Text annotation and Textual Criticism in the Manuscript

This month I had the pleasure to participate in a workshop on Glossing in Celtic Contexts to discuss some of the work I am doing on the editorial glosses in the Franciscan manuscript (MS UCD-OFM A7) of Félire Óengusso. As you can read here, this manuscript was written by Ruaidhrí Ó Luinín on behalf of Cathal Mac Magnusa Meg Uidhir (d. 1498). Ó Luinín was not a passive copyist of the text, however—something I have previously discussed in a lecture on the Preface to the Félire. In my talk, which I am expanding at present, I discussed the particular way in which this scribe marks text-critical annotations.

While this is still work in progress, the talk reminded me that for those of you who are interested in such things, I might share with you some of the more common text-critical graphs you would encounter when reading insular manuscripts.

Some of these you might have spotted already, at the top of the page, in the margin of the header image, which is from one of the Rawlinson manuscripts. There you can see the graph .i. (an i with enclosing dots either side) marking the insertion of a gloss. The enclosing dots (punctus) are often used to mark special characters and numerals. In Irish manuscripts the .i. graph stands for ed ón ‘that is’ and is the most common graph used for adding notes to a text. It is the medieval equivalent of modern ‘i.e.’, which stands for Latin id est ‘that is’, which is also what .i. was modelled on. In the example below, the scribe has added the note .i. do dia (to God) to the phrase slóg mar ba dixu (a host that was higher)*. 

Image illustrating the graph .i.

Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson B 505, f. 211r Photo: © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Another very common graph which you might have recognised on the header image, is the graph for ‘or’, in Irish (or uel in Latin): ƚ. This graph is used in a range of different functions. Sometimes it represents the word ‘or’, at other times just the letters. In my ongoing research, I am looking at variation of the use of the ƚ graph by one particular scribe, in one specific text, to indicate variants to the main text. A good example is found among the set of notes to the first line of the quatrain on June 13th. While the gloss above the line begins with .i., mbresta is glossed with ƚ primda. In fact, this is not so much a gloss as a textual variant: this is is the word found in this place in the line (instead of mbresta) in manuscript Rawl. B 505. Of course, not all examples are as neat at this one (and the graph for ‘or’ is also still used simply to indicate the word)—but more about this another time!

UCD Archives, MS UCD-OFM A7, f. 22rb, June 13. Reproduced by kind permission of UCD-OFM Partnership.

Not all graphs on the page represent letters, however. Further to right on the header image, you can see a symbol resembling • • at the beginning of a marginal gloss. This symbol is a critical sign indicating that the gloss is a continuation of a gloss that was started elsewhere. It operates as a tag mark, tagging this line to the original gloss, and is therefore a reading aid. 

Image illustrating a tag mark

In this case, it refers back to this partner tag mark earlier in the same line:

Image illustrating a tag mark

Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson B 505, f. 211r Photo: © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

The full gloss comments on the name Luciani in the main text: .i. prespiteri, id est prespiteri Antiochie Maximiano imperatore passus est (i.e., a presbyter, i.e. a presbyter of Antioch who suffered under the emperor Maximian). [Here this refers to Maximinus Daza rather than the earlier emperor Maximian.]

Finally, another feature that is very common is something called the ceann fo eitte (head under wing). It is more of a punctuation feature, in that it usually marks the end of a paragraph, verse, or line. Sometimes it is repeated to fill up the remaining space. Other times writing continues after the ceann fo eitte, often continuing from the line below.

Here is a selection from MS B 505:

Interested in exploring more? I can recommend this helpful article by my colleague Evina Steinová, which deals with all sorts of technical annotations, as well as point you too the special section on Punctuation, critical signs, and numerals in the Tionscadal na Nod area of CODECS, published by the van Hamel Stichting. Happy reading!

*The discussion about whether or not this text uses the comparative for the superlative sense is one for another day!

Quire structure added to KBR 5100-4

I have been experimenting a little with visualising quire structures recently and have now added a link to such a visualisation in the description of manuscript KBR 5100-4. You will be able to navigate a schematic illustration of the quires that contain Félire Óengusso based on my analysis of the manuscript last February. Images are courtesy of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in Brussels and the schematics tool used is the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies Collation Modeler (VisColl), the wonderful work of Dot Porter.  The visualisation can’t currently display large quires (such as we see often in Irish manuscripts) very well, but Dot tells me there is a new version on the way that can, at which point I will update the link 🙂

If you are not sure what I mean by quire and quire structures, this next section is for you!

When discussing how a manuscript is put together, scholars often have to refer to its structure. This is not unlike modern book. In fact, if you have a hardback to hand while reading this, I suggest taking one out and looking at it from the top. When you look closely at the point where the pages meet the spine, you will very likely see that the pages were not pasted together as a loose stack, but as small groups or booklets of pages. (Depending on the publisher.) Like in this book on the right for example.

This is true also for most manuscripts, except that we do not always call the leaves of a manuscript pages (and where they are called pages, this is because they have been numbered as pages).

Most manuscripts consists of similar ‘booklets’ bound together, which we call quires (or gatherings). Each quire consists of a number of sheets or folded together. A simple way to create a small quire or booklet yourself is to take a number of A4 or A3 sheets, say four, place them on top of each other, and then fold the bundle in half across the short side. You will now have a booklet with four folded sheets or bifolia and eight folia: each folded sheet is called a bifolium and forms two leaves or folia in your booklet.

If you were to paginate these like in a modern book, you would number them 1 to 16, but with manuscript folios we normally refer to the front and back side, the recto and the verso, of the folio. This is called foliation. Instead of having  a page number 1 on the first leaf of your booklet, you would refer to it as folio 1r, and to the backside as 1v.

Quarto. Source: www.lib.umich.edu

To create such neatly folded quires, a scribe would have taken a sheet of paper or vellum (animal skin) and folded it to right size.  This might mean folding a sheet more than once. For instance, if you take one sheet of paper, fold it in half, and then fold it in half again, you have a quarto. Your quire now has four leaves or folia.

If you look again at the image of the quire structure of KBR 5100-4 above, you will see, on the left, a series of curved lines with numbers. This schematic illustrates how the part of the manuscript that we call quire 7 fits together. Each of these lines represents a folded sheet or bifolium and each folio is referred to by recto and a verso. In the visualiser loose, individual images have been stitched together, but it shows you each side of the whole bifolium. This way we can visualise the structure of the manuscript without having to take it apart.

If you want to know more about manuscript terminology and making manuscripts, you could start here:



(this page was edited in 2020 to add an image)