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

Writing surface of the manuscript

To understand the reconstruction of lost manuscripts fully, it is worth taking into account the complex process of medieval book production and looking at how this process facilitated recycling. A manuscript book consists of different parts, each having distinct functions within the book. To make things simple, only the body of the manuscript was made for reading, but most medieval books had other parts as well which had only practical or visual functions and were not expected to carry texts to read. The parchment used for these functional parts (of palimpsests as well) was often recycled. For the analysis of the erased texts, these parts count as palimpsests, but it is a very distinct category if we regard the process of production and intended use of these parts. The body of the manuscript was protected by the binding and often by other protective sheets in the front and at the back of the body of the manuscript, called flyleaves. The binding itself does not only hold the parchment sheets together in the identical order as they are expected to be read but also protects them in the front and in the back of the codex. Parchment sheets were also often recycled to facilitate the sewing of the different parts of the book, the bindings, the gatherings of folded sheets, and the endbands.[01.xx.0000]_m.jpg
Vat. gr. 21, f. IIIv

The palimpsests selected here offer case studies for many different phenomena. Vat. gr. 21, for example, includes protective sheets of various origins. Some of them are palimpsests while others are not, such as f. III, which was cut out of a manuscript with a poem written in dodecasyllabic verse and in epigraphic majuscule in red ink. This text has nothing to do with the body of the manuscript, Moschopulos’ Erotemata, but serves only a protective function, along with its aesthetic value. The back of the same codex includes two bifolios: one of them is a palimpsest, while the other one is not, and both have only protective functions. Ff. 115-116 include fragments from a hagiographical text, and is not rewritten, while ff. 117-118 include questions and answers in the “upper text” and an illegible lower text across which the upper text was copied, as it is visible from the ruling.

George Baiophoros, the scribe of the upper text of the codex, used parchment sheets from four different recycled manuscripts, one of which constituted the material for another Vatican palimpsest (Urb. gr. 154, ff. 121-122, 125-126). The same scribe, Baiophoros, had at his disposal many parchment sheets which had already been discarded, and he chose his writing surface from this pile of recycled parchment sheets, either to write on them after the text was removed, or to use them to protect the texts that he copied.

F. 15 from Vat. gr. 903 offers an interesting case for the link between restoration and recycling parchment manuscripts. Homer's Iliad, the upper text of Vat. gr. 903 which was copied in the 12th century, had become damaged and truncated at a certain point in time between the 14th or 15th century. Afterward, another user decided to restore this damaged part by adding a parchment sheet tailored to fit the missing lower part of f. 15. The process of completing the material involved the restoration of the missing texts on both sides which had been lost due to the physical damage of the folio. The parchment shows several layers of texts underneath the Homeric text, rewashed and rewritten at least twice over. It is impossible to say precisely what function that these erased texts had served before although both erased layers seem to be irregular enough to suggest informal uses.[02.wl.0000]_m.jpg
Vat. gr. 903, ff. 14v-15r

Vat. gr. 903, f. 15v

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