Tuesday, October 29, 2013

When is a Manuscript a Minuscule?

Here is one of those enigmatic treasures that can be found among the later manuscripts, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Pluteo VIII.14. It is a composite manuscript that in its current shape contains the bulk of the letter of James on the first 18.5 folios, an unidentified text on the verso of folio 19, Chrysostom's sermons on Matthew from folio 21, and finally Victor of Antioch on Mark (the last two items as per Pinakes).

The text of James is laid out as a typical commentary manuscript with the main text occupying a relatively small block halfway down near the inner margin and the commentary written around it.

However, though on the last two pages the main text is laid out as normal, the commentary has not been added, and it seems that the commentary breaks off at the recto of folio 18. The final page with text of James looks like this and brakes off at James 4:15 αντι του λε-.

What strikes me though, is that this item is listed as a minuscule. Admittedly there are a number of ligatures, and the commentary is in a minuscule script, but the main text with all its individual letters looks to me rather majuscule-like. There are other examples where the text is in majuscule and the commentary is in minuscule, like X(033), or where part of the work is in minuscule and the remainder in majuscule (without either being a supplement), such as in minuscule 566 and Λ(039), which was divided up by Tischendorf.

Here is a composite image of the main text of the first four pages.

I have no intention of starting a campaign for the recategorisation of 197 as majuscule 03**, but, please, could somebody convince me that James in 197 is a true minuscule script? (As usual, thanks to the NT.VMR of the INTF for making the images available.)


  1. This is a very interesting question, Dirk. I would hesitate to call this script minuscule. Perhaps the designation "majuscule with minuscule influences" might work. Of course that doesn't fit our tidy G-A categories. If I had to choose, I would stick this MS in the majuscule category.

  2. At the second row of the last image the two halves are in reverse order. My bad.

  3. The mixture of minuscule and uncial seems to fit the way Metzger describes the Codices Recentiores period of minuscules on pp. 26-28 of his Manuscripts of the Greek Bible. The problem is that period is mid-thirteenth to mid-fifteenth centuries, and, at least according to the Liste, 197 is 11th century.

    I wonder if the rule, though, would just normally be that when uncial and minuscule are mixed, to call it a minuscule, since a scribe writing in minuscule might revert to uncial forms of letters, whereas the uncial label would imply that something was copied by a scribe who had not yet adopted the minuscule style.

  4. GA K/018 is of the same sort (see the plate in Metzger's Text of the NT): uncial-style biblical text accompanied by a large amount of interspersed (not surrounding) minuscule commentary.

    Why this should be considered an uncial MS and GA197 a minuscule is beyond me, unless there is some presumed 10th century cutoff date, after which no MS would qualify as uncial.

  5. Quite a few of the letter-forms in the text of James in this MS -- connected or not -- are distinct from uncial letter-forms. (And some of the letters are connected; look at those GARs.) The lettering here is an instructive example of a minuscule that is not what one would normally think of as cursive, but it is still minuscule (and not uncial).

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  6. Look at Barbour, Greek Literary Hands, 400-1600 (Oxfrod, 1981), plate 6 (p.2), scholia in the margin of a MS of Euclid (888 AD) "a small plain uncial" .

  7. I'm not a professional critic, but there's one thing that strikes me about the manuscript: it looks like my volumes of the Babylonian Talmud printed by the Soncino Press, in which a single raft of text sits like a raft in a sea of commentary.

    Would someone with a better knowledge of manuscript preparation traditions in the early centuries A.D. comment on how common this format was? In my education in Bible/theology, I was given acquaintance with a wide range of texts, but had little actual experience looking at manuscripts.

  8. The page looks like a page of Talmud, with a raft of text in a sea of commentary--except in Greek rather than Hebrew and Aramaic. Was this a common practice in the early centuries A.D.? I've had little experience with actual manuscripts, although I am aware of much literature from that era, both Jewish and Christian.

  9. Biblical text surrounded by commentary is quite common among Greek NT MSS of that genre.

    The other common form is text interspersed with commentary, such as in the MSS containing the commentary of Theophylact.