Digitization update on Greek manuscripts

With this week's digitization of MS. Barocci 170 (now accessible via Digital.Bodleian), only three manuscripts remain on the Bodleian's Greek manuscripts digitization list: MSS. Barocci 55, 198 and 231.


MS. Barocci 170 is a Venetian manuscript from 1577, containing the illustrated Oracles of Leo the Wise in Greek, translated into Latin by Francesco Barozzi himself, the original owner and collector of the Bodleian's Barocci collection. The oracles are a collection of poems describing future events that would befall Constantinople, which were popularly—and most likely erroneously—attributed to the ninth-century Byzantine emperor Leo VI. According to Paul Stephenson's Legend of Basil the Bulgar-Slayer (Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 99),


These oracles took the form of sixteen iambic poems illustrated with a symbolical picture which foretold the fate of several emperors and their capital city, Constantinople. They were widely known as early as the middle of the twelfth century, when they were interpreted somewhat inconsistently to explain aspects of the reigns of the Komnenian emperors. By the end of the thirteenth century the form of the illustrated oracles was fixed, and a group of longer poems in popular Greek had been added, reflecting their continued popularity.... After 1453 the Leonine oracles were taken to foretell the deliverance of the City from Turkish domination. Thus, according to the sixteenth-century Chronicon maius of Pseudo-Phrantzes: "The most wise Leo, emperor of the Romans, himself made a prediction and found that the powerful race of the Agarenes [Turks] was to abide for a thrice-numbered circle, that is three hundred years." Pseudo-Phrantzes clearly identified Leo the Wise as the Byzantine emperor Leo VI (886-912). However, as [C.] Mango has convincingly demonstrated, the emperor Leo VI, although known in his own time as sophos, the wise, was not associated with the oracles until centuries after his death. It is likely that Leo the Wise was previously identified as Leo the Mathematician, one of the prominent figures in the Byzantine intellectual revival of the middle of the ninth century, a generation before Leo VI came to power. Therefore, through a misunderstanding, and the subsequent wide circulation and evolution of a group of oracles, a rather unspectacular Byzantine emperor became the prophet of Greek emancipation.


The text of the poems is decorated with borders and colorful initial letters, but the most stunning features of the manuscript are the 21 pages of full-color illumination, particularly the complex and atmospheric depictions of Constantinople shown below:


fol. 11v
fol. 11v: the siege of Constantinople


fol. 14v
fol. 14v


fol. 18v
fol. 18v: victory of the Christians over the Saracens


fol. 23v
fol. 23v


A previous partial digitization of this manuscript is available via the Bodleian's Luna image site, but the images taken for the Polonsky Project are more complete and more faithful to the original manuscript.


For more information on the text of this manuscript, please see:


- Paul Stephenson, The Legend of Basil the Bulgar-Slayer (Cambridge University Press, 2003)

- Cyril Mango, "The legend of Leo the Wise," ZRVI 6 (1960), pp. 59-93