Friday, August 16, 2013

Manuscripts and Delayed Binding into Physical Volumes

Over on Roger Pearse's blog I read a letter from Augustine regarding a copy of the City of God he had sent a certain Firmus. What I find fascinating is that Augustine gives detailed advice on how this work is to be bound into actual volumes.
Apparantly Augustine sends the pages (and I assume these would be numbered quires) as loose items, and the recipient will have these bound into whatever format and shape afterwards.

How would this apply to some of our big Biblical manuscripts? Is it that some of the irregular quires we find in Sinaiticus or Vaticanus are intended to fascilitate the binding of these manuscripts; something that may have been the task of the ultimate buyer/recipient, rather than the scriptorium?

When we think about this a little longer, binding by the recipient makes sense. He can take care of whatever precious ornamentation and personalisation is desired (as not a few libraries in our British stately homes also show). And any addition of truly valuable material is done 'close to home' and does not need to be transported with all the attending risks.

Fascinating stuff, and it just shows that I never asked these questions because of my cultural conditioning - all the books I buy come with binding and covers included.


  1. Roger Pearse8/16/2013 6:29 pm

    I was looking at some 5th c. Syriac manuscripts in the British Library recently, and noticed that they had running headings, apparently by the main scribe. Ms. Add. 12150 (dated to 411 AD by its scribe) had them on the verso of every leaf; but Ms. Addit. 17182(474 AD), containing homilies of Aphrahat, had a running heading only on the verso of each quire.

    The latter can only mean that the scribe considered a quire as a unit that might be separated, and this supports the point you make.

  2. Binding by the customer was standard procedure in Europe in the early days of printed books as well.

  3. I read Roger's post. Quite interesting. I never thought of what the recipients of ancient manuscripts did once they received the copies from the scriptoriums. I had a question about a note I read on the word τον φαιλονην in 2 Timothy 4:13. At the site biblehub the Strong's dictionary notes: "where others erroneously understand it to mean a case or receptacle for books as even the Syriac renders it." I looked in my NA 28 and could find nothing on any Syriac manuscripts mentioned in the apparatus. I was wondering what you opinion was on this? I'm enjoying the blogsite. Lord bless.

  4. Harry Gamble in "Books and Readers in the Early Church" discusses this letter and its implications on pages 134-137. On page 136, Gamble points to circumstances where Augustine circulated early forms of his works and released his books for circulation as he was writing them. Judging by some comments in the letter to Firmus it appears that Augustine had been circulating "City of God" as he was writing it and Augustine was sending Firmus the completed "official" book and directing Firmus on the form it should take in circulation. Here is the quote from the letter I was thinking of; "As for those books belonging to this work on the City of God which our brothers there in Carthage do not yet have, I ask that you graciously and will­ingly acceed to their requests to have copies made."

  5. Is it possible that Augustine is not sending Firmus loose unbound leaves, but rather the rest of the "City of God," the earlier books of which Firmus already possessed?

  6. My Slovak cultural conditioning wires me to expect to get a book with a broken binding, which is in turn quite useful for studying papyri.

  7. Timothy, if this is just a case of supplying the missing final books, then still a rebinding is envisioned (including of those sent with this letter).

    Mahlon, as for φαιλονην there is interesting Greek evidence for a rendering of 'book cloth/receptacle' or the like. I haven't made up my mind on that one, but thanks for the reminder.

  8. It is interesting to consider a scenario in which quire numeration serves as instruction to a possibly distant binder rather than one local to the production of a manuscripts. (I assume that is what you mean by referring to irregular quires facilitating binding.) Of course, even a binder local to the scribes would require that same information; without explicit instruction, I wonder how it would be possible to determine who initiated binding.

    I pondered something related with regard to Alexandrinus when dealing with the Arabic page numeration; is there any reason, for example, that page numeration should or should not be reset when moving to the next bound volume of a single manuscript? I haven't encountered much codicological research that has explored that question either.