Michael Gorman

title.none: Bischoff, Katalog der festlaendischen Handschriften des neunten Jahrhunderts (Gorman )

identifier.other: baj9928.0101.019 01.01.19

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Michael Gorman ,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Bischoff, Bernhard. Katalog der festlaendischen Handschriften des neunten Jahrhunderts. Teil I: Aachen - Lambach. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1998. Pp. iv, 495. 298 DM. ISBN: 3-447-03196-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.01.19

Bischoff, Bernhard. Katalog der festlaendischen Handschriften des neunten Jahrhunderts. Teil I: Aachen - Lambach. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1998. Pp. iv, 495. 298 DM. ISBN: 3-447-03196-4.

Reviewed by:

Michael Gorman

Scholars working in the field of Carolingian studies owe an immense debt of gratitude to Birgit Ebersperger for bringing out Bernhard Bischoff's lists of Carolingian manuscripts, based on the descriptions and notes he left at his death, and to the publisher Harrassowitz and the Bavarian Academy of Sciences for sponsoring their publication. Birgit Ebersperger has waded through the gigantic mass of material which Bischoff left at his death and has now produced the first volume of Bischoff's Katalog. Her skills as a detective are matched by her flair for pains-taking editorial work. Her achievement is all the more remarkable in that she did not work with Bischoff before she assumed her daunting task.

Bernhard Bischoff (1906-1991) worked on Codices Latini Antiquiores with E. A. Lowe for many decades, beginning in 1932. A triumph of American know-how and finance, Codices Latini Antiquiores was the major achievement in Latin palaeography in the twentieth century. Bischoff conceived of his project of describing all the manuscripts that have been preserved for us from the ninth century as a continuation of CLA. There seem to be at least 7,000 ninth-century manuscripts. Bischoff's lists and descriptions, as presented for us in the Katalog, represent the starting point for any discussion of the manuscripts and hands of the Carolingian period. Over the decades Bischoff was able to examine nearly every manuscript which could be attributed to the ninth century, a task which no previous scholar had ever attempted. His phenomenal photographic memory was able to recall scripts seen decades before, identify the hands of individual scribes and reunite membra disiecta--a truly remarkable performance for a scholar who worked without assistants. From now on, every mention of a ninth-century manuscript in a scholarly publication must carry the relevant reference to the Katalog. While waiting for the publication of the second and third volumes, scholars must refer to Bischoff's notes in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. Opinions about the date and origin of ninth-century manuscripts that do not take Bischoff's opinions into account are not worth printing.

A great deal of codicological and palaeographical information is provided in the Katalog. In the first volume, there are brief descriptions of 2,038 items, both manuscripts and fragments as well as pre-ninth-century manuscripts that contain writing from the ninth century. The descriptions include codicological data such as the number of folios, the size of the folio and of the writing space as well as the writing material used. Special attention is devoted to such details as characteristic letters, abbreviations, ligatures, the use of ciphers and display scripts. For each item, Bischoff offers his opinion of its date and possible origin. Of the 2,038 items, 194 contain works of Augustine, 120 works of Bede, 114 works of Jerome, 97 works of Gregory and 91 works of Isidore.

What we miss is the kind of introduction that Lowe provided for all the main centres covered in Codices Latini Antiquiores or the extensive explanations Bischoff offered for the manuscripts of southern German centres in the two volumes of his masterwork, Die suedostdeutschen Schreibschulen und Bibliotheken in der Karolingerzeit (1940 and 1980). Bischoff's descriptions often feature lists of ligatures, but we look in vain for an explanation of why they are listed. How did Bischoff use ligatures in his attributions? How are they used to date and localize a manuscript? This is a question left unanswered by the Katalog. Personally, I had expected to find some explanation of the many categories which Bischoff used in his opinions of the dates of these manuscripts. For example, one would like to know how he distinguished between the date 'saec. ix in.' and the date 'saec. ix med.' What elements make a more precise dating possible?

One of the many wonderful features of Birgit Ebersperger's edition of Bischoff's lists and descriptions is the 'Register der Schreiborte und Schriftprovinzen' (p. 477-486) where the manuscripts are indexed according to Bischoff's opinions of their origins. Under the main national headings, such as Germany and France, are listed specific writing provinces, such as the Loire area ('Loiregebiet'), central France ('Mittleres Frankreich') and Burgundy.

It seems to me that one of the legitimate goals of Carolingian palaeography would be to construct a palaeographical geography of the Carolingian kingdom including Italy but excluding Spain, Britain and Ireland that is as precise as possible. Using Traube's concepts of 'writing school' or scriptorium (Schreibschule) and 'writing province' (Schriftprovinz), we should be able to correlate the writing schools and writing provinces to the specific boundaries of the ecclesiastical provinces which the Carolingian period inherited from the late Roman Empire. The map of Carolingian writing centres and provinces which I drew up after his death attempted to respect the various categories he seemed to employ; see Bernhard Bischoff, Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne, trans. Michael Gorman (Cambridge, 1994), pp. xvi-xvii. For a map of Carolingian dioceses, see The New Cambridge Medieval History, c. 700-c. 900, ed. Rosamond McKitterick (Cambridge, 1995), p. 590-591. This would allow us to put the existence of a given writing school and cultural centre in the wider context of a determinate writing province and the diocesan structure of the period.

The contents of the manuscripts listed in the first volume of Bischoff's Katalog are not always identified accurately. Augustine is not known to have published a work entitled Contra Manichaeos but the contents of Cologne 74 are given as 'Augustinus, . . . Contra Manichaeos' (it would be helpful if italics were used for titles of works in German in order to distinguish them from a mere indication of contents) instead of as De Genesi contra Manichaeos (Kat. 1.1900). Augustine's De Genesi ad litteram in Arras 623 is cited as 'In Genesim' (Kat. 1.86). Isidore is not known to have composed a commentary on the New Testament, yet the contents of Cologne 98 are given as 'Isidorus, Quaestiones in Vetus et Novum Testamentum' (Kat. 1.1912a), a mistake Bischoff originally made in 1939 (Mittelalterliche Studien, 1, p. 9.) that was repeated in CLA (8.1157) and again here. Two manuscripts listed in the first volume of the Katalog contain the Ps. Bede commentary on the Pentateuch (PL 91.189-394), Boulogne 16 bis (Kat. 1.659), described as 'Beda, In V libros Moysi', and Brussels 9327-9328 (Kat. 1.729), described as 'Pseudo-Beda, Super Pentateuchum'. Not only is the same work referred to in different ways (once as though it were an authentic work of Bede), but a simple reference to the text in the Patrologia Latina would have removed all doubts. This inconsistency is unfortunately a frequent feature of the lists. Because of Bischoff's cavalier attitude toward the contents of these manuscripts, a complete and accurate index could not be generated for the works in the manuscripts that are listed, but it would have been a great help to have provided an index based on what information Bischoff did give.

If attention had been paid to the contents of the manuscripts, Bischoff's handlist could serve as an invaluable guide to unpublished works. For example, an unpublished commentary on the books of Kings (Stegmueller 9355) is preserved in Karlsruhe Aug. perg. 135, ff. 64-76, saec. ix 2/4, Reichenau (Kat. 1.1658), but no scholar interested in the history of the exegesis of these biblical books will ever find this commentary by reading the first volume of the Katalog, since the item is described merely as 'Beda, Super Actus apostolorum expositio; al.; Glossae in partem Veteris Testamenti'. The same collection of exegetical works that is found in Albi 39 (Kat. 1.21), saec. ix 1/4 (CLA 6.706), described as 'Gennadius, De ecclesiasticis dogmatibus; al.', is also contained in several other Carolingian manuscripts. Another manuscript with the same works is Cologne 85, saec. x (Kat. 1, p. 395), but no one will ever be able to discover this fact since its contents are given simply as 'Gennadius, De dogmatibus ecclesiasticis; Pseudo-Hieronymus, Commentarius IV evangeliorum; al.' Angers 275 contains the Ps. Jerome commentary on Mark (f. 44v-63v; Wendepunkte 27, CCSL 82) and the commentary on John (f. 30-44v; Wendepunkte 32), but in the Katalog its contents are given only as 'Sententiae patrum; al.' (Kat. 1.61).

The palaeographer avoids a careful examination of the contents of a manuscript at his peril. Duesseldorf B 3 (CLA 8.1183; Katalog 1.1062, p. 229) is an excellent case in point. Since this manuscript contains excerpts from a very rare work, the commentary on Genesis of Claudius of Turin, it must have been copied after that work first went into circulation. Since we happen to have the presentation copy of this work, Paris lat. 9575, and it is dated 811, we can come up with a date for the Duesseldorf manuscript which is far more accurate than what was offered by Lowe in CLA, 'saec. viii-ix', or by Bischoff, 'Corbie, IX. Jh., Anfang.' (See my article, 'The Commentary on Genesis of Claudius of Turin and Biblical Studies under Louis the Pious', Speculum 72 (1997), pp. 288-297 and pp. 299-301.) In fact, a date in the 820s is not unlikely.

"A photograph is worth more than a thousand words," and nowhere is this saying more true than in palaeography. Instead of trying to puzzle out Bischoff's torturous and at times impressionistic descriptions of writing styles and trying to imagine what the script might look like, the reader just wants to see a photograph of a writing sample. Given his recognition of the importance of photography, it is surprising to note that Bischoff did not seem to have any plans to illustrate the descriptions published in the Katalog. While it was not practical to provide a plate of each manuscript described, a set of photographs showing the most important or most representative kinds of scripts is essential. Perhaps when all three volumes have been published, the editor and the publisher will offer us a sample of the photographs from Bischoff's vast collection in a companion volume? For as Mabillon once noted, 'Rectius docent specimina quam uerba.' (Quoted by E. A. Lowe, CLA 6, p. v.)

The impression one walks away with after an extended vacation with the first volume of Bischoff's Katalog is that his palaeographical judgements were safely stored away in heaven (or some other inaccessible place). If an angel were to descend from that portion of heaven where such judgements are registered and preserved and inform me that they were in fact all quite true, I would still like to examine the reasons for them and not be forced to depend on pure faith in Bischoff's auctoritas, genius and intuition. Perhaps Bischoff intended to explain his method and approach in the kind of introduction that is missing, but Birgit Ebersperger has informed me that no notes for a such an introduction were found among his papers after his death. I expected to be able to find some of the reasoned palaeographical judgements that lie behind his opinions of their date and origin.

Given the intrinsic value of Bischoff's lists and descriptions, they should now be made available on the World Wide Web. For example, a scholar might wish to consult the work to discover Bischoff's opinions of dates and origins of the ninth-century manuscripts that contain Origen's homilies on the Old Testament or Cicero's Timaeus. He should be able to do so from his desktop without having to buy a copy of the work (at the price of DM 298!) or going to a library to laboriously create by hand an index of the items of interest. If the Katalog were converted to a database, the scholar could retrieve manuscripts which contain a specific work or a particular palaeographical detail (for example, Tironian notes). In the age of rapidly evolving technology, Internet and open systems, information of the kind that has been processed for us so magnificently and under such difficult if not impossible conditions by Birgit Ebersperger should be made widely available to the user.

Congratulations must go in the first place to the editor, Birgit Ebersperger, whose name does not appear as it should on the title page, for so successfully carrying out such an impossible task, and also to the publisher Harrassowitz and the Bavarian Academy of Sciences for sponsoring the publication of the Katalog.


These comments are taken from a long and detailed review entitled 'Bernhard Bischoff's Handlist of Carolingian Manuscripts', which will appear in Scrittura e civilta` 25 (2001). My thanks to Armando Petrucci for his help when I was writing this review and also for kindly agreeing to publish it.