Difficulties of simultaneous collaboration: examples from the manuscripts of Geoffrey of Monmouth

 

Difficulties of simultaneous collaboration: examples from the manuscripts of Geoffrey of Monmouth – by Jaakko Tahkokallio, National Library of Finland

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 514, f. 1r. By permission of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. Photographer: Jaakko Tahkokallio.

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 514, f. 1r. By permission of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. Photographer: Jaakko Tahkokallio.

To save time, books were sometimes copied quire by quire so that several text scribes could work on the project simultaneously. In his classic article, Jean Vezin listed ten Carolingian manuscripts in which such a procedure was used.[1] The Tours Bibles, studied e.g. by David Ganz, are another famous example.[2] According to Christopher De Hamel, this method was also relatively common in the making of the twelfth-century glossed books of the Bible.[3]

Yet the material I am best familiar with – the twelfth- and thirteenth-century copies of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History, a corpus of some 135 manuscripts – suggests that this practice may not have been so very popular, at least in the high medieval period. Firstly, out of the 135 manuscripts, only four show evidence suggesting simultaneous collaboration of the text scribes.[4]

What is more, in three of these four manuscripts the probable simultaneous work resulted in some kind of a defect. Only in the thirteenth-century Vatican Library Pal. lat. 946 did the two scribes succeed in producing an entirely smooth text and visual appearance.[5] In the mid-twelfth-century Pal. lat. 956, quire VI ends in the middle of a column (next quire begun by a new scribe). In Cambridge UL Dd.6.12, an additional slip was needed after f. 60r so that the scribe could finish his/her stint, and the last leaf of another (irregular) quire, f. 67v, has only five lines of text (another scribe starts the next quire). In these manuscripts, simultaneous collaboration lead into anomalies of lay out and/or quire structure.

In Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 514 another type of mistake took place, at the beginning of the second quire. Here, the scribe repeated a sentence of text given also on the previous page (last page of quire I). This seems to suggest that he was copying from an exemplar in which the previous scribe had marked where s/he had finished (but not too clearly), and without the previous quire available.[6]

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 514, f. 8v and 9r. By permission of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. Photographer: Jaakko Tahkokallio.

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 514, f. 8v and 9r. By permission of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. Photographer: Jaakko Tahkokallio.

Why did s/he not have the first quire at hand? Possibly because it was being worked by the illuminator at this point. Bodley 514 has two completed high-grade initials, and others in various stages of planning. Two of them are in the first quire, including the one in the beginning of this post. The ones below come from later on in the book.

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 514, f. 18v and 19r. On 19r (right) the original design can be seen traced in lead beneath the later red letter. By permission of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. Photographer: Jaakko Tahkokallio.

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 514, f. 18v and 19r. On 19r (right) the original design can be seen traced in lead beneath the later red letter. By permission of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. Photographer: Jaakko Tahkokallio.

It is possible that the first quire was given to the illuminator while the copying of the text went on, to rush the production. Perhaps the illuminator was available only for a limited amount of time – at least s/he never finished all the initials that had been planned.

As we can see, trying to hurry the completion by dividing the work to several text scribes, or starting the work on the illumination while the text was not finished, was liable to cause problems. I believe that especially in the context of commercial/commissioned bookmaking, it was always preferable to have the complete base text copied first by a single scribe. When the text was finished and had fixed the codicological structure of the book it was then easy to divide the quires for illuminators (or gloss or notation scribes) for further work.

My warm thanks to the Bodleian Libraries for permitting the use of these reader-taken photographs online.


PS

If anyone has ideas about where the initials might come from I would be very happy to hear. To my eyes, they somehow resemble some English ones from the early twelfth century ones, such as have been documented in Canterbury in 1120s and 1130s. I imagine the MS would date from about 1150–1180. It was at Jervaulx (Cist.), in Yorkshire, in around 1200, but most likely it was not made there.

 


 

[1] Jean Vezin, ‘La répartition du travail dans les “scriptoria” caroligiens’, Journal des Savants 1973, pp. 212–227.

[2] David Ganz, ‘Mass production of early medieval manuscripts: the Carolingian Bibles from Tours’, in Richard Gameson

(ed.), The Early Medieval Bible. Its production, decoration and use (Cambridge UP, 1994) , pp. 53–62, at pp. 60–62.

[3] Christopher de Hamel, The Glossed Books of the Bible and the origins of the Paris booktrade (Woodbridge: Brewer, 1984), p. 29.

[4] These are Cambridge, UL, Dd.6.12 (s. xii med./2), Oxford, Bodleian, Bodley 514 (s. xii2), Vatican Library, Pal. lat. 946 (s. xiii), Pal. lat. 956 (s. xii med.). The Camridge and Oxford MSS are insular, whereas Pal. lat. 956 is French. The origin of Pal. lat. 946 is as yet uncertain.

[5] In this ms, the scribe A copied quires I–II and VI–VIII, and B III–V and IX–XI. All of these are eights, exept VI which is a six.

[6] It is even possible that it was the same scribe, who simply did not remember where precisely he had stopped, although I am fairly sure they were in fact different ones.


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