Greek Manuscripts at Oxford

The Bodleian became England's primary library for Greek manuscripts in 1629, when the Barocci collection of some 240 volumes was bought for the Library by William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, then Chancellor of Oxford University: his statue stands today in the Old Bodleian Quadrangle. Accessions up to the present day have included not only texts and illuminated manuscripts from the Byzantine empire and Renaissance Italy, but also an important accumulation of papyri from the ancient world. The present collection starts with five of the most famous and fragile of the Bodleian's Greek holdings, in complete sets of recent scans.

The D'Orville Euclid (AD 888) and the Clarke Plato (AD 895) were each made for and annotated by Arethas of Patrae, and survive as major witnesses for their respective texts. They have been digitized with the generous support of the Clay Mathematics Institute and the Michael Marks Charitable Trust.

The other three items are each in their own way so fragile that their presentation and preservation in digital form is especially vital. The earliest is a papyrus roll from Herculaneum (P.Herc. 118), dating therefore from before the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79: the roll was given to Oxford University by the Prince of Wales in 1810, and mounted in twelve frames when it was opened at Naples in 1883-4 -- still all but illegible in these scans of 1998. The 13th-century Byzantine manuscript, MS. Barocci 131, is a vast miscellany of classical and Byzantine texts by Michael Psellus and many others, some rare or unique to this witness; its early paper is softened and crumbling, and the scans allow close study of its tiny script. Finally, the 14th-century Menologion has suffered badly from the flaking of the paint-layers which is so characteristic of Byzantine illuminations: it depicted the saints in a rich sequence of miniatures which covered almost every page.