One of the objectives of the project for digitisation made possible by the Polonsky Foundation is to make available images of some of the Greek manuscripts in the Bodleian collection, which is one of the most important in Western Europe. The committee which oversees the project decided that at this stage the focus should be on the first and numerically largest acquisition, the collection formed by Francesco Barocci (1537-1604), an astronomer who had trouble with the ecclesiastical authorities. The manuscripts were bequeathed to his grandson Iacopo and were purchased for the library in 1629 by William Herbert, the 3rd earl of Pembroke, who paid £700 for them.
The 244 volumes, although they do not include manuscripts of fundamental importance for the leading classical authors or church fathers, nevertheless form a significant collection. Many of them throw light on the history of education. A number are textbooks of grammar used by the Byzantines and later by Italian intellectuals during the Renaissance in order to master the complexities of the classical language. Both groups would have needed Aristotle’s treatises on logic, which are also represented. Some of the volumes bring us near to the authors they transmit. An almost complete collection of the letters of the scholar and patriarch Photius (c.810-893) (MS. Barocci 217), was possibly transcribed during the author’s lifetime. A collection of texts relating to the history of the Church (MS. 142) clearly served as the primary source material for a 14th century scholar who compiled his own history of the Church. A commentary on the Gospel of St Matthew (MS. 156) is the author’s autograph, signed and dated A.D. 1344.
A particularly valuable aspect of the current programme is that the images now being prepared will help with the identification of scribal hands and thus contribute to a better understanding of the transmission of texts and intellectual history. For instance, it has recently been possible to identify the scribe of MS. 92, which contains polemical treatises directed against the Latin Church by George Scholarios; it turns out that this copy was written by his principal secretary, and Scholarios himself made one or two corrections in the margin. Further research will surely lead to other discoveries.
Nigel G. Wilson is an Emeritus Fellow in Classics at Lincoln College at the University of Oxford.