Medieval manuscripts in Dutch Collections
Medieval manuscripts in Dutch Collections

Scribe and corrector

Titus Lucretius Carus, De Rerum Natura libri VI. Latin. Parchment, 192 ff., 325x210 mm. Northwestern France (Charlemagne's palace school), early 9th century. Leiden, UB : ms. VLF 30

De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) is an unusual poem as to its content. The Roman poet Lucretius (94(?)-55 BC) wrote it to convince his audience that man need not fear the whims of the Gods or punishment in the hereafter, because the universe is governed by mechanical laws. It is therefore not surprising that his work was hardly ever read in the Middle Ages. Characteristically, the text was copied at least twice in the first half of the 9th century, when all things from Antiquity were collected as fully as possible. The two manuscripts that have come down to us from that period are now both kept in Leiden, where for the sake of distinction they have been named after their dimensions the codex quadratus (the square manuscript) and the codex oblongus (the rectangular manuscript). The latter is presented here.

This manuscript distinguishes itself by the spacious layout of the page. In spite of its large dimensions, the page counts only twenty lines. The ample spacing does full justice to the excellent Carolingian minuscule, the new script which was developed towards the end of the 8th century. As happened so often, this original manuscript was corrected afterwards. Sometimes this was done by comparing the copied text carefully with the exemplar, the book which served as a model for the copy. At other times the corrector would use his own judgment. Of course it was desirable to save the book's appearance as much as possible. In the case of parchment this is not difficult, for the writing is easily scratched out with a knife. This is what the corrector of this Lucretius manuscript did. One alteration on the presented page, folio 22r., immediately catches the eye, because the corrector replaced one single line by two new ones, marring the layout of the page in the process. The corrector's adjustments are easily recognizable, because he used another script, the so-called Insular script, which originated in England and Ireland.

We even know the corrector’s name. Bischoff discovered that the writing must be of the hand of the learned Irish monk Dungal, who had been invited to the continent by Charlemagne. The provenance of the manuscript from the circles nearest to the emperor himself explains the magnificent design of the book.



  • Facsimile: Lucretius. Codex Vossianus Oblongus. [...] Praefatus est Aemilius Chatelain. Leiden 1908 (= Codices Graeci et Latini photographice depicti, XII).
  • Karl der Grosse, Werk und Wirkung. Aachen 1965, p. 206.
  • M. Ferrari. 'In Papia conveniunt ad Dungalum.’ In: Italia medioevale e umanistica 15 (1972), pp. 1-52, i.c. p. 38.
  • K.A. de Meyïer. Codices Vossiani Latini. Leiden 1973-1984 (= Bibliotheca Universitatis Leidensis. Codices manuscripti. XIII-XVI). Vol. 1, pp. 65-68; vol. 4, pp. 2-3.
  • B. Bischoff. Mittelalterliche Studien. Ausgewählte Aufsätze zur Schriftkunde und Literaturgeschichte. Vol. 3, Stuttgart 1981, p. 42, 62.
  • L.D. Reynolds (ed.). M.D. Reeves in: Texts and transmission. A survey of the Latin classics. Oxford 1983, pp. 218-222.
  • B. Bischoff. Katalog der festländischen Handschriften des neunten Jahrhunderts. Vol. 2, Wiesbaden 2004, nr. 2189.

See also

  • A psalter from Royal libraries

    Psalter. Latin, Parchment, 185 ff., 245x177 mm. Northern England, 1190-1200. Leiden, UB : ms. BPL 76 A

  • Flemish surgical instruments

    Small manual for a surgeon, based on the Cyrurgie by Meester Jan Yperman (incomplete). Flemish. Paper, 130x95 mm. Flanders, last quarter of the 15th century. Leiden, UB : ms. BPL 3094

  • The Zwolle bible

    Bible. Latin. Parchment, 6 volumes, c. 530x390 mm. Brethren of the Common Life, Zwolle, 1464-1476. Utrecht, UB : Cat 31 and 15.C.11

  • The Utrecht Psalter

    Psalter. Latin. Parchment, 91 ff., 330x255 mm. Benedictine monastery of St. Peter, Hautvillers near Reims, c. 820-835. Utrecht, UB : Cat. 32 / 1

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