PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION AND MATERIALITY
Parchment, most of a leaf, c.160×105mm, ruled presumably in very faint plummet (not visible, even with a magnifying glass) and written in a single column, preserving narrow upper and gutter margins, but an exceptionally wide fore-edge margin (now folded over), perhaps intended to allow annotations, with 37½ (of an original 40?) lines of text written in transitional bookhand. The fore-edge of the leaf is folded vertically, and the fold preserves vestiges of thread in the sewing-stations, corresponding to the spine-bands of the host volume; the
recto clearly shows a pattern of darker stains around the three outer edges, causes by the wide tanned leather turn-ins of the binding of the host volume; the folded-over part
shows traces of glue and specks of wood, and traces of paper with printed type, lifted from the inside face of the board of this binding. Pastedowns and flyleaves tend to survive in pairs: one from the front and one from the back of the host volume; the companion leaf to this one was offered at Bloomsbury Auctions, 10 July 2018, lot 11 (“France, second half of
twelfth century”) with enlarged colour reproduction.
French and English manuscripts can be difficult to distinguish in the 12th century, especially when they are not of a more formal kind, but the present example can confidently be identified as English by its very frequent use of the distinctive Insular abbreviation for the word “est”, in the form of a short horizontal wavy line with a dot above and below, like the mathematical division symbol: “÷”. Although this is a bookhand, it is more difficult to analyse than many others because it was written with considerable economy, as shown by the close spacing of individual letters and lines, and by the very heavy use of abbreviations such that, for example, ‘Sin autem ita est, falsum est non esse plus quam’ is reduced to “Sin aũ’ ita ÷; falsum ÷ ñ ẽe pl’qa
” (recto, beginning of line 4). The letters ‘pp’ occur together many times but are rarely fused (except recto, lines 1 and 7: ‘approbacione(m)’); round ‘s’ only occurs as a capital letter; both ampersand and tironian ‘et’ occur, the latter uncrossed and shaped somewhat like a ‘y’; most normal minims have a sharp uptick towards the right, as does the descender of ‘p’, but the descender of the ‘q’ has a downward tick to the left; the tironian ‘et’, abbreviation mark for ‘con’, and letter ‘h’, all similarly curve downwards to the left; ‘x’ descends below the line then turns
Cicero, De inventione, I.63–67 and 67–70 recto: “indiget approbatione. Nam quidem quandam … rationibus affirmatum probabilius”
verso: “argumentacione breuiter exponitur. … ad hunc modum”; the next line cropped but still partly legible. About 30 words, probably three lines, are missing between the bottom of the recto and top of the verso. The small, heavily-abbreviated script, tightly packed text with absence of paragraph breaks, and relatively poor-quality parchment, all suggest that this fragment comes from a comparatively inexpensive book: in the 12th century, when most book-production either took place within monasteries, or was commissioned by them, secular texts were very
rarely treated with the same level of care or luxury that might be devoted to religious and liturgical texts. The copying of non-Christian authors like Cicero was perhaps tolerated
rather than encouraged in most monastic houses, which is part of the reasons for their rarity before the 13th century, when such texts were studied more widely for scholarly reasons.
Unlike liturgical texts, which went out of date, there was usually no reason in the Middle Ages to discard or recycle a manuscript of a Classical text. This changed, however, with the advent of printed editions, especially ones that had been properly edited by a comparison between different manuscript witnesses. A 12th-century copy such as this, though, is likely to have been written in a monastic setting, and remained there until the dissolution of the house – there would have been little reason for a monastery to acquire printed editions of
classical texts in the 15th or 16th centuries. The likelihood, therefore, is that the parent manuscript was not taken apart and recycled until at least the second half of the 16th century.
Some idea of the rarity of English fragments of Cicero can be suggested by the fact that, of more than 2,000 items itemised by Neil R. Ker, Fragments of Medieval Manuscripts Used as Pastedowns in Oxford Bindings, with a Survey of Oxford Binding, c.1515-1620 (Oxford, 1954; revised edn. 2004), only one item (no. 748) is Cicero: it, too, is from a 12th-century copy of De inventione, and was used in a binding of a book at Worcester cathedral (MS Add.67 no. 22). According to the Schoenberg database, no English copy of Cicero has been sold since 1966, when a volume of c.1200 was sold at Sotheby’s (12 December 1966, lot 218, it is now Bodleian Library, MS. Lat. class.e. 48).