Medieval and Early Modern
III. Topics in the History of the Codex (Introduction to Codicology)
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Codicology is the study of the "codex" and, in particular, the physical makeup and modes of production of a given volume. Among the considerations in the study of codicology are the following (listed here in note form):
Some additional terminology:
- papyrus rolls and reed pens
- history of changes in inks (chemical composition of the ink can be useful in dating a document)
- use of parchment and invention of the codex (during second to fourth centuries) (the study of the "codex" is "codicology"); unlike papyrus, which had to be stored in rolls to prevent the reeds from breaking apart, and as a consequence had no pagination, the pages of a codex allow for a kind of "random access" to the contents of the book which papyrus rolls could not achieve
- strictly speaking, parchment is the skin of a sheep or goat, while vellum designates skin from a calf (cf. "veal"), but the terms were often used synonymously even in the Middle Ages (when such distinctions presumably mattered in terms of quality, cost, and use). As a result, the terms come to be frequently used merely to designate degrees of quality: thus "vellum" is used to designate "fine" parchment, whatever the animal of origin, and "parchment" can be used as the more general term for all types of skin prepared for use as a writing surface
- development of paper manufacturing in later Middle Ages; modern history of paper-making moves from handmade sheets to mass production, and towards greater varieties of papers designed for different purposes
- parchment gradually replaced by paper in fifteenth century, though parchment continues to be used for "special" books, and many paper books in the fifteenth century use the more durable parchment for the outer leaves of quires
- history of book binding
- quill pens; pen knives and other "accessories"; questions of material production
- folding and division of leaves into quires; consideration of size and format, especially as infuencing contents and layout
- page layout (mise-en-page): the organization of the page; the number of columns, the size of margins, the placement of miniatures, the decorative elements, the placement of commentary (if any) in relation to the placement of the main text
- the presence of marginalia; the presence of glosses
- palimpsest: writing material from which something has been erased, sometimes to reuse the surface for some other writing (where a complete book has been erased and overwritten, it is a "codex rescriptus")
- ordinatio: the disposition of the parts of the text in the manuscript more generally; the methods of marking text divisions (books, chapters), etc.
- the scriptorium (monastic; gradual rise from fourteenth century of commercial book production)
- production of manuscripts by a "pecia" system (quire by quire); assembling manuscripts for sale out of available "booklets"
- illumination of manuscripts
- scribal practices:
- what sources did the scribe use, and what changes did the scribe make to those sources?
- was the book conceived as a single unit and produced from a unitary plan? or was it assembled from parts which were themselves originally separate and conceived as units? (questions of book type: single texts? or miscellanies, commonplace books, anthologies, accidental or planned compilations?) when and under what influences were the separate parts of the book brought together and bound together as a single book?
- what is known of the particular scribe or more generally of the scriptorium within which a book was produced, and the material conditions of book production there?
- book collections and libraries; library history (monasteries and cathedrals among the oldest libraries; universities and the acquisition of books for scholarship; development of the royal library in fifteenth-century England
- history of readers and reading, and of literary tastes: who is reading or collecting what books and why? the use of library catalogues and other records, of wills that indicate what books were passed down as part of an inheritance, marks of ownership in books
- invention of the printing press (though manuscript culture thrives for several centuries after Gutenberg)
- xylographic printing, perhaps brought from China
- Gutenberg and invention of movable type (1450s); coming of printing press to England (Westminster) with William Caxton (1470s)
- Caxton and his successors: Wynkyn de Worde, Richard Pynson, Robert Copland, etc.
- continued development of typesetting from movable type to hot metal to computer; modern developments in the arts of type design and page layout
Provenance: may designate either the place of origin of a manuscript or the various places where the manuscript has been preserved. It is best used to designate the place of origin or the single earliest known place of preservation.
"Terminus a quo": "the terminal point from which"; equivalent to "terminus ante quem non," the starting point, the earliest possible date in a range of dates (of a manuscript's production, for instance).
"Terminus ad quem": "the terminal point to which"; equivalent to "terminus post quem non," the terminal point, the latest possible date in a range of dates (of a manuscript's production, for instance).
Palimpsests: when a manuscript or a portion of a manuscript is rubbed/scraped off and overwritten a second time (in a period when writing material expensive, not uncommon); depending on the composition of the ink, it is sometimes possible to read the original under flourescent light. One of the most famous palimpsestic discoveries concerns a "lost" work of Cicero's: from Macrobius and others, we knew that Cicero had written a work called De re publica, but until relatively recently it was considered lost. In 1820, Cardinal Angelo Mai, Prefect of the Vatican Library, discovered most of the first and second books and fragments of the rest of the work in a palimpsest underneath a copy of St. Augustine's Enarrationes in Psalmos (BAV Codex Vaticanus 5757(V)). So we now have what is estimated to be about 1/4 of Cicero's original text of 6 books.
Forward to next page: Decoration and Illumination
[ Course Notes: Introduction ] |
[ I. Towards a definition of "manuscript studies" ] |
[ I.ii. The four branches of bibliographical study ] |
[ I.iii. Topics in the social history of texts ] |
[ II. Diplomatics ] |
[ III. Codicology ] |
[ III.ii. Decoration and Illumination ] |
[ IV. Paleography ] |
[ IV.ii. Historical Notes ] |
[ IV.iii. Writing Implements ] |
[ IV.iv. Letter Formation ] |
[ IV.v. Special Characters in English Manuscripts ] |
[ IV.vi. Scribal Abbreviations ] |
[ IV.vii. Punctuation ] |
[ IV.viii. Paleographical sample: William Herebert, OFM (early fourteenth-century England) ] |
[ Herebert sample, with transcription ] |
[ Herebert sample: enlargement of full page reproduced at high resolution ] |
[ V. Textual analysis (James E. Thorpe) ] |
[ V.ii. Scribal error ] |
[ V.iii. Kinds of edition ] |
[ V.iv. Examples of over emendation on insufficient grounds ] |
[ VI. Linguistic competence (an example): An Outline History of the English Language ] |
[ VII. Libraries and archives: ] |
[ VII.ii. British Library Manuscript Collections ] |
[ VII.iii. Bodleian Library Manuscript Collections ]
© 1998 Stephen R. Reimer
English; University of Alberta; Edmonton, Canada
All rights reserved.
Created: 2 Dec. 1998; Last revised: 2 Dec. 1998