TERENTIUS AFER, Publius (185-159BC). Comoediae, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[Paris, mid-15th century]
175 x 125mm. i + 129 + i leaves: 1-108, 114(of 8 lacking i/viii and ii/vii), 125(of 8 lacking i-iii), 13-178, identical ruled blank vellum folios have been pasted sideways to the inside of the binding at front and back, giving one unfoliated additional leaf at beginning and end, horizontal catchwords on right of lower margins of final versos, some red quire numbers on opening rectos, 25 lines in brown ink written in a French humanistic script with cadels in upper margins, between 26 horizontals ruled in pink-red, pricking survives on many vertical edges, on ff.1-8, 17-48, 73-97, 106-121 with double ruled horizontal boundary lines and single ruled vertical boundary lines, frequently with no right vertical, justification 113 x 73mm, on ff.9-16, 49-72, 98-105, 122-129 with single ruled horizontal and vertical boundary lines, right vertical always present, justification 114 x 77mm, scholia added to the margins in a contemporary French humanistic hand, rubrics in red or blue but from f.87v only the names of characters given, running alternately in red or blue in separate sequences down the margin and within the text block, text capitals touched red, some cadels touched red, some line-endings in red, numerous two-line initials alternately in red flourished with blue or in burnished gold flourished with blue-black, SIX FOLIATE INITIALS with staves of pink with white decoration and infills of curling vine tendrils in blue and orange on burnished gold grounds of three to six lines high, FIVE LARGE INITIALS HISTORIATED WITH UNICORNS with staves of blue with white decoration on burnished gold grounds eight or nine lines high, all with three-sided borders of blue and gold acanthus, fruit and flower stems in pink, green, blue and liquid gold and burnished gold discs with penwork, (the scholia in a more faded ink, opening page with initial and border badly smudged, slight smudging to initials ff.23v, 25 and to some flourished initials, lower margins neatly excised from ff.73, 83, 88, 89). Speckled vellum with citron lettering-piece.
1. The unicorns in the historiated initials have no source in the text and are likely to be the badge of the original owner. As a visually appealing symbol of purity and chastity, and of Christ Himself, the unicorn was widely used both in formal heraldry and as a personal emblem. Among possible candidates for ownership are the Chourse seigneurs of Malicorne in Maine, who used the unicorn, licorne, as a canting reference to their title, although the best known bibliophile in the family, Antoine de Chourse, placed a crown around the neck of his unicorn. From the apparent date of the manuscript, Antoine's father Guy, who was fighting with Charles VII in Normandy in 1448, seems a more possible commissioner, although a reader of Terence in the original Latin is more likely to have been in the church or the law than in the royal armies. An appealing, but rather youthful, possibility is Charles de Bourbon, born in 1434, who, after he became a cardinal in 1476, had a tapestry woven with his arms and badges surrounding a unicorn captured by a maiden and the motto venena pello (see M. Freeman, The Unicorn Tapestries, 1976). Ownership of a Latin Terence is not unlikely for Charles de Bourbon who commissioned a Lectionary with Greek and Latin parallel texts (Paris, BnF, Ms grec 55).
2. Numbers jotted on final leaf; note in French on features of the text on first unfoliated leaf.
3. Sir David Dundas (1799-1877): pencil note inside front cover from the library of Sir David Dundas, bequeathed to Charles Howard. A lawyer and Liberal politician, Dundas served as solicitor-general 1846-8, judge-advocate-general and privy councillor 1849-1852, was knighted 1847and retired from professional life in 1852. 'An accomplished scholar, he lived a somwhat retired life at his chambers, 13 King's Bench Walk, Inner Temple, where he had brought together a fine library' (DNB, VI, p.185). The legatee may have been Charles Howard, the barrister (1827-1909).
4. Lot 239 on 19th July 1944, slip from catalogue stuck to first unfoliated leaf.
The six comedies are given with their Prologues and Arguments: Andria ff.1-23; Eunuchus ff.23v-47; Heauton timorumenos ff.47v-69v; Adelphoe, lacking end Act II scene iii to mid Act IV scene ii and from mid Act IV scene vii to end Act V ff.70-85; Hecyra ff.85v-104v; Phormio ff.105-129. The anonymous Epitaphium Terentii appears in red under a blue heading on the final verso. The scholia have been added in the margins by a contemporary hand throughout the manuscript. This copy is not included in the Terence manuscripts from before 1500 listed by C. Villa, La "Lectura Terentii", vol. I, da Ildemano a Francesco Petrarca, Studi sul Petrarca 17, Padua, 1984.
The Comedies of Terence, more naturalistic adaptations of Greek originals, had retained their readership throughout the Middle Ages. In this manuscript, the plays follow the order of the Carolingian copies, through which the text had been transmitted, an order found in Paris BnF, Ms lat. 7097A, another copy without the scholia, which was given to John, Duke of Berry, for New Year 1408. It is one of four luxuriously illuminated manuscripts made in Paris in the first decade of the fifteenth century which attest to the interest in Terence in the highest circles: the so-called Térence des ducs, Arsenal Ms 664, was owned by the Dauphin Louis, Duke of Guyenne, and then by the Duke of Berry; the copies in Paris, BnF, Ms lat. 8193, and in Copenhagen, Royal Library, Gl. Kgl. S. 1994 4o, were made for unknown patrons. Meiss knew of no subsequent illustrated copies before Arsenal 1135, with its six miniatures, of c.1460 (French Painting in the Time of Jean de Berry: the Limbourgs and their Contemporaries, 1974, p.54). The unusual and varied ruling pattern perhaps suggests that this copy was not a routine product of the book trade.
Although the historiated initials are not illustrations of the text, they show an apparently rare desire on the part of its commissioner to own a richly decorated copy of the Comedies. Christian writers had long drawn moral lessons from the plays but the repetition of the unicorns cannot easily be seen as a symbol of the text. The beasts inhabit green landscapes with minute trees and plants and sky areas filled by red backgrounds patterned with gold. They are paired on ff.1, 23v, 25 and 85v, while on f.49 a third waits as one dips his horn in a river to purify the water and another starts to drink. The dragon and two toads crawling away from the stream represent the poisons expelled. This widespread belief in the protective powers of the unicorn horn is reflected in the motto accompanying the Cardinal of Bourbon's unicorn I repel poisons. The delicately painted initials and the borders with their flexible branches of fruit and flowers and curling acanthus are typical of the best Parisian workmanship. Paris, with its university, is a likely domicile for a patron of Terence, who might, however, have been one of the many living elsewhere who ordered their books in the capital. The court of Charles VII could well have included among its members someone interested in both Terence and the symbolism and beauty of the unicorn.
The subjects of the historiated initials are as follows:
Two unicorns (badly smudged) f.1, two unicorns lying nose to tail f.23v, two unicorns both facing a river f.25, a unicorn purifying the water for his two companions f.49, two unicorns walking to the left f.85v.