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Dear Dave, Thank you very much! I will be returning to the British Library in September of 2015. If time permits - which it very well might not - I'll be writing a bit for the blog while I'm on maternity leave. Appreciate your good wishes! Sarah
Toggle Commented Aug 28, 2014 on A Temporary Farewell at Medieval manuscripts blog
A comment from Anon: "By comparing the anatomy of European dragons with that of Oriental dragons, we discover lots of similarities, e.g. reptilian body, demons’ eyes, lizard tongue, fire-breathing mouth, winged creatures. The universality of dragon in both European medieval Mss and in Oriental literature makes one wonder if it was once an existing animal rather than a mythical creature. Could it be possible that the depictions of dragons come from the actual sightings of dinosaurs and pterosaurs (winged reptiles) before their extinction? As we know, Komodo Dragon of Indonesia is a variant descendant of dinosaur. This poses the question whether dinosaurs’ extinction happened much later than what is commonly believed."
Toggle Commented Apr 29, 2014 on The Anatomy of a Dragon at Medieval manuscripts blog
Dear Dave Pawson, Thanks for your comment: In the final part of the blog I discuss the script. There is some discussion about whether it is a very early example of Caroline minuscule. Here are some references I consulted on the script: Francis Wormald, An Early Breton Gospel Book, ed. by Jonathan Alexander (Cambridge: Roxburghe Club, 1977), pp. 11, n. 4, 13, n. 1. Helen McKee, ’Script in Wales, Scotland and Cornwall', in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, 6 vols (Cambridge: University Press, 1999-2011), I: 1400-1557 (2011), ed. by Richard Gameson, pp. 167-73 (p. 170, n. 15). Rebecca Rushford, 'Latin Script in England: Caroline Minuscule' in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain (see Gameson, above), pp. 197-224 (p. 202-03). Chantry Westwell
Dear David Cameron Staples, Thank you very much for your corrections. We have amended the blog post accordingly. Best wishes Chantry Westwell
Dear A. K., Thanks very much for having a look at these fragments, and what you've uncovered so far seems very exciting! Would you be willing to send along your email address to mss [at] bl [dot] uk? Please ask them to forward your message to Sarah J Biggs, and I will then send along some higher-res copies of the images you requested. All the best, Sarah J Biggs
Toggle Commented Feb 19, 2014 on Hidden Away at Medieval manuscripts blog
Dear Bingham, The entire Psalter has been digitised; in order to see it, please click on the image of the manuscript's first flyleaf, which is below the bindings link. This should launch the viewer in a separate window. I've just checked and it's working fine on our end - please do let us know if you have any trouble with it! SJB
Knights traditionally fought dragons, “the great dragon”, that is, “the primeval serpent, known as the devil or Satan, who had deceived the world” (Revelation 12:5,9). In the Garden of Eden the Lord cursed the serpent above all animals: “You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:14). The term “serpent”, from the Latin serpentem, “creeping thing”, was gradually replaced in Modern English by “snake”, Old English snaca from the Indo-European root *sneg-, “to crawl, creep; creeping thing”. The same Old English snaca, however, is also the root of “snail”, an animal that also crawls on its belly. Alert reader Mel R. too saw the philological connection as well as “the similarity the snail v knight imagery bears to the knight v serpent” but did not take the point further. By contrast, a religious metaphor may fully explain these images, in the first place why they are to be found mostly, though not exclusively, in the margins of Psalters and Books of Hours. As for the reason why this particular image became so popular, this is arguably because it humorously but effectively brings across a few fundamental home truths of Christian spirituality: that the fight between good and evil is not yet over; that the Tempter especially attacks the virtuous and the brave; and that no human defense is possible against man’s eternal enemy: only God can deliver man from temptation. It is to God then, not to the Snail, that the Knight kneels in prayer as in Knight v Snail VII. Interestingly the text of these two folios are lines 4-11 of Psalm 7, one of the Penitential Psalms, beginning “O Lord my God, in thee have I put my trust: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me; lest he devour my soul, like a lion, and tear it in pieces: while there is none to help” (KJV). The roaring lion in the margin above the knight and the pitiful face opposite seem to confirm the point. Similarly, in Knight v Snail VI the praying Knight kneels in front of a sword suggestive of the Cross and set up between him and the Beast. The Cross is in fact the real weapon of the combat, its very sign enough to defeat the dragon or any other shape infernal powers would take. This approach may contribute to account for other equally baffling details in the Knight v Snail genre of marginalia. For instance, there is something looking very much like a serpent twisted around the blade of the sword that the Knight points at the Snail in a Knight v Snail image of the Macclesfield Psalter (MS M214, online). This can be explained as portraying the analogy Jesus established between the episode of Moses in the desert lifting up a bronze serpent on a standard, so that “when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived” (Numbers 21:8), and His own death on the Cross, when He would be lifted up upon it, so that whoever looks up in faith at Him – that is, believes in Him - shall have eternal life (John 3:14-15). Naturally it may well be that, as most scholars maintain, the Knight v Snail image did not have just one meaning, its symbolism depending on several factors (text, context, etc.). Thus, for instance, it is felt that it cannot be associated with genitalia ‘when found at the edges of a royal charter bearing the seal of Edward III of England’ (Camille 1992). It may even be that this image never was a symbol of anything in the first place, if one is to go by the Ur-image in question, reputedly a motif in the pattern-book (c. 1230) of Villard d’Honnecourt (MS 19093, Bibliothèque Nationale de France). A commentary to the portfolio examines the two drawings of a ‘Standing Soldier’ and of a ‘Snail’ in folio 2r separately, firmly declaring them to be unrelated (Barnes 2009). Apparently, if not the entire Snail in Villard’s portfolio then at least the Snail’s four horns (an inaccuracy not attributable to Villard) were drawn in the fifteenth century. This has been interpreted as a playful reference to the cowardice of a knight fleeing a hare (Bucher 1979), a theme originating with the Roman de Renart (c 1170), well documented in medieval reliefs of the thirteenth century. It is felt therefore that the snail motif could be a later addition to the story. As it is, the Knight v Snail images put online by the British Library do not seem to support the prevailing view arguing for the cowardice of the Knight. In fact, no Knight is portrayed fleeing in the face of the enemy: he either kneels to pray, as I suggest, or runs up to attack the Beast (Knight v Snail), or balances perilously giving it fight (Knight v Snail II), or charges at it fully armed and mounted (Knight v Snail III), or holds, however grimly, his ground against it (Knight v Snail V). But the armed Knight can also be seen advancing on lion’s feet and dragon’s wings against two small defenseless snails (Knight v Snail IV). This is clearly a combat à armes inégales, and since such images used to portray the superiority of good over evil (Wirth 2008), this would confirm that the one of Knight v Snail is a spiritual combat. As for monkeys and rabbits – or rather apes and hares – enacting similar Knight-v-Snail scenes, they seem to back up the above interpretation in that, when they meet the Snail, the ape ‘apes’ the Knight and bravely takes its stand (Knight v Snail VIII), while ‘timid hare’ as determinedly jousts against it (Knight v Snail IX). In fact, if the image of a knight fleeing a hare is fun (it did resurface with the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975), that of a knight surrendering to a crawling snaca is an altogether different proposition. Maria Stella Florio
Toggle Commented Nov 7, 2013 on Knight v Snail at Medieval manuscripts blog
Dear JMT, Thanks for the catch on the bibliography! I passed this along to the cataloguer, and the Camille reference has been added to the record for Luttrell. I've just now republished it to Digitised Manuscripts, and it is included there as well. Many thanks, SJB
Dear Marcher, First, go to the link for Add MS 42130 on Digitised Manuscripts: Then, click on the image icon in the catalogue entry, and that should launch the viewer in a separate window. Or else try this link: and you can then navigate around in the viewer. Hope this helps! SJB
Dear Chris, thank you very much for your comment! The error has been corrected above; best regards, SJB
Dear Dr Pittaway, apologies for the error, which has been corrected! Much appreciated... SJB
Toggle Commented Jun 12, 2013 on Princes, Be Good! at Medieval manuscripts blog
Thanks to all of you who wrote in about the blemmya and his crossbow (rather than a pickaxe, as our older catalogue entry stated). I have had a look at it and you are quite right; I've made the relevant change to the blog post. Much appreciated! SJB
Dear Mr Willker, Thank you very much for your comment, and for your interest in our collections. As you mentioned, we have begun our work on the Royal collection by including mostly illuminated and highly decorated works in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. However, we have begun work into other aspects of the collection, and a number of these manuscripts will be included with our next upload in the summer. Regarding Add 33277, we are currently digitising more Greek manuscripts from our collections, which will be added in due course to the following site: These include manuscripts already described in the Summary Catalogue of Greek Manuscripts, but unfortunately do not include Add 33277, the New Testament. We would very much like to continue this project, if finding allows; the digitisation of our Greek manuscripts has been generously sponsored by the Stavros Niarchos foundation.
Toggle Commented Mar 17, 2011 on Not Just Pretty Faces at Medieval manuscripts blog
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