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The little that can be known about the history of the MS. is told us by Denis ; it belonged to the famous Monastery of St. Columban at Bobbio, from which fact it is still known as a Codex Bobiensis ; then to the Convent of St. John de Carbonaria at Naples. Here Mabillon inspected it in October 1685, paying attention however only to the upper writing. From Naples it was brought to Vienna in 1717, with other MSS., by Alexander Ricardi, the first Librarian of the Imperial Library.
Carefully as Denis described the leaves, he does not appear to have noticed that more than the first 42 of them were palimpsest : on f. 42, p. 2, he remarks .Ceterum lectionem hactenus relatorum per se difficilem difficiliorem reddit conditio Codicis rescripti; continebant enim hae Membranae splendidissimum olim, et Seculi, ut videtur, V. Exemplum Pharsaliae Lucani litera quadrata luculenta exaratum, quod ita abrasit infelix ignorantia, ut e vestigiis crocei paene coloris lineas intercurrentibus fol. 17. p. 2. eruere potuerim v. 175. L. V. Hemistichium : FLAMMASQ. IN VISCERA MERGIS.'
It was the merit of J. von Eichenfeld, a later librarian at the Hof-Bibliothek, to call attention to the fact that not simply the leaves mentioned by Denis, but 72 leaves, i. e. nearly half of the MS., were palimpsest 2. Von Eichenfeld described carefully the fragments of Lucan, giving a list of variant readings; described and published in full the leaves of the Latin Hippiatrika, and of the third book of Dioscorides ; and drew attention to the earlier writing on foll. 57, 58, 59, 61, 66, 68, 69, which apparently contain portions of a Greek medical treatise.
What is more important for our purpose, he discovered that under the upper writing of foll. 42*-56, and 71-75 there lurked portions of an Old-Latin version of the Acts, and Epistles of James and 1 Peter, though the extreme difficulty of the palimpsest prevented him from giving more than a few lines from the easier pages; he remarks 3 Waren die früheren
Museum Italicum, Paris 1687, P. i. (i.e. Iter Italicum), p. 110. 'Ex latinis codex antiquissimus litteris Saxonicis, in quo Hieronymus de Scriptoribus ecclesiasticis cum Gennadio, eodem modo dispositus atque in nostro Corbeiensi,' and p. 111 'Priscianus de laude Anastasii Imperatoris, quod notatu dignum etc.'; Mabillon however was not able to spend so much time in the Library as he wished ; after a few days, the Librarian apparently became suspicious or jealous; and, alleging the illness of a near relative, left Naples and took the keys with him!
2 In the Wiener Jahrbücher d. Literatur Bd. 26 (1824), Anzeige-Blatt, p. 20. 3 Ibid. p. 34.
Blätter schon sehr schwer zu lesen, so sind es diese in einem noch viel höheren Grade. In diesen zwanzig Blättern finden sich wenige Buchstaben, an denen noch eine Spur von Tinte zu bemerken ist, bloss aus den zurückgebliebenen Eindrücken sind sie zu erkennen, und nur dann zu lesen, wenn man das Blatt schief gegen das Licht hält. Die eine Seite jedes Blattes ist meistens völlig abgerieben. Die Schrift ist eine schöne Halbuncial, von auffallender Aehnlichkeit mit der von Mabillon, p. 355, tab. vi. n. 6, mitgetheilten Schriftprobe aus dem Hilarius der eccl. Vatic., einer Handschrift, die in das vierte Jahrhundert, oder in den Anfang des fünften gesetzt wird. We shall see however that this is at least a century too early.
The next published notice of the MS. occurs in 18471; Tischendorf's attention had been aroused by the report of von Eichenfeld ; and, recognizing the importance of any additional evidence on the pre-Hieronymian text of the Acts and Catholic Epistles, he devoted some time in the autumn of 1843 to a study of the Palimpsest; he thus describes his work and its results :
"Meine Bemühungen blieben nicht ohne Erfolg. Mehrere Seiten gelang es mir ganz oder doch zum grössten Theile zu lesen. Leider aber wurde ich bei der Arbeit von einem sehr nachdrücklichen Augenübel überrascht (this certainly is not to be wondered at), das mich verhinderte alles zu entziffern, was nicht gänzlich verschwunden ist. He succeeded however in deciphering and transcribing not only some of the easier but also one or two of the hardest pages of the MS., and he published the following :
part of Fol. 53 b containing Acts xxiii. 18-23
„ xxvii. 17–24
» » 27-30 „ „ „ 55 a
30-31 » » » 556
, xxviii. 22–28
James i. 1-5
, iii. 13-iv. 2
9 v. 19–1 Peter i. 4 1 Peter i. 4-12
W’iener Jahrbücher d. Literatur Bd. 120 (1847), Anzeige-Blatt, p. 36.
that is, the greater part of nine pages. He hoped to be able to visit Vienna again and complete his transcription; but that hope was never realized.
Since Tischendorf, no one seems to have attempted to transcribe any of the MS. till 1884, when its last editor, the Norwegian scholar J. Belsheim, visited Vienna and examined it 1.
Belsheim relates in his preface that he had been advised by an English scholar to set to work on the Palimpsest, though he does not say who the English scholar was. The first impression made on him by the leaves, was, he tells us, that it was quite hopeless to attempt deciphering more than Tischendorf had already done, and he left Vienna that year without further work on the MS. A second and longer study of it in the following year, however, enabled him to decipher ten more pages completely and three partially : these were :
Fol. 50 a containing Acts xxv. 23-27
„ 29-xxvii. 4
„ xxvii. 4-7 Fol. 47 a
„ „ 10-17 » 44 a
„ xxviii. 16-22 The latter part of Fol. 72 a
James i. 5-10
James ii. 14-16
,, ii. 24-iii. 5 part of Fol. 75 a
i Peter i. 12 Fol. 46 a
ii. 4-10 (The first half of Fol. 72 a had been transcribed by Tischendorf.)
The deciphering of Palimpsests is usually a matter of gradual progress, where each successive student may gratefully acknowledge the work done by his predecessors, and the help that it has been to him ; while at the same time he may hope to advance somewhat beyond them, to finish what they have begun, to use the clues which they have furnished, to decipher pages which they found hopeless, and to revise and occasionally to correct their own readings. I feel therefore that no apology is needed for my venturing to supplement Mr. Belsheim's work with the present edition, as M. Samuel Berger ‘some few years ago supplemented his edition of the Fleury Palimpsest?
i Fragmenta Vindobonensia. Bruchstücke der Apostelgeschichte, des Briefs des Jakobus und des len Briefs Petri, in vorhieronymianischer Uebersetzung nach einem Palimpsest auf der kaiserlichen Hofbibliothek zu Wien. Theilweise zum ersten Mal herausgegeben von J. Belsheim. Christiania 1886.
He indeed it was who first impressed upon me the advisability of visiting Vienna and trying whether additional study and younger eyes might not succeed in deciphering more of the MS., and possibly correcting some of Belsheim's work; and I was able to devote a fortnight out of a July holiday in 1895 to this purpose.
At first sight to me, as to Belsheim, the Palimpsest appeared utterly hopeless ; in many of the leaves the first writing has completely disappeared ; in others it can only be traced by marking where the scribe's pen has roughened the surface of the parchment; in others the ink has eaten through, and the letters can only be traced by holding the page against the light; and where this is the case with the writing on both sides, the task of deciding to which side any one letter or part of a letter belongs, is not an easy one; the parchment too is in many cases so thin, that the employment of a re-agent, even were it allowed by the authorities in the Library, would probably do more harm than good. The facsimile 2 which accompanies this edition represents the easiest page in the MS., and consequently gives no idea of the difficulty of nearly all the other pages.
I persevered however in my attempts at deciphering the Palimpsest, beginning with the easier pages; and after a few days I was agreeably
Appendix Epistolarum Paulinarum ex codice Sangermanensi Petropolitano, in qua continetur I Collatio Epistolarum Paulinarum cum codice Claromontano Parisiensi, II Palimpsestus Parisiensis, fragmenta Actuum Apostolorum, Epistolarum Petri, Epistolae Johannis primae, Apocalypseos Johannis, ex codice rescripto Parisiensi, eruit et edidit J. Belsheim. Christiania 1887.
Le Palimpseste de Fleury. Fragments du nouveau Testament en Latin, publiés par Samuel Berger. Paris 1889.
2 This facsimile has been reproduced, by the kind permission of M. Berger, from a photograph taken for him by C. Tragau, of Vienna.
surprised to find that my eyes were becoming more accustomed to it, and that page after page which at first seemed impossible, was gradually becoming legible. A magnifying glass of course helped me much, but though I obtained photographs of one or two pages, I cannot say that they assisted me to the extent I hoped for. In this first visit to Vienna I deciphered about half of the total number of leaves which are here printed; and in a second fortnight's study, in September 1896, I transcribed the remainder. I have thus been able to revise all the pages given by Tischendorf and Belsheim, and in certain cases to add more, where they have given only part. I was also fortunate enough to decipher several pages, both in the Acts and in the Epistles, which have not been published before. In the Acts, a small portion of Fol. 53 a (Acts xxiii. 15–17), and of Fol. 52 a (xxiv. 5-14; here indeed only a few words, but enough to show that v. 7 was absent from the MS.); nearly all of Fol. 52 b (xxiv. 14-23) and 51 a (xxiv. 23-xxv. 2); a few words in Fol. 50 b (xxvi. 1-2), and in 48 a (xxvii. 44); the greater part of Fol. 48 b (xxviii. 4-9); a few words in Fol. 44 b (xxviii. 15-16), and somewhat more in Fol. 56 a (xxviii. 30 ad fin.). In the Epistles, Fol. 71 a (James i. 26-ii. 5), the upper part of Fol. 42* b (ii. 6-10; the latter lines have been printed by Belsheim, who by a slip numbers it 47 b; but I have not been able to decipher them); Fol. 54 b (iv. 2-10), 49 a (iv. 10-v. 3), and 49 b (v. 3-11). Thus at present, out of forty existing pages, twentyfour have had either the whole or the greater part of their contents deciphered ; in eight more pages a few lines or a few words can be made out; and only four still seem absolutely hopeless.
The pages published by Tischendorf were given with very great accuracy; his practised eye and hand seldom played him false, and though I have gone over most of his work two or three times, I have only been able to detect very few and slight errors; occasionally he has printed a letter in the text which in the MS. itself has been added by the corrector above the line ; the difference between e and i is not always observed ; and on the very hard Fols. 73 a and 55 a, I have differed somewhat considerably from him. Yet I must thankfully acknowledge my obligations to him ; if I had not had his transcript as a sort of key at starting, I could never have obtained that familiarity with the MS. and its handwriting which has enabled me to transcribe the other leaves.