By Jesse McDowell
Certainly the book I was assigned in Will Noel and Dot Porter’s course in Rare Book School, “The Medieval Manuscript in the Twenty-First Century,” ascribed to the course’s title quite seemingly. I spent my time working with a nicely old Carolingian manuscript from 9th-century France, LJS 101. Like many medieval manuscripts, this one has been bound more than once, and so came the use of text-matching and open data to literally restructure the original physicality of the book in digital form.
LJS 101 is a parchment manuscript bound in 10 quires containing Boethius’s Latin translation of Aristotle’s De interpretatione (On Interpretation). It originates from north-central France, most likely the abbey at Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire (also known as the Abbaye de Fleury).
However, the book contains more than a translation. Though LJS 101 originates in the 9th-century, it contains replacement leaves added to the beginning and end in the 11th-century (current fols. 1-4 and 45-64), with seemingly the same hand correcting the first scribe in his translational slips. Also in the 11th century, color was added to existing initials and to diagrams charting Aristotle’s formal connection between language and logic. Though my narrative does not perform anything close to a textual study, we’ll call these two scribes Scribe A (9th-cent hand) and Scribe B (11th-cent hand) in the same vein as textual critics.
Scribe A composed the body of the translation itself from folios 5-44. Scribe B’s contribution is sparser, his hand (as mentioned above) showing complete replacement leaves at folios 1-4 and 45-64, as well as added corrections and glossed material throughout the manuscript. Scribe B introduces new genres in folios 45-64 (as the catalogue describes):
“the Perihermeniae attributed to Apulieus, a poem by Decimus Magnus Ausonius on the seven days of Creation, a sample letter of a monk to an abbot with [more] interlinear and marginal glosses, and other miscellaneous verses, definitions, and excerpts.”
What is most striking about Scribe B’s contribution to this manuscript is the firm variety which it comes with. We know that Carolingian miniscule became a widely used script to compose codices for professional and educational purposes from the 9th to the 13th-century. Scribes used this script widely on into the 12th-century for a variety of reasons, right when books were being produced by a number of different workers in the secular world. The script itself became codified and sharpened as a professional way of composing. If we can approximate the burgeoning use of Carolingian miniscule to c. 800, then we can hypothesize that Scribe A was quite new at this script. Indeed, the spaces between words are much clearer in Scribe B’s contributions in fol. 1-4 and 45-64, as this is one chief characteristic of a well-practiced hand.
In attempting to establish the structure of the book, there seemed to be a discrepancy between my collation formula and that determined by the cataloguer. The manuscript contains a 19th-century foliation and has prickings throughout, though this proved fruitless when trying to establish just how many gatherings the bound object contained. Initially the collation differences presented a problem in establishing structure. In short, the catalogued information accounted for 9 quires to the 10 I came up with over and over again in my own count.
We were both accounting for the same number of leaves in the manuscript. We also both noticed a discrepancy in the current 2nd and 3rd quires. Herein was the problem: with some help from Will Noel, I discovered that the current quires 2-3 were misplaced. The first problem was that Gregory’s Rule – hair side of parchment always faces hair side – was broken, at 8v-9r. Under my collation, there was no way to tell where the ‘missing’ leaf was.
Codicologists meet problems with incorrect binding all the time, and while this binding and foliation didn’t account for the discrepancy in the leaves, re-examination of the book eventually did. The manuscript’s current binding comes in an English diced Russia leather for Sir Thomas Phillips in the 19th-century. The watermark on the pastedown shows a shelfmark for ‘J. Whatman 1832.’ This could very well be a manifestation of the use of old books by antiquarians in the 19th-century who, not well understanding the nature of medieval codices, re-bind and re-label them into new codices for personal keepsakes and exhibition. Elizabeth Kolbert writes to this reality of antiquarians and aristocrats housing artifacts and even fossils in the 19th-century as collectors, rather than researchers. Alas, this seems to epitomize the life of most old books in the hands owners who do not expose them to research. In the same vein, we should not keep books from being digitized. According to Tim Stinson‘s research, less than 2% of the entirety of medieval manuscripts in the world have been digitized. Though this statistic is now a few years old, we might be able to look to the future of accessible manuscripts with a sense of positivity, as recently the Vatican Library put over 4,000 of their manuscripts online for free. But what does this mean for the researcher? Certainly the step now is to not just digitize quickly, but release the manuscripts as Open Data (not with restrictive licenses), as Penn has done with their collections in OPenn.
In the case of LJS 101, I couldn’t examine this central problem of a missing folio without digital images and access to 19th-century editions. I had to find where the text matched up after 8v— for it was not the current 9r. It was time to search for a relatively modern edition of the Latin text itself to reconcile the discrepancy. I found an 1877 edition in HathiTrust (ed. Karl Meiser).
The end of the current 8v contained text that correlated with that of the current 12r.
So, the text at bottom of 8v reads (from above):
quod significat subiectum est quocirca unū[m] quoque
where the matching text at the top of 9r doesn’t match up to what follows in the 1877 edition:
reterea non quod nos intelligum eequum
The text itself notified us of where Gregory’s Rule had been broken—where that of leaf 8r in the currently bound manuscript actually coincides with 12v. What essentially occurred was a mis-binding and foliation done in the 19th-century where the currently bound 12v should ideally be 7v. The text at the bottom of 12v currently reads
apud Scythas amara nec acida, sed apud ipsos quoque
and the following text on 13r doesn’t correlate:
p[er] mixtio ista significat; Quod si unum significant to [to]ta p[er] mixtio pars inde separate nihil extra designat;
From the 1877 Latin edition the correct text after ipsos quoque is sunt dulcia et apud omnes, thus
[last line 12v]: apud Scythas amara nec acida, sed apud ipsos quoque [begin 8r]: sunt dulcia et apud omnes gentes eodem modo: ita quoque omnia nomina si naturaliter essent, isdem omnes homines uterentur.
This is but one example of how the text within the manuscript hadn’t matched up correctly. Instead of continuing to chart out the discrepancies, I’ll explain how I rendered a collation based off these findings. The text was the governing factor in matching up folios in the right order, and on this more minute level, we can see how it logically makes sense to re-puzzle a book whose folios are out of order. On a more general level, all that happened here was that quires 2 and 3 had been separated where they should have been bound together. If rebound, the second and third quire should simply be ‘quire 2.’ Based off the 19th-century foliation, the current folio 5 should ‘ideally’ be 1, 9 should be 2, 10 should be 3, and so on (for of course 8 folios in the quire).
As I presume, Penn isn’t in the business of physically rebinding a 9th-century book, especially when the current binding is in great condition. If we wanted to see this book as it was originally bound, or at least how it was bound before 1832, how could we reposition the folios against the foliation in the upper right-hand corner? We could certainly sit down with a pen and notebook and draw up a new collation, but what if we want to read the text from leaf to leaf as if it was in a correct order?
The interface I used to visualize such a structure was the digital visualization collation, a system initially developed by a collaborative team led by Dot Porter, to visualize collation diagrams based off of a model, rather than by counting and charting by hand. We were informed during our course discussions on collation that this system had been created for visualizing collation models, but we soon learned it can do so much more. At its core, this program provides something that fundamentally invigorates collation methods for medievalists; it can also wear many hats. It can allow for the repurposing of different outlets of methods at the very outset.
The repurposing I refer to came about when I was able to recreate a binding that reflected the original quire structure. Instead of laying out the entire structure online, I used the program to visually capture what couldn’t be imagined without both the digital images and the visualization program. For instance, since the program automatically begins at “Quire 1” with every collation formula, the screenshots provided render “Quire 1” where I am actually visualizing quire 2, a quire 2 that currently doesn’t exist in the book itself.
First we will see quires 1-3 as the book is currently bound. Scribe A added these leaves making up fol. 1-4 for an introduction and the decorating of a beautiful initial, and what follows is what you would see if you walked into Kislak Center and opened up this book upon request.
Currently bound quires 1-3, Q1:
Currently bound Q2:
And currently bound Q3:
These are screenshots of the visualized quires; they are live online here.
Now onto the digital reconstruction. If you were to walk into the Kislak Center and gaze upon this book, you couldn’t read the book straight through with matching Latin unless you were accompanied by this corrected version:
Here is the live online visualized quire for the reconstruction, and below is the screenshot:
What this small foray reveals is the strikingly fundamental role that digital scholarship, and digitizing itself, can play in medieval studies. What’s more, this demonstration solicits but one aspect of what the digital world can offer. In the case of transcription practice, data-mining, and textual editing, programs like T-PEN and of course TEI-texts have seriously revitalized what we can see when we evaluate texts and ask the same fundamental questions in order to conduct research. Their value does not necessarily lie in that the programs make life easier, for surely they do, but more that they create a distinctly different paradigm one can adopt when doing scholarship of any kind with any old book.