Monday, January 01, 2007

St. Bede's Commentary on Proverbs (Sackler Exhibit, Post 5)

For the immediately preceding post in this series, click here.

Another book that caught our eye in the Sackler exhibit --- "In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000" --- was Bede's Commentary on Proverbs, written in Northumbria (Wearmouth-Jarrow), northeast England, in the second half of the eighth century (click to enlarge):

The author of the commentary, the scholar monk Saint Bede, also called the Venerable Bede, was one of the greatest of all Anglo-Saxon scholars. A true scholar, he once turned down the job of prior of his monastery so that he could continue to devote his energy to collecting and comparing biblical manuscripts, studying earlier patristic commentary, and generating his own systematic exegeses of Scripture.

I've made the following slide (click to enlarge) to show the three different scripts in Bede's commentary and what each aims to present:

A new section of the commentary begins with the stylized, highly decorative "P" two-thirds of the way down the page. The illuminated "P" itself is worthy of note, combining as it does Irish/Anglo-Saxon decorative interlace inside the square top of the "P" and much earlier, late Roman ivy-leaf flourishes at the bottom of the "P."

The "P" begins a bibilical quote (Proverbs 10:1, "The Proverbs of Solomon") written in an all-capitals script, English unical, developed in Bede's own Anglo-Saxon area around the time of his birth.

The scribe then shifts to a new style, "Insular minuscule," as Bede's commentary on the text begins. This elegant script dates to the mid-eighth century, and came into its own in the copying of Bede's own writings. Bede's comment, by the way, explains the reason why a brand new preface to "Solomon's Proverbs" appears here in 10:1, after the book of Proverbs is well under way. He writes that the new preface is due to the fact that a "new mode of saying" begins here, now that the book's initial discourses concerning wisdom and folly have run their course in chs. 1 - 9.

Finally, note the presence of Latin glosses on the page, added between the lines in a lighter, smaller hand. These interlinear notes were added in the tenth century by one Aldred, a member of the Lindisfarne community. I've marked two such glosses at the top of the page, where the quote from Proverbs 9:18 in the Vulgate reads, "And he did not know that giants are there, and that her guests are in the depths of hell." The glosses identify the "giants" and the "guests" who are mentioned here as "demons."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a lovely blog.
Please note that the biblical text and commentary were penned at the same time. So the biblical text is in English uncial contemporary with the minuscule of the commentary, not from the preceding century. It is true that English uncial attained its canonical form at the end of the seventh century

Sun Feb 17, 10:38:00 AM GMT-5  

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