Physical description and Materiality
Parchment, a bifolium cut in two horizontally, the pieces c.130×410mm and c. 430×165mm, the original sheet perhaps c.350×205mm, each leaf written in verse in a single column of 39 lines, of which 16 lines are preserved on the upper piece and 23 lines on the lower piece, with one rubric in red and a heading with each letter stroked in red, the first letter of each line also stroked in red.
The physical state of this bisected bifolium is difficult to interpret. The signs of its use as a book-cover on a slim volume with pasteboards are clear, but the reason for its having been cut in two are not. The cut does not appear recent, and the lower edge of the upper piece even seems to be coloured red, in the way that fore-edges sometimes are.
Because the text is written in verse, and because it is possible to know how much text is missing between one leaf and the other of this bifolium, it would be possible to calculate how many bifolia are missing between these two leaves, and perhaps also to extrapolate to virtually reconstruct the quiring of the entire volume.
The text is written in a clear bookhand typical of literary texts: more formal gothic scripts were used mainly for religious and liturgical texts. The ‘d’ is sloping, not upright, tall ‘s’ is routinely used at the beginning and in the middle of words, while the round ‘s’ at the end of words often trails below the line, and adjacent round letters are regularly fused (e.g. ‘po’, ‘oc’); in other words, unlike most others in this catalogue, this is a fully Gothic script.
The text of the Heroides comprises fifteen letters from fictional Greek and Roman heroines, to their unfaithful lovers; the recto here has the middle of the letter of Phaedra to Hippolytus, the end of the letter of Oenone to Paris, and the start of the letter of Hypsipyle to Jason (‘Ysiphyle Iason.”); the verso has the second half of the letter of Hermione to Orestus and the start of the letter of Deianera to Hercules.
“The Heroides are the least well-preserved of Ovid’s works”, largely because most of the text is conjectured to descend from a single exemplar (Ω) written in France c.800, and the earliest surviving manuscript (P) about a half-century later, which in turn is more than two centuries older than the next oldest surviving witness (Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics, ed. by L. D. Reynolds (Oxford, 1983), pp. 268–69).
The start of the letter from Hypsipyle to Jason has a 7-line initial, apparently executed in painted red pigment and drawn red and brown inks, creating reserved designs against the bare parchment background.
(1) Medieval (near-contemporary with the main text?) readers added interlinear and marginal annotations.
(2) Two manicula (one of them elaborate, and apparently 16th-century) both point to the line “me miseram, quod amor non est medicabilis herbis” (which might be loosely translated as “Poor me: there is no cure for love!”).
(3) A bifolium from the same manuscript was offered at Bloomsbury Auctions, 2 July 2019, lot 3, with a full-page colour reproduction showing an inscription “Cardinalii Zaberella” on what would have been the lower front fore-edge of the host volume, presumably referring to Francesco Zabarella (1360–1417), bishop of Florence, cardinal, and author. More than a dozen of his works were printed in the 15th and 16th centuries, and it is probable that these bifolia were used as the covers of one of them.