ISIDORE OF SEVILLE (d. 636), Etymologiae, Books I-XI i (of XX) with the correspondence between Isidore and Braulio, in Latin, DECORATED AND ILLUSTRATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[ff.5-145 10th century, north-eastern France or southern Netherlands; ff.1-4 12th century, St Martin's, Tournai]
310 x 220mm. 145ff: 19 (collation uncertain but i-iv 12th-century additions or substitutions to join v-ix original leaves), 2-188, lacking final 9 books of the work, original text of 33 lines of caroline minuscule written in brown ink on a scored ruling of paired verticals and 33 horizontals, justification: approximately 230 x 155mm, rubrics in rustic capitals of orange, one- to three-line initials of square capitals in orange or brown, sometimes with decorative dots or lines of the other colour, later additions and amendments in a darker ink in a protogothic hand, LARGE ZOOMORPHIC INITIAL in brown and green, five pages with small text diagrams, THREE FULL-PAGE DIAGRAMS in brown and orange, 13th- and 14th-century side titles and finding aids (original vellum holes and defects, usually avoided by scribes, some inconsequential staining and darkening, dampstaining, creasing and single slits to ff.22 and 23). Panelled blind-stamped brown morocco by Lortic.
St Martin's of Tournai: ex libris, 'Liber s[anc]ti martini torn[ensis]' at the foot of f.2v. The Abbey of Saint-Martin, one of the principal Benedictine monasteries of northern Europe, was reestablished in 1092 and adopted the rule of St Benedict in 1095. Throughout the 12th century it was one of the most important cultural centres of the Low Countries. The present manuscript antedates the Abbey's restoration and was no doubt produced in another, probably nearby, monastery. It must have reached St Martin's by the middle of the 12th century for it is almost certainly identifiable as the 'Isidorum ethimologarium, in uno volumine' listed as no 117 in the inventory of the Abbey's manuscripts compiled c.1160-80: L. Delisle Cabinet des manuscrits de la bibliothèque imperiale, ii, p.491. It appears again in the Abbey's 1615 inventory where the description of its idiosyncratic arrangement puts the identification beyond doubt: A. Sanderus, Bibliotheca Belgica Manuscripta, 1641, repr. 1972, pp.113-4. On the dispersal of the library this manuscript was among those purchased by Sir Thomas Phillipps, who numbered it Ms 2129. He left the Tournai manuscripts in Brussels in the care of a 'scoundrel' who sold them to a local bookseller; he in turn sold them to Castiaux in Lille, where the present manuscript was bought by an ancestor of the present owner. It seems most likely that the volume was divided into two at the time of the rebinding by Lortic. It has not, so far, been possible to trace a second volume.
Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae: Stemma f.1; index of XX Books of Etymologiae and Bk IX vi 23 f.1v; Stemmata stirpis humanae and Bk IX vi 29 f.2; Book II 21 xxi ff.2v-3v; Stemma f.4; Letters I-VI between Isidore and Braulio ff.4v-7; Etymologiae Bk I-XI i 137 ff.7-145v.
Isidore, who had been appointed Bishop of Seville in 600, worked on the Etymologies from the second decade of the 7th century, and it was nearly complete by his death. He drew upon both Antique and Christian authors to bring together much of the essential learning of his time arranged in encyclopedic form.
As well as his role as a leading ecclesiastic -- he presided over the Councils of Seville (619) and Toledo (633) -- he had a close and
probably influential relationship with the Visigothic kings.
The work (also called Origins) is divided into 20 books each concerning a subject-area; those in the present volume include Mathematics, Music, Astronomy and Astrology; Medicine; Law; God, Angels, and Saints; Jews and Pagans; the Church; Languages, Nations, Citizens; Vocabulary; and ends in the section on the bladder in Book XI on Man. Although only one section deals with etymology itself, Isidore uses (or invents) the etymological roots of words to explain a large number of his subjects. For example he states that nox (night) is derived from nocere (to injure) because it injures the eyes; and discussing shorthand he says that the signs, notae, are so-called because they bring the meanings of words to the notice of readers, and those who are expert in their use are called 'notaries'. Braulio called it 'practically everything that it is necessary to know', while a recent scholar has noted that 'all secular knowledge that was of use to the Christian scholar had been winnowed out and contained in one handy volume; the scholar need search no further' (K.N. Macfarlane, Isidore of Seville on the Pagan Gods, 1980). Because of the all-encompassing nature of the Etymologies, Isidore was proposed in 2003 as the patron saint of the internet.
The correspondence with Braulio, who left Seville in 619 to become archdeacon and then bishop in Saragossa, gives an insight into Isidore's character and personal life. According to Braulio it was at his request that Isidore undertook the compilation of the Etymologies, and on the author's death Braulio organised the unfinished work into XX books. Isidore had incorporated much of his earlier output into the work that can be considered the summa of his scholarly career. His book went on to serve as a basic text for the entire Middle Ages and has been described as 'arguably the most influential book, after the Bible, in the learned world of the Latin West for nearly a thousand years': The 'Etymologies' of Isidore of Seville translated by S.A. Barney et al, 2006, p.3.
The present manuscript is a fascinating demonstration of the importance and continued use of the text at one of the great medieval centres of learning. The core of the book, from f.5 onward was written in the 10th century. Early in the 12th century, most likely at St Martin's, it was more fully punctuated and was carefully collated with and corrected against a more complete copy. The first four leaves were added to the beginning of the manuscript to carry sections omitted by the 10th-century scribes that were too long to be added in the margins of the original leaves and the three diagrams of affinity and consanguinity from Bk IX, vi 'On paternal and maternal relatives'. The opening folio, presumably carrying the list of contents now on f.1v and the beginning of the correspondence with Braulio now on f.4v, is likely to have been missing or badly damaged.