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Minor Works of Dante Alighieri
This small manuscript, dating to the late-15th century, in Renaissance script, contains poems from the Rime (Rhymes) by the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321). These are so-called minor works that are distinguished from Dante’s Vita nuova (The new life), his book of sonnets recounting his early love for Beatrice, and his all-encompassing allegorical masterpiece, La divina commedia (The divine comedy). On the front cover is a 15th-century note, now almost totally faded, which states: "Di Cosimo de' Medici e degli Amici" (Belonging to Cosimo de’ Medici and ...
Collection of Speeches and Latin Epistles by Renaissance Humanists
This manuscript, dating to the late-15th century, formerly belonged to the Sienese Alessandro Tegliacci, as stated in a note written on the initial page by an unknown later owner: "Dedit mihi Alex(ande)r Tegliaccius die(?) 8 decembris 1581 atque sua humanitate donavit" (Alessandro Tegliacci kindly gave this to me as a gift on December 8, 1581). The decoration on the same leaf bears the coat of arms of the Tegliacci family. Alessandro can perhaps be identified as the scholar who was called by Cosimo II to be professor of ...
Etymologiae (Etymology) is the best known work by Saint Isidore of Seville (circa 560–636), a scholar and theologian considered the last of the great Latin Church Fathers. It takes its name from a method of teaching that proceeds by explaining the origins and meaning of each word related to a topic. Saint Isidore drew on many different sources in his attempt to summarize all ancient knowledge and save it for posterity. The fame of the work led to it being widely copied and disseminated, and its popularity lasted even ...
The Divine Comedy
This celebrated manuscript of the Commedia of Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) containing the complete text of the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso was copied in the hand of Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–75) and is one of the most splendid manuscripts in the collection of the Biblioteca Riccardiana. Boccaccio illustrated the manuscript with five pen drawings in the lower margin of a series of leaves in the Inferno. These images were authenticated in 1992 by the noted Florentine scholar Maria Grazia Ciardi Duprè dal Poggetto. The most complete drawing depicts Dante in ...
Revelations of Saint Bridget of Sweden
Saint Birgitta (or Bridget) of Sweden (circa 1303–73) was known for her revelations, which she reportedly wrote down in Swedish and then had translated into Latin by one of her two confessors. When she took ill, she changed her usual practice, and dictated her revelations to one of the confessors, who then translated them into Latin. In the manuscript collection at the National Library of Sweden is preserved a document that offers a unique insight into the origins of Birgitta’s revelations. It consists of three leaves of paper ...
This 11th century manuscript is the only to survive to transmit the complete text of the epic and dramatic works of the first German poetess, Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim. Corrections and marginal notes are entered in the hand of the humanist Konrad Celtis, who used the manuscript as a printer's copy for his edition of Hrotsvitha's works published in Nuremberg in 1501. The manuscript once belonged to the Benedictine monastery of Saint Emmeram in Ratisbon (present-day Regensburg) and reached Munich in 1811. Born around 935, Hrotsvitha was a canoness ...
Arthurian and Other Romances of the 13th Century
This 13th century manuscript, with text in two columns and superbly decorated, is an anthology of romances from the Middle Ages. The first two texts, L'Estoire del Saint Graal (The history of the Holy Grail) and L'Estoire de Merlin (The history of Merlin) are dedicated to the Arthurian legends and are attributed to Robert de Boron (circa 1200). The third text, Le Roman des Sept Sages de Rome (The romance of the seven wise masters of Rome), is a work of ancient Eastern origins, deriving from the Book ...
The Book of the City of Ladies
Christine de Pisan (circa 1364–1430) was born in Italy and came to France at the age of four with her father. Arguably the first woman in Europe to earn a living as an author, she is widely regarded as an early feminist who spoke out for the rights of women and espoused female achievement. She wrote poems and prose texts that were often allegorical and philosophical and that reflected her own original and engaged personality. She prepared the books with the aid of copyists and illuminators and offered them ...
Roman de la Rose
The Roman de la Rose, “wherein the whole art of love is contained,” was one of the most widely read literary works of the Middle Ages. An allegorical poem composed in the French—meaning Romance—of the 13th century, it was celebrated already in the 16th century as a national classic. The first 4,058 lines of the poem were written by Guillaume de Lorris in around 1230. Jean de Meung wrote an additional 17,724 lines in around 1275. The work is at once a courtly song, a story ...
Roman de Renart (Reynard cycle) is the most famous set of animal stories produced in the Middle Ages. It is not one story but a collection of 26 chapters composed by several clerks and minstrels around the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th. It was inspired by the Fables of the ancient Greek writer, Aesop, and by a mock epic poem in Latin by Nivardus, written in Ghent in around 1150, called Ysengrimus. Under the guise of the endless war between Reynard the Fox and ...
The Poem of the Cid
The document shown here is the sole surviving manuscript copy of Poema del Cid (The poem of the Cid), the crowning piece of Castilian medieval epic literature and the earliest Spanish epic poem to have survived complete. The poem recounts the story of Castilian nobleman Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, who lived in the second half of the 11th century. El Cid (meaning lord) battles against the Moors in an effort to restore his honor after being unjustly accused of stealing money from the king. The poem, in its written form ...
The Story of Dhu al-Qarnayn (Better Known as Alexander the Great)
Timbuktu (present-day Tombouctou in Mali), founded around 1100 as a commercial center for trade across the Sahara Desert, was also an important seat of Islamic learning from the 14th century onward. The libraries there contain many important manuscripts, in different styles of Arabic scripts, which were written and copied by Timbuktu’s scribes and scholars. These works constitute the city’s most famous and long-lasting contribution to Islamic and world civilization. Kitab Qiṣṣat Dhū al-Qarnayn is a 12th-century rendition of the Alexander romance (legends about the mythical exploits ...