BMCR 2021.02.40

A catalogue of the Greek manuscripts in the National Library “Sts. Cyril and Methodius”, Sofia

, A catalogue of the Greek manuscripts in the National Library "Sts. Cyril and Methodius", Sofia. Transmission des Textes: Catalogues. Turnhout: Brepols, 2019. Pp. xx, 516. ISBN 9782503586120. €95,00.

Classicists may be disappointed to learn that the Bulgarian National Library contains no manuscripts of ancient writers. Indeed, the library itself was founded only in 1878, and the 105 Greek manuscripts described in this handsome catalogue were acquired piecemeal during the course of the twentieth century. All are Christian texts, including fifteen lectionaries, one New Testament in demotic Greek, two gospel books, and three psalters. The oldest documents are two single biblical folia in majuscule script from the latter half of the tenth century (gr. 1 and gr. 2) and six leaves from a copy of Basil the Great’s Ethica, which Getov has identified as one of the thirty volumes donated to the Bačkovo monastery in the year 1083 by its founder (gr. 95). Most of the twenty-three items copied before the fourteenth century are fragmentary, while over forty of the manuscripts in this catalogue are from the nineteenth century. Among the latter are the majority of the thirty-four musical manuscripts which form a subgroup within the collection.

The catalogue is a model of detail and clarity, with each entry structured consistently and all texts identified and described. A very brief introduction explains how this book replaces the 1973 catalogue by Stoyanov, which “suffers from flagrant methodological and substantive inadequacies as well as from an unwarranted bulgarocentrism” (p. vii). The latter part of the Greek collection, consisting of nineteenth-century notebooks and schoolbooks, has been excluded from the present volume (gr. 106–148). The catalogue itself occupies 272 pages, followed by a twenty-two page list of “Initia of Unedited and Unrecognised Texts” and a forty-one page “General Index.” There are then 175 plates, several in colour, illustrating the main scribal hands within each manuscript (including all twenty fragments of gr. 86); supplementary hands are not normally included, even though some are relatively early and contribute multiple portions of text (e.g. gr. 20, gr. 83, gr. 101).

Although an overview of the different types of books is provided in a table in the Introduction, it is—somewhat surprisingly—to the General Index that users must turn for a fuller understanding of the collection. Under the headword “Centuries” is a chronological list of items, but this does not include manuscripts whose year of copying is mentioned in a colophon: these appear later under “Dated MSS.” Similarly, the entries for “Script styles” and “Watermarks” offer a conspectus of these features across the corpus; under “Scribes” and “Owners of MSS, previous,” readers will find a set of cross-references to names which appear elsewhere in this index. Indications of standard reference systems are furnished under headwords such as “Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca (BHG)” and “Clavis Patrum Graecorum (CPG).” All this information is most useful, but it might have been more conventional to provide at least some of it in tabular form as part of the Introduction. While the contents of each liturgical manuscript is carefully enumerated in the relevant catalogue entry, the General Index entries for “Pentekostarion” and “Triodion” also include a breakdown of their constituents, to which individual headwords such as “Week before the Cheese Fast” and “Sunday of the Paralytic” redirect: uninitiated users may have to work through the whole calendrical sequence to locate these. The listing of all twenty-seven books within the “New Testament” index entry seems excessive, given that twenty-three of these are only contained in a single manuscript (gr. 16). Conversely, users wishing to locate the two instances of the Protevangelium Iacobi, both in fourteenth-century miscellanies (gr. 97 and gr. 101), will not find this under its title or putative author but under the ‘Apocrypha’ subheading of the headword ‘Bible’ (and the Clavis reference CANT 50).

The sigla from Aland’s Kurzgefasste Liste of Greek New Testament manuscripts and the Diktyon numbers of the Pinakes database are missing from the General Index, although they are provided in the individual entries. Getov’s catalogue has already influenced both these resources: it has been incorporated into Pinakes on the web, while the identification here of gr. 3 and gr. 5 as coming from the same codex means that both now appear in the online Liste as Lectionary 1734 (Lectionary 2038, formerly applied to gr. 3, has been deprecated). Likewise, as a single leaf from a manuscript held by the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, gr. 2 is now assigned to Lectionary 1629 rather than treated separately as Lectionary 1882. It is worth noting that neither of the two new lectionary fragments mentioned in David Parker’s account of his visit to the library in 2001 appears in the present catalogue.[1] Despite Getov’s inclusion of this article in the bibliography for gr. 7 (Gregory-Aland 2748), he does not discuss Parker’s proposal that this should be treated as two separate manuscripts: the catalogue’s observation that there are no chapter titles in the latter half of the codex and the change in the number of lines per page offer further support for this suggestion.

Most of the unpublished initia are for short liturgical texts, such as stichera and kathismata. It is unexpected to find John Chrysostom’s Homilia in publicanum et pharisaeum in this list (p. 274), not least as the CPG reference given in the catalogue notes that it was printed by Savile in 1613. Another item in this section is a brief Narratiuncula de Adamo et cruce in gr. 101, which ingeniously takes Adam’s name as an acrostic of the Greek compass points (ἀνατολή, δύσις, ἄρκτος, μεσημβρία) and sees in this a prefiguring of Christ’s cross. Getov provides a full transcription on p. 261.

The extensive section of plates is admirable and the large format of the book enables many manuscripts to be reproduced at their original size. Others are reduced in scale, as indicated in the captions. Nevertheless, there is an inconsistency between some of the images and the measurements given in the catalogue. For example, the three images of gr. 7 (plates 7, 8 and 9) match the quoted size of the text block and the page width, but in all cases the height of the page is 140 mm, not 150 mm. Plate 14 agrees with both the width measurements of gr. 11, but the height of the text block is 130 rather than 145 mm, and the page height measures 165 rather than 195 mm. Plate 15 only corresponds to the dimensions given for gr. 12 if it has been reduced to 70% rather than the 85% specified in the caption. While such details are of relatively minor importance, the discrepancy is perplexing.

The task of determining the provenance of the manuscripts is complicated by the loss of the original catalogue during the Second World War. Getov has worked hard to establish previous owners, identifying six manuscripts as coming from Mount Athos; several others are from churches in Ohrid and monasteries in Drama and Serres. A note in Bulgarian on gr. 10 tells how, in 1871, “an old man, called Tsvjatko, detached this parchment leaf from a ‘big book’ while painting the house of Etem bey in Veliko Tŭrnovo” (p. 19). One musical codex (gr. 72) was copied by the father of Bulgaria’s First World War prime minister, Vasil Radoslavov, whose signature appears on the flyleaf. The hand of Archimandrite Christophoros Lavriotes is seen in several of these books: in gr. 42 he recorded a dream he had on February 19, 1859, about “a beautiful unveiled woman with unbraided red hair” (p. 115). Two manuscripts feature recipes added by later users for the treatment of snake bites (gr. 65 and gr. 99).

With a matching catalogue of the Greek manuscripts at the Patriarchate of Bulgaria,[2] a catalogue of the Greek liturgical manuscripts in the Ivan Dujčev Centre in Sofia,[3] and separate studies of the more important documents in these collections, Getov has rendered an enormous service to the Greek manuscripts of Bulgaria and those who would use them. The publishers are to be thanked for making this high-quality catalogue available at a reasonable price. It should serve as the definitive guide to the Greek holdings of the National Library for its next 150 years.


[1] D.C. Parker, “Greek Gospel Manuscripts in Bucharest and Sofia,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 85.1 (2003), 3–12, which mentions an additional two leaves of gr. 6 and a single thirteenth-century parchment leaf with lections from John 19 and Matthew 28.

[2] D. Getov, A Catalogue of the Greek Manuscripts at the Ecclesiastical Historical and Archival Institute of the Patriarchate of Bulgaria. 2 vols. Transmission des Textes: Catalogues. Turnhout: Brepols, 2014, 2017.

[3] D. Getov, A Catalogue of Greek Liturgical Manuscripts in the “Ivan Dujčev Centre for Slavo-Byzantine Studies”. Orientalia Christiana Analecta 279. Rome: Pontificio Istituto orientale, 2007.