Friday, July 31, 2009

The 8th Floor

I recently blogged about the Codices latini antiquiores, a series of 12 volumes containing descriptions of all known manuscripts written in Latin before AD 800. I wrote the blog entry after finally seeing a copy of vol 1, which I got through inter-library loan. Well, yesterday -- I don't know why it took me so long. I live in Ann Arbor, after all -- I finally went to the Papyrology Department on the 8th floor of the University of Michigan Graduate Library, where they have 11 of the 12 volumes. That was some interesting browsing. I was looking at volume 11, concerning manuscripts currently held in Hungary, Luxembourg, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the United States and Yugoslavia. Each of the volumes is roughly the same size, describing 100 to 200 manuscripts or so, but Italy, France and Germany take up the first 9 volumes. Those three countries are where the significant Latin manuscripts mostly are. It was interesting, paging through vol 11, to see what treasures are tucked away in unexpected, exotic -- from the point of view of this academic discipline -- locations. The Pierpoint Library in New York City, it turns out, has a huge number of these pre-Carolingian Latin manuscripts. And then -- again, I don't know why it took so long for it to occur to me -- I looked up the University of Michigan, and sure enough, three items were listed as being housed there. Perhaps, for all, I knew, right on the other side of that locked steel door beside which I was sitting.

I could've asked someone about about that, asked to see the actual manuscripts, but there was already more than enough to entertain me in that small room on the 8th floor where a half-dozen people were excitedly huddled over microfilm viewers and computer screens and darting back and forth from their seats to the shelves and discussing things in several different languages including Latin and, I believe, ancient Greek and Egyptian, plenty to occupy my mind and justify future visits. Besides the CLA there were also many volumes of the Oxford Oxyrhychus papyrii series, and a series, which I didn't get around to inspecting at all yesterday, with a title very similar to Codices latini antiquiores, Codices latini[...] something else, which the courteous library employee at first thought I was looking for -- I mumble sometimes -- and many other things, many reasons for further visits to the 8th floor. There was a book printed in the 19th century entitled Das Antike Buchwesen in Seinem Verhaltniss zur Litteratur."Buchwesen," I don't even know for sure what exactly that means, but I'm pretty sure that it's one of those wonderful German words which would be very difficult to translate into English, perhaps impossible to translate even half-well without using a lot of English words. Shelved near that book was another with a title something like Das Buchwesen im Mittelalter, Buchwesen in the Middle Ages. I'm hoping that "Buchwesen" includes statistics or at least estimates of the numbers of books in circulation in the Roman Empire and medieval Europe, because that's something about which I've been very curious, but unable to find much information at all. Perhaps German scholarship has been all over such questions for over a century. Those wacky Germans, you gotta love 'em.

Besides the items pertaining to Latin, there were lots of things having to do with ancient Greek in that little room on the 8th floor, probably lots more than to do with Latin. (This would make sense, because this it the Papyrology Department after all, and as far as I know, many times more ancient papyrii written in Greek have been preserved and discovered than those written in Latin.) I saw a lot of things pertaining to ancient Egyptian writing. I saw a few volumes of documents in Coptic edited by E. A. Wallis Budge. I saw things pertaining to many other languages. There is so much gloriously fascinating stuff in this world, and I've just discovered a place where quite a lot of it which interests me personally is concentrated.

No comments:

Post a Comment