Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.10.04

Ernst Gamillscheg, Dieter Harlfinger, Paolo Eleuteri, Repertorium der griechischen Kopisten 800-1600. Part 3, Handschriften aus Bibliotheken Roms mit dem Vatikan. 3 vols.   Vienna:  Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1997.  Pp. 251, 226, 612 ills., 344 tables.  ISBN 3-7001-2632-8.  DM 336.  

Reviewed by Claudia Rapp, University of California, Los Angeles (
Word count: 1152 words

This work is a model of European scholarship. Three large paperback volumes in a boxed set (vol. A: Verzeichnis der Kopisten; vol. B: Palaographische Charakteristika; vol. C: Tafelband) catalogue the scribes of Greek manuscripts who were active between the eighth and the sixteenth centuries and whose manuscripts are now preserved in the libraries of Rome and the Vatican. The chronological span extends from the beginnings of minuscule writing to the humanist hands that were employed in early printing. The geographical reach of this publication is no less expansive: the Vatican Library is, next to the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the world's largest repository of Greek manuscripts. Together with the rich holdings of the other Roman libraries it offers a representative sample of Greek manuscripts through the ages. This publication is the third installment of a collaborative project that was begun over two decades ago by Ernst Gamillscheg, an Austrian who has recently been appointed curator of manuscripts at the Staatsbibliothek in Vienna, and Dieter Harlfinger, the leader of Greek palaeographical studies in Germany and professor of Classics at the university of Hamburg. In two earlier publications, these venerable scholars enumerated the scribes of Greek manuscripts housed in the libraries of Great Britain and France. For the present, Roman, project, Paolo Eleuteri, a leading scholar in Greek palaeography and professor of Classics at the University of Venice, has teamed up with his two northern colleagues. Preparations are already under way for a fourth such study, concentrating on the libraries of Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

The amount of work that has gone into the preparation of these volumes can hardly be exaggerated. For the present opus alone, the authors personally examined more than 1,700 manuscripts in the Roman and the Vatican Libraries. The first of the three volumes provides an alphabetical list of the 615 scribes who can be identified by name -- either because they had signed their work or because they were mentioned by others. All available biographical data on a scribe is collected and followed by noteworthy features of his scribal activity (Who were his collaborators? Does he mention any historical events? Are there unusual features about his signature?). Bibliographical references to the scribe and to his manuscripts follow. Finally, the manuscripts themselves are listed, along with a brief summary of their contents. Volume B includes a description of each scribe's handwriting and drawings of typical letter shapes and ligatures. Volume C contains page-length photographs of each scribe's work.

The Repertorium is an indispensable research tool for the history of Classical scholarship, especially in the Renaissance, as well as for the history of palaeography, manuscript collecting and early printing. Moreover, the rich biographical information provides ample material for the study of the social context of higher education in medieval Byzantium and Renaissance Italy. The purchase of the whole series is essential because the Rome and Vatican volumes cannot stand on their own. They only give biographical and bibliographical information for those scribes who have not previously been introduced in the Great Britain or France volumes -- 417 out of 615 listed scribes. For the 198 others, the reader is referred to the earlier volumes, although sometimes the entry is updated to accommodate recent scholarship. Several helpful indices are found at the end of Volume A: an index of manuscripts by location; an index of manuscripts by century; an index of authors and works; and an index of names and places. The work concludes with a concordance of the scribes and the reproductions.

This encyclopedic work is not the kind of publication that invites critique or argument. Instead, let me point out a few areas of interest for which these volumes can provide rich material. The first and most obvious application is the study of Greek palaeography. The tables in Volume C provide excellent reproductions of dated or datable Greek bookhands and lend themselves to classroom use, especially when accompanied by the helpful descriptions of the scribal characteristics in Volume B. Researchers will benefit from the list of scribes in Volume A along with the descriptions in Volume B to help with the identification of scribes or of scribal styles. Historians of classical scholarship can use them to gain insight into the literary tastes of patrons and readers based on the contents of the manuscripts that were copied by a given scribe or in a particular period. Scholars interested in early printing will be pleased to encounter several scribes who either founded printing presses or who worked with them as editors and proofreaders.

For the cultural historian, this is a 'Who's Who' of higher education from post-iconoclastic Byzantium to Renaissance Europe, complete with names, occupations and dates. Here are people who do not figure in the historical sources, but nonetheless made important contributions to Greek culture and its survival. Even a cursory reading of these entries gives a personal face to the well-known story of the development of Greek scholarship and the fate of its practitioners. The great mass of scribes of the early centuries and beyond were monks who signed their names accompanied by 'humble' or 'low.' They had little editorial or other input in the texts they copied. For the men of the secular world, by contrast, to copy a manuscript or compose a treatise was a sign of distinction. Beginning with the eleventh century, we encounter scribes who did not belong to the monastic or clerical order, but were professors, bureaucrats, notaries, physicians, or astronomers. These men copied manuscripts either for their own use or to exchange them with friends. The offerings are less rich for the history of women. Theodora Rhaoulaina, the well-known aristocratic patroness of the late thirteenth century, is the only woman scribe. She copied Vat. gr. 1899, containing the work of Aelius Aristides.

Beginning with the late fourteenth century, we can observe the flight of learned men from the Byzantine Empire as it began to be overrun by the Ottoman Turks. The arrival of these learned refugees in Italy sparked the revival of Greek learning in the Renaissance. Many of these Greek scholars, as the entries show, converted to Catholicism and were entrusted with responsible positions in the Catholic Church. Even more numerous are the Italian scholars who displayed their erudition through the copying, editing and sometimes even the composition of Greek works. Autographs of these and other scholar-scribes of Greek or Italian origin are especially marked in the list of manuscripts. These men often formed networks of collaboration and patronage, as is usefully pointed out in the relevant entries.

The Repertorium der griechischen Kopisten thus represents a gold mine for the study of the sociology of learning in Byzantium and beyond. Greek palaeography is only one area for which the Rome and Vatican volumes provide information. Generations to come will find many riches digging through these works. We can only thank Professors Gamillscheg, Harlfinger and Eleuteri for their long and arduous labors.

Read Latest
Index for 1999
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:26:30, Friday, 03 April 2009