Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Consider the most trivial mystery of all the mysteries of the Syriac Codex Ambrosianus solved

I hope you are ready for a fun fact, because that’s all this blog post has to offer.
I am in Milan again, just briefly, to attend a seminar on the Syriac Codex Ambrosianus (7a1; B 21 Inf and bis Inf), as well as to continue my work on the place of 2 Baruch in this particular codex. Today, while working on B 21 ter Inf, Antonio M. Ceriani’s annotated copy of the facsimile edition of the codex, I solved a mystery that would easily qualify as the most trivial mystery of all the unsolved mysteries of the venerable Codex Ambrosianus, the oldest complete manuscript of the Peshiá¹­ta Old Testament that has come down to us.
In March, I spent a week in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana working on this codex, focusing in particular on codicological features, text layout and unit organisation, as well as signs of later use and reader engagement with the codex. One recurring feature caught my eye: it looked like someone had had “an accident” involving a pink highlighter while working on the codex. At least this was what I thought at the time. Something pink was smeared on the margins of a handful of the parchment folios. It made me shake my head, wondering who on earth would bring a pink highlighter to their desk when working on the codex. A special kind of “later reader engagement”, indeed. My imagination was certainly put to the test.
This head-shaking mystery was solved today: at least, I have a prime suspect and I think I know how the crime was committed.
Antonio M. Ceriani, the famous nineteenth century prefect of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, worked extensively on the Codex Ambrosianus after taking up the position in the library in 1855. His impressive publication record includes Latin translations, and editions of the Syriac text of several of the books in the codex, starting in 1861. He also published the much acclaimed facsimile edition (1876 and 1883), and he was preparing a thorough codicological and palaeographical description of the entire codex, which he unfortunately did not finish. B 21 ter Inf contains his work in progress notes on this unfinished project. Apparently, Ceriani worked systematically on these features of the codex from early 1890 to late 1892 and again for some periods in 1898 and 1899. (We know this because he consistently dated his work on the various pages [ – a special service for the three or four 2 Baruch geeks out there: he worked on 2 Baruch from 24 June to 12 July 1892]).
And now, please allow me to introduce my exhibit A. Ceriani’s notes in B 21 ter Inf are penned in black, red and something that looks like cyclamen coloured ink. On some of the pages, the red and cyclamen inks are smeared (Cf. e.g., fasc. 8, pp. 554, 556, 563; fasc.1, pp. 6, 12), providing a perfect match for my head scratching/shaking observation of pink smearing in the codex itself.
In plain words, working on his never published palaeographical and codicological description of the codex, Ceriani was consulting the Codex Ambrosianus while taking notes in B 21 ter Inf, his hands occasionally being tainted by the red and cyclamen inks, and as a result he left some not so subtle marks on the 6th/7th century parchment folios.
Mystery solved.

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