Firey Review, Part II/1: The Production of Berlin, Hamilton 132

Introduction here.

Part I of this review here.

The connection between Firey’s argument about the origins of Pseudo-Isidore and her analysis of Hamilton 132 is unclear. She writes only that “…[A] more complex model of production, transmission, interpretation or use, and further transmission than was proposed by Zechiel-Eckes may be advisable” (36). Hamilton 132 is presumably adduced to illustrate this point. After pages of analysis, Firey concludes that

Hamilton 132 parallels other [Corbie manuscripts discussed by T.A.M. Bishop] that show collaboration between a team of ‘a-b’ and a team of Caroline minuscule scribes for the book trade. … These pieces of evidence all add up to a reasonable probability that Hamilton 132 was compiled from the work of two segregated teams of scribes working simultaneously, or nearly so, to produce rapidly a comprehensive collection of conciliar canons and papal decretals (49).

For the purposes of her secondary argument, Firey is able to forget her concerns about the vagaries of manuscript provenance. Here her analysis assumes the origins of Hamilton 132 at Corbie or an immediately affiliated center, even though we have just had to read a great deal about traveling codices and the underestimated currency of a-b minuscule in Carolingian Gaul.

Otherwise, Firey’s deeper point is less apparent than it could be. At Cologne in 2013, she argued openly that the nuns at Notre-Dame de Soissons, a Corbie daughter house, may have been responsible for the a-b minuscule in Hamilton 132. By insisting on collaboration between the Caroline and a-b scribes, Firey could therefore associate the nuns at Soissons with the propagation of Pseudo-Isidorian material, and perhaps even implicate the nuns in the forgery. Here that point is very much played down, indeed almost elided, except for some summary remarks at page 53.

Two weaknesses undermine Firey’s argument from the outset:

1) The a-b hands at work in Hamilton 132 never copy any Pseudo-Isidorian materials, or even any materials associated with the interpolated Hispana. These hands only ever copy texts from the Collectio Dionysio-Hadriana and the associated Collectio Sancti Amandi. The only hands copying Pseudo-Isidorian texts in Hamilton 132 are Caroline. This is a simple matter of observation and utterly beyond dispute.

2) The Caroline scribes in Hamilton 132 work secondary to the a-b scribes. The Caroline scribes correct a-b scribes, for example, while the a-b scribes never correct their supposedly Caroline collaborators. Caroline scribes write on tipped-in folios and extra bifolios that have been added to Hamilton 132, while in every instance that the original form of the codex is intact enough to permit a determination, it is plain to see that the a-b scribes write on what were once regularly constructed gatherings. Caroline scribes frequently write over erasure, and sometimes traces of an underlying palimpsest a-b script are still visible; in other instances the Caroline scribes have erased only part of a folio, and their corrected text occurs alongside the earlier a-b script. In no case do a-b scribes write over palimpsest Caroline script. Finally, Caroline scribes write with an awareness of a-b material, sometimes altering module or layout to fit their text into the space remaining before the next a-b unit picks up. The a-b scribes, meanwhile, never exhibit any awareness of the Caroline folios.

Firey is aware of this evidence. Thus she writes that “The Caroline portions of the codex were clearly written to mesh with the ‘a-b’ portions” (46), and elsewhere she remarks in a passing characterization of her posited collaborative process that “the Caroline scriptorium…seems to have often been a bit behind!” By this she means that Caroline scribes alter a-b material but never the reverse, and might thus be conceived of as tardy collaborators. At a few other telling moments, she writes that the a-b and Caroline portions were copied “almost simultaneously” (44), or that they worked “simultaneously, or nearly so” (49). At root, then, Firey seems not to dispute that the Caroline scribes worked after the a-b scribes. She merely wants to shrink the amount of time that intervened between the products of these scriptoria to a small enough period that “collaboration” would seem a fair characterization of the process.

This is as appropriate a point as any to note that Bernhard Bischoff dates the a-b minuscule in Hamilton 132 to the beginning of the ninth century, and the Carolingian additions (which he characterizes as subsequent to and a reworking of the original a-b codex) to the second third of the ninth century.[1] Firey cites this very passage from Bischoff but appears to misunderstand its import, arbitrarily assigning his s. IX 2/3 date to the concluding folios of Hamilton 132 only (37 with note 66). Bischoff’s description, though, clearly states that the Caroline scribes who rework the a-b folios date to “s. IX1” and “s. IX2,” or the first and second halves of the ninth century. Elsewhere, when he summarizes the date of the Caroline scribal activity to “saec. IX 2/3,” he is simply splitting the difference.

Firey appears to misrepresent the arguments of at least one other scholar as well. The point of departure for much of her analysis of Hamilton 132 is, as we saw in Part I of this review, T.A.M. Bishop’s essay on “The Scribes of Corbie a-b.” She therefore writes that “Hamilton 132 parallels other manuscripts studied by Bishop that show collaboration between a team of ‘a-b’ and a team of Caroline minuscule scribes for the book trade” (49). I confess that I cannot find any passage wherein Bishop discusses the ninth-century book-trade. He does discuss the unusually frequent hand-changes in a-b manuscripts, but he draws radically different conclusions: “Holograph quires and sequences of quires, the familiar effects of apportionment, are less common in the a-b than passages of collaboration between expert and less competent scribes” (528). Many of the scribal shifts in a-b manuscripts, he goes on to argue, are essentially pedagogical.

More seriously, Bishop does not merely fail to support Firey’s theory of collaboration. He specifically rejects that the two scriptoria ever worked in this way, calling the two operations “autonomous” and “segregated” (533). He goes on:

Lowe and others have reported instances of apparently immediate partnerships between individual a-b and Caroline scribes. They are all deceptive. During the mutations of [two distinct Latin glossaries] and their lost prototype the a-b scribes left spaces, pending adjustments by the editor, and these were filled by Caroline scribes. An undefined interval may separate glosses and supplementary corrections from the text. In BN 12217…the Caroline supervenes on the work of the a-b scribes. … The a-b scribes were segregated…. (532)

Firey adopts Bishop’s characterization of the scriptoria as “segregated,” while otherwise arguing that they worked in tandem with one another, a conclusion for which Bishop’s entire thesis leaves no room.

Ahead to Part II/2 here.

[1] Katalog der festländischen Handschriften. Teil 1: Aachen – Lambach (Wiesbaden, 1998), 74.

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