The Name of the Rose library hid the unpublished extract from an astronomy treatise signed Ptolemy
A palimpsest preserved in Milan concealed a Greek manual, copied in the VIe-VIIe century. It had been sanded nearly a century later by monks who preferred a “bestseller” of the time in Latin.
As after a long sleep, a lost text of late antiquity resurfaced, laden with its forgotten secrets. Researchers have reconnected with pages of the VIe-VIIe century, concealed in an old copy of the Etymologiesan encyclopedia written by Bishop Isidore of Seville. It was of a palimpsest, that is to say from a manuscript whose original text has been erased. This work of reuse, rather than censorship, was carried out around the VIIIe century in the depths of the Italian scriptorium of Bobbio, between Genoa And Milano. The rich archives of this famous abbey site of the High Middle Ages had inspired Umberto Eco the forbidden library rose name .
Scientists have not found the trace of the lost chapter of Aristotle on comedy, coveted by the heroes of the novel. They did, however, get their hands on the copy ofan unpublished Greek text attributed to the astronomer Claudius Ptolemy. A major figure in the ancient sciences, Ptolemy lived in roman egypt of IIe century ; it is particularly known for its geocentrism, challenged during the Renaissance, and for being interested in calculating the circumference of the Earth. Ptolemy’s new text, beautifully calligraphed and accompanied by diagrams, was, on the other hand, about something quite different. It was a practical manual.
“We discovered six pages devoted to the Meteoroscope, an instrument mentioned by Ptolemy in his Geographyone of his best-known treatises.says Victor Gysembergh, researcher at the Léon Robin center (Paris-Sorbonne & CNRS) and co-author of the study of the new manuscript published on March 9 in the scientific journal Archive for History of Exact Sciences . The Meteoroscope? A nine-ringed armillary sphere. Of astronomical use, the mechanism represents the celestial sphere and served as manynavigation tool than pedagogy. In the text just deciphered, Ptolémée endeavors to describe precisely the manufacture and the function of it. “To my knowledge, this is the first known text entirely devoted to the description of a scientific instrument and how to use it, says Victor Gysembergh. It is, in short, the first user manual preserved!.
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Hunt for palimpsests
Now kept at the Ambrosian Library in Milan, the palimpsest in question has been studied as part of the RESCAPALM project. This research program dedicated to the deciphering of ancient manuscripts is supported by Sorbonne University and the CNRS. To elucidate the mysteries of certain palimpsests that have remained impenetrable until now, researchers are mobilizing the latest innovations in multispectral imaging. This non-invasive technology makes it possible to find the trace of missing texts, in addition to other techniques such as X-ray fluorescence. The previous research campaigns have already made it possible to discover several old unpublished works, including Latin commentaries on Plato’s workor a catalog of stars from the 2nd century BC. J.-C.written by Hipparchus, one of the fathers of astronomy.
Not only the nature of the text should not interest the monks of Bobbio Abbey, but their content was probably strictly incomprehensible to them.
These ancient high-level scientific and philosophical treatises probably had few readers at Bobbio Abbey. This facilitated, even motivated, their recycling. The monks took care of it by a long and laborious sanding of the manuscripts. “Not only was the nature of the text not to interest them, but their content was probably also strictly incomprehensible to them.laughs Victor Gysembergh. The reading of Greek had, indeed, taken quite a blow in the Italy of the VIIIe century. It is difficult for a technical, jargon and foreign manual to compete with the wonders of the world described by Isidore of Seville. In Latin, what’s more!
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“Bobbio Abbey was famous for its palimpsests and many of those we have today can be linked to its scriptorium, but we do not know where these manuscripts that it recycled came from.“, adds the researcher, who suggests that the monks could have recovered texts which were no longer used. in northern Italy. Bobbio’s precious collections have been scattered for at least the end of the Middle Ages in a multitude of European libraries.
Two other ancient texts are hidden in the palimpsest of Isidore of Seville. Already identified in the past, they correspond to an anonymous mathematical treatise dedicated to optical considerations, as well as to theanalemma, a small astronomical treatise by Ptolemy. The palimpsest hunters of the Léon Robin center do not intend to rest on their laurels. : their next handwritten investigations should take them this summer in pursuit of the still undeciphered secrets of the National Library of France.