind. Current members of the English Faculty are active in the field of ‘vernacular theology’, with particular expertise in studies of heterodoxy, contemplative writing, and didactic and devotional texts; several also work closely on Carthusian and Birgittine books and on London metropolitan book production. The Library is particularly grateful to Vincent Gillespie, J. R. R. Tolkien Professor of English Literature and Language and Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall, for his inspiration and advice in the acquisition of the manuscript.

Bede and the Delphic Oracle

From David Ganz

During their quest for the Golden Fleece, the fleece of the winged ram which is now the constellation Ares, the Argonauts visited the oracle of Pythian Apollo at Delphi. There the heroes put questions to the oracle, asking ‘Prophesy to us, prophet, Titan, Phoebus Apollo, whose shrine will this be, or what will it be?’  The oracle replied ‘I proclaim only a triune, high ruling God, whose imperishable word will be conceived in an innocent girl. He, like a fiery arrow coursing through the midst of the whole world will make it captive and bring it as a gift to his father. This will be her house and her name will be Mary. ‘ The heroes inscribed this oracle in bronze letters on stone, and placed it over the door of the temple. The tale is preserved in the Chronography of the sixth century Syrian scholar John Malalas, a history of the world from the Creation to 565.  The sole manuscript of his work to survive is now in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, MS. Barocci 182

Malalas also tells how the emperor Augustus, when he asked the oracle who would rule after him, was told that a Hebrew boy, a god who rules among the blessed, bids me leave this house and go back to Hades. The manuscript of Malalas can now be viewed by anyone with access to the Internet, thanks to the generosity of the Polonsky Foundation Digitization Project.

Further along the shelves in that library, or online with another click of the mouse, is a more remarkable manuscript, MS. Laud Gr. 35, a bilingual copy of the Acts of the Apostles written in Italy around the year 600.

It came twice to England, for in 1937 Professor Max Laistner of Cornell showed that when Bede wrote his commentary on the Acts of the Apostles he was able to compare the text of  Acts in the Codex Amiatinus with  other Latin manuscripts, and even to refer to the Greek text of Acts, and that the Laudian manuscript in Oxford  is the only place where many of his readings of the Old Latin text of Acts may be found. From Bede’s monastery it went to Hornbach, east of Metz and south of Mainz, a monastery founded by the hermit Pirmin  around 742 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Pirmin wrote a catechetical handbook which briefly describes the incarnation, when the son of God deigned to come down from the father, the word in the womb of the ever virgin Mary. From Hornbach it came to the cathedral of Würzburg, where it was found by the agents of Archbishop Laud, the chancellor of the University of Oxford. Laud gave it and many other manuscripts to the university in 1639. The story of those manuscripts is being told by Daniela Mairhofer of the University of Vienna, and her superb catalogue of the Medieval manuscripts from Würzburg in the Bodleian Library has just been published. Her work provides the most detailed account of what else lies within the archbishop’s brown leather binding.

The first 226 leaves contain the bilingual copy of the Acts of the Apostles, set out in two parallel columns which generally just contain one or two words either in Greek or in Latin. But on the verso of the final page of text there is a Latin version of the Apostle’s Creed, which is thought to have been added either in England or on the continent. (Pirmin’s handbook included a creed which is very similar.) Below that there are two brief notes on pagan oracles, written in Greek in a seventh century cursive minuscule, and including our tale of the Argonauts at Delphi. The notes are thought to have been copied in the late seventh century perhaps in a chancery. So, when the volume reached Northumbria, it contained a record of one of the very last pronouncements of the Delphic oracle.  The manuscript  was repeatedly consulted by Bede between 709 and 731. But did he read this text?

The short and dismissive answer is that we cannot know. Bede might have been unable to decipher the unfamiliar Greek cursive script. At no time did he mention the story, and only once does he refer to the oracle, without locating it at Delphi. His fellow historian, Orosius, the simpler student of Augustine, deleted any reference to the Delphic oracle from his Seven books of History against the pagans. Bede might have followed his example, understanding the silences of our sources is perhaps the toughest task.

Bede certainly knew of Delphi as a place, for he mentions it in his great work on the reckoning of time. In his treatise on metre he repeats the doctrine that the hexameter was called heroic verse after the time of Homer, but was formerly called the Pythian, since it was used by the oracle of Apollo. He knew that among the constellations was the ship, which the Greeks called Argo, with four stars on the poop

Other Christian historians whose works were known to Bede, Jerome, Prosper of Aquitaine and Isidore of Seville had all recorded the founding of the temple of Apollo at Delphi at the same time as the death of Moses. Augustine knew that the Delphic oracle had commanded ‘Know thyself’ had mentioned the Delphic oracle in his City of God and Cassiodorus in his commentary on Psalm 64 knows that Apollo at Delphi has fallen silent and that Diana has left Delphi silenced by the power of the martyrs. ‘What, I ask could the Gentiles do when they saw their deities tremble?’ All of these texts were familiar to Bede: he regularly used the word ‘oracle’ for divine prophecies, and for the Holy of Holies in the temple at Jerusalem. So his silence may be deliberate: the oracles of the pagans were a challenge to the word of the Lord. But if he had been able to puzzle out the short theophany at the end of his text of Acts, he might have thought the oracles profession of Trinitarian faith and its praise of the Virgin, in whose honour Bede composed a fine hymn, were a vindication of his own beliefs. Bede’s hymn tells of how the Egyptian idols were overturned during the flight into Egypt.

The manuscript of Acts was in Sardinia in the first half of the seventh century, for it includes on the final leaf the opening of an edict of the Byzantine dux Flavios Pankratios, who is attested there between 638 and 668. That leaf also contains three invocations to the Virgin in Greek, by a  deacon named Gregorius, the deaconess Eupraxia and one Johannes Karamallos.

The last Delphic oracle told the emperor Julian the Apostate that the hall of Daedalus has fallen. No longer does Phoebus have his chamber, nor laurel nor prophetic spring, and the speaking water has been silenced. As the oracles fell silent, vast numbers of books came to distant Northumbria, and among them was a last whisper from the Delphic oracle. Bede held it in his hands: whether he could decipher it, or approved the tale it told, we shall not know.

In 1905 A. E. Housman reminded would-be editors how a lost fragment of Juvenal’s sixth satire had recently been discovered in an Oxford manuscript (MS. Canon. Class. Lat. 41). In his fierce words, Nemesis brought it ‘from the arsenals of divine vengeance, if I may so describe the Bodleian library.’ We must hope that, however silent or Christian our oracles have become, Nemesis will continue to enrich us. And that we may hear the running of the horse and bear, the stroke of the leopard, the bleating of the ram, the fifty beating oars of Argo.

David Ganz