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


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Happy new (school) year! Why do the Middle Ages matter?

On LJS 101, f. 1vTuesday evening Penn medievalists and early modernists kicked off the new academic year with the annual Welcome Back reception and the first Penn Medieval Studies program of the year:  a panel discussion on “Why the Middle Ages Matter.”  In addition to questioning the question, Rebecca Winer (Villanova University), Matthew Boyd Goldie (Rider University), Elly Truitt (Bryn Mawr College), John Haldon (Princeton University), and our own director Will Noel offered a variety of answers:

* the Middle Ages are relevant to the politics of Europe and the Middle East today

* the Middle Ages are NOT relevant in many ways, meaning they offer the challenge of entirely foreign conceptual frameworks

* the Middle Ages are part of mainstream culture through the medievalism of popular literature and games

* the challenge of understanding people distant from us in time prepares us to understand people who are distant from us in other ways

* historical studies sensitize us to the uses and abuses of history in politics today

* the interdisciplinary nature of medieval studies challenges specialists to make their projects matter to a wider audience

* we love the Middle Ages, they are a part of us.

Why DO the Middle Ages matter (to you)?  Add your comments!


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13th Century Entanglements, Part 3

S.J. Pearce is an assistant professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at New York University, where her teaching and research focus on the intellectual history and literature of Jews, Christians and Muslims in medieval Spain.  She is currently completing a book-length project that examines the ways in which Jewish intellectuals in 13th-century Spain and France understood Arabic to be a language of cultural prestige.  She earned her Ph.D. at Cornell University (Near Eastern Studies, 2011); and during the 2012-13 academic year, held the Louis and Hortense Apfelbaum Fellowship at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.  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. Pearce chose LJS 453, and her text from the exhibit follows.

Commentaries on the Scientific and Philosophical Texts of Aristotle

This substantial codex, copied in Germany in 1446 and consisting of 269 folios written in several Ashkenazi scribal hands, was recently acquired by the University of Pennsylvania through a gift made by the noted collector Lawrence J. Schoenberg and Barbra Brizdle Schoenberg. LJS 453 contains Hebrew translations of Arabic commentaries on the scientific works of Aristotle. Although it represents a fifteenth-century copy of the commentaries on works on various aspects of natural history, as well as on cosmology and meteorology, the texts themselves are the product of developments in intellectual history and tastes that flourished in earnest in the thirteenth century and continued into the fourteenth. As early as the second half of the twelfth century, Jewish readers living in regions of what are modern-day Spain and France began to translate Arabic-language scientific, philosophical and religious texts into Hebrew, with the consequence that these texts became available to a wider readership. The beginnings of this translation movement, which was consciously modeled on the ninth-century movement in the eastern Mediterranean to translate Greek-language texts into Syriac and Arabic, also led to the creation of a brand new technical vocabulary in Hebrew, since translators were often required to coin new terms for concepts in these fields that had not previously ever been discussed or written about in Hebrew.

The texts in this volume include: Solomon ibn Ayyub’s translation of Averroes’ commentary on De Caelo; translations by the noted Hebrew poet Kalonymos ben Kalonymos of the commentary on De generatione et corruptione and the Meteorologia; and Jacob ben Makhir’s translation of De Animalibus. The volume also contains Hebrew translations of Abraham ibn Ezra’s commentary on Psalms and fragments of Moses Maimonides’ Epistle to the Yemen. Taken together, these texts offer a coherent and complete, if not comprehensive, overview of the major intellectual and religious trends and debates that were current in thirteenth-century Spain and France. Beginning in the second half of the twelfth century, the father-and-son pair of translators, Judah and Samuel ibn Tibbon, began to adapt Arabic texts into Hebrew, often times at the request of particular communities with low levels of Arabic literacy but interest in reading texts of classical antiquity and the medieval Arabic commentaries upon them; this trend continued in northern Spain and southern France and allowed for the wide dissemination in the Jewish world of texts that were of scientific and dialectical-rationalist character.


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Manuscript Road Trip: Otto Ege, St. Margaret and Digital Fragmentology

The latest Manuscript Road Trip post by SIMS friend Lisa Fagin Davis is a great example of bringing manuscript culture and modern technology together, as well as a fun detective story.

Manuscript Road Trip

The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r The Flight into Egypt, Walters Art Museum, MS W.188, f.112r

This week, I’m going to get off the virtual superhighway to share a discovery. Digital publication seems appropriate given that most of this work was conducted using online resources and images, making this a great case study for digital humanities research and the newly-christened field of “digital fragmentology.”

I wear many hats at the moment: Acting Executive Director of the Medieval Academy of America, blogger, professor of library science, and medieval manuscript consultant. In the latter role, I have for some months been cataloguing the manuscripts belonging to the Five Colleges consortium of Western Massachusetts (Amherst, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, and the University of Massachusetts – Amherst). Smith and U. Mass. each happen to own one of the leaf collections compiled by Otto Ege titled “Fifty Original Leaves of Medieval Manuscripts”  (if you need to be brought up to speed, take a look at my Ege…

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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.


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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, steinere@sas.upenn.edu


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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.


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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.