The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at Penn brings manuscript culture, modern technology and people together.

1 Comment

LJS 229 paper at Gersonides conference in Geneva

Charles Manekin, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland, gave a paper this week about LJS 229, a Hebrew manuscript commentary on commentaries by Averroës  on Aristotle and Porphyry, at a conference at the University of Geneva.  The conference, “Everyone contested his views, no one denied his importance” — Gersonides through the Ages, focused on the transmission and reception of the works of medieval Jewish philosopher and astronomer Gersonides.  Professor Manekin started working with LJS 229 last spring, while holding the Ellie and Herbert D. Katz Distinguished Fellowship at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, and discovered that the unidentified author of these commentaries was a member of the school of Gersonides.  Available online are a description by Professor Manekin of the manuscript and its context; the catalog record for the manuscript; and a full digital facsimile.

1 Comment

Classroom debut of a new manuscript

The Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books & Manuscripts has just acquired an early 14th-century manuscript of Thomas of Ireland’s Manipulus Florum.  The Penn community has the opportunity to see the manuscript tomorrow evening at an open meeting of the Graduate Paleography Group, at 5 pm in the Vitale 2 Digital Media Lab in the Kislak Center.  Please join us! Emily Steiner, professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, has a research interest in medieval reference works and was the faculty organizer for last year’s Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age, with the theme of Taxonomies of Knowledge. This fall she is teaching a graduate seminar on Piers Plowman. Here she writes about the first use of the manuscript in her (or anyone’s!) classroom.

Ms. Codex 1640, Headings A-D, with Abstinence and Conscience

Ms. Codex 1640, Headings A-D, with Abstinence and Conscience

I was thrilled to have the opportunity last week to show my graduate class Penn’s new acquisition, UPenn Ms. Codex 1640, the lovely manuscript of the Manipulus Florum (A Handful of Flowers). As it happened, the students and I were discussing the most famous episode in William Langland’s Piers Plowman, a 7,000-line alliterative poem written in England in the mid-fourteenth century. In this episode, in passus 7 of Piers Plowman, Piers and a priest have an argument about what kind of learning is required to understand the requirements for Christian salvation. Piers says, “Abstinence the Abbess taught me my a.b.c., and Conscience came after her and taught me much more.” Piers seems as if he’s saying, “you don’t need to be learned – you just need to be good!” but actually he is referring to medieval reference books like the Manipulus Florum, alphabetically-ordered key words indexes, from which preachers could easily put together sermons, even if they didn’t have access to a big library. “Abstinence,” “Abbess,” and “Conscience,” are very typical keywords in such reference books. Penn’s Manipulus Florum, which contains the entry for “Conscience,” as well as the heading for its mostly missing (first) entry on “Abstinence,” is a perfect example of the kind of book to which the poet, Langland, probably had access, and to which he owed his conception of literacy. For a medieval writer, a book like the Manipulus Florum was similar to today’s Wikipedia: a seemingly complete source of cultural information.

Emily Steiner,

1 Comment

13th Century Entanglements, Part 2

Katelyn Mesler received her Ph.D. from Northwestern University in 2012.  In 2012-2013, she held the Erika A. Strauss Teaching Fellowship at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, and she is currently a Mandel Fellow in the Scholion Interdisciplinary Research Center in the Humanities and Jewish Studies (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem).  She has published several articles on topics ranging from medieval Christian eschatology to magic, medicine, and science in the medieval Jewish and Christian traditions.  The 2012-2013 Fellows contributed to a new web exhibit titled 13th Century Entanglements:  Judaism, Christianity & Islam, in which each Fellow presented a manuscript or printed work used in research during the year.  Dr. Mesler chose LJS 449, and her text from the exhibit follows.

If You Find an Engraved Stone: The Transmission of Science and Magic

Among the scientific writings of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages are treatises known as Lapidaries, short encyclopedic works on the properties of stones and minerals. One type of lapidary, exemplified by Marbode of Rennes’s famous Latin work On Stones, listed the name of each stone (often alphabetically), followed by details such as their color, where they are found, and any special “virtues” or powers that the stone possesses (such as the loadstone’s power of attraction or the bezoar’s reputation as an antidote for poison). Another type of lapidary was concerned with the symbolic meaning of the twelve biblical stones of the high priest’s breastplate and the heavenly Jerusalem.

The Techel/Azareus Complex, pictured here, is a Latin lapidary in which engravings of astrological symbols are said to imbue the stones with powers. The prologue (in red) offers an origin story for the text and the stones it describes: “In the name of the Lord, Amen. This is Cheel’s great, precious, and secret little book of the sigils that the children of Israel made in the desert after their departure from Egypt, in accordance with the motion and course of the planets and constellations.” Entries for the stones begin with the phrase “If you find…” and then describe in detail the images, based largely on Greco-Roman astrological iconography, that one might find engraved on a stone. The reader is then instructed on the special virtues and magical uses of any stone that meets the description.

The origins of the Techel/Azareus Complex remain a mystery, but the text has roots and parallels in the Greek and Arabic lapidary traditions. The oldest identified copy of this Latin lapidary dates to the twelfth century. In the course of the next few centuries, it was translated into several vernacular languages and became one of the most widely circulated and cited of all medieval lapidaries. Notably, the text was also translated into Hebrew (via Anglo-Norman) in the thirteenth century. By the end of the Middle Ages, two more Jewish versions had appeared: one written in Italian in Hebrew characters and a second Hebrew version (via Castilian and Catalan) that may have originated outside the Latin tradition. The lapidary in all its versions is part of a wider movement in the Middle Ages to transmit and translate scientific works, bridging not only ancient and medieval traditions but also cultural, linguistic, and religious ones.

Leave a comment

Students Meeting Manuscripts

Julia Perratore is a recent graduate of Penn’s doctoral program in the History of Art and a lecturer in Penn’s Critical Writing Program.  This summer she taught an introductory course on medieval art, and she describes here how she incorporated manuscripts into her curriculum.

July calendar page (f. 7r), Rouen book of hours (Ms. Codex 1056)

July calendar page (f. 7r), Rouen book of hours (Ms. Codex 1056)

In my view, it is essential for those coming to the study of medieval art history for the first time to experience medieval art objects first-hand. In an effort to bring my small group of students into contact with primary materials, I had them visit the Special Collections Center on two separate occasions. First, I sent them on their own to view the Legacy Inscribed exhibition of manuscripts from the collection of Lawrence Schoenberg. I assigned each student a different manuscript to study closely, and their observations formed the basis of their first written assignment, a formal analysis focused on illuminated initials and their part in the overall mise-en-page. I also had them do a small amount of research on their assigned manuscript to learn more about its background. There is no substitute for having the entire manuscript, offering the entire page layout, available to you – issues of scale and proportion that are otherwise meaningless really come to the fore when you have the actual object before you.

This independent exploration was followed by a group visit to the Special Collections Center during one of our class sessions, when Lynn Ransom treated us to a tour of books of hours in the always-impressive Lea Library. My students were thrilled to get a sense, not only of how these books are decorated, but how they were organized and used. They confided to me that it was much easier to understand how such books could structure and impact a person’s entire life when they had the chance to go through the pages themselves. They were also particularly thrilled to touch the parchment of one manuscript, and they were soon keen to determine when a given text was written on the “hair side” or “flesh side” of the parchment – something they would never have observed, and perhaps never have even comprehended, if they had only read about it. One student was so enthusiastic about his encounter with books of hours that he looked into buying one for himself! He went straight to the internet to investigate specimens currently on auction. Alas, everything was far too expensive, but it seems a new generation of enthusiasts – and perhaps even collectors – is born with every visit to Special Collections.


13th Century Entanglements, Part 1

Charles H. Manekin, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland, held the Ellie and Herbert D. Katz Distinguished Fellowship at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies in Spring 2013.  The 2012-2013 Fellows contributed to a new web exhibit titled 13th Century Entanglements:  Judaism, Christianity & Islam, in which each Fellow presented a manuscript or printed work used in research during the year.  Professor Manekin chose LJS 229, and his text from the exhibit follows.

Commentary on Averroes’ Middle Commentaries on the Isagoge of Porphyry, the Categories and De Interpretatione of Aristotle
LJS 229

LJS 229

It is hard to overestimate the importance of the first three books of the logical canon known as the Organon—the Isagoge (Introduction) of Porphyry of Tyre, and the Categories and the De Interpretatione of Aristotle—for medieval intellectual life. Already in late antiquity these books were an essential part of the medical curriculum, and all medieval physicians, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian, were expected to have mastered their comments. Students of scientific subjects commenced their studies with either these particular books, or at least their subject-matter, e.g., how we categorize the world we experience, what sorts of properties distinguish natural kinds from each other, and how we combine our concepts to form judgments about the world.

The first three books of the Organon were never translated into Hebrew. Instead, paraphrases of them by the 12th century Muslim philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd) were translated from the original Arabic into Hebrew in Naples by Jacob Anatoli in 1232 (together with the next two books of the Organon, the Prior and Posterior Analytics, on syllogistic inference and scientific demonstration, respectively.) Averroes’ paraphrases or “Middle Commentaries” of the first three works are extant in over eighty Hebrew manuscripts (and likely more), making them, according to the great literary historian and bibliographer, Moritz Steinschneider, the most popular works in Hebrew written by a non-Jew. They were commented upon by Jewish savants such as Levi Gersonides in the fourteenth century, and Judah Messer Leon in the fifteenth century.

The particular commentary found in the Schoenberg Collection (LJS 229) is anonymous and has not yet been studied. No other copy of it exists, to my knowledge, but the section on the De Interpretatione is found in Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod. hebr. 46. The commentator refers often to the logical writings of the 10th century Muslim philosopher, Alfarabi, some of which were translated into Hebrew in the late 12th and early 13th century. He also refers to the Arabic version of Averroes’ text. But, most interestingly, he cites and criticizes at least once the interpretation of “my teacher, R. Levi,” which a cursory comparison of the manuscripts reveals to be Gersonides. If this is correct, then the author of the commentary in LJS 229 was another member of Gersonides’ “school,” where students read texts with Gersonides and occasionally wrote their own glosses as comments, as has recently been studied by Prof. Ruth Glasner of Hebrew University. Since Gersonides also refers to the Arabic version of Averroes, this manuscript sheds additional light on the methodology employed by members of Gersonides’ circle.

As interesting as the anonymous commentary is in itself, the physical codex sheds light on the intellectual life of Provence in the second half of the 15th century. One finds the following statement of ownership in Latin: “Iste liber est meus mestre Benustruc[?] Avidor.” This individual may be identified with the 15th century ProvenC’al savant, Avigdor Benastruc, who translated into Hebrew around 1490 the anonymous French Romance of Belle Maguelone, and who wrote a manuscript that included works by the Provencal Jewish scholar, Isaac Nathan, the composer of the first Hebrew concordance of the Bible. If that is the case, it shows that as late as the late fifteenth century, if not later, basic works in Aristotelian logic were studied in Provence, and the influence of Gersonides and his students was still very much felt.