Bodleian Library MS. Laud Misc. 135, fol, 1v

Copying De civitate Dei

At a first glance, I must admit, MS. Laud Misc. 120 and 135 do not stand out as the most intriguing medieval manuscripts. Modest, minimally decorated and a little inelegant, they may be deemed unexceptional even with regard to their content, since they are witnesses of Augustine’s well known work, De civitate Dei. Rivers of ink have been poured over Augustine’s masterpiece, so it could seem that nothing is left to say about it. But things are not always as they seem: actually, we know little on how De civitate Dei was read and disseminated in the Middle Ages.

The research project I am carrying out at the University of Leuven in Belgium aims to shed some light on the transmission of this work in the first century after its publication. The two Laud manuscripts deserve closer examination for various reasons, and I shall focus here on two of them.

First, they have been commissioned by Gozbald, abbot of Niederaltaich in Bavaria from 830, bishop of Würzburg from 842 until his death in 855, and chancellor and archchaplain to Louis the German, the son of the emperor Louis the Pious. During his office as abbot, Gozbaldus arranged the copy and the acquisition of a good number of books for the library of the cathedral of Würzburg, among which are Bibles, commentaries, patristic works and classics. Among these are the Laudian copies of De civitate Dei. In fact, a sentence is added by a slightly later hand in MS. Laud Misc. 135, f. 218v: Gozbaldus iusit ut scriberer, “Gozbald ordered that I was copied”, as it was stated by the ‘viva voce’ of the book itself.

Bodleian Library MS. Laud Misc. 135, fol, 218v

Second, not long after Gozbaldus’ copies of De civitate Dei were produced (Laud Misc. 120 contains books I-VII; Laud Misc. 135 books VIII-XVIII), a group of scribes, probably under the supervision of a magister scriptorii, undertook a systematic revision of their text. First, they marked the supposedly corrupt passages with an R in the margin (e.g. Laud Misc. 135 f. 1v), which stands for R(equire). Then, they acquired another copy of the work and collated its text with the Laudian copies, checking every mistake they had previously marked and correcting it by either erasing the parchment (see e.g. ibid. appellarentur), underlining (ibid. adiutor > auditor) or crossing out the wrong letters (ibid. modo). Furthermore, they noted down in the margins several variant readings preceded by an l crossed by a stroke, which stands for (ue)l. In a couple of passages the anonymous correctors explicitly mention the other witness they were relying on (e.g. Laud Misc. 120, f. 13v, 16v alter codex aliter habet).

Bodleian Library MS. Laud Misc. 135, fol, 1v

The ‘philological’ activity performed on these manuscripts testifies to the concern of their anonymous Carolingian readers for the exactitude of the text. This interest associates them with Lupus of Ferrières and other well known contemporary intellectuals, who put effort into emending and improving the text of their books.

About the author

Marina Giani earned her PhD at SISMEL, Florence, in 2017 and she is currently a postdoctoral researcher at KU Leuven. Her research revolves around the transmission and reception of Augustine’s De civitate Dei in the early Middle Ages.

Further reading

  • Both manuscripts are described in detail in D. Mairhofer, Medieval Manuscripts from Würzburg in the Bodleian Library. A Descriptive Catalogue, Oxford 2014, pp. 366-374 and 444-452.
  • A bibliography on Gozbaldus’ life and work can be found at Geschichtsquellen des deutschen Mittelalters and in R. Angelini, Gozbaldus Wiciburgensis episcopus, in Compendium Auctorum Latinorum Medii Aevi, IV/4, Firenze 2013, p. 405.