Sometimes I have no better excuse for a post than, “I found a shiny thing”, and this is definitely one of those. If I have a wider point, though, it lies in the way that the ongoing digitization of historical manuscript material means that pieces of historiographical potential that were once known to very few scholars are suddenly widely available. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they are widely known! Though there are many commendable efforts by libraries with such holdings to say to the online world, “Look at all our cool things”, there’s a degree of pre-selection involved even there; the things they will often think are worth displaying online are things they already know people are interested in, or things that have already been studied (because what library is willing to admit it doesn’t know about its own holdings? Though it can be done gracefully, as here). It’s all a bit “to him that hath it shall be given”. But the mechanism is still enabling, because for example if a scholar such as myself had happened to read about a really cool manuscript in Barcelona’s Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, and to now be aware that really quite a lot of their material is now online, he or she could go to the site of Spain’s PARES service, dig it out and then direct people to it on a blog, if he or she happened to have one, and thus it might take its first tentative steps from being a scholarly secret to being one of the famous ones. Because seriously, look at this.
Well, well, you may say, yes, it’s an architectonically-styled map of the Iberian Peninsula with the Atlantic full of truly huge fish and apparently palm trees in Galicia, I’ll give you that, but I’ve seen eight of those already today and not yet had lunch, why should I care? To which I say firstly, eat some lunch you foolish person, but also that there are a variety of scholarly reasons why you could care, such as that this manuscript, written in the early eleventh century and late of the monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll, contains a copy of Bede’s De arte metrica, showing you how far his work travelled, and is also loaded up with small texts on astronomy and computus, some indeed by Bede but others separated from him (weirdly) by St Augustine’s Soliloquies, bits of poetry, the supposed Disticha of Cato and an agricultural treatise called the Ars gromatica Gisemundi, among other things, and you might wonder why the compilers joined into what the catalogue rightly calls a “Miscelánea científico-religiosa” St Jerome’s commentary on Melchisedek and the Apocryphal Acta Pilati, as well as why in the twelfth-century someone else added a note about some blankets that had been given to one Agila… But! this would all in fact be missing the point unless you actually do history of science, because for anyone else the point should be, the scribe of most of this was quite concerned that it should all be easy to follow. And when he thought the text was perhaps a bit dense, apparently he would improvise diagrams, like that map, not exactly, well, exact, but presumably what he thought was illustrative, and they are great. Obviously a graphic learner at heart, even when what he was working with was either words or numbers (see below)… So having made all the points I have to make, I just want to show a few bits of his attempts to get these things across and invite your comments if you have any!
And there’s still more. Why not amuse yourselves by having a further look? (Instructions on how to navigate PARES can be found here; you want MS Ripoll 106 this time, however.)
The manuscript is Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, Colecciones: Manuscritos, Ripoll no. 106, and I read about it (and saw a snippet of the scribe’s drawing style) in M. A. Castiñeiras González, “La ilustración de manuscritos en Cataluña y su relación con centros europeos” in Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña en la época carolingia: arte y cultura antes del Románico (siglos IX y X) (Barcelona 1999), pp. 249-254, transl. as “Manuscript illumination in Catalonia and its relationship to other European centres”, ibid. pp. 543-546.