The Oldest Manuscript Tradition of the Etymologiae (eighty years after A. E. Anspach)

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The Etymologiae of Isidore of Seville was one of the most widely read works of the early Middle Ages, as is evidenced by the number of surviving manuscripts. August Eduard Anspach’s handlist from the 1940s puts their number at almost 1,200, of which approximately 300 were estimated to have been copied before the year 1000. This article, based on a new manuscript survey of the early medieval manuscripts transmitting the Etymologiae, brings the number of known surviving pre-1000 manuscripts transmitting the Etymologiae to almost 450. Of these, 84 well-preserved codices and 24 fragments contain the canonical Etymologiae, i.e., they reflect the integral transmission of Isidore’s work as an encyclopedia, while 300 well-preserved codices and 21 fragments reflect the selective or non-canonical transmission of the Etymologiae, principally not as an encyclopedia. Due to the uneven survival rates of manuscripts of canonical and non-canonical Etymologiae, it seems likely that the latter accounted for perhaps as much as 80-90% of manuscripts transmitting Isidore’s work before the year 1000. Four non-canonical formats emerge as having been particularly influential in the early Middle Ages: the separate transmission of the first book of the Etymologiae as an ars grammatica; the compilation of various catechetical collections, sometimes in question-and-answer form, from books VI, VII, and VIII of the Etymologiae; the incorporation of material from books V and IX into law collections; and the incorporation of segments from books III, V, VI, and XIII into computistic manuals. The surviving manuscripts suggest that the latter format emerged in the insular world, while the others are more distinctly Carolingian. Northern France and northern Italy emerge as the two most important regional hubs of the copying of the Etymologiae in the ninth and tenth centuries. While in the former region, non-canonical formats seem to have been the most important vehicle of the transmission of material from Isidore’s work, in the latter, the canonical format may have been more influential, indicating that there existed regional differences in the reception of the Etymologiae.
Originele taal-2Engels
Pagina's (van-tot)100-143
Aantal pagina's44
TijdschriftVisigothic Symposium
StatusGepubliceerd - 04 dec. 2020


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