Imágenes de páginas

decency and morality, or to alter them, and transmit them corrected to posterity.

The most audacious innovator in this way was Maximus Planudes, a monk, of the fourteenth century, who undertook to purify the Anthology. It was probably the same person who deprived Theognis of the 159 verses, which have been lately detected in one ancient MS. And if he had stopped here, we might not have had much reason of complaint; but in consequence of his injudicious curtailments, great confusion has been introduced into the Anthology at large; and besides this, it appears probable, that the loss of most of the valuable iambic fables of Babrius, is to be attributed to the prevalence of that wretched collection which Pla nudes made and published.

We must not omit to notice another cause of the mortality amongst ancient writers. Epitomes were made of the most volu minous; and the consequence was, that as these came into fashion, the originals fell into disuse, and so perished. Thus we have lost the first two books of the great work of Athenæus, the original of Stephanus of Byzantium, the valuable Lexicons of Harpocratio and Phrynichus, all of which are known to us only by their Epitomes. We should be able to determine with greater probability the time, when the last copies of many ancient authors disappeared, if we knew exactly in what year the great library was burned, which consisted of $6,000 volumes, and which was situated in the Basilica of the Emperors at Constantinople. The foundation of it had been laid by Constantius, and Julian the Apostate greatly augmented it. This monarch was smitten with the Bibliomania; the following sentence from one of his Epistles will, no doubt, be relished by some of our readers: Αλλοι μὲν ἵππων, ἄλλοι δὲ ὀρνέων, ἄλλοι θηρίων ἐρῶσιν· ἐμοὶ δὲ βιβλίων κτήσεως ἐκ παιδαρίου δεινὸς ἐντέτηκε Tódos. The library in question having been destroyed by fire, it was rebuilt by the Emperor Zeno in the fifth century, and formed part of a college which was inhabited by twelve professors. In the time of Leo the Isaurian, (A. D. 720,) it is said to have contained 36,500 volumes, and the later Byzantine annalists relate, that this emperor, who was a strenuous iconoclast, not being able to gain over the professors to his way of thinking, shut them up in their college, and having surrounded it with combustibles, reduced them and their books to ashes. But M. Basnage, in his Ecclesiastical History, refutes this story; and proves that this library is spoken of as subsisting in the next century. When it really was destroyed, he does not determine; but we think it not unlikely that it might have been accidentally burned during the reign of Leo, although the college may have been rebuilt, and the library partially re

P. 163, Ed. 1583.


placed. If this supposition be not admitted, it may perhaps be thought to have been destroyed, when Constantinople was pillagedby the Crusaders in the thirteenth century.

But a library of far greater magnitude and importance, the destruction of which has been supposed to go a great way towardsaccounting for the loss of so many Greek writers, was that of Alexandria. Abulpharagius relates, that when that city was taken by the Caliph Omar, the contents of the library served to heat the numerous baths for six months. But the truth of this story has been often called in question; and Gibbon does not hesitate to treat it as a fiction: The tale,' he says, has been repeatedly transcribed; and every scholar, with pious indignation, has deplored the irreparable shipwreck of the learning, the arts, and the genius of antiquity. For my own part, I am strongly tempted to deny both the fact and the consequences.' Dr. Drake observes, that 'what tends strongly to prove that the destruction of these volumes by fire did not take place, is the vast treasure of antiquity still remaining with us;' an argument of no force, unless we suppose that of these treasures no copies were extant but those at Alexandria. And indeed one thing must be allowed, that such copies were extremely rare. If we take into account the troubles which desolated Greece and Asia after the death of Alexander, and which were succeeded by the Roman wars, we shall discover many reasons which may lead us to believe, that, before the commencement of the Christian era, manuscript copies of the more ancient Greek authors were principally confined to public libraries, and to the collections of wealthy individuals. That they were scarce in the time of Ci

is proved by several expressions in his Letters to Atticus, who had collected some books during his residence in Greece; but at so high a price, that Cicero, who was then in full practice at the bar, could not afford to purchase them, not having saved a sufficient sum of money. Libros tuos conserva; et noii desperare, eos me meos facere posse: quod si assequor, supero Crassum divitiis, atque omnium vicos et prata contemno.'

But with regard to the Alexandrian library, it happens that we have one document, by which we are enabled to ascertain that its magnitude and value at the time of its destruction by the Saracens have been greatly overrated. It seems to have quite escaped the notice of those who have bewailed that catastrophe, that the original Alexandrian collection was pillaged, and dispersed, or destroyed, by the Christians, in the year 391, when they demolished the temple of Serapis: Unde,' says Orosius, hodieque in templis exstent, quæ et nos vidimus, armaria librorum, quibus direptis, exinanita ea a nostris hominibus memorant.'-Oros. VI. 15.

Taking it for granted then, that we have given at least a plausible account of some of the causes which co-operated towards the de


struction of so many valuable memorials of the classical ages, it still remains to be considered, how it comes to pass, that of the authors, who have survived the general wreck, so few manuscripts are extant of considerable antiquity. With a few exceptions, they are rarely to be found of a date so remote as the ninth century. Besides the circumstances which have been already noticed, another remains to be mentioned, which has perhaps wrought a more extensive destruction than the bigotry of the Byzantine priests, or the hostility of the popes.

The monks in the middle ages were the only transcribers of ancient books. They had plenty of leisure for the employment, and the Calligraphi, or those who by practice had acquired a beautiful style of penmanship, were handsomely paid for their labour. When, from the causes above stated, the poets and philosophers of the classical ages fell into disesteem, the manuscript copies of their works which existed in conventual libraries became of little value to their ignorant possessors, who were called upon to transcribe fifty copies of Gregory Nazianzen or of Sedulius, to one of Euripides or Virgil. The natural consequence was, that as parchment was an expensive article, they bethought themselves of turning to some account the manuscripts of ancient authors, which only loaded their shelves, and brought them no profit. Accordingly they devised two methods of obliterating the ancient writing, in order that the parchment might be fitted to receive the works of some writers more in request. They either effaced it by means of some chemical preparation, applied with a sponge; or they erased it with a sharp instrument. This last method could be adopted only when the parchment was of considerable thickness. We may here remark, for the benefit of those of our readers who have never studied palæography, that the ancient MSS. are written on parchment, (membranacei,) on a soft paper made from silk, (bombycini,) or on paper made from rags, (chartacei.) The parchment MSS. are either purple; or of the natural colour of the material, which is either thick or thin; and they generally are more ancient than the paper copies, of which the chartacei are the most recent. Many, indeed most of the old codices membranacei which we have seen, are of thick parchment. Yet it appears that in the time of Chrysostom the thinness of the material enhanced the value of the copy; for he talks of the care which was had περὶ τὴν τῶν ὑμένων λεπτότητα καὶ Tо Twν Yрaμμáτwy. Of this sort is the Clermont MS. of the New Testament, described by Wetstein (Prolegom. in N. T. p. 27.) Manuscripts, which had been submitted to the operations above mentioned, are called Codices palimpsesti, or rescripti. The Clermont MS. is of this sort, having been originally a copy of the


* The practice is as old as the time of Catullus.


works, or of some portion of the works of a Greek tragedian; and some fragments of a chorus and of some iambic verses were traced by Wetstein through the more modern writing. He supposes that Sophocles was the author. We think that some reasons might be stated for assigning it to Euripides. Professor Knittel discovered in the Wolfenbuttel Library a palimpsestus of the N. T. in which some of Galen's works had been written, in capital letters; a sure proof of great antiquity. Many other instances are given by Montfaucon in his Palæographia,' and in his 'Diarium Italicum.'

It is obvious, therefore, that no inconsiderable part of the havoc, which has been made in the writings of antiquity, must be attributed to the mercenary ignorance of transcribers. We have now positive proof, that some portion of the Greek drama, many orations of Cicero, and some plays of Plautus, have been thus lost to the world; and we may reasonably conclude, that the mischief done in this way was far more extensive than we have now any means of ascertaining.

We have thought it not unadvisable to prepare the way, by the foregoing observations, for our notice of the interesting discoveries recently made by Mr. Angiolo Mai, Professor of the oriental languages in the Ambrosian Library at Milan; who has detected in that collection several of these re-written manuscripts, from which he has, with considerable difficulty and labour, extracted the fragments, of which the titles stand at the head of this article.

The history of these MSS. is somewhat curious. The following account is extracted from a Dissertation of Mr. Mai. In the year 612, Columbanus founded a convent of Benedictines at Bobbio, anciently Bobium, a town situated amongst the northernmost Appennines. This religious society, as Tiraboschi informs us, was remarkable not only for the sanctity of its manners, but for the cultivation of literature, of course it possessed a considerable collection of manuscripts; and Muratori has published a catalogue of that collection, written in the tenth century, in which are the names of several grammarians, historians, orators, and poets. The Ambrosian Library, being founded at the beginning of the seventeenth century by the Cardinal Federigo Borromeo, was enriched by him with a great number of manuscripts, collected at a vast expense from various quarters, especially from Thessaly, Chios, Corcyra, and Magna Græcia.* In addition to these, he gained possession, by means of large presents, of the most valuable books of the Bobian collection, which are still distinguished in the Ambrosian. Library by the title of Codices Bobiani. It is obvious, that amongst these, all which are mentioned in the catalogue published by Muratori, must be of very considerable antiquity; and those

Montfaucon. Diarium Ital.-p. 11.

which are palimpsesti must be of great antiquity; because they were obsolete and disused at the time of their being re-written; which must have been before the tenth century. The account which Mr. Mai gives us of his first discovery of a palimpsestus, is Bo truly in the style of a virtuoso, that we must give it in his own words:

Amongst the Bobian MSS. I found one, which contains the works of the Christian poet Sedulius; and while I was examining it very closely; "O immortal God," on a sudden I exclaimed, "what is it that I see? Behold Cicero! behold the light of Roman eloquence buried in unmerited obscurity! I recognise the lost orations of Tully, I perceive his eloquence flowing with godlike force from these fountains, abounding with sonorous words and noble sentiments." By degrees the titles also of the works disclosed themselves in the margin of the MS. Judge with what rapture I was filled, when I detected large unpublished fragments of three orations of Cicero, to wit, pro Scauro, pro Tullio, and pro Flacco. They are written in large and beautiful characters, each page being divided into three columns. The oration pro Scauro is surrounded with elegant scholia, of which some are written in very ancient, though minute, capital letters; others in a ruder hand, but still ancient, and, as it appears, from the same author. The writer of these scholia I suspect to have been Asconius Pædianus. For the style and complexion, and kind of writing, seem to point him out. The MS. is in octavo, because the monkish transcribers of Sedulius doubled the quarto leaves. The character of the Sedulius is of a very ancient form, but very different from that of the Cicero. It is the opinion of several antiquaries, that the former may be referred to the eighth century of the Christian æra, and the latter to the second or third. The four books of Sedulius are mentioned in the ancient catalogue published by Muratori, and this Codex continues them, though in a mutilated state.'

Mr. Mai describes the great labour and difficulty of following the almost evanescent traces of the old writing, and of putting into their proper order the leaves which had been transposed by the copyist. In the editions of the Roman orator we have only a few short fragments of the oration pro Scauro. Mr. Mai has extracted a part of the exordium, the division of the subject, and two sections of the speech. These, together with the scholia, and the remarks of the editor, fill about seventeen pages. The following passages are very spirited, and are good specimens of that impetuous expression of contempt which Cicero often employed with so striking an effect:

"Quæ potest eloquentia disputando ignoti hominis impudentiam confutare? Non agam igitur cum ista Sardorum conspiratione, et cum expresso et coacto sollicitatoque perjurio, subtiliter, nec acu quædam enucleata argumenta conquiram; sed contra impetum istum illorum impetu ego nostro concurram atque confligam. Non est unus quisque mihi ex illorum acie protrahendus, neque cum singulis decertandum atque pugnandum. Tota est acies illa uno impetu prosternenda.-p. 3.

« AnteriorContinuar »