Category Archives: Early Manuscripts

A Stoic Survivor: Duke’s Latin Manuscript 159

Post contributed by David Pavelich, Head of Research Services.

The Rubenstein Library’s Latin Manuscript 159 includes fragments of two well-known texts by Seneca the Younger (or Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 4 BCE – 65 CE), the Roman Stoic philosopher, as well as an epitaph for Seneca. This modest manuscript is comprised of only two small leaves of vellum, apparently separated from a florilegium (a medieval compilation of writings assembled by a scholar). A mid-12th century manuscript, it likely derives from Northern France. Duke University acquired it in 1995.

Latin MS 159 is an exciting piece, even though these surviving bits don’t include a single complete text by Seneca. Among the texts included, however, are the majority of letter 79 from Seneca’s Epistulae ad Lucilium (Letters to Lucilius) and the opening of his De Beneficiis (On Benefits). Letter 79 has been described by scholars as a discourse on scientific discovery. In it, Seneca asks his correspondent Lucilius to climb Aetna (Mount Etna) in Sicily to make first-hand observations, and to write something from his impressions. Climbing a volcano is no easy thing, but Seneca is crafty in his shaming: “Now if Aetna does not make your mouth water, I am mistaken in you” (“Aut ego te non novi aut Aetna tibi salivam movet”).*

Epistulae ad Lucilium 79: 7: “Now if Aetna does not make your mouth water, I am mistaken in you” (“Aut ego te non novi aut Aetna tibi salivam movet”).

The recto of the second surviving leaf contains the opening of De Beneficiis (On Benefits or On Gifts and Services). This work concerns the giving and receiving of benefits, but also how to express gratitude appropriately. For this Stoic, ingratitude is pervasive in humanity: “Nor is it surprising that among all our many and great vices, none is so common as ingratitude” (“Nec mirum est inter plurima maximaque vitia nullum esse frequentius quam ingrati animi”).

De Beneficiis 1:2: “Nor is it surprising that among all our many and great vices, none is so common as ingratitude” (“Nec mirum est inter plurima maximaque vitia nullum esse frequentius quam ingrati animi”).

We’re fortunate (and grateful, Seneca!) to have this manuscript, which has a family relationship with two other pieces in our collection. Seneca was the uncle of the poet Lucan, and the Rubenstein Library has two important Lucan manuscripts in our collection, Latin 118 and Latin 125.  These manuscripts – along with our many other early manuscripts – are invaluable for teaching and research. Contact us for more information about our early manuscript collection!

*Translations from the Loeb Classical Library.

New Acquisitions Week, Day Three: Calligraphic Devotion and Haitian Rights

We’re celebrating the beginning of a new fiscal year with a week’s worth of new acquisitions from the first half of 2012.  Two newly acquired selections will be featured in a post every day this week.  All of these amazing resources are available for today’s scholars, and for future generations of researchers in the Rubenstein Library!

  •  Kitab Dala’il al-Khairat wa Shawariq al-Anwar fi Dhikr al-Salah ‘ala al-Nabi al-Mukhtar [Guidebook of Benefits and Illuminations of Prayers to the Chosen Prophet].  The Dala’il al-Khairat of al-Jazuli (Al-Jazuli, Abu ‘Abdallah Muhammad ibn Sulaymana, d. 1465) is one of the most popular devotional works in Islam, comprising a cycle of prayers to the prophet Muhammad.  The manuscript now at Duke is Arabic written in the Maghrebi script, and likely was created in North Africa in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century.  The manuscript also contains other prayers and devotional texts.  Its calligraphy and ornamentation are beautiful witnesses to a text of surpassing importance in the Muslim faith.
Opening from the newly acquired manuscript of the Dala’il al-Khayrat. Arabic in Maghrebi script.
  • National Coalition for Haitian Rights Records: This organization is dedicated to furthering the civil and international human rights of the Haitian community in the US and helping influence US policy over Haiti to support human rights.  In over 146 linear feet of material, the records document the activity of the Coalition from 1981 to 2003.  This adds to a growing collection of material in the Human Rights Archive related to human rights in Haiti; see the Human Rights Archive’s LibGuide for more information on other collections related to human rights in Latin America.

Previous posts:


In the Lab: Housing Papyri and Early Manuscripts

Two big rehousing projects have been underway in the conservation lab for several months now.  One, the papyrus project, has been mentioned in the conservation department’s own blog, Preservation Underground.

Duke’s papyri collection is one of the largest in the country with approximately 1400 items, each housed between sheets of glass.  Until now, those glass “sandwiches” have been loosely stored in boxes.  The conservation team is now making individual folders for them, made of mat board and padded with Volara (polyethylene foam), each clearly labeled for safer, easier access.

Once a month, everyone in the department joins in to make hundreds of these customized folders which will go into storage boxes to return to the stacks.  Such a big project is a logistical challenge, necessitating lists, spreadsheets, careful documentation, and also cooperation.  As a department, we are becoming a well-oiled papyrus-housing machine.

Papyri housings, before and after
Papyri housings, before and after
Papyrus item in its new folder
Papyrus item in its new folder

A similar logistical challenge has been the early manuscript housing project, of which the papyrus collection is a subset.  As well as books, the collection includes a wide variety of loose materials, from ancient Roman metal tablets, Ethiopic scrolls, pages from Greek Bibles, papal bulls, and oversized sheets from choral books.

Like the papyri, many of these flat items can go in our own customized mat board folders with either a paper pocket or a clear polyester sleeve.  But items that are oversized, three-dimensional, or particularly fragile have required special solutions.  Some examples can be seen below!

Group of Early Manuscripts
1. Breviary, French 15th century 2. Gospel of Mark, Greek 14th century 3. Roman diploma on bronze, A.D. 209 4. Persian illuminated manuscript page 5. Coptic homily, Egypt 6. Catherine de Medici letter
Housings for Early Manuscripts
Examples of housings for early manuscripts

Post contributed by Grace White, Conservator for Special Collections, as part of our ongoing “In the Conservation Lab” series.


Another Civil War: Lucan’s Pharsalia

It was written of the poet Lucan (Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, 39-65 C.E.) by his 17th century English translator Thomas May that when Lucan was born, “bees swarmed about the childes cradle, and pressed in clusters toward his mouth. A happy presage (as the learned interpreted it) of his future wit….”

Lucan was a Roman poet who lived and composed during the reign of Nero. Initially a favorite of the emperor, Lucan later joined a conspiracy against him, was captured, and was forced to commit suicide – at the age of 25 (the same age as John Keats when he died).

Lucan’s Pharsalia, or De bello civilli [Civil War], portrays the war between Julius Caesar and Pompey Magnus. The title refers to the Battle of Pharsalus (48 B.C.E.), in which Caesar defeated Pompey.

The Rubenstein Library’s Latin Manuscript 118 is a 12th century Italian manuscript of the Pharsalia. Acquired from Sotheby’s in 1969, the manuscript was written on parchment in a late Carolingian hand in brown ink, and was bound in the 15th century in goat skin over wood. In 86 parchment folios, the manuscript sits oblong in the hand, measuring 210 x 103 mm.

Image of Duke's Latin manuscript 118
Duke's Latin Manuscript 118, Lucan's Pharsalia

The Rubenstein has several early and significant printed editions of Lucan as well, the earliest published between 1493 and 1494 in Venice.  An edition from 1515 was printed by the venerable firm of Aldus Manutius. The presence of the manuscript and several printed editions provide students and scholars with an opportunity to study the transmission, editing, and translation of Lucan’s work over the centuries.

The Early Manuscripts series of blog posts seeks to bring greater attention to the Rubenstein’s rich collections in Latin, Greek, and other early manuscript traditions.