Vatican Palimpsests Digital Recovery of Erased Identities [by A. Németh]


Dionysius_of_Halicarnassus_1 (2).jpg
Chig. R.VIII.60, f. IIIr

Recycling manuscripts comes as a result from the individual needs of those who reuse an object for a purpose different from its original one. This loose relationship between earlier and later functions does not allow for establishing patterns of recycling. Parchment sheets with erased texts are featured in many contexts. It is difficult to describe the process of their production. We do not exactly know whether or not manuscripts were dismembered, nor when the resulting sheets were prepared as a group in a workshop. Nevertheless, there were cultural contexts in which the production of palimpsests is higher, mostly due to the shortage of freshly made parchment, compared with the considerable need for durable writing surfaces. Just to mention a few examples, the Saint Catherine Monastery of Sinai is the oldest monastic library still in use and boasts a high number of palimpsests, many discovered only in 1975 (new finds). In this case, the local reuse is very likely. However, the movement of objects and monks all over the ecumene was high, which resulted in an extremely rich variety of different contexts in which palimpsests were made. In Italy, the Irish foundation of the Benedictine Abbey of St Columban at Bobbio (North Italy) also possessed a long list of important palimpsests, mostly of Latin and Greek authors. Southern Italy also produced many palimpsests, mostly Greek ones. We may also ask how the production and trade of new and used parchment is related. We can safely assume that useless and discarded parchment sheets had a great value in their own merit and were subject to trade, which facilitated their movement between long distances within a short period of time. The modern scholar may want to know how scribes selected appropriate material for their commissions and how they sought to avoid conflicts between the erased text and the new one. Likewise, we can investigate how much information palimpsests can give us about the presence and circulation of ancient books and their relocations between long distances.