Tuesday, September 15, 2009

2009.09.46

Version at BMCR home site
Eva Nyström, Containing Multitudes: Codex Upsaliensis Graecus 8 in Perspective. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Studia Byzantina Upsaliensia 11. Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet, 2009. Pp. 340. ISBN 9789155475017. (pb).
Reviewed by Eugenia Russell, Royal Holloway, University of London, England

Summary of Contents and Aims.

This is a serious scholarly work which the receptive reader will find hugely rewarding. Its author opens the debate with a comment from Walt Whitman about contradiction: 'I am large, I contain multitudes'. The epigram brings home the question of consistency and contradiction in scholarship, and the need to accept sometimes the resistance of material to conformity. It also gives the book its attractive title. Bringing together contradictions and multitudes is indeed the main focus of this book.

The study is divided in five parts altogether, an Introduction and the Appendices forming the bookends of them. The Introduction of the book discusses the parameters of Codicology, Philology and affiliated disciplines. It asks what can a book tell us about its contents. It is also concerned with the nature of composite books and miscellanies. The main body of the book has three parts, after which we are given twenty-two very interesting previously unpublished Greek texts as an Appendix. The first part of the book is dedicated to codicological description and analysis. After the explanation of some technical terms as they relate to the particular Codex, there is an analytical description of seventeen codicological units. The second part of the book starts off with a discussion of how to assort and categorize this material. The following categories emerge: narrative texts, rhetorical texts, philosophical and theological texts, practical texts, all with several sub-categories. The third part, entitled 'Taking a Closer Look' does exactly that. Three texts from the Codex are selected for detailed treatment. The first text is medical, the second mathematical and the third diplomatic, thus showing the diversity present in the Codex.

Assessment and Contribution to Scholarship.

Containing Multitudes is very successful in presenting to the reader the contents of Codex Upsaliensis Graecus 8. It is equally successful in making links to other codices containing the same texts and putting some of them in context. Its translations are clear and stylish and the Greek chunks of text provided will be of enormous interest to many Hellenists. Its absence of generalisation and its economy of style make it a worthy exponent of the celebrated Scandinavian School of Byzantine scholarship, one of the leading voices in the field.

Nyström needs to be commended on her choice of topic. It gives her enough scope to express her views while providing a robust framework upon which to base a doctoral thesis. Credit is also due to her colleagues Dimitrios Iordanoglou and Denis Searby who helped her in identifying those texts of the Codex that had been already published and analysed elsewhere. The three of them initially formed a research team whose preliminary work led to Nyström's project.

Codex Upsaliensis Graecus 8 was probably brought to Sweden in the late seventeenth century after being bought from the monastery of El Escorial. Nyström gives a brief narrative of its speculated ownership and is also bold enough to attempt to identify the main scribe of the codex, a certain Theodoros, as somebody from Crete who would have been connected to the circle of the Cretan scribe Michael Apostoles. In this she differs with previous scholarly opinion and her arguments are convincing. Indeed, Apostoles liked to work within a team and we know that his son Aristovoulos certainly worked in his atelier as a scribe. Nyström mentions Antonios Damilas as part of the same circle. Apart from their work as scribes, Antonios and his brother Demetrius were two of the most pioneering typesetters of all time. The name 'Damilas' means from Milan [Mediolaneus] but they also used the name 'Kris' (from Crete). Codex Upsaliensis Graecus 8 is an important Greek manuscript that was known to the great Hellenist Spyridon Lambros. Lambros used it for his edition of the Monody for the Fall of Constantinople by Manuel Christonymos, contained only in two more manuscripts. Manuel Christonymos and his work offer more links to the Apostoles circle, which Nyström argues.

One of the main contributions of the book, however, may be an untold one: the way in which it will inevitably draw attention upon the fine collection of manuscripts held in Uppsala. The University's most prized manuscript, the fifth century Codex Argenteus, nicknamed 'the Silver Bible' for being written in gold and silver letters on purple vellum, has achieved world fame. It is also called Bible of Ulphilas (311-383), by the name of its translator into Moeso-Gothic, the earliest example of a text in one of the Germanic languages. The Codex Caesareus Upsaliensis, an eleventh century Gospel Book from Echternach, Luxembourg, has had similar exposure. Another few codices known to me are mentioned here. Codex Upsaliensis Graecus 5 contains patristic literature. Codex Upsaliensis Graecus 28 contains letters by Philotheos Kokkinos. Away from this area of study, Codex Upsaliensis C. 233, which contains two thirteenth century Scottish songs, is of great historical and musicological interest. There are also several codices linked to Old Norse poetry and Teutonic mythology. Amongst them, Codex Upsaliensis U contains one of the most important of seven manuscripts of the Younger or Prose Edda, a thirteenth century work on Old Norse poetics written in Iceland. The Younger Edda is thought to be a literary masterpiece and it is sometimes compared to the Mabinogion. But there are many other manuscripts in the Uppsala collection. Although sufficiently documented, those other manuscripts have not enjoyed the busy traffic of scholars found in Southern European archives. Many of these are still an unmined treasure and cry out for attention. Nyström's work very ably advertises them.

Current Scholarly Context.

Containing Multitudes is bound to claim its rightful place of honour amongst current scholarship. Eva Nyström has brought a codicological perspective to a subject that has been treated with great skill and talent by several other scholars. Paul Botley's forthcoming monograph Learning Greek in Western Europe, 1396-1529: Grammars, Lexica and Classroom Texts is a comprehensive survey of Greek Grammatical Works, Greek Lexica and other student texts and learning aids that would have been current in the period under examination. Botley's very impressive work builds on the classic monograph in the field, Greek Émigrés in the West, 1400-1520 by Jonathan Harris. Greek Émigrés is a pioneering work of archival research in the libraries of Italy, France, Malta and England, of a monumental extent that had never been attempted before in this field of study. As well as looking at cultural transmission, Greek Émigrés brings out the commercial and technological elements of the exodus from Byzantium with developments in medicine, shipbuilding and specialized trades, including the production of gold thread. Nyström's interest in book production as a foil for the interpretation of content ties in well with this approach. To put her work further in context, it will suffice to mention the influential presence of John Monfasani, who brings to the field his long-standing interest in the relationship between philosophical movements and Italian humanism. Amongst those scholars, Eva Nyström is in very good intellectual company indeed, and she has stood her own.

Presentation and typesetting.

In a book of such high originality the bibliography is not the most important part. Yet its usability would have been improved by the use of some basic categories such as 'primary' and 'secondary' sources. The table of contents could be similarly improved. In its present state it confuses more than it helps the reader. At the end of this review I have provided only the main headings, which give a clearer overview of the book's very interesting journey.

I have saved until last one of the book's greatest assets. The typesetting of Containing Multitudes is one of the finest known to me. The University of Uppsala has produced a superbly handsome book and met all the challenges of a complex typescript that must have been very difficult to typeset. Nothing has been compromised and the high accuracy of the Greek type complements the careful and considered scholarship of the author. All the Greek texts, bilingual excerpts, tables, illustrations and photographs are of high quality and a credit to the book. The University of Uppsala provides an admirable service to scholarship by publishing and distributing the work of its doctoral students and by producing physical objects of such impressive quality.

In speculation, I would say that I would not be surprised had Nyström typeset the whole book herself. She has shown her analytical skills and powers of concentration in every other aspect of the thesis. She has made the material her own in a way that typesetting would only be the next step. In addition, her strong background in musicology and musical theory would have had her well-trained in the niceties of such an arduous task, not disimilar to confronting the more advanced aspects of musical notation.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this!
    ER: "But there are many other manuscripts in the Uppsala collection. Although sufficiently documented, those other manuscripts have not enjoyed the busy traffic of scholars found in Southern European archives. Many of these are still an unmined treasure and cry out for attention."
    I have just written a long article on the Greek New Testament manuscripts in Sweden, most of which are in the Uppsala collection (11 MSS). The article will hopefully appear in New Testament Studies in the future.

    ReplyDelete