Burgess collection illuminated letter

Burgess Collection

Burgess Collection MS 12

Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Oratore and Orator

Latin, 1 page with an illuminated border, 4 illuminated initials, 104 smaller initials

[Italy, mid-15th century]

Scanned Images of MS 12:

BindingBorderInitialsScriptCoat of Arms
Folio 1rFolio 1rFolio 82vFolio 1r
Folio 33r
Folio 82v

I. Material
II. Construction
III. Preparation of the Page 
IV. Text
VII. Binding


I. Material

The manuscript contains 150 leaves of vellum and two front and three back flyleaves, all of paper. The vellum remains in fine shape, with only a few pages having yellowed over time. Close examination of the first quire indicates that two leaves are missing between what are now numbered as folios 2 and 3. Thus, when it was originally written, the manuscript had 152 leaves. It seems that folios 3 and 4 of an original 8 folio quire were removed from the manuscript. In order to fasten the loose folios (now ff. 3-4; previously ff. 5-6), folio 4 was sewn to the quire slightly farther into the center margin of the folio than would have occurred if the other half of the bifolio had not been removed. Indeed, the bifolio would have been sewn to the quire at its center. Folio 3 was then attached to folio 4 with some form of an adhesive. 26 x 18 cm.

II. Construction

16 1-6 Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Oratore (1-115r)
28-118 7-86
126 87 - 92
139 93 - 101
148-188 102-141 Marcus Tullius Cicero, Orator (115r-150v)
199 142-150

III. Preparation of the Page

Pricking marks for the lines of the single vertical frame are rarely visible (e.g., ff. 30, 54). Pricking marks for the lines of the text are rarely visible on the outer edge of the leaves. It appears that most of them were cut away when the leaves were trimmed. The writing space is constant throughout at an area of 17.1 x 10.2 cm.

The ruling in light brown varies from very light and hardly visible to somewhat light and clearly visible. Vertical lines on each side of the writing space form a single frame that extends the length of the page. The lines were drawn by an instrument known as lead point, or plummet. This instrument was one of the writing tools known as metal point. The mark made by the instrument varied in appearance according to the type of metal used. A silver-gray mark was made by a type of lead alloy (often silver and lead). Sometimes the metal was contained in a holder. This was the precursor to the modern pencil. This type of instrument began to be widely used in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. (Brown, Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts, pp. 78, 86; E.M. Thompson, p. 43) The text is written in single columns of 33 lines. The lines of the text are slightly more than 0.5 cm. apart.

IV. Text

A. Contents

1. Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Oratore (ff. 1-115r)

a. Book 1, ff. 1-33r
Inc. Cogitanti mihi sepenumero et memoria uetera repetenti per beati fuisse. Quinte frater illi uideri solent...
Ex. Neque enim inquit tam mihi molestus fuit quod ius nortrum ciuile per uellit quam incundus quod se id nescire confessus est.

b. Book 2, ff. 33r-83v
Inc. Magna uobis pueris Q. frater si memoria tenes...
Ex. Omnes se uel statim uel ipse post meridiem malet quam primum tum audire uelle dixerunt.

c. Book 3, ff. 84r-115r
Inc. Instituenti mihi Quinte. te frater eum sermonem refferre et mandare huic tertio libro...
Ex. Sed iam affurgamus nosque curemus et aliquando ab hac contentione disputationis animos nostros curamque laxemus.

This text includes all three books of Cicero's De Oratore. It follows very closely with the two volume edition of this work published by E.W. Sutton. (Cicero [2]) However, a comparison of MS 12 with the published version brings to light a serious lacuna in the manuscript. As noted above, it seems that two leaves are missing between what are now numbered as folios 2 and 3. The two missing leaves contained the following sections of Book I: nearly all of chapter five, all of chapters six and seven and two-thirds of chapter eight.

Marcus Tullius Cicero was born in Italy in 106 B.C.E. Having been educated in Rome and Greece, he became an eminent statesman, scholar, lawyer and writer. His brilliant political career included the positions of quaestor (75 B.C.E.) and consul (63 B.C.E.). (Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 3, pp. 313-15) Cicero was exiled in 58 B.C.E. because of his alleged illegal actions in the Catilinarian affair. He was recalled when Pompey needed his assistance against Clodius. However, Cicero did not remain in the public sphere as the political climate of the triumvirate was not to his liking. (Cicero [2], p. x) It was during this hiatus from politics that he wrote De Oratore (55 B.C.E.). Then, at the time when the public sphere was dominated by the Caesar-Pompey conflict, Cicero re-entered politics. During this period, he wrote Orator (46 B.C.E.). (Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 3, pp. 313-15)

Cicero reported that he wrote De Oratore for three reasons-1) his "long devotion to the study of rhetoric;" 2) his "wish of his brother Quintus to have a satisfactory discussion of the function of the orator;" and 3) it was a justification of his "view that oratory must be based upon a wide general culture." (Cicero [1], p. 75) De Oratore is written in the form of a dialogue between various of Cicero's contemporaries (such as Licinius Crassus and Marcus Antonius). It includes discussions on the nature and range of oratory, the requirements of the orator and practical recommendations concerning winning favor with the audience, the use of wit and style. (Cicero [1], pp. 75-8; Cicero [2], pp. xv-xxii)

2. Marcus Tullius Cicero, Orator (ff. 115r-150v)

Inc. Utrum difficilius aut maius esset negare tibi saepius idem roganti an efficere id quod rogares diu multum que Brute dubitaui.
Ex. ...aut dum tibi roganti uoluerim obsequi uerecondia negandi scribendi me impudentiam suscepisse.

This text contains Cicero's Orator. It follows very closely the edition published by C.D. Yonge. (Cicero [3]) Cicero intended this work as a "plan of what he himself considered to be the most perfect style of eloquence." "He firmly believed that he had condensed all of his knowledge of the art of oratory in what he set forth in this book." (Cicero [3], p, 381) Thus, in this work, Cicero discusses the necessary equipment of an orator-"a thorough knowledge of literature, a grounding in philosophy, legal expertise, a storehouse of history, the capacity to tie up an opponent and reduce the jury to laughter, the ability to lay down general principles applicable to a particular case, entertaining digressions, the power of rousing the emotions of anger or pity, the faculty of directing his intellect to the point immediately essential." (Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 3, p. 315)

B. Script

The text is written in the tradition of the Humanistic System of scripts. This system is believed to have begun in Florence just prior to 1400. The development of this system was a conscious reformation of scripts with the aesthetic intentions of reviving clarity and legibility in book production. The system comprises three different types of script: Humanistic Book Script, Humanistic Cursive Book Script and Humanistic Cursive. MS 12 is written in Humanistic Book Script, but contains certain features of Humanistic Cursive Book Script (invented by Niccolò Niccoli by c. 1420). All three of these scripts were influenced by examples of Caroline Minuscule dating from the late twelfth century. Humanistic Cursive Book Script differs from Humanistic Book Script mainly in its more cursive ductus. This was caused by the fact that Humanistic Cursive Book Script was developed with the primary intention of being an alternate, more rapid form of Humanistic Book Script. (Brown, Western Historical Scripts, pp. 126-7, 130-3)

Although the script of MS 12 does not have a cursive ductus, it does contain other features of Humanistic Cursive Book Script. Because one of the goals of the humanistic system was to restore clarity and legibility to scripts, there was also a strong desire to reduce the need for abbreviation. Nonetheless, certain abbreviations remained. This was generally the case with Humanistic Cursive Book Script. Because this script was intended as a more rapid form, it is understandable that more abbreviations were used. (Compare, for example, Brown, Western Historical Scripts, plates 50, 51.) Certain abbreviations are used consistently in MS 12. These include abbreviations for terminal letters as well as the common abbreviations for m, que, qui and quod.

MS 12 was written by one scribe. Light brown ink was used throughout. Red ink was occasionally used to denote divisions in the beginning of the manuscript. Ligatures of c-t are common throughout. Joined letters are frequent throughout, but fusion of letters is rare. The Humanistic feature of the two-compartment g is common throughout. Tall s, a prominent feature of Humanistic Cursive Book Script, is prevalent throughout. However, pointed a, another feature of Humanistic Cursive Book Script, is absent. (Brown, Western Historical Scripts, p. 132)

V. Decoration

A. Initials

MS 12 contains four large illuminated initials and 104 smaller initials. Each book of De Oratore begins with one of the large initials. The second text (Orator) also begins with a large initial. The first book of De Oratore begins with a lavender C (spanning six lines) on a burnished gold background. The center of the initial contains blue and green vine-work. Various colored flowers emanate from the vines.

Books II and III of De Oratore and the second text all begin with yellow and red initials (M, I and V, respectively). The M at the beginning of book II of De Oratore spans 7 lines, while the other two initials span 6 lines each. All three initials are painted on a blue, crimson and green background. In addition, each initial contains the white vine-work of typical Renaissance manuscript illumination. (De Hamel, pp. 248-9; see also plates 229-231) Green vines with blue and crimson flowers emanate from each initial into the left margin. The vine-work on the folio beginning book II of De Oratore also contains yellow flowers.

Divisions in both texts are identified by small pen-work initials, each spanning about three lines. The initials are alternately drawn in blue with red flourishes and red with blue flourishes.

B. Paragraph Signs

This manuscript contains no paragraph signs.

C. Line Endings

This manuscript contains no line endings.

D. Border Decorations

The manuscript contains one illuminated border: f. 1r. Italian Renaissance manuscripts such as MS 12 were famous for their splendor. Illuminators of this period usually painted quite elaborate initials and borders on the opening leaves of manuscripts. The border on the first leaf of MS 12 is not quite as richly decorated as one might expect. Nonetheless, many of the typical aspects of Renaissance borders are present. A blue and gold bar frames the left side of the text. Red and black pen-work vines emanate from the top of the bar. Green foliage also emanates from the top of the bar, while red, blue, pink and green berries emanate from the red pen-work. Red pen-work vines and gold leaves emanate into the left margin from the center of the bar. Blue and red pen-work vines, as well as various colored leaves and berries, emanate from the bottom of the bar into the lower margin. A dragon links the red and blue vines in the lower margin. A Coat of Arms (now brown and illegible) is placed above the dragon in the lower margin. The initials M and A are placed above the Coat of Arms in brown ink. Gold discs with black spindles are interspersed throughout the border. Such discs and spindles are Italian decorative devices that were prevalent from the late fourteenth to late fifteenth century. (De Hamel, pp. 248-9; see also plates 224, 229, 231)

VI. Illustration

This manuscript contains no illustrations other than those described under border decorations.

VII. Binding

The original wine-red velvet binding remains, although it is no longer attached to the text. The binding is worn on all edges. It has been re-backed with wine-colored morocco. There is no stamping or tooling. Bindings of velvet had been produced in most parts of Europe (often for royalty) during the Middle Ages. However, they would attain their greatest use in England during the sixteenth century as foundations for embroidered bindings. (Prideaux, p. 101; Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology: Velvet)

VIII. Additions to Manuscript

A. Inside front cover, upper left corner: 12 (circled), Cicero (in pencil).

B. Inside front cover, left side: 10008/olz (in pencil).

C. Inside front cover, center: INTER ASTERES, INTER ASTRA, EDWARD SANFORD BURGESS (label, in black ink).

D. Leaf numbers have been added on the upper left corner of every leaf, except for f. 86. This leaf was skipped, making all subsequent numbering off by one leaf (in light brown ink).

E. Occasional marginal comments (in brown ink).

IX. Provenance

As noted above, the initials M. A. are present above the Coat of Arms on the first leaf. However, the Coat of Arms has browned and is no longer legible. No other information concerning ownership prior to that of Edward Sanford Burgess is available. MS 12 was part of the collection of manuscripts inherited by Julia Burgess in 1935, and subsequently given to (and partly purchased by) the University of Oregon Libraries.


Unpublished Source

Julia Burgess Papers. Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. UO Coll. 209, 9 boxes and 9 separate volumes. [Referred to above as JB.]

Published Sources

Last revision: 10/30/06 by N. Helmer
Created by Ian Rush for Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries