Deer and other marginal creatures

The Bodleian recently digitized MS. Oppenheim 248, a Babylonian Talmud dating from the mid-15th century. This manuscript contains--as our catalogue puts it--"numerous scribbles and doodles", particularly on the two blank pages between the Masekhet Yevamot and Masekhet Kidushin sections of the text (ff. 254v-255r). The deer and men in early modern dress shown on these two pages reminded us of the marginal drawings in another manuscript, MS. Laud Or. 233, so we've brought the two together in Mirador for comparison.


The two manuscripts date from the same period (MS. Laud Or. 233 was produced in 1463), and both are written in an Ashkenazi script, but they don't appear to have much else in common. MS. Laud Or. 233 features decorated section headings, but the text is written in two plain columns. MS. Oppenheim 248, meanwhile, is undecorated, but the text throughout is laid out in elaborate carmina figurata, including several in the shapes of fleurs-de-lis:



The parchment of MS. Oppenheim 248 also appears to be of higher quality (whiter, with fewer holes), and while the striking blind-tooled white leather binding may not be original to the manuscript, it stands in contrast to MS. Laud Or. 233's plain leather Laudian binding.


With one glaring exception, the drawings in MS. Laud Or. 233 appear to have been done by a practiced hand, if not a professional one; they look almost like intentional decoration. The drawings in MS. Oppenheim 248 are simpler and more amateurish, but the subject matter is strikingly similar: people in what looks like 16th-century dress and running deer. Compare:



Note the glaring exception mentioned above. Other pages of MS. Laud Or. 233 contain even more deer, in fact, as well as a griffin and several dogs with birds in their mouths:



The two men in MS. Oppenheim 248 are similar enough that they appear to have been drawn from the same template, or one from the other. The figures in MS. Laud Or. 233 show more variety:



We in Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Services, not being Hebraists, have no idea what relation, if any, these drawings bear to the text. Nor do we know whether they are part of a larger trend of similar drawings in other Ashkenazi manuscripts. We will ask our curator colleagues about this when we get the chance, but in the meantime, please enjoy.