May 12, 2017

Latin Glosses and Commentaries: The Prick of Conscience

The Prick of Conscience is an early thirteenth-century didactic devotional poem and is one of the most circulated English verse texts with over 178 witnesses (manuscript copies of the poem). The poem itself follows the cura pastoralia tradition of producing edifying texts for a lay Christian audience: it is a religious text which could be easily accessible to an audience that was unable to read Latin, the language that most religious literature of the time was written in.

Wellesley College MS 8, p. 61. This gloss announces to the reader that a list is beginning.
One witness of the poem is contained in Wellesley College MS 8. This late fifteenth-century copy contains an unexpected feature, however. While most of the text is in English, the manuscript also contains glosses. These glosses, unlike the main text, are composed in Latin. This poses an interesting question: why are the glosses in Latin if the main text is in English?

Mar 7, 2017

Troy Book Comparisons

The last of Hailey Mullock's series on decoration in manuscripts of Lydgate's Troy Book.

Cambridge, Trinity College MS O.5.2, fol. 38r
The Hierarchy of Decoration within the Troy Book text in British Library MS Royal 18 D II appears to be integral to the text. In order to determine how integral the decoration was to the text or if it was integral at all, I compared Royal 18 D II to other manuscripts that contain the Troy Book text. There are currently twenty-three manuscripts that contain John Lydgate’s Troy Book, eight of which are illustrated, “and a basic visual program can be detected in each of them” (Whitehead v). Of those twenty-three, only three digital facsimiles are available on the Web at this time: of British Library MS Royal 18 D II; Cambridge, Trinity College, MS O.5.2; and Cambridge, Massachusetts, Houghton Library, Harvard University MS Eng 752.

In examining these three manuscripts, it appears that the hierarchy of decoration is not consistent or integral to this particular text, as the manuscripts vary in decoration. However, further research into the inaccessible manuscripts shows that most of the time the manuscripts containing the Troy Book text have a hierarchy of decoration similar to both Royal 18 D II and Trinity O.5.2. The majority of the manuscripts contain similar decoration at the beginning of each book and the decorations are all in the same order of the hierarchy in each manuscript. The beginnings of the books are marked by an illustration, border decoration, and a large display initial following the illustration. What is even more interesting is that although the illustrations are not always identical, the subject and placement of the illustrations are the same for the majority of the manuscripts. It is possible that there was a presentation copy, an exemplar, from which all of the illustrations were copied.

Dec 29, 2016

Following Lydgate: Troy Book to Siege of Thebes

Here is another post by Medieval Codes researcher Hailey Mullock on decoration in a Lydgate manuscript.

London, British Library MS Royal 18 D II, fol. 147v.
Medieval manuscripts are often miscellanies of several works. British Library MS Royal 18 D II contains several works along with John Lydgate’s Troy Book. Lydgate’s Siege of Thebes, also included in Royal 18 D II, is the complement to Troy Book. Siege of Thebes was written to be the last tale of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, with Lydgate himself inserted as a pilgrim on the Canterbury pilgrimage. Unlike Troy Book, Siege of Thebes was not written for a patron, but was still a very popular and widely circulated text. It was a continued presence in English Renaissance literature because of John Stow’s 1561 edition of The Workes of Geffrey Chaucer. Stow included Lydgate’s poem among his ‘divers addicions’ to Chaucer. Lydgate’s work as the last tale of the Canterbury Tales balances out the Knight’s Tale by providing the story of the siege of Thebes, ending where the Knight’s Tale begins.

Dec 20, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

Manchester, Chetham's Library MS Mun.A.4.99, fol. 16r, detail.

It's time for our annual Christmas post. And this year it seemed appropriate to give a sneak preview of a manuscript on which Medieval Codes researcher Melissa Reid has been working: a fifteenth-century astrological/astronomical/calendrical/medical manuscript, Manchester, Chetham's Library MS Mun.A.4.99. The image above is the top of the calendar page for December. The roundel on the top left shows the Image of the Month, a rather expressionless individual wearing a festive red hat and socks, holding a substantial goblet. On the table before him are some unidentifiable dishes, what looks to my wistful eye like a large hexagonal Wensleydale cheese, a knife, and a covered cup. And the seasonal heading for the month, to accompany this image, is 'Welcome cristemasse wyth ale and wyn'. Merry Christmas from fifteenth-century England. Cheers!

Yin Liu

Nov 21, 2016

What is a Gloss? Part 1

Here's the first of a series of posts from Medieval Codes researcher Tristan Taylor:

Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Latin 7980, detail of fol. 5v.

What is a gloss? The term appears with relative ubiquity in scholarship but there is little consensus on what constitutes a gloss. Is a gloss simply a string of text that appears beyond the borders of what modern readers consider the primary text? The primary concern when defining such a term is the beginning. But where do we begin? Can we simply examine historical usage as the foundation, or should we look at the etymological roots of the term? Alternatively we can examine how scholars have labelled glosses functionally; that is, can we categorize glosses based on what value they add to a text? Another avenue of exploration still is the spatial dimensions of glosses: where do they appear on the page? To define such a ubiquitous term, we more likely need to examine all of these dimensions and explore their relations to each other.