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Description of Besancon Ms. 594

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Besançon, Bibliothèque Municipale, Ms. 594

A parchment manuscript dated in the third quarter of the ninth century, located in Saint-Oyan, abbey Saint-Claude (?). It contains the entire encyclopedia De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii of Martianus Capella and is for the greater part heavily glossed, apparently in only one contemporary hand. The glosses form a very close parallel to those found in Leiden, Vossianus Latinus Folio 48.


  • A. Castan, La bibliothèque de l'abbaye de St.-Claude du Jura, p. 325 n. 2; id., Catalogue général, pp. 352-353
    Castan dates the manuscript in the middle of the ninth century and notes that the script of this manuscript closely resembles those manuscripts that were produced by order of Manno, who taught at Laon and later became provost of Saint-Claude in the Jura. He observes that many of the marginal glosses seem to be written in the same hand as the text.
  • S. Tafel, The Lyons Scriptorium II, pp. 49-50
    Tafel also mentions Manno: a ct-ligature characteristic for his hand is also recognizable in Besançon, Ms. 594. A Martianus Capella manuscript is mentioned in the 11th-century catalogue of St.-Oyan. It is, however, described as a “codex continens Martiani libros novem, habens in fine Porfiri librum ad Constantinum imperatorem”. But nowadays the codex, which still has its original ninth-century sewing (!), only contains Martianus Capella.
  • J. Préaux, Un nouveau manuscrit de St. Gall, p. 225 n. 11
    Préaux is the first to identify the corpus of glosses in Besançon, Ms. 594 as being a representative of the Anonymous corpus, which he attributes to Martin of Laon.
  • C. Leonardi, I codici I, pp. 452, 462-463; II, pp. 13-14
    Concerning the place of origin Leonardi mentions St.-Oyan; the manuscript was there, at least, shortly after its origin. He also recognizes the Anonymous corpus in the glosses, and observes that it was written by two different hands.
  • G. Glauche, Schullektüre im Mittelalter, p. 45.
    Glauche adds that this manuscript, together with 11 others, bears witness to the special interest of the “Irish colony” in De nuptiis. He suggests a concentration of manuscripts and manuscript production with the commentary of the learned Irishman Martin of Laon in Northeastern France or the surroundings of Laon.
  • J. Préaux, Les manuscrits principaux, pp. 79, 123
    Préaux dates the manuscript in the second or third quarter of the 9th century and mentions that the manuscript was present in St.-Oyan shortly after its origin. Besançon, Ms. 594 is not as close to the 6th-century archetype as Leiden, Vossianus Latinus Folio 48; it is removed one step further.
  • D. Shanzer, Review article
    She repeats the conclusions of the above mentioned authors and adds that in the stemma of manuscripts, this manuscript is related to Paris, BnF, lat. 8669, Oxford, 118 and Leiden, Vossianus Latinus Folio 48.
  • The same information is repeated in B. Bischoff, Katalog der festländischen Handschriften, 629, pp. 157-158.

The manuscript consists of 11 quires: 1-38 [1-24], 410 [25-34], 56 (-1, -4) [35-38], 6-108 [39-78], 116 (-6) [79-83]. It is not clear why quires 4 and 5 deviate from the pattern of regular quaternios. For the last quire (11) a smaller gathering was obviously used because not many leaves would be needed for the remainder of the text. All quires except the first and eleventh carry an original quire signature in the lower margin of the last verso of each quire: f 16v - ii; f 24v - iii; f 34v - iiii; f 38v - v; f 46v - vi; f 54v - vii; f 62v - viii; f 70v - viiii; f 78v - x.

The foliation is modern, written in the upper right of each recto in ink. On f 2r, 37r and 53r there are second folionumbers in pencil. In the first quire the bifolia, which are now loose, have been re-arranged and numbered in the wrong order. Nowadays the second bifolium is placed in the middle of the gathering, so that the leaves are now in the order 1342|7568. To read the leaves in the correct order, one should read (following the modern pagination) f 1r-v, then 4r-v, 2r-v, 3r-v, 6r-v, 7r-v, 5r-v and finally 8r-v. Originally the leaves were bound together correctly, as can be concluded from the HF-arrangement and marks left by binding thread in the gutter of bifolium 3^6 (originally 4^5).

The leaves measure ca 335 x 255 mm. This must be close to the original size of the manuscript, for the margins are quite large, there are no signs of cutting and in quire 4 (the quinio) the edges of the actual skin are visible (bifolia 26^33 and 28^31).

The parchment is of medium quality. Hair- and flesh-sides are in general easily recognizable.[1] The thickness of the leaves is fairly constant. The quires of 8 leaves are arranged according to the pattern HFHF. In the first quire, the present pattern is HHFF, but restoring the original order, the pattern is HFHF. In the two terniones and the quinio the arrangement is the same, taking the irregularities of the gatherings into account. The manuscript does not have a cover, which caused darkening of the outer leaves and fading of the ink. Both from the front and from the back many wormholes penetrate into the manuscript, as far as f 37 and f 58 respectively. Moisture damaged the manuscript, especially the last quire. On several leaves in the margins white spots can be seen, perhaps some kind of fungus or the remains of inserted damp and sticky paper leaves. Folium 36 (half of a bifolium, fastened only by a stub) is torn and almost loose.

The leaves contain 29 lines, with exception of the first bifolium of the first quire (f 1^8), where 30 lines are ruled, but the 30th line is not used. Ten lines measure ca 90-94 mm. Two ruling types are used in this manuscript: the quires 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 11 have one column, no horizontal projecting through lines and only two vertical projecting through lines: 1-1/0/0/J, ca. 60<134>62 x 22<264>52 mm (quires 1 and 2) or ca. 22<264>52 x 36<158>62 mm (quires 4-6 and 11). The quires 3, 7, 8, 9 and 10 have in lay-out a narrow column (probably originally meant for glosses) next to a broad column, marked off by an extra vertical through line, but this narrow column has never actually been used; the writing lines stretch from the first to the third vertical through line. This ruling-type can be described by the formula 11-1/0/0/J, ca. 35<17-136>65 x 22<264>52 mm. In both types the prickings for the vertical lines are high in the upper, and low in the lower margin. Pricking for the writing lines are along the edges of the leaves. Ruling is executed by a hard point, generally on the hair-side of each bifolium, laid open. There are two different ruling-patterns for the quaterniones: ><<>|<>>< in quire 1 (having restored the original order of the bifolia);[2] ><><|><>< in the quires 2, 3, 6-10. The two terniones (5 and 11) follow the same pattern: ><>|<><. The quinio (4) is again ruled according to the same pattern as the terniones, but a binio, ruled per two open bifolia, is added to it: >> ><>|<>< <<.

The script is Carolingian minuscule, with cc-a's alongside two-storeyed a's and lightly clubbed, almost vertical ascenders. U's are round or sometimes v-shaped, g's have large tails which are nearly closed and reach backwards. Capital N's and U's sometimes have descenders. The line-spacing is very wide; letters of 1-1.5 mm (with long ascenders) in lines of 9-9.5 mm. The copyist must have reckoned with interlineair glosses. The script is regular, but there are several transitions where the letter seems to grow smaller, more packed together and written with a thinner pen.[3] The scribe uses a fine capitalis rustica (with capital and uncial (round) D) for (a.o.) explicits/incipits and is able to write nice, regular Greek letters.

The glosses are written in a contemporary hand (or perhaps hands) very similar to the text-hand. In a regular and small script (letters of ca 1 mm) many glosses are written in the books I, II, IV and VII, slightly fewer in the other books.[4] There are no clear transitions of one scribe to another, nor distinguishable layers of glosses. The commentator sometimes does, and sometimes does not use symbols to tie gloss and lemma together.

The original punctuation is sober and scarce and uses only two symbols: an elevated dot (pause) and an elevated dot with an ascending stroke (question mark). Further on in the manuscript (e.g. f 25v) puncti elevati (semicolons) and puncti versus (“inverted semicolons”) are used as well, which may have been added by a slightly later scribe. Majuscules are used for explicits/incipits,[5] words in Greek, subtitles, refrains of poems (e.g. f 10v), definitions of metres, at the beginning of verse lines or sentences. The majuscules used at the beginning of books, or of passages of poetry or prose are in general somewhat larger: 1.5 or 2 lines high. There are no rubrications or decorations.

We have very little information on the history of Besançon, Ms. 594. There are no traces of usage other than the ninth-century ones, nor are there any notes or stamps which reveal former possessors; the only stamp is the one of the Bibliothèque Municipale of Besançon on f 1r and 83v. Castan and Tafel[6] both linked the manuscript to Manno, teacher at Laon under Charles the Bald and then provost of Saint-Claude in St.-Oyan. His hand can be recognized by a characteristic ct-ligature in his ex voto,[7] and closely resembles the hand of the scribe of Besançon, Ms. 594. Martianus Capella's encyclopedia is mentioned in an 11th-century library catalogue of St.-Oyan and this title can perhaps be identified as the manuscript now kept in Besançon. In the catalogue, however, the codex is described as a codex containing Martianus Capella and Porphyry, whereas Besançon, Ms. 594 only contains Martianus Capella. Moreover, since the original sewing has been preserved, it is unlikely that the manuscript has ever contained more texts than this one.

The manuscript does not have a cover. At present it is kept in a modern box made to fit it. The first quire is loose, but its sewing stations concur with the other quires. The other ten quires are sewn together and still have their original herringbone sewing (!). In the gutter of the quires five stations can be seen, corresponding to three thongs and headbands, spaced (measured down from the rim) 25-39-96-100-33 mm. The headbands are fastened on a piece of leather, which is first folded back and then fastened to the quires on the edges of the spine (see my sketch in Harmony and the Music of the Spheres, Leiden etc. 2002, p. 103).

The manuscript contains

  • Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, books I-IX: I 1r-8v; II 8v-16r; III 16r-27r; IV 27r-35r; V 35r-43v; VI 43v-57r; VII 57r-66r; VIII 66r-73v; IX 74r-83v.
  • On f 83v: figure to book VIII (De astronomia), made by use of a pair of compasses.

[1] Markings of the skin are clearly visible on 12v-13r, 20v-21r, 29r, 37r, 40v-41r, 42v-43r, 45r, 46v-47r, 52v-53r, 54v-55r, 65r, 67r, 73r, 76v, 79r, 80v-81r, 82v-83r.

[2] Here the ruling of the inner pair of leaves has been executed on the flesh-side.

[3] Ff 16v-17r, 25r-25v, 34v-35r, 59r-59v. There may be a change of hands on f 48v.

[4] In general the first and last couple of pages of each book are heavily glossed, but in between the density of glosses decreases.

[5] For the explicit of book I/incipit of book II three lines were left open, but it was never actually written (f 8v).

[6] A. Castan, La bibliothèque de l'abbaye de St.-Claude du Jura, p. 325 n.2, p. 355; id., Catalogue général des manuscrits des bibliothèques publiques de France, pp. 352-353; S. Tafel, The Lyons Scriptorium II, pp. 49-50.

[7] "Voto bonae memoriae Mannonis liber ad sepulchrum sancti Augendi oblatus"; cited after S. Tafel, The Lyons Scriptorium.

Last modified: 21-11-2008 11:49