My idea for this post is to create a reference for people who know nothing about manuscripts to be able to learn some of the basic points that are needed in order to understand the work that I’ve begun for the Critical Edition of Euthymius Zigabenus’ Commentary on the Epistles.
What is a Manuscript
The word manuscript comes from two Latin words: “manus,” which means “hand,” and “scriptus” which means “written.” So a manuscript is basically any document (a letter, an essay, a book, a catalogue, etc.) that is written by hand.
In the case of the Commentary on the Epistles that I am working on, the 8 manuscripts are books, but some of them are incomplete and do not contain the entire Commentary.
On the Critical Edition page, you will find the 8 manuscripts laid out in a chronological list, sorted by date of writing, that is, the approximate century in which the copyist or scribe copied out Euthymius Zigabenus’ Commentary on the Epistles. Since there were no printing presses, the only way to make a new copy of the Commentary was for a scribe to sit down and write out the whole thing by hand.
Variations in the Manuscripts
Because scribes wrote out each manuscript word by word, there were inevitably errors in transcription. There were also instances where scribes changed sections of the commentary where they thought the previous rendition was incorrect or where they did not understand what was said (or other reasons). Certain pages of a given manuscript may also have marginalia, that is, notes in the margins, that shed light on word use, or history, or anything else.
Because of these and other reasons, each manuscript is unique, and comparing the differences between them is invaluable in trying to ascertain, in the case of this project, what the original Commentary of the Epistles might have said. Listing all the variant readings and compiling all the marginalia into a single volume is called creating a critical edition.
Reading Manuscript citations
I have seen a number of ways to cite manuscripts, just like there are a number of ways to write bibliographies at the end of a book or essay. The way that I cite mine (I am an amateur, so if I’ve done something incorrectly, I wouldn’t know) in the list of the 8 manuscripts is as follows.
Excluding the century at the beginning, the citation is broken down into four parts:
As an example, we can look at the first manuscript in the list of 8:
Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. gr. 636, 7-203v
City: This manuscript is located in Città del Vaticano (the Vatican City).
Library: In the Vatican, the library that holds this manuscript is the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican Apostolic Library), commonly shortened to BAV.
Shelf-mark: The shelf-mark of a manuscript is a series of letters, numbers, codes, etc. that identifies where in the library the manuscript is located, in which collection it is, and where in relation to the other manuscripts of that collection it goes. The shelf-mark of this manuscript is Vat. gr. 636 (Vaticani greci 636), that is, manuscript 636 of the Greek collection in the Vatican Library.
Folios: (NOTE: The correct term, I think, is folium for singular and folia for plural, from the Latin word for “leaf,” but I will say folio and folios here.) Wikipedia says this about page numbering in folios: “In the discussion of manuscripts, a folio means a leaf with two pages, the recto being the first the reader encounters, and the verso the second. In Western books, which are read by turning the pages over from right to left, when the book is begun with the open page edges at the reader’s right, the first page to be seen is “folio 1 recto”, typically abbreviated to “f1 r.”. When this page is turned over “f1 v.” is on the left and “f2 r.” on the right of the “opening”, or two pages that are visible.” (See below for an image that illustrates this with an example.) Manuscript Vat. gr. 636 contains Euthymius Zigabenus’ Commentary on the Epistles on folios 7-203v (that is, from folio 7r [I believe that when the r is missing, we assume it refers to the recto, but I may add the r in explicitly at some point] to folio 203v), which is 394 modern book pages, since each folio has 2 pages on it, and we start on a recto and end on a verso.