Thursday, February 17, 2011

A scribe with a very long life

Today we had a look at minuscule 223, dated to the XIVth century in the Kurzgefasste Liste. Metzger mentions that the same scribe was also responsible for lect. 279 and minuscule 1305. Interestingly, in the same Kurzgefasste Liste the first is dated to the XIIth century and the later to the XIIIth century (AD 1244 to be exact). Either the scribe, Antonios, had a remarkably long career spanning three centuries, or there is some problem.

Since the images of both minuscule 223 and 1305 are available on the CSNTM website it shouldn't be too hard to establish what is going on. Or is it?

Colophon of 223 (folio 267 verso):

Colophon of 1305 (folio 269 verso):

The two colophons are very much alike in lettering and content. Ἀντώνιος ὁ Μαλάκης τάχα καὶ μοναχός (the full name as in Vogel and Gardthausen) knows himself as both the serial sinner (πολιαμάρτητος colophon of 223) and as a bigger sinner than any other sinner (ἁμαρτωλότερος πάντων τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν colophon of 1305); in all other details the colophons are identical. I happily admit that knowledge of one's own sin is a good step towards obtaining eternal life, yet this seems not sufficient to explain the dating of his work to the 12th, 13th, and 14th century. Note also the year in the colophon of 1305.

Though the form of minuscule script used in the colophon is not much different, that of the main text is. Minuscule 223 is very neat (neater than the colophon, in fact), while 1305 is wilder, more flourishes and uses more abbreviations.

If we assume the year AD 1244 is correct, it seems that a scribe could use a variety of scripts during his lifetime and that the range of scripts are extremely tricky to date with any precision.


  1. It seems entirely possible that one scribe could learn multiple scripts - even today, most of us learn block and cursive in school, and other languages (say modern Hebrew) also have two standard scripts that all students learn.

  2. I would not normally presume that a scribe would alter basic handwriting styles during his career (cf. the various 15th cent. MSS copied by George Hermonymus, or the various 14th century MSS copied by Theodore Hagiopetrites, where their handwriting remains identical in all copies).

    Given that the handwriting within the main text of the MSS in question is different from each other, yet with the parallel colophons nearly identical in text and handwriting (in a still differing style), I would suggest that monk Antonio of the Twin Colophons may merely have been the owner of both those MSS at some time or another during his (relatively) short life that did not span multiple centuries.

  3. Dr. Robinson's suggestion seems the most probable. While there are different handwriting styles for different purposes, it would be odd for a scribe to develop two wildly different styles for the same purpose and task. Thus modern Hebrew cursive and square-letter bookhand are hardly a good example comparable to "multiple minuscule" styles. How many modern Hebrew authors write extended handwritten books in bookhand? Only professional scribes I would guess. The rest of the Israelis might handwrite notes or even long letters and articles in cursive, but most serious contemporary Hebrew writers will be using computers and typewriter-keyboards.

    Even aging Englishmen who learned "block" and "cursive" in school (back in the day when it was still taught seriously) would only be handwriting in cursive and printing short notes for clarity or to avoid personal flourish. Block is for washroom doorsigns. Cursive is for adult letters. Perhaps many less precise writers mix up handwriting and printing by accident or carelessness.

    But in the examples, it seems obvious that two different people executed the MSS, and it would be the "signature" that is suspicious. It seems somebody thought they had something there, but was straining at a gnat while swallowing an implausible camel.


  4. It should be noted that colophons in general -- even if by the well-trained scribe of a given MS -- tend to be very sloppy and of a quite different style when compared with the basic scriptural text that same scribe may have copied.

    What specifically needs to be recognized in the present case is the differing main text script between the two MSS.

  5. You could make a start with the paleographers: see if there's anything helpful in Repertorium der griechischen Kopisten, 800-1600 (if you are in CB, it's in the UL, MSS room, callmark A326.150).

  6. It would also be nice to have a translation of the colophons.

  7. Maurice, you may be right as to ownership, but I not completely convinced yet. The scripts are different, but not wildly apart. Still, if we assume the colophon to be added by an owner, the issue of dating of these scripts remains the same: if 1244 is the date of a colophon, then around this time all three manuscripts were owned by the same guy.

  8. Checking the Repertorium makes sense, but I have only easy access to the Britain and France volumes. And about the translation I have to confess my ignorance about the sense of the word ταχα here.

  9. Dirk, ταχα και μοναχος = "presently also monk".

  10. Dirk: The scripts are different, but not wildly apart.

    I would say they are different enough that the same scribe did not copy both. Compare not only the ligatures, but also the forms of Theta and Pi in the samples. Scribes normally would not vary so much in relation to such small points.

    But yes, if the colophon date for both MSS is 1244, it certainly would represent a terminus ad quem for at least the copying of the most recent of the two MSS.

  11. If the assumptions listed above are correct, then minuscules 223 should be re-dated to the XII/XIII century.

  12. Dirk, what is your reference to Metzger?

    According to the wisdom of art historians and palaeographers Antonions Malakes, archbishop of Veroia (late 13th c.), was not the scribe but the owner of said manuscripts (see Robert S. Nelson, "The Manuscripts of Antonios Malakes and the Collecting and Appreciation of Illuminated Books in the Early Palaeologan Period", Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik 36, 1986, 229-254).

    According to Nelson the dating ασμδ = 1244 in GA 1305 was probably fabricated in the early 20th century by Demetrios Pelekasis as where two miniatures in this volume (see G. Vikan, A Group of forged Byzantine Miniatures, Aachener Kunstblätter 48, 1978-79, p. 54).

    Apart from the mentioned three manuscripts Malakes owned at least two more, i.e. GA 86 and GA 2576.

    Lect 279 is to be dated palaeographically late 11th (early 12th) c.

    2576 is dated 1286/7 and written by the scribe Paul for Malakes.

    86 is dated 1289/90; in adding his 'ex libris' Malakes partially erased the original colophon obscuring the name but leaving the date; the scribe might be identified with Theodore Hagiopetrites.

    223 and 1305 are undated but produced and decorated according to a shared program suggesting their origin in one and the same workshop (perhaps even by the same scribes/decorators).

  13. Forgot to mention the dating: According to Nelson and others 223 and 1305 are to be dated palaeographically to the late 13th c.

  14. Thanks for the references to Nelson, Ulrich.