Western and Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures | 06 December 2017

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Lot no.


Cutting from an otherwise lost medical text , in early Anglo-Saxon majuscule


Est: £25000–35000

Cutting from an otherwise lost medical text , in early Anglo-Saxon majuscule , in Latin, manuscript on parchment
[Britain or Insular scriptorium on the Continent, late eighth century or c. 800]

Small cutting containing remains of 2 lines of text in a fine and legible early Anglo-Saxon majuscule, with pronounced wedges to trailing penstrokes, and an ‘r’ that descends far below the line, an insular ‘F’ set with its crossbar on the line, and an open two-compartmented ‘E’ which often towers above its neighbouring letters, some folds and stains and small area of adhered paper to margin, all due to reuse as support on spine of a later book, overall in good condition and on heavy and excellent quality parchment, 20mm. by 90mm., in the small plastic wallet arranged for it by Bischoff, bearing the inscription of a Munich apothecary’s association and evidently cut down from some of their packaging

1. Written by an Insular scribe in either Britain or in an Insular-influenced monastic centre on the Continent (see below). Reused later as one of three strips to support the spine of another book, each cut to fit horizontally between sewing stations with its outermost edges pasted to boards, supporting their attachment. The similarly sized sister cuttings identified and brought to light by S. Gwara in 2012.
2. Stephan Beissel (1841-1915), Jesuit scholar, who owned all three pieces. These passing after Beissel’s death to Robert Wöfle Antiquariat, Munich.
3. Bernhard Bischoff (1906-1991), the supreme scholar of Carolingian paleography, who was recruited by the paleographer E. A. Lowe to work on the Codices Latini Antiquiores series, even before attaining his doctorate in 1933, and in 1947 succeeded the great Ludwig Traube in the chair of Medieval Latin Philology at Munich. In 1953 he was elected to the general editorship of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica series, and spent the last years of his life cataloging nearly 7000 Carolingian manuscripts. His Die südostdeutschen Schreibschulen und Bibliotheken in der Karolingerzeit , 1940 (reprinted in 1960 and 1974), and Mittelalterliche Studien , 1966-1981, remain benchmarks of academic research in the field, and his survey of medieval Western script, Paläographie des römischen Altertums und des abendländischen Mittelalters , 1986 has been translated into English by D. Ó Cróinín and D. Ganz, and into French by J. Vezin and H. Atsma. The present cutting acquired directly by gift from Robert Wöfle, as payment for cataloguing the Beissel collection. The two sister cuttings were sold with much of the rest of the Beissel collection to the Marian Library, University of Dayton, Ohio.
4. Bernard Rosenthal (1920-2017), purchased after Bischoff’s death, and thence to Quaritch.
5. The Schøyen collection, of Oslo and London, their MS. 1817; sold immediately after their sale in Sotheby’s, 10 July 2012, part of lot 27.


Manuscripts from the Dark Ages, even small scraps of them, are of enormous rarity, and those with secular content breathtakingly so. Those of importance to the history of medicine number no more than twenty-five. After the final collapse of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, Roman learning and scribal culture drained away. In the following three centuries, unknown numbers of texts mouldered into dust for the want of an idle copyist or a reader with any interest in them, a process only arrested when Charlemagne reunited Europe in the last decades of the eighth century and launched a unifying cultural programme. In those dark centuries, the Bible and liturgy were prioritised, and available parchment, as well as the parchment of pre-existing books and rolls in the handful of enduring monastic centres, were directed towards its copying. Thus, no fragments of any medical text, including herbals, survive from the fifth century, only one of c . 500 is recorded (CLA. 973: St. Gall, Stiftsbibl. 912), as well as one codex and possibly two fragments of the sixth century (CLA. 1582: Leiden UB. Voss Lat Qu.9, 324: Milan, Ambrosiana C.105 inf, and 1050: Berlin, Staatsbibl. lat. fol. 381+Hildesheim, Bever. Bibl. 658), and one codex and six fragments of the seventh century (CLA. 592: Paris, BnF. lat. 10233+Berne, Stadtsbibl. F.219.3; 1742: Paris, Archives Nationales AB xix 1737; 830: Sélestat, Bibl. mun. 1(a); 301: Ivrea, Bib. Capit. 94; 1312: Munich, Clm 15028+29134, and perhaps 519: Paris, BnF. Baluze 270; and 1211: Halberstadt, Domgym. Bibl.). With the advent of the eighth century a little more survives, most probably as this century was closest to the avid book collectors of the Carolingian Renaissance, and thus six codices and eight fragments of books with any medical contents survive from the eighth century (CLA. 1611: St. Petersburg, Pub. Lib, F.v.II.3; 156: Glasgow Univ. Lib., Hunter T.4.13; 203: British Library, Harley 5792; 368: Modena, Arch. Capit. O.I.11; 876: Einsedeln Stiftsbibl. 304[514]; 81: Vatican, Pal. Lat, 187; 676: Paris, BnF. nouv. acq. lat. 203; 604e: Berne, Burgerbibl. 611; 1177: Dillingen, Kreis und Studienbibl.+olim Donaueschingen E.1.10 [latter sold Sotheby’s, 21 June 1982, lot 4, and now private collection]; 116: Vatic. Urbinus lat. 293; 1191: Erlangen UB. 2112, 21+Göttingen, UB. Hist. Nat. 91; and to these should be added two leaves of Dioscorides sold as lots 1 and 2, of Zisska and Lauer’s auction of 10 May 2017, realising Euro 37,000 and 65,000 hammer, the first reappearing as Günther, Highlights Fall 2017 , no. 8, both now in private collections). However, while the handful of surviving Dark Age witnesses to medicine cluster in the eighth century, this does not tally with the period in which such texts were composed. Medical texts written in the West or circulating in Latin there during this period have failed to attract much scholarly interest so far, but what we can discern is that the production of such texts concentrates on the fifth and sixth centuries, with authors such as Caelius Aurelianus of Numidia (probably fl . c . 400), Theodore Priscianus of Constantinople (fl . c . 400), Cassius Felix of Cirta in Roman North Africa (fifth century), Alexander of Tralles in Lydia (c . 525-c . 605) and the anonymous authors of the early fourth-century Medicina Plinii and its descendent the fifth- or sixth-century Physica Plinii . These authors worked in the crumbling remains of the Classical world, translating earlier works, often now lost, and compiling syntheses of their medical knowledge, and through this have earned themselves the unflattering title of “the medical refrigerators of antiquity”.

The present manuscript and its sister cuttings contain otherwise unrecorded medical recipes and instructions for their use, including the use of dry pepper, lily leaves and other such substances applied externally to the body. Moreover, while it is small, the present manuscript tells us a large amount about its parent codex. It is in a high-grade and ornate bookhand and clearly did not come from some scribbled medical recipes hastily added to an endleaf, but from a carefully composed or translated medical text. It may have resembled the leaves of “medical recipes” sold in the Donaueschingen sale in 1982, which came from a text of originally more than 87 chapters, but those frequently quote their sources and chapter numbers, and would appear to be distinct from that here. The appeal, on the present fragment, for the phsician to let the Lord's prayer be recited: "dicat orationem domi[nicam]" places it after the mid-fourth century and the imperial conversation to Christianity. As noted above, such a text fits far better with the fifth and sixth centuries than the eighth, and this here may well be the work of one of the medical authors noted above or a member of their entourage. We might ask then, what the author here was translating or synsthesising? Only one of seven encyclopedic books of the Greek physician Celsus (d. c . 50 AD.) survives, but that is enough to show that his medical approach focused on the outward signs of the body and remedies applied there. In addition, much of the works of Galen were lost in the Dark Ages, but they appear to have been comprehensive enough to cover the subject matter here, and the lost work of Aristotle ‘On Remedies’ (De adiutoriis ) which is quoted by Caelius Aurelianus would also accord well with the subject matter here. All medical witnesses before the Carolingian Renaissance are of great value, but that here might very well be the last faint and partial echo of a Classical work lost while the foundations of our present world were still being laid.

Scribal hand and origin:

The script is a fine and flowing example of an Insular majuscule hand. While monastic centres such as Echternach have been suggested as an origin point for the parent codex (see Krämer, Aevum , probably based on the Schøyen website), such observations are based often on impressions gleaned from a single letter or penstroke, and the diminutive size of this cutting and its sisters ensure that it is virtually impossible to form concrete conclusions. Others have concluded a British origin (see LDAB where they suggest Northumbria). Beissel worked not only in Aachen, Bonn, Münster and Cologne, but in 1877-80 also in England, and might have purchased the later book on which these were reused to support the binding, in any of these places.


As a brief note in S. Gwara’s online blog, Manuscripts on My Mind in 2012.
B. Bischoff, Katalog der festländischen Handschriften des neunten Jahrhunderts: Laon-Paderborn , 2004, p. 72.
S. Krämer, Aevum, Rassegna de Scienze storiche linguistiche e filologie , 81, 2007, p. 627.
TM129735 in LDAB , online Leuven Database of Ancient Books.

Western and Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures

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