Monday, September 05, 2011

Codex Argenteus, the 'Silver Bible,' UNESCO Memory of the World

In 2010, Uppsala University Library nominated Codex Argenteus, the 'Silver Bible' for inclusion in UNESCO's Memory of the World Register. Senior librarian Lars Munkhammar who is a specialist on the codex was responsible for the nomination process.

The nomination (here) was successful and in May the codex was included in the register.

One of the scholars who was as referee in the nomination process is a good friend of mine, Carla Falluomini, currently Associate Professor of Germanic Philology at the University of Sassari. Carla has worked on Gothic MSS and texts (see here), currently she is working with two colleagues, Antonio Piras och Magnus Snaedal, to compile an of the Gothic Bible. Of particular interest is also her work on a new assessment of the text-critical value of the Gothic Version (some preliminary remarks are available here).

In preparing this blogpost Carla kindly sent me a brief description of the codex:

The Codex Argenteus, which preserves Wulfila’s translation of the Gospels into the Gothic language, is now on the United Nations “Memory of the World” Register. 188 folia of the original 336 survive; 187 preserved in the Uppsala University Library, Sweden (catalog number: D.G.1) [] plus one folium in the Historisches Museum der Pfalz, in Speyer, Germany.

This is the surviving part of a luxury codex, written in silver ink on purple parchment, with some key words in golden ink (such as the first three lines of the Gospels of Luke and Mark – the beginnings of Matthew and John are lost – the first line of the Ammonian sections and their paragraph signs, the first line of the “Pater noster”, and the contractions of Evangelists’ names in the Eusebian canons tables). It contains the four Gospels in the order Matthew-John-Luke-Mark (but the text itself agrees with the early Byzantine text). The bottom of each page contains the canon tables. The script is extremely uniform and precise. Fourteen marginal glosses are present, written in silver ink.

The Speyer folium, discovered in 1970, is important from the text-critical point of view, because it attests the so-called Longer Ending of Mark. The high quality of the manuscript suggests that it was made for a person of high rank – probably King Theoderic himself – and/or the Gothic royal Church. It may therefore be assumed that the codex was produced in the Ostrogothic capital Ravenna (Italy), in the first third of the sixth century. Similar to the Codex Argenteus is the Codex Brixianus, a purple manuscript of the Latin Gospels (f/010), written in silver ink in North Italy in the first half of the sixth century. It contains, at the bottom of each page, canon tables that resemble those of the Argenteus. The text – Old Latin with many Vulgate readings – shows several peculiarities shared only with the text of the Argenteus (the Gothic text seems to have influenced the Latin one). The codicological and textual similarities lead to the assumption that the Codex Brixianus is copy of a bilingual Gothic-Latin Bible, of which the Gothic part is represented by the Codex Argenteus.

The history of the Codex Argenteus is uncertain. The common view is that St. Liutger, a disciple of Alcuin, brought the codex at the end of the eighth century (possibly 795) from Italy to his newly founded Werden monastery. In 1554 (or perhaps earlier) it was found in the German monastery of Werden an der Ruhr, near Cologne, by Georg Cassander and Cornelius Wouters. At the beginning of the 17th century the codex was in Prague, in the collection of Rudolf II. It was then taken by the Swedish army in 1648, during the Thirty Years’ War. After passing through several hands, in 1662 the codex was purchased by the Swedish high chancellor Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie, who in 1669 gave it to the Library of Uppsala University.

In this official film clip from the library you get a brief presentation of the codex and an interview with Lars Munkhammar (English subtitles).

Coming soon: In a forthcoming blogpost I will write about the 1995 robbery of Argenteus, which shattered the otherwise so calm Munkhammar, who was then chief of security.

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