Friday, August 28, 2015

Sanctus Columbanus fecit hos caracteres

Well, that's weird.

In another Vatican manuscript (Pal. lat. 482) available in digital facsimile from the Heidelberg UB, there is a series of alphabetic signs in an otherwise empty column on f. 15v (click to see the whole leaf on the Heidelberg UB site): 

At first glance, this looks like a secret alphabet. In that case, the secondary literature probably starts with Bernhard Bischoff, "Übersicht über die nichtdiplomatischen Geheimschriften des Mittelalters," Mitteilungen des Instituts für österreichische Geschichtsforschung 62 (1954): 1-27. I don't find other examples associating Columbanus with secret writing, but Bishoff notes several attributions of secret writing to Irish clerics.

But several of the letters look quite normal. Is the series rather an initialism, with each letter standing for a word in some devotional passage? If that is the case, the secondary literature one needs is entirely different.

And one can't help but notice that there's a certain symmetry between the haloed "q" and the "p" signs at the beginning and end of the fourth line, or the "Christmas trees" on the left and right side, or the forwards uncial e in the third line and the backwards uncial e in the first line. Was there some kind of mirror-image game at the basis of these characters?

Who knows? It's weird. When you browse through manuscripts, you find weird things.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

BAV Pal. lat. 461: "Prophetia Sibille conscripta per Ioachim prophetam" = Gallorum levitas

For the last few months at least, volumes formerly held in Heidelberg and now in the Vatican library have been appearing in the digitalization project of the Heidelberg Universitätsbibliothek. I try to take at least a quick look at each miscellany as it appears, and one of them, Pal. lat. 461, included a "Prophetia Sibille conscripta per Ioachim prophetam," which sounded promising. The first few words quickly revealed this to be a garbled fifteenth-century copy of the "Gallorum levitas" prophecy:
Gallorum levitas / germanis iustificabit /
Ytalie gravitas / gallus confuse negabit /
Annis millenis tricentis novagenis /
Ter denis adiunctis / consurgit aquila grandis
Constantina cadet et equi de marmore facti
Et lapis erectus et erunt victricia signa
Gallus succumbit / vix erit urbs presule digna
Papa cito moritur / Cesar ubique regnabit
Sub quo cuncta vana / cessabit gloria cleri

This looked interesting, so I checked the secondary literature. Here's Robert Lerner (Powers of Prophecy 191 n. 11): "Unpublished MS copies of this text, which underwent numerous alterations, are so numerous as to be virtually beyond surveying."

Oh, well. But here's another one!

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I've moved again. The new semester has already started, so posting will resume, but may be sporadic for a while.