Lowe (Loew) 1972f

AUTHOR Lowe (Loew), Elias Avery.

TITLE A Key to Bede's Scriptorium

SOURCE Palaeographical Papers 1907-1965. Edited by Ludwig Bieler. 2 Vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1972; II, 441-449, 6 plates.


Definition: "Palimpsest" comes from a Greek term ....meaning ‘scraped’ or ‘rubbed again’, although membranes of the palimpsests in this study were not usually scrubbed a second time - the writing was more gently washed off. While palimpsests were often prepared for rewriting, the rewriting was not always done. Only palimpsests which have been rewritten are included on this list.

Economic considerations: "Palimpsesting was first and foremost a matter of economy. The incentive came from a shortage of writing material". Palimpsests may also indicate a great demand for new texts, where even a wealthy centre might not be able to provide enough new parchment. (A summary of the dates assigned to palimpsests on the list demonstrates that, although the figures are not complete for the period after the eighth century, the number of palimpsests appears to increase in greater ratio in periods of "intense intellectual activity" than during periods of "economic decline").

Cultural considerations: Regardless of what provided the incentive to palimpsest, certain texts had to be selected as "candidates for execution". Examples of this selection criteria are:

Obsolence: legal and liturgical texts no longer in use; pre-Jerome translations of the Bible superseded by the Vulgate; texts in foreign languages or those no longer understood; texts in unfamiliar scripts or difficult to read; texts which were already damaged and no longer useful.

Duplication: would account for the large number of Vulgate Biblical palimpsests and

some of the patristic ones.

Literary taste: Many "pagan classics" are buried beneath Christian texts. Does this represent a systematic Christian attempt to destroy pagan literature, as once thought? Evidence suggests rather "a general lack of interest in the classics during the seventh and early eighth centuries, assuming of course that most palimpsests had not already been ruined before their original script was washed off". Cultural obsolence perhaps. Classical grammars, important to Christian educators, were not palimpsested, and they themselves were copied over Vulgate texts of the Bible.

The Vulgate is found most often as the lower text. In general "Christian texts were palimpsested far oftener than papgan ones, though ... the upper text was usually another Christian one and there were more of them to choose from". Upper or preferred texts (from fifth to twelfth centuries) show a preference for Church Fathers and educational grammars and. glossaries; from twelfth to sixteenth centuries pagan classical authors appear more frequently in upper texts.

Palimpsest centres: Of the 131 palimpsests listed, most could be assigned to a particular country and many could be further localised to a particular monastic centre. The best evidence for origin and date is the upper script.

Breakdown by place of origin: Italy 56; France 21; Germany 14; Switzerland 9; Ireland 8; England 4; Spain and Egypt 2 each; Belguim and the Near East 1 each.

If the figures are limited to 800 or earlier the breakdown is: Italy 41, France 16; Switzerland 8; Ireland 2; Egypt 1. (At least 17 palimpsests were written over in Irish script, but as the rewriting took place on the Continent, these are attributed to European countries).

Breakdown by ‘centre’: Italy - Bobbio (29 palimpsests); Verona (5); Nonantola (1); Capua (1); Monte Cassino (1).

France - Luxeuil (5); Lyons (2); Fleury (1); Corbie (1). The upper scripts of the Luxeuil palimpsests contain "works of the great Church Fathers of the West, are of the type in use at Luxeuil and affiliated houses, all dating about the year 700". Their lower texts are "primarily classical (Virgil, Ovid, Livy, Pliny the Elder and Euclid among them) but three Biblical texts in pre-Jerome translations are also there". Evidence is presented that the palimpsesting took place at Luxeuil.

Germany & Switzerland: Reichenau (2); Benediktbeuern, Freising, Trier, Weissenau and Werden (1 each), all ninth century or later. Swiss palimpsests :St.Gall (2); Chur and Schaffhausen (1 each) are mostly earlier than the ninth century.

The Index of Authors and Works and the list of early palimpsests occupy the final 30 or so pages of this article.