Composite manuscripts are good things in many ways. One way is that if you’re trying to improve your Latin decoding skills for early medieval texts, choosing such a manuscript for practice gives you a wider range of source materials. Which is really the main reason I came to Cod. Sang. 878.
Cod. Sang. 878 has three sets of descriptions in the e-codices catalogue, of which the most imposing is that of Bernhard Bischoff. He it was who in 1950 connected this manuscripts with Wahlafrid Strabo, aka Wilfrid the squinter, one time abbot of Reichenau in the early ninth century. And he it was who gave it its subtitle: The Vademecum of Wahlafrid Strabo. What’s not to like if you’re just hunting a Latin lesson?
Well, nothing really. It is a collection of all things important to a ninth century scholar. Lots of grammar gurus – Donatus, Priscian, Alcuin – alongside lots of Famous Men, including Jerome, Isidore, Seneca, Hrabanus Maurus and Hippocrates. And, for good measure, lots of mini extracts from Orosius on pagan history, (chiefly confined to portents and disasters), the format for swearing an oath, recipes and a calendar which is apparently one of the conclusive bits of evidence that pin it to that area of Germany in that period but mean that it was not written by someone educated in St Gallen.
So. I know a lot more about Orosius than I did and am much better at reading Roman dates in text and at the vocabulary associated with earthquakes, plagues and catastrophic defeats. But I also have a lot more questions than I started with.
How certain are we that it is written by or at the behest of Wahlafrid? Far be it from me to question Professor Bischoff, but can we be sure? There are apparently some rebuttals which I have yet to read but without going into the palaeography, this collection is not all that dissimilar to Cod. Sang. 270 which is simply classed as an educational manuscript but is, unlike Cod. Sang. 878, all in the same hand and thus perhaps more likely to be linked to one scholar.
Why is 878 a Vademecum but 270 and others like it, not? As far as I can establish, the term Vademecum, which is a German term as much as an English one, did not come into use before the 16th century. So it is a modern appellation, not what Wahlafrid would have called it. That’s fine, but what did he think it was? And are there other similar manuscripts about that don’t attract attention because they don’t have such an eye-catching label?
And then there’s my current in-bonnet-residing-bee: Why so much Orosius? The extracts amount to 11 pages out of the manuscript’s 396. And why these extracts? The scribe has been extremely selective: there are several books of Orosius’ history and on average he has copied only a few lines per chapter.
Time to go digging.