Western and Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures | 06 December 2017

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Lot no.


Horace, Carmina, Epodes, Carmina Saeculare and Satirae in Latin verse

Sold for £26000

Est: £30000–50000

Horace, Carmina, Epodes, Carmina Saeculare and Satirae in Latin verse , illustrated manuscript on parchment [Italy (probably north, perhaps Milan), mid-fourteenth century]

39 leaves, wanting a couple of gatherings from beginning, and a few gatherings from end (see below), and single leaves from last two gatherings, collation: i1 (others wanting, and this the only part of ‘Liber I’), ii-iv8, v7 (iii wanting), possible gathering gap, vi7 (i wanting), catchwords within pen boxes (those at end of second, third and fourth gatherings agreeing with next), nineteenth-century pencil foliation from 1-39, single column of 35 lines in a rounded early gothic bookhand (written space: 206 by 85mm.), numerous tiny interlinear textual corrections and variants added by contemporary and near-contemporary hands, delicate nota bene ‘pointing finger’ symbols (some with curling leaves), capitals touched in red, paragraph marks in red or black ink, versal numbers in red in margin, red rubrics, 3-line initials in red or blue encased within scrolling penwork in contrasting colours, blue initials on fol. 2r and 26r with half-page penwork cabouchons starting with a swirl and descending the margin in a single fleshy floral extension, one large initial opening ‘Liber III’ on fol. 5r in blue enclosing quartered panels of penwork foliage in red and teal-green, all within an orange grounds with floral penwork, the first line here in ornamental capitals touched in red, one large variegated initial in red and blue with blank parchment panels left within its body, infilled with heart shaped leaves (fol. 34r), one half-page length painted initial formed of orange, blue and green acanthus leaf fronds with text arranged around its body (fol. 27r), one large historiated initial containing a bust-length portrait of the poet Horace as a bearded man wearing orange robes and a scholar’s cap, all before a black sky with white and orange flecks, the initial in blue and with curls of acanthus leaves in blue, green and orange curling into the lower margin and twisting around on itself, prickmarks for lines visible at outer edges, small spots, some stains and slight cockling throughout, parchment skilfully prepared as a palimpsest from near-contemporary documents and records, evidently carefully selecting the material for its weight and quality, and then carefully removing the earlier writing so that the ghost-like shapes of the letters are almost imperceptible on some leaves and never impinge on or detract from the main text here, numerous natural flaws leading to holes in original parchment (both open and stitched to repair), overall good condition, 297 by 196mm; sewn on three large double-thongs in contemporary binding of thick wooden boards (each 10mm. in width), half-covered with red leather, tooled with fillet and crossing lines, the edge of the leather (near the midpoint of each board) reinforced with a thin strip of leather and nailed into place with contemporary star-headed studs, these strips partly loose on back, spine cracked and worn with section torn open at top (but codex holding in binding and easy to handle without causing damage), some worm to leather and boards, remains of tags set in chisel-cut recesses in outer edge of top board


1. This large format and elegant codex was most probably produced in northern Italy in the midpoint of the fourteenth century. Close parallels for its script, layout and the portrait of the author can be found in a series of copies of Classical texts and a copy of the works of Hugh of Saint-Victor, all produced in Milan or its vicinity throughout the fourteenth century (Avril, Gousset and Aniel, Manuscrits EnluminĂ©s d’Origine Italienne , III:1, 2005, nos. 18, 20-24, with the simplicity of design without bezants pointing most strongly towards no. 21 there). The method of removal of gatherings and single leaves from the front and back suggests that the book was owned by a monastic library at the end of the Middle Ages, or perhaps a printshop, and its leaves at either end gradually reused for their parchment. The book was in its present state by the nineteenth century when it was foliated in pencil.
2. Sold Reiss & Sohn, 40th Anniversary Auction, 5 October 2011, lot 1970, to the present owner.


Horace (or Quintus Horatius Flaccus; 65 BC.-8 BC.) was the leading Roman lyric poet during the reign of Emperor Augustus. He may have been born a slave in Venusia in southern Italy, but claimed to be the son of a coactor argentareus , an early type of auctioneer. He was educated in Rome and Athens where he mingled with the Roman elites of the day including Marcus, the idle son of Cicero. The defining moment of his life was the assassination of Julius Caesar, and in the turmoil that followed he was recruited by Marcus Junius Brutus to high military office in the Republican cause. He fought the forces of Octavian (later Emperor Augustus) in northern Greece, accepted that ruler’s pardon and returned to an Italy in which his family estates had been seized and given to veterans. Rather stoically, he took office in the civil service as scriba quaestorius at the treasury and turned his attention to his literary compositions. His friend Virgil gave him access to the imperial court, and he quickly came under the patronage of the emperor. His work brought Greek genres and models into the Latin West, and his Carmina (also called Odes) were a conscious attempt to emulate Greek lyric poets. The single leaf from book I of that text here includes verse 22 (Integer vitae scelerisque purus , a solemn praise of honest living ending in a mock-heroic song of love for sweetly laughing), 23 (Vitas inuleo me similis, Chloe , a love poem to Chloe, asking her not to shun him), 24 (Quis desiderio sit pudor aut modus , a lament for the Death of Quinctilius addressed to Virgil), and the text then picks up at book II, item 14 (Eheu fugaces, Postume , on the inevitability of death). Book III opens on fol. 5r and includes item 5, the Caelo tonantem credidimus Iovem (fol. 8v), a direct address to Augustus telling him he will be hailed as a god for his subjection of the Britons and the Parthians, and 21 (O nata mecum consule Manlio, fol. 14v), addressed to a wine jar on the importance and virtues of its liquid contents. Book IV follows on fol. 19r. Similarly, the Epodes are a form of bitterly caustic blame poetry which at that time was uniquely Greek, pointing out errors in people’s lives which needed correction, followed by the Carmen Saeculare , a mythological hymn in Sapphic metre commissioned by Augustus in 17 BC. to be sung at the secular games. As a marble inscription recording the event and the poet’s part in the games still survives, this is the oldest complete poem for which we have evidence for its performance. The codex closes with the Satires (also known as sermones , or conversations) which are based on Greek Epicurean philosophy, and use concrete situations to discuss philosophical points, such as item 1 (Qui fit, Maecenas , fol. 35r here) on avarice and greed, 2 (Ambubaiarum collegia, fol. 37r here) on the trade-unions of flute playing servant girls which deals with adultery and other sexual excesses, and 3 (Omnibus hoc vitium est , which argues for evenhandedness when assessing flaws in others), with which the volume now ends.

Horace was popular in Antiquity, but only two or perhaps three copies survived to the late eigth and early ninth century, and their rediscovery in the Carolingian Renaissance. These have spawned the nearly 300 medieval manuscripts which are now extant (see H. Buttenweiser, in Speculum , 17, 1942, pp. 53-55, and Thompson in Texts and Transmissions , 1983, pp. 182-86). However, they have been avidly collected into institutional ownership since the sixteenth century, and they are of significant rarity on the market. The vast and comprehensive Schoenberg database records only six manuscript copies of any part of his works available at auction in the last half-century: (1) Sotheby’s, 6 December 1971, lot 26 (and reappearing in same rooms, 13 July 1977, lot 57), (2) 19 June 1979, lot 45, (3) 23 June 1987, lot 91, (4) 5 Dec 1989, lot 99 (now Bancroft Library, University of California); (5) Reiss & Sohn, 14 October 1980, lot 3 (olim Phillipps 12307); and (6) Christie’s New York, 24 November 1993, lot 23. The present manuscript is perhaps the oldest of all of these, potentially equalled only by the Christie’s copy sold in 1993, and no pre-Renaissance codex has come to the market since the Phillipps manuscript of c. 1000, offered by Sotheby’s, 1 July 1946, lot 3.

Western and Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures

Wednesday 06 December 2017, 2.00pm

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