Archive for the ‘Codicology’ Tag

On Saint Mark’s, Jerusalem, № 181 (content, notes, & endpapers)   Leave a comment

Manuscript № 181 of Saint Mark’s Monastery in Jerusalem (SMMJ) is an East Syriac manuscript, written, it seems, by a scribe named ʿAbdišoʿ of Ātēl. The main content of the manuscript is the First Part of Isaac of Bēt Qaṭrāyē, bishop of Nineveh’s famous monastic work (see GEDSH 213-214).

SMMJ 181, f. 1v

SMMJ 181, f. 1v

The text is complete, but between chapters 34 and 35 (acc. to Bedjan‘s numbering; the chapters are mostly unnumbered in this manuscript) there is another text, the beginning of which is unfortunately missing. After a little searching — thanks to Luk Van Rompay for the tip to check the Synodicon orientale! — I found that this intervening text is a Letter on Proper Conduct, especially on marriage, by Catholicos Aba I (d. 552; GEDSH 1), the text of which was published by Bedjan and Chabot; as it survives in this manuscript, the text corresponds to Bedjan, Histoire de Mar-Jabalaha, 282.3-287.12, and Chabot, Synodicon orientale, 83.6-85.9.

After the First Part, at the end of the manuscript, there are two more notes I would like to share. First, a note that seems to be in the same hand as the copied text of the manuscript:

SMMJ 181, f. 358v, scribal (?), note

SMMJ 181, f. 358v, scribal (?), note

Bless, sirs! Pray in the love of Christ for the sinner ʿAbdišoʿ of Ātēl, worn out, who came to Jerusalem in the year 1955 AG [=1643/4 CE].

He wrote these lines.

And again in the year 1962 AG [=1650/1 CE] the sinner came to Jerusalem. Pray for me. Amen.

Second, there is a short Syriac verse in the seven-syllable meter (with rhyme-end in -ṭē):

SMMJ 181, f. 358v

SMMJ 181, f. 358v

At the end of doomed times,

Let rulers be cursed,

Along with all idlers and slackers,

Foolish people and idiots!

Finally, the manuscript has pastedowns and endpapers in Syriac and Arabic. Here are two examples:

SMMJ 181, endpaper in Arabic

SMMJ 181, endpaper in Arabic

SMMJ 181, endpaper from a Syriac lectionary, here with Ex 34:34-35 and Isa 58:1

SMMJ 181, endpaper from a Syriac lectionary

I’ve not identified the Arabic text, but the Syriac endpaper above is from a lectionary, here with Ex 34:34-35 and Isa 58:1.

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An album of Georgian manuscripts   Leave a comment

At the website ქართული ხელნაწერი წიგნი (in Georgian) is available the book ქართული ხელნაწერი წიგნი V-XIX სს.: ელექტრონული ალბომი [The Georgian Manuscript Book, 5th-19th centuries: Electronic Album] (Tbilisi, 2010), edited by Nestan Chkhikvadze, with contributions by Maia Karanadze, Lela Shatirishvili, and Tamar Abuladze. (Click the picture in the left column at the link above to see the book.) The book is in Georgian, but there is a description in English in its front matter, as follows:

An on-line album of Georgian manuscript book was created within the Grant project “Georgian Manuscript Book (including website)” financed by Rustaveli research fund. N. Chkhikvadze (scientific research manager), M. Karanadze, L. Shatirishvili were working on this project with participation of T. Abuladze.
In the album there are represented 5th-19th cent. Georgian manuscript books preserved in the fonds of National Centre of Manuscripts (A, H, S, Q) as well as some items belonging to foreign funds and National Manuscript Centre has the legal right of using photo copies of them.
Artistic copy of Adishi gospel is accomplished on the bases of authors’ descriptions and instructions. All this manuscripts show the origin and the development of the book as a cultural-historical phenomenon.
Album consists of four chapters. Common informational texts and photos with annotation come with every collected material, as well as main bibliography.
This album will be helpful for readers who are interested in written culture.

There are introductory chapters on the history of writing Georgian (up to p. 12), on theological (სასულიერო) manuscripts (pp. 13-90), secular (საერო) manuscripts (pp. 91-134), writing materials (pp. 135-148), and covers and binding (ყდა, pp. 149-185). A bibliography, mostly of works written in Georgian, is on pp. 186-188. The book is full of relatively high-quality color photographs, and thus may have some interest for all students and scholars of manuscript and book history, whether they read Georgian or not. (NB in the captions, a Roman numeral followed by ს. indicates the century [საუკუნე] and an Arabic numeral followed by წ. indicates the exact year [წელი]. At the end of the captions is the shelfmark: A, H, S, or Q followed by a number.)

The photographs give very many examples of varieties of script, as well as manuscript decoration, including images of scribes at work. The book is hardly intended as something along the lines of the paleographic textbooks of Ivane Javakhishvili or Ilia Abuladze, but this shorter and more humble offering has great value for a variety of readers, not least thanks to its open access, but also for the number and quality of the images it includes. Many thanks to the authors and the National Centre of Manuscripts for making this work available!

“The manuscript itself”   1 comment

In his excellent article, “Georgian Palaeography”,[1] J. Neville Birdsall (1928-2005),[2] after listing some reproductions of Georgian manuscripts, has the following to say (p. 95):

The aspirant in Georgian palaeography must use these and every available photographic reproduction, but it cannot be too much emphasized that acquaintance with manuscripts themselves is irreplaceable. A manuscript, said patristic scholar and Armenologist, Robert Pierce Casey, is “something between a gadget and a personality”. This is as true of manuscripts as paleographical evidence as it is of any other aspect of their use and value. The external technicalities of the manuscript may be learnt from pictures: the individuality of the scribe, even in technical matters such as thickness of pen, can be known best only from the examination of the manuscript itself.

Birdsall’s survey dates from a time not too distant, at least in terms of the slow-moving world of manuscript studies, but even so, the quality and the quantity of easily available, if not freely available, manuscript images online would probably have been inconceivable at the time of its writing. In other words, Birdsall, while acknowledging the value of often bitonal manuscript reproductions — if for no other reason than that that is sometimes all that was (and is!) available — seems to imply that one should always wish for a real, tactile encounter with “the manuscript itself”. This kind of autopsy today probably happens no more frequently than when Birdsall made the statement above, but it is likely that a great many more students and scholars have nevertheless seen manuscripts, and not bitonal images, but color photographs of such resolution that one might enlarge only a few lines and fill an entire screen without any loss of image quality. There are doubtless some things we miss when look at a manuscript on a screen, rather than on a library table — a notable one being an easily grasped perception of a manuscript’s actual size, something we can forget, even if we know the exact measurements, when reading on a screen and manipulating the size — but at least with very high quality digital reproduction, what do we lack that especially matters codicologically or paleographically speaking? Birdsall as an example mentions the thickness of the scribe’s pen. Is that still something “known best” only from immediate manuscript autopsy, is it something we cannot properly give attention to in digital manuscript facsimiles as available nowadays? On this question, see the image below and note the easily noticeable varieties of thickness as the scribe has turned the pen in different directions to form the letters.

If someone had access only to manuscript reproductions, even if bitonal and perhaps grainy, Birdsall, based the tone of his essay, would, I believe, encourage that person to go ahead and make the most of what they have. Those of us at work on manuscripts in various languages, not only Georgian, have the boon of much better images than were common fare even a couple of decades ago, and were he writing today, I wonder if Birdsall would have phrased his sentiments in quite the way as above.

A few lines from CFMM 309, p. 55, at full resolution. Each page has two columns and the ms measures 26.5x18x9 cm.

A few lines from CFMM 309, p. 55, at full resolution. Each page has two columns and the ms measures 26.5x18x9 cm.

[1] A.C. Harris, ed. The Indigenous Languages of the Caucasus, vol. 1, The Kartvelian Languages. Delmar, New York: Caravan Books, 1991. Pp. 85-128. It remains really the only thing of its kind in English. Unfortunately, it was published in a rather out-of-the-way book, not to mention the less than appealing typography.

[2] There is an obituary for Birdsall by J.K. Elliott from The Independent here.

A Syriac Gospel page as pastedown   5 comments

SMMJ 68, pastedown at end

SMMJ 68, pastedown at end

Pages don’t always turn up where we expect them to. The image above is of a pastedown at the end of a Syriac liturigical manuscript (SMMJ 68), a Beth Gazo missing its beginning and end, dated 1580; according to a note on f. 186v, it was repaired in October, 1910 as part of Saint Mark’s collection, and it was probably at that time bound in the cover of an English Bible published much later by the British and Foreign Bible Society (see below)! (Incidentally, the original binder of the Bible was Watkins, as can be seen from the emblem at the top left of the photo above, on the inside of the original front cover; a search reveals other known copies of English Bibles bound by Watkins in the 19th century.) The page above is from an older (and prettier) manuscript, a Gospel lectionary containing Jn 5:29 and Mt 24:36-39 (Peshitta) in a clear Estrangela hand, including some diacritical marks and vowels. It is an iffy business attempting to date a single manuscript page, but this one might be from the 13th century.

The current cover of the book, originally a Bible from the British and Foreign Bible Society..

The current cover of the book, originally a Bible from the British and Foreign Bible Society.

Syriac letters and Coptic numerals   2 comments

The image below shows the correspondences between the Syriac letters used as numerals and the Coptic numerals, which are also occasionally found in Syriac and (more commonly) Arabic manuscripts for foliation or quire-marking. Note the incongruity of position for the two systems: the Coptic numerals are right-side-up, but most of the Syriac letters are turned sideways.  The manuscript is a liturgical book from Saint Mark’s Monastery, Jerusalem, which recently partnered with HMML to digitize its collection, and these numerals are written out at the bottom of the first folio, without any apparent connection to the text itself; they are written again (without the Syriac correspondences) on the inside front wooden board of the book.

St Mark’s, Jerusalem, ms. 59, f. 1r.

Some references for the use of Coptic numerals in manuscripts:

A. Gacek, Arabic Manuscripts: A Vademecum for Readers, p. 118.

W.H.P. Hatch, Album of Dated Syriac Manuscripts, p. 23.

H. Ritter, “Griechisch-koptische Ziffern in arabischen Manuskripten,” Rivista degli studi orientali 16 (1936): 212-214.

W. Wright, Catalogue of the Syriac Manuscripts in the British Museum, vol. 3, p. xxvi.

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