Star turn for Deaths Duell

A Brasenose book is currently featuring in the recently opened Shakespeare’s Dead exhibition at the Weston Library. The exhibition is co-curated by our very own Fellow Librarian and English Tutor (Prof) Simon Palfrey; on discovering that the Bodleian copy of a particular book did not possess a crucial image we were asked to lend our copy for the exhibition.

The full title of the work in question is:

Deaths duell, : or, A consolation to the soule, against the dying life, and liuing death of the body. Deliuered in a sermon at White Hall, before the Kings Maiesty, in the beginning of Lent, 1630.

Donne, John, 1572-1631.

The second leaf of the BNC copy bears an engraved death portrait of John Donne signed “Martin DR [monogram]”. Sometimes the portrait was not printed hence the interest in the Brasenose copy.

The work is one of a number of sermons bound together to form a fat volume; the others are not by Donne but several different authors.

A photograph of the portrait and title page appears in the book that accompanies the exhibition and we now have a copy of this in the library. (Unsurprisingly it is entitled “Shakespeare’s Dead” and was written by Simon Palfrey and his co-curator Emma Smith. Look out for the skull on the spine and shelfmark F/MA 10 if you want to find it!)

This is not the first time that a BNC book has featured in a Bodleian exhibition however we are delighted that one of our books is making a guest appearance at an exhibition marking something as special as the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The icing on the cake is that this tremendous exhibition has been curated by a Fellow of Brasenose. If you are wondering about the reason for the inclusion of this work in the exhibition you might be interested in the following talk which takes place next month:

Donne to Death
11 May 2016 1.30pm — 2.00pm
Lecture Theatre, Weston Library (
Peter McCullough, Professor of English, Oxford

John Donne’s sermon, Death’s duell, was part of an early Stuart vogue for funeral sermons. Professor McCullough discusses Donne’s contribution to this genre, and looks at how this tradition is connected to the poetic and dramatic representations of death on display in the exhibition, Shakespeare’s Dead.

The talk is just one in a series of free talks that began earlier this year and Simon Palfrey will be participating in June talking about Shakespeare’s dead men and women as part of this series. Dates and booking information can be found here:

I urge you to cross the road to the Weston and immerse yourself in this engaging, eclectic exhibition. If you can’t spare the time just now you can always take a look at the accompanying book.

Liz Kay
College Librarian
April 2016

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Brasenose’s Old Cloisters Archaeology Blog 2

Once again Brasenose is learning about its past by improving for its future. Old Cloisters is back to being a reading room for Trinity term, however in the last few months a number of exciting discoveries have been made during the renovation works in Old Cloisters and in Deer Park (which is currently undergoing a redevelopment to allow the vents from the underground archives to be fitted, and to make the space fit the aesthetic of the new library). I was interested to learn from the archivist that Deer Park is its third appellation, previously being known as ‘St Mary’s Entry’ and then ‘Chapel Quad’.

While landscaping Deer Park the contractors quite unexpectedly came across a well shaft several feet beneath the topsoil, a few metres from the wall of the Medieval Kitchen. This was quite a find considering that the well is at least five metres deep, and stone-lined. It even has fresh running water at the bottom. The archaeologists were called back to college to investigate this interesting feature. Unfortunately, wells are not immediately datable, a consequence of the almost unchanging technology and materials used to construct them. However, the archaeologists were in luck. A sherd of Brill Boarstall-ware pottery was recovered from the fill of the construction trench, a lurid swamp-green Tudor glaze ware worth Googling. Pottery is a highly useful means of dating a site because it has changed form so regularly throughout history and geographical location, and has been assigned a relative chronology. The sherd’s presence in the fill tells us that it ended up beneath ground before the well was created, forming a terminus post quem (date after which) for the original construction of the well.

 wellSpecialists have confirmed that the pottery dates to somewhere in the 15th or 16th century. Sadly the archives have not presented any documentary evidence for the commissioning of the well. This is in some ways useful however because by the late 17th century new drainage and water systems were being well recorded. The archaeologists have therefore proposed that the well was created to supply the kitchen, which is a building apparently older than the foundation of the college, dating to the 15th century. The well also features a lead pipe than runs from the base to the surface, and an adjacent stone channel. These were added in a second phase, most likely when the well was capped. The pipe would have enabled water to be pumped from the well despite its closure. Graffiti can be seen in the interior of the well scratched onto three pieces of masonry, reading as Hg and 18. This may be some form of construction mark. The discovery of the well means that in Deer Park we have a piece of visible history that pre-dates any section of college as it can be seen today. In the future it might grant Brasenose finalists the wishes they need.

Perhaps more significant has been the discovery of remnants of wall painting in the Stocker Room that were revealed when panelling was removed with the intention to insert a new door into the south wall. The fragmentary remains would initially have covered the entire south wall, which is formed of large stone blocks and once had a large fireplace. The wall was covered in a rough plaster, then a skim coat and limewash to form the ground layer for the decorative paint scheme. The Wall Painting Condition Survey revealed that there is evidence of two previous painted schemes, separated by limewash layers, underneath the finest top layer. Clearly old stocker has undergone many refurbishments in its lifetime.

The most evident remains originally formed an overmantle scheme which included floral, grotesque and foliate motifs. Sadly only the right hand side is still extant. However, as mentioned, a number of other layers can be identified. These include a patchy brown layer, thin lines of yellow ochre (this may have formed scroll work), and a bright green paint layer. Interestingly this layer includes a clear red letter ‘S’ in either red lead or vermillion. Another letter, perhaps an ‘I’, ‘J’ or ‘T’ near the ‘S’ appears to have been purposely obscured with white limewash, leaving the ‘S’ still visible. It has been proposed that if it is a ‘T’ then the inscription refers to Thomas Singleton, who was Principal of Brasenose between 1595 and 1614. Another suggestion is that the letters were paired with a set on the other side of the fireplace, perhaps commemorating a married couple. The painting-out of a letter may indicate a death or divorce. The final scheme is brownish-green. The large scrolled pattern appears to include a grotesque animal, proposed to be an elephant. Interestingly this scheme is similar in both technique and style to an overmantle painting in Lincoln College, which dates to the first quarter of the 17th century. We may therefore be able to link this wall painting with the addition of a second storey to Old Quad in 1614-36, when it is likely there was a large scale renovation of the college’s interiors.


This wall painting is especially important because if the proposed date of the first quarter of the 17th century is correct, it had become popular to use panelling at this time, making painting from this period rare. The specialists have had a tricky job stabilising the friable mortar and preserving the painting during the current works. It is the current plan to incorporate both the well and the painting into the renovations for everyone to enjoy.


Francesca Anthony

3rd Year Classical Archaeology and Ancient History

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Discovering Traherne

This term we embarked on a new initiative: The Library and Archives “In Conversation” Series.

We were excited by the idea of an “in conversation” format because it offers our students and former students the opportunity to become involved by using their own knowledge to quiz an “expert” (or someone with more knowledge) on a particular topic and to present the audience with a stimulating exchange of thoughts and facts. The student involved in each conversation can demonstrate their knowledge and at the same time hone their public speaking skills, while the interviewee is there to provide more in depth knowledge and/or insight and to answer any tricky questions that might come from the audience.

Throughout the series we will be featuring a specific book or manuscript held at Brasenose, something from the Archives, College history or a Brasenose individual. We decided to launch the “conversations” with an exploration of the books and life at Brasenose of Thomas Traherne, 17th century poet and divine. This linked in with the Brasenose Authors theme we had running in our Treasury display last term and in selecting Traherne we were able to showcase material from the Library and Archives, pull in an expert who has carried out research at Brasenose and introduce Nam Rao (BNC 2011-14; PhD candidate at St John’s) as our star interviewer.

This first conversation took place in the 2nd week of Hilary. Despite the somewhat inclement weather and fears that there simply might not be enough interest we had a good turnout. The audience, which spanned an age range of nineteen to eighty plus, was an interesting mix of current students, alumni, fellows and lecturers, some of whom had no knowledge of Traherne and his works, others who were considerably well informed. The expert for the evening was Dr Julia Smith, General Editor of the Oxford Traherne and author of many articles on Thomas Traherne. (Dr Smith is currently working on an autobiography of Traherne in addition to her editorial work.).

Dr Smith began with the statement: “Thomas Traherne understood the value of library and archives, and their place within the University. He emphasized the importance of the most old and authentic records and he gave thanks for such books and universities, such colleges and libraries that seemed to him to constitute part of the paradise of God.” The introduction afforded a glimpse into the life of Thomas Traherne after which Dr Smith moved on to discuss his works and more specifically the two 17th century Brasenose books on display: Roman Forgeries (1673) and Christian Ethicks (published posthumously in 1675). For two centuries it was for these two works that Traherne was known, however, the late 19th century brought the first of several discoveries with further manuscripts being discovered during the 20th century. The result was the publication of works including: The Poetical Works of Thomas Traherne 1636?–1674 (edited by Bertram Dobell) (London: Dobell, 1903); Centuries of Meditations (edited by Dobell) (London: Dobell, 1908; Traherne’s Poems of Felicity (edited by H. I. Bell) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910).

Thomas Traherne was born in Hereford in 1636 or 1637 and said to be the son of a shoemaker. He was educated at Hereford Cathedral School before matriculating at Brasenose in 1652. Thomas paid a matriculation fee of eightpence and for admission to the “Schooles”, half a crown. (In addition to these fees it would have cost around twenty pounds a year to maintain an undergraduate at that time.) In October 1656 he received his baccalaureate degree and five years later he was promoted to the degree of Master of Arts, Oxon. He went on to become a Bachelor of Divinity (B.D.) on 11 December 1669.

When Thomas arrived at Brasenose the University had somewhat recovered from a period of great unrest and disorganization. Oxford had been a garrison and the King’s headquarters and had also seen a number of “reforms” decreed by Parliament which had been enforced by their appointed “Visitors”. For the Presbyterian party the “Committee for Reformation of the Universities” and the “Visitations” had been a triumph but with Cromwell in power all that changed, the Committee was dissolved and the Visitors unable to act. Cromwell became Chancellor of the University and reappointed a committee with a new remit that did not included expulsions or inventing new reforms. Brasenose had put up a determined fight against the Parliamentary Visitors but by 1653 was quite settled. The Principal of the time was Dr Greenwood, a Puritan, who had been installed by Cromwell despite the Fellows of the College having elected Thomas Yates as their Principal. (Yates lived quietly in London until Greenwood was ousted in the Reformation.) Greenwood was apparently a safe pair of hands in which Brasenose flourished and he was respected by Puritans and Royalists alike. During his ten years as Principal the numbers in residence at Brasenose rose dramatically from twenty to one-hundred and twenty.

Brasenose was physically much smaller in those days: no Deer Park, no New Quad and no Library (as we know it) or Chapel. Images from the College Archives were on display to show what College would have looked like in Thomas Traherne’s time. Thomas was able to witness a major College development during his lifetime: the building of the Library and Chapel. Records in the Archives show that he made a contribution of twenty shillings, not an insignificant amount for man of his background, towards the new buildings indicating perhaps that he was rather fond of the place. Although during his early years at BNC he would not have witnessed the completion of the new buildings, he would have seen these wonderful additions by the time he received his B.D.

The Benefactors’ Book recording Traherne’s donation

The Benefactors' Book recording Traherne's donation
In December 1657 Traherne was presented to the living of Credenhill in Herefordshire, which was not a BNC living, supported by the county’s leading Presbyterian clergy. (After the Restoration he received episcopal ordination, and subscribed to the 1662 Act of Uniformity.) Traherne remained rector of Credenhill until his death in 1674. He was resident in Herefordshire until the last months of his life making visits to Oxford to work in the Bodleian and to take his MA and BD. Credenhill, therefore, is the context for the composition of almost all his extant works.

The scene set, Nam and Julia shifted the focus of the evening to the books on display exploring themes that included the reception history of Roman Forgeries and the question of authorship; donation of the copies Christian Ethicks and Roman Forgeries now at Brasenose; evidence of scholarly use; discovery of the new works; the Oxford Traherne project and recent work on collation.

Roman Forgeries and Christian Ethicks came to Brasenose courtesy of W.E. Buckley. Buckley was a 19th century collector of books by Brasenose authors and his collection was bought by the College in 1892.

The Brasenose copies of Roman Forgeries and Christian Ethicks

The title page of Roman Forgeries simply states that the author is a Faithful son of the Church of England. On the BNC copy readers across the centuries engaged in a debate about attribution with Dr Thomas Comber erroneously named as the author before a later note identifies Traherne.

While Brasenose did not acquire its copy of Forgeries until the 19th century, copies were available in various University and College libraries in the 17th and 18th centuries and extant copies show evidence of modest scholarly use. The same cannot be said for Christian Ethicks which appears for the most-part to have been privately owned for non-scholarly use. It was for these two works that Traherne gained his reputation as a scholarly Oxford author however this changed with the discovery of ten manuscripts. The new works showed that Thomas Traherne was a spiritual writer of great beauty and power and it is perhaps for these works that Traherne is most admired and on which his current reputation stands. Critics have accused Traherne of being unaware of what was going on around him and yet, although most certainly an optimist who hoped things would turn out of the best, his works do show pastoral awareness of the lives of others along with an implicit awareness of, and references to, current affairs.

Last year Brasenose participated in a collation project which is part of the collaborative Oxford Traherne Project. Coincidentally first Senior Kurti Fellow at BNC, Dr Andrew Zisserman, was responsible for developing the image comparison software which integrates with the collator developed by Dr Christopher Palmer, and can automatically identify variations between copies.) When asked about the project Dr Smith explained how, with the help of this ground breaking procedure and the Oxford project as a whole, Thomas Traherne is now seen as one of the great mystical poets of the Anglican Church.

Although there was insufficient time to explore the text of Traherne’s work, those who beforehand had little or no knowledge of the subject of the “conversation” went away with insight in to BNC life at the time and to the background of Traherne’s works, particularly the two 17th century books that were on display. Furthermore, it was clear from the interest in the items that accompanied the talk, together with lively discussion over drinks, that the audience was delighted, privileged even, to view the books and documents on display. We were very happy that Dr Smith and Nam Rao thoroughly enjoyed participating in the event.

‘It was a pleasure to be a part of an event which showcased the College’s books and its history. It was also a great opportunity for me to be able to engage with a topic that is beyond the focus of my doctoral research, but in which I have an enduring interest!’
Nam Rao

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The Language of Bindings

I was recently lucky enough to attend a workshop on the language of bindings given by Nicholas Pickwoad and his colleagues. At his Ligatus Research Centre, they have developed a glossary (‘Language of Bindings’) which was initially used on a conservation project on Greek/Byzantine bindings but which they hope will have further use more generally in bookbinding descriptions. The thesaurus is likely to be of use to cataloguers of rare books, particularly here in Oxford where we try to maintain common standards in our union catalogue (many libraries contribute to the one catalogue, SOLO).

As part of the workshop Nicholas encouraged us to bring along some examples of the sorts of bindings cataloguers of antiquarian books come across in college and faculty libraries in Oxford. I took along a couple of items from Brasenose and it was very interesting to learn what could be discovered by looking at the bindings in detail.

The first item was a – at first glance – not particularly interesting pamphlet. Nicholas was able to glean all kinds of information from this little tract. For example, that it had come from a larger set of pamphlets, long since disbanded; that it had been the first item in a bound volume (this can be discerned from the position of the stitching); and that the alum-tawed supports are unusual for an English binding of this period.

Sophie 1

First pamphlet

Another pamphlet from the same period has actually remained in the same state as the day it left the printer’s workshop – the 3 hole stitching and uncut edges being clearly visible.

Sophie 2

Second pamphlet

Sophie 3

Second pamphlet with 3 hole stitching

The third item was a most peculiar one – in fact Nicholas said he had never seen anything like it before! It is thought to be a crude attempt at a ‘dos-a-dos’ binding, which the Language of Bindings thesaurus describes as:

“Bindings in which two bookblocks with the same vertical orientation share a central board attached to each bookblock, so that the spine of each bookblock lies alongside the fore-edge of the other. The binding is so designed that the two boards on the outside of the binding will open at the first page of each textblock, allowing both bookblocks to be opened at their titlepages. These bindings are also known as back-to-back bindings.”

Sophie 4

Third item: back-to-back binding open


Sophie 5

Third item: back-to-back binding closed

However this item, with mid 17th century English pulp boards, has been bound the wrong way round, back to front and with two crude rivets holding the covers together. The text is a liturgical work of the Orthodox Eastern Church, printed in 1632. There is an inscription at the front of the book stating that the item was bequeathed to Brasenose by Thomas Allen who matriculated in 1589 (later going on to become a Fellow at Merton and Eton).

The thesaurus is freely available online ( and Ligatus hope to publish a hard copy later this year.

Sophie Floate

Antiquarian Cataloguer

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First World War: spotlight on Ralph Neild

A relative of a Brasenose student has recently discovered a box of his grandfather’s First World War letters in his aunt’s attic. This fantastic discovery has unearthed another Brasenose student’s experiences in the Great War. Many thanks to Ben Neild for kindly agreeing to let us post a transcript of one of these letters on the blog, which appears below.

Ralph Neild matriculated from Brasenose in 1908, aged 18. He was awarded a degree in history in 1911, and a few years after this was to commence service in the British Indian Army. Between 1915 and 1919 he served as a captain in the Indian Army Reserve of Officers, in both India and Mesopotamia. The letter which appears here was written home to his mother in England and gives a wonderful insight into his experiences in Subhan Khwar Camp, India (now Pakistan), as well as mentioning some of his contemporaries at Brasenose.

Subhan Khwar Camp.

19th October, 1915

My dear Mother.

Nothing to tell you by this mail. The enemy have all gone away and I do not think there is much chance of any further excitement among the Mohmands for a considerable time. we shall probably leave this camp very shortly though nothing definite has been ordered so far. When we go it seems probably that instead of going right back into Peshawar we will stop for a while at a place called Nagoman half way in. It is a good camping grounds, more or less green & shadey, on the banks of the Kabul River, about 10 miles out of Peshawar.

With regard to the rumoured move of the regiment from Peshawar, it is all fixed up now by the Divisional staff and is awaiting the sanction of Simla. It is quite probably that simla will not allow any transfer to be made during these times of war. Should the sanction be given the regiment will be split into 2 parts of which one will go to Dargai and the other to Chakdara. They are two forts, one on each side of the Malakand Pass. I should like to go there very much, but am afraid it won’t come off.

Most of the work there has been field firing. On Friday a paper chase. Sunday had quite a good evening ride. great scamper home to get in before dark as we suddenly remembered our intended road ran through a cholera infected place and we had to go round. There is just a little cholera in the villages round about here.

This morning I set off at 6.30 & had a splendid early morning ride into Adazai, the other camp behind us. It is very pleasant riding these mornings – it is so splendidly cool and misty, & then gradually the mists pass off and the mountains begin to stand out most wonderfully clearly. Adazai is not chiefly a cavalry camp & full of camel transport.

So you can see from this that life here is not very full of incident just at the moment – by the way, I have kept a term here now – eight weeks on Sunday.

Awful lot of conversation coming on!

On Saturday I am going into Peshawar for 3 days leave – that is allowed now. My chief object is to shift my abode. I have long been confronted with a housing problem like your own. Mrs. Cox was expected 1st November and I had to be out of his bungalow by then. I had a place in view, temporally occupied by another I.A.R. newcomer who is at the base in Peshawar. When I outed him, he would have been homeless.

Now my double company commander, Captain Wilson, has been recalled to his political employ, and I am going to slip into his good room. It is in the bungalow I originally had in mind. It will now give quarters to three I.A.R. – two besides myself. I am sorry Wilson is going – he was a very nice man, knew a tremendous lot about the frontier where he has spent all his life & was a good man to train under on first joining the regiment. He has been Provost Marshall in this camp, & his double company has been left to my tender mercies for the last 5 or 6 weeks. He is bequeathing me his camp bath, which will be a very sound acquisition. Hitherto I have been sharing it with him while in camp.

Now I shall have some other boss. I do not mind much which – whether Brock or Brown, the latter the Burma Commission man who will shortly be back from his 4 months of sick leave up in Kashmir.

To-day is the “ID”, the second of great Mahomedan holidays, like our Christmas. It is a great holiday for them & they are all strolling around in their best white mufti, which they have made a noble effort to get clean for the occasion. This evening they will feast upon goat…

All the frontier forts we occupy had their sites chosen by the Sikhs & the Peshawar fort is a great monument to their military knowledge & building skill. to distinguish themselves from the Mahomedan the Sikh has always been at great pains. For instance, the Mahomedan shaves his head, therefore the Sikhs head must never by touched by a cutting instrument. The Mahomedan smokes, the Sikh does not. The Mahomedan never touches wine, therefore the Sikh drinks rum & so on indefinitely. Yet they seem to get on pretty well in the regiment. They live in a state of mutual toleration, occasionally tempered by friendship.

In this company there is both Sikh and an Afridi Subadar, both splendid specimens of the respective races & great gentlemen. They are always chaffing each other on the religious topic, in a strangely un-Western manner.

Yours of September 27th just came in for which many thanks. Describing your “how gate” vicissitudes & how you finally landed up at 9 Sandwell Crescent. I hope something may turn up & that you will not both find it too hopelessly dull. If ever a Zeppelin raid comes over your way – do tell me all about it – you know so little of these excitements from the newspapers. I am afraid I cannot possibly deny that this frontier scrapping was the most interesting of experiences and I do not think there are very many people who would not say the same. Of course, I understand your point entirely. (I suspect a quakerly comment in the letter – BN)

I am sorry Canon Wilson’s son has been killed. BNC (Brasenose College) has lost several of its best men during the last few months, ending up with L. A Vidal. He was a particularly excellent man, the personification of “keenness” who did more than any individual undergraduate in my time to keep up the college’s reputation for that great virtue. He as a Radley master before the war. Then there was John Burrell, the V.P.’s newphew & master at “Teddy” school, who had been through the South African war in very tender years & was a very great football player. Also D. R. Brandt who was a don at B.N.C. for some 2 or 3 terms & then left for social & journalistic work in London.

I do not think there is anything else to add at all.

So with much love


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Opening of the Treasury

Over the summer renovation work was completed on the Muniment Room and Treasury, at the top of Old Quad Tower. This part of College was built between 1509 and 1522 and was regarded as the safest place to store money, silver and objects of value. Hence the Treasury (the upper most room) has housed the College Chest since this time. It is thought that the Chest may have been constructed within the room itself, and we know from documents kept in the archive that it held money as well as important documents. The room directly below the Treasury, known as the Muniment Room now houses the archive office. This room had been used as an archive store for hundreds of years, though during the English Civil War (1642-1651) we know that a reserve of food and provisions were kept in here. This included bacon, salt, butter, cheese and oatmeal. The cupboards and panelling in the Muniment Room were added in 1819, and were used to store the Bursary’s archives when the Bursary office was, from 1771-1885, situated below the Muniment Room in the room now known as the Tower Bursary.

The College Chest

The College Chest

After many years of use as the archive office and store room, both rooms have now been beautifully renovated. The vaulted ceiling in the Muniment Room was cleaned, alongside the stone spiral staircase leading up to the Treasury. A new workspace has been created in the Muniment Room for the archive and library staff and the old shelving was removed from the Treasury to make way for a bespoke display cabinet and new book shelving. The English book stack is now kept up here, and the new display cabinet offers the perfect space in which to view library and archive treasures.


The newly renovated Treasury


On 22nd October we were very pleased to welcome the Principal to officially open the Treasury and the first display of library books and archives, which this term focuses on Brasenose Authors. Viewings are welcome throughout Michaelmas term and the display offers all members of the College a chance to view library books and archives within the enchanting surroundings of the Treasury.

Material on display

Material on display

Highlights include a copy of Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (1628), alongside the 1st edition of John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments (1563), as well as works by Thomas Traherne and Alexander Nowell. These will be on display until the end of 4th week. The display will then change to include material relating to Reginald Heber, Walter Pater and William Golding, amongst many others. The Treasury is open this Michaelmas term Tuesdays-Fridays, 1-2.30pm.


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Averroes on the Metaphysics of Aristotle

One of the earliest volumes in the College Archives is the Registrum A (GOV 3 A1/1; the first Vice-Principal’s Register) which records meetings of Governing Body/Seniority 1539-1594. Whilst this volume reveals plenty about life within the College, and the comings and goings of the Fellows, it holds a further interest to researchers. This is because it contains three fragments as pastedowns at either end of the binding (dated to 1540), which are Metaphysics by Aristotle.

Fragments in GOV 3 A1-1 (front)

The fragments contained as pastedowns in Registrum A

Dr. Stefan Georges (Institut für Philosophie, University of Würzburg) recently sent us some very useful background information about the fragments:

Averroes’ commentary was translated into Latin approximately between 1220 and 1224 by Michael Scot and for the first time made accessible to a wider audience Aristotle’s Metaphysics, which is one of the key texts in the history of philosophy and had (and still has) a huge impact on western thinking. This impact is also reflected by the number of extant manuscripts which transmit the Latin translation of Averroes’ commentary fully or in parts. Beside the one contained in GOV 3 A1/1 there are 135 more of them. Scholars in the early 13th century must have been thrilled when this text came on the market (most probably in Paris, the centre of philosophical learning in those days), and everyone who could afford it must have acquired a copy. For Aristotle was deeply revered for his logical writings, a substantial amount of which was known in the early Middle Ages. Your specimen, being of French origin and annotated by early anglicana hands, was therefore most likely acquired in Paris by an Englishman and brought straight to Oxford (the second European hotspot in terms of philosophy). The Arabic-to-Latin translation, however, was some decades later superseded by the more reliable and more complete Greek-to-Latin translation of William of Moerbeke. And this new translation, as well as the text’s being available in print from the 15th century onwards, might have made the manuscript dispensable in the sixteenth century, so that it ended up being used as binding material. There is also the fact that Aristotle had by the 16th century for many scholars lost his position as the most revered philosopher.

The text in the fragments comes from book Delta of the Metaphysics, where Aristotle offers a kind of dictionary of the most important terms of his subject. The cut in the top fragment apparently results from someone’s plundering the manuscript. Where there is nowadays the cut, there must once have been a precious (probably gilded) representation of the letter I, the initial of the word Inicium, which is the first of the terms Aristotle explains in book Delta.

Dr. Stefan Georges is currently working on an edition of the Latin translation of the Long Commentary of Averroes on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, with Prof. Dr. Dag Nikolaus Hasse. Many thanks to Dr. Stefan Georges for allowing us to reproduce this information on the blog. It is always fascinating to discover such interesting items in the Archive and indicates that many of the volumes we have in our collections hold just as much interest for their bindings as well as their written content.

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