AAR-BAV Winter Program in Greek Palaeography
Rome, Italy: Spring, 2017
Thanks to a grant from the department I was able to participate in a two-week intensive program in Greek palaeography, hosted by the American Academy in Rome and the Vatican Library. Alex Fowler and I arrived in Rome a few days early to visit the Vatican Museums and the monastery at Monte Cassino, and to get my Italian back into working condition before the program started.
From the 9th to the 20th of January, we stayed at the American Academy, studying under the direction of two librarians, Timothy Janz and Andraś Nemeth from the Vatican Manuscript Library, and Niels Gaul, professor of Byzantine studies at the University of Edinburgh. The first week of the program was devoted to the history of Greek scripts, codicology, palaeographical analysis, and reading skills. The thirteen participants were divided into two reading groups, regular and advanced, which met daily for several hours. In the advanced group, we read samples from Greek manuscripts dating from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance, including Biblical texts, an elaborate and nearly illegible edition of Euclid’s Elements, and an autograph of Cardinal Bessarion. In the evenings, all the participants met for lectures on various topics in palaeography and codicology, given by the program directors. There were also two guest lecturers: Daniele Bianconi from La Sapienza Università di Roma spoke on methods of identification of Greek scripts, and the great palaeographer Mgr. Paul Canart spoke on whether palaeography ought to be considered an art or a science.
During the second week, we participants spent our days in the Vatican Manuscript Library. Armed with our new reading skills, we were paired off to research and present our findings on two manuscripts in the Vatican collection. Alex and I were paired for the first manuscript, a 12th century liturgical compendium and Gospel book. I worked on one section of the text, a highly abbreviated synaxarion (calendar of saints’ feast days), which stretched my palaeographical skills to their limit. The second manuscript, on which I collaborated with an Italian student, Martina Savio, was a collection of texts, owned and copied by the 15th century humanist Demetrius Moschus, for teaching intermediate Greek. We were able to identify a Venetian watermark in the paper, and to conclusively identify Moschus’ hand. I particularly studied his selection of Pindar’s Olympian odes, in which he preserved the Alexandrian colometry and provided hypotheses and glosses for his students, though the poems themselves showed some problematic textual variants.
The program was a powerful learning experience, and neatly rounded out the set of textual skills I’ve acquired at Duke from courses in Latin palaeography, Greek papyrology, and textual criticism. Competence in the reading and assessment of ancient texts is a lifetime endeavor, but I now feel fully empowered to begin it.