13 Jun 2017

The Psalms in Hebrew and Latin

As mentioned in the previous post, several volumes in the exhibition are open at the beginning of the book of Psalms, to allow and encourage comparison between them. In this post we will look at a few more.

Perhaps the best illustration of the fact that 13th-century Christian scholars wanted to engage with and study the Hebrew text of the Psalms is shown by this volume:
Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS 11
What this image shows is St Jerome’s third translation of the Psalms (from Hebrew into Latin), written in a narrow column towards the right-hand edge, Psalm 1 beginning with a large blue decorated initial “B”. To its left, in much larger script and in a wider column, is the equivalent Hebrew text. Here is a detail:

We can be sure that this book was written for a non-Jewish reader for two reasons. First, the Hebrew is written with “pointing” (i.e. the dots and dashes under the words) to indicate the vowels, which would not have been needed by anyone who could read Hebrew fluently:

Second, even though the overall layout of the page seems to suggest that the Hebrew is the dominant text, and the Latin subsidiary, the text is written so that the pages are turned from right to left (i.e. the reader reads towards the right) instead of the opposite as would be found in a Hebrew book. The first note in the top right corner of the page draws attention to this fact: in Latin it states that the each page is read towards the right in the Latin manner, whereas the individual lines of Hebrew are written and read towards the left according to Hebrew custom:

We can also be sure that the book was indeed studied by 13th-century Christians because of the numerous Latin annotations which occupy much of the four outer margins, as well as the space between the main Hebrew and Latin texts:

Similar in some ways, but printed instead of manuscript, and produced almost 300 years later, is this 1535 edition of the Psalms in Hebrew surrounded by a Latin commentary:
Oxford, Corpus Christi College, CZ.12.11
Although it is open in the exhibition at the beginning of Psalms:

the title-page lists all the Old Testament books it contains: the Prophets, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, etc.:

The 1535 date of publication is in Roman numerals (M. D. XXXV.) at the bottom of the page, and thus it is interesting to note that on the following leaf there is an inscription recording that it was given to Corpus Christi College by the first President, John Claymond (discussed in a previous post):

He died within two years, in 1537, so it is clear that he bought the book very soon after publication.

A curious feature of the decoration of the book is that the printer apparently did not have decorated initials suitable for every book: the initial "B" of Psalms begins with an image of Adam and Eve, a subject more appropriate to Genesis:

Details of the two exhibits discussed above are:

[Proverbs and Psalms]
[England, perhaps Oxford, late 13th century]
Corpus Christi College, Oxford, MS 11

Sebastian Münster (1489–1552), Veteris instrumenti tomus secundus, prophetarum oracula atque hagiographia continens, hoc est, Prophetas maiores & minores, Psalterium …
Basel: Michael Isingrin and Heinrich Petri, 1535
Corpus Christi College, Oxford, CZ.12.11

10 Jun 2017

Translations and Revisions of The Psalms

The first words of Psalm 1 in Middle English
(Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS 4)
One of the major themes of the exhibition is the perennial desire to revise and improve the text of the Bible.

Before the printing of the Gutenberg Bible c.1455, all books were written by hand. Every new book was produced by a scribe, who copied from an already-existing copy. (It is notable that even in modern English we refer to individual modern printed volumes as "copies" of a book, even though they were not produced by a process of copying).

This process led to a gradual "corruption" of the text, as follows: a scribe would make a copy of Book A to produce Book B. Being human, he (most scribes were male before the fifteenth century) would almost inevitably introduce some errors. He might then make a different copy of Book A, Book C, with different errors in it, so now A, B, and C are all different. Other scribes would later copy Books B and C to produce Books D and E (and F, G, H, ...) duplicating the errors of the earlier copies, and adding new ones. And so the process would continue, down through the centuries, with each copy's text straying further and further from the text of the original Copy A.

Aware of this problem, St Jerome was commissioned in the 4th century to revise the Latin text of the Bible, which he did by comparing the differing texts in a variety of manuscripts (as discussed in a previous post). He paid particular attention to the book of Psalms, ultimately making three different versions. The first, completed in the year 384, was a revision of the "Old Latin" version that was in current use in Rome, and is known as the "Roman" version. The second was made several years later, based mainly on Greek sources, and because it became firmly rooted in Gaul, is known as the "Gallican" version. Finally, Jerome realised that to achieve the most authentic text he would need to base a translation on manuscripts in Hebrew, and the result (even though it is in Latin) is known as the "Hebrew" version.

Thus, by the year 400, there were three distinct versions of the Psalms in circulation: the Roman, Gallican, and Hebrew (not to mention the many different corrupt variants preserved in older manuscripts). In later centuries, scholars often wanted to compare two or three of these different Latin versions, and they are therefore sometimes found written side-by-side in manuscripts.

One of the most dramatic examples of this desire for side-by-side comparison is in the exhibition, in which we see not only two different Latin versions compared, but also the text in Hebrew:
Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS 10, fol.2r
Even without being able to read Latin or Hebrew, you can see that the versions have differences. Here, for example, is a detail of the image above. The initial "Q" marks the beginning of Psalm 2, verse 1, and it is clear that verse 2, starting on the fourth line, begins with the letter "A" (in blue) in the left column, but the letter "C" (in red) in the right column:

Psalm 1, verse 1, of the Latin Psalms begins "Beatus vir ..." (Blessed is the man ...), and the visitor to the exhibition will see several manuscripts and printed books open to the beginning of the Psalms, all beginning with an enlarged initial "B".
[detail -- click to enlarge]
At the very top of this post is a detail from a translation of the Psalms made in the late 14th century, into Middle English. It begins:
"Blissful the man that wente
not a wey in the cou[n]seile of
unpytous ... "
Here it is again with a bit more of the surrounding context, in which we see that the Middle English translation follows an excerpt of the Latin text, underlined in red, and with a large decorated initial "B" for "Beatus vir ... ":

This and other versions of the Psalms will be discussed in the next post.

The two manuscripts reproduced above are:

Psalms, preceded by prefaces
England, perhaps Oxford, second quarter of the 13th century
Corpus Christi College, Oxford, MS 10

Wycliffite Bible, in the earlier version
England, c.1400
Corpus Christi College, Oxford, MS 4

19 May 2017

The Medieval Hebrew Manuscripts Given by John Claymond

John Claymond (d.1537), first President of Corpus Christi College,
as depicted on his funerary brass in the College Chapel
Books in Hebrew in the Library of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, fall into three groups. There are miscellaneous printed books acquired at a variety of dates ranging from the first years of the College's existence, to 21st-century electronic versions. There are also a few miscellaneous manuscripts acquired from various sources, mostly before the 18th century. For the present we will look at the third, most important, group: the seven 13th-century English manuscripts given to the College by John Claymond, the first President. They have been described as "the most important collection of Anglo-Hebrew manuscripts in the world".

Each of these seven deserves a separate blog post, but we will provide here a brief overview.

14 Apr 2017

A Greek First Edition and its Manuscript Exemplar

In addition to books that are overtly "treasures", the exhibition includes a number that require the visitor to look closely in order to understand why they are so special, unusual, or important. The great interest of two such books only becomes apparent when they are placed side by side.

2 Mar 2017

The Trilingual Library: Latin

MS 50 and MS 84, as exhibited together at the Folger
Printed books and manuscripts in Latin occur in every section of the exhibition, except those devoted exclusively to Greek and Hebrew books, so it did not seem necessary to include many in Section II, specifically devoted to "Latin", one of the three main languages of the Trilingual Library of Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

In the Folger arrangement this section consists of two pairs of books. I hope to devote a blog post to each pairing, of which this is the first.

18 Feb 2017

"Pray for the soul ..."

A large number of the books listed in the 1589 catalogue of the Library (to be the subject of a later blog post) can be conclusively identified with books still in the collection today, thanks to the fact that they include inscriptions recording that they were given by Richard Fox, who died in 1528: they ask readers to pray for the soul of Richard Fox, former bishop of Winchester, founder of Corpus Christi College, who is recorded as having given the book. 

5 Feb 2017

St Jerome and the Three Languages of the Bible

A theme that runs through much of the exhibition is the ambition of Richard Fox, the College's Founder, and John Claymond, its first President, to form a tri-lingual library, just as one had been founded at Alcalá de Henares, Spain, about a decade earlier in 1508. (At exactly the same time that Fox was founding the College, Erasmus was helping to found the Collegium Trilingue at Leuven, in the Netherlands, in 1517-18; Melancthon became the first professor of Greek at Wittenberg, Germany, in 1518; and a similar trilingual college would be founded in Paris in 1530.)

The importance of Greek, in addition to Latin, was obvious in the new intellectual climate of Renaissance England, with its increased interest in Classical texts and the increased availability of such texts in relatively inexpensive printed editions. Greek is also the language of the New Testament. Similarly, Hebrew is the original language of most of the rest of the Bible: if Christian scholars wanted to properly understand and edit the text, or if they wanted to understand Jewish interpretations of the Scriptures, they needed to learn the language.

30 Jan 2017

Contemplacyon of Sinners, by William Touris, 1499

The Contemplacyon of Sinners
The Contemplacyon of Sinners is an Anglicised version of a work written in Scots by William Touris, a Franciscan Observant, printed at Richard Fox’s expense in 1499, while Bishop of Durham. The College’s copy is included in the exhibition as an example of his religious patronage, and because its frontispiece represents the earliest visual representation of Fox. The text of the prologue, facing the woodcut, begins:
At the devoute & dylygent request of the ryght reverende fader in god & lorde Rycharde bysshop of Dureham and lorde pryveseall of Englonde, this lytell boke named Contemplac[y]on of synners is compyled & fynysshed ...

Although the decorative printer's device at the end of the text, with the letters "W" and "C", is a version of William Caxton's, the colophon tells us that this book was printed by his colleague and successor, Wynkyn de Worde, several years after Caxton's death:

"... Emprentyd at Westmynster by Wynken de worde the .x. daye of July, the yere of our lorde .M.CCCC.lxxxxix.", i.e 10 July 1499" (a Thursday)
This copy was given to the College in 1708 by a former Fellow, Nathaniel Ellison, in 1708, as recorded on the first page, on which is printed a second impression of the same woodcut.
The inscription in the upper margin, presumably crossed-through by Ellison, is discussed in a separate blog post here.

Call-number: Phi.C.1.6

Further Reading
Entry in the SOLO online catalogue: http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph019437697

21 Jan 2017

Three-Lock Chest

There is, in the Archives at the College, an oak box, approximately 300×375×235mm (approx. 12×15×9 inches), around the outside of which three iron bands pass, each secured at the front with a lock.

Each key-hole is a distinctly different shape:

19 Jan 2017

Bishop Richard Fox's Ablution Basin

The exhibition includes one of two surviving ablution basins made for Richard Fox, which he would have used when he was officiating at mass:

It is normally on display at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, together with other items that belonged to him, including his crosier, discussed in the previous post:

15 Jan 2017

Bishop Richard Fox's Crosier

[Image © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford]
Richard Fox's probably commissioned this crosier (also spelled crozier) on becoming bishop of Winchester in 1501; within the circular section at the top St Peter, patron of the cathedral, is enthroned holding a book and his symbol, a large key.
[Image © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford]

8 Jan 2017

Portrait of Richard Fox

Portrait of Richard Fox by Johannes Corvus (Jan Rav), c.1530s
The exhibition includes a reproduction of the portrait of Richard Fox by Jan Rav, alias Joannes Corvus (Wikipedia), who was Flemish, but active in England in the 1530s and ’40s.