Burgess collection illuminated letter

Burgess Collection

Burgess Collection MS 13

Plato, Phaedo (trans. and prologue by Leonardo Bruni)

Latin, 2 medium-sized, plainly illuminated initials

[Italy, 15th century]

Scanned Images of MS 13:

frontf. 1vf. 18r

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


I. Material

The manuscript contains 34 leaves of vellum and eight flyleaves of paper (four front and four back). There is a marked hair/flesh contrast between most leaves. Several leaves toward the front of the manuscript contain worm holes. Catchwords have been written on the lower center of the verso of the last leaf of each quire. 25 x 17.9 cm.

II. Construction

110-2101-20Plato, Phaedo (trans. and prologue by Leonardo Bruni)

III. Preparation of the Page

Vertical lines on each side of the writing space form a single frame that extends the length of the page. The lines of the frame and the ruling were drawn by an instrument known as metal point. The mark made by this instrument varied in appearance according to the type of metal used. The brown lines of MS 13 were made by a ferrous point. 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 31 to 33 lines. The writing space varies from an area of 16.8 x 10.3 cm. to an area of 17.2 x 10.5 cm. The lines of the text are 0.6cm apart.

IV. Text

A. Contents
Plato, Phaedo (trans. and prologue by Leonardo Bruni)

1. Prologue, ff. 1r-1v
Inc. Qui laudant sanctitatem tuas beatissime pater...
Ex. ...sed iam satis ad interpretationem ipsam accedamus.

2. Phaedo, ff. 1v-33v
Inc. Ipse affuisti o Pheton ea die qua Socrates...
Ex. ...et preterea sapientissimi atque iustissimi. EXPLICIT.

3. Colophon, f. 33v

Plato was born into a very distinguished family in about 428 B.C.E. in Athens. Not much is known of his youth, but he must have been acquainted with Socrates through certain of his relatives who were friends of the philosopher. Plato may have had political ambitions, but he seeems to have been dissillusioned by the violence of Athenian politics during the end of the fifth century. Eventually, he fled to Megara when Socrates was condemned to death in 399 B.C.E. Plato spent the next few years traveling throughout Greece, Egypt and Italy. In 387 B.C.E, he founded the Academy on the outskirts of Athens. This was to be "an institute for the systematic pursuit of philosophical and scientific teaching and research." ("Plato," Encyclopædia Britannica Online)

In addition to his founding of the Academy, Plato is most well known for his philosophical writings. MS 13 contains what appears to be a complete copy of a Leonardo Bruni's translation of Plato's Phaedo. This work is one of Plato's dialogues and concerns his belief in the immortality of the soul. In it he uses his metaphysical doctrine of Forms to show that the soul survives death. The Phaedo was one of Plato's earlier dialogues and was probably written sometime before 368 B.C.E. Plato died in 348 or 347 B.C.E. ("Plato," Encyclopædia Britannica Online)

As noted above, MS 13 is a Latin translation of the original Greek. The translator, Leonardo Bruni, was born around 1370 in Florence. He was a distinguished humanist scholar who was one of the first to learn Greek under the Byzantine teacher Chrysoloras and begin the great task of translating Greek literature into Latin. His translations of Plato and Aristotle "broke with medieval tradition by reproducing the sense of the Greek prose rather than following it word for word." ("Bruni, Leonardo," Encyclopædia Britannica Online; Griffiths, p. 9) Bruni's translation of the Phaedo has never been edited for publication. However, the incipit of Bruni's translation is listed in Hankins' work entitled Plato in the Italian Renaissance. Thus, it can be corroborated that MS 13 does indeed contain Bruni's translation and not Ficino's or that of some other Renaissance scholar. (Hankins, 811) Bruni dedicated his translation to Pope Innocent VII (1404-6). His dedicatory letter to the pope is included in MS 13 as a prologue to the Phaedo.

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 13 is written in Humanistic Cursive Book Script. This script was invented by Niccolò Niccoli by c. 1420. As with other scripts of this tradition, Humanistic Cursive Book Script was 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) 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 were used consistently in MS 13. These include abbreviations for terminal letters as well as the common abbreviations for m, que, qui and quod. MS 13 was written in brown ink by one scribe. Joined letters are frequent throughout. Fusion of letters is rare. The Humanistic feature of the two-compartment g is common throughout. Tall s and pointed a are also prevalent. These Semigothic Cursive letter-forms were often favored in Humanistic Cursive Book Script. (Brown, Western Historical Scripts, p. 132)

V. Decoration

A. Initials

MS 13 contains two medium-sized intials. Each one spans four lines and extends into the margins. Bruni's prologue begins with a red Q framed in blue pen-work with blue penwork designs inside and outside the initial. The Phaedo begins with a blue I surrounded by red pen-work designs.

B. Paragraph Signs

This manuscript contains no paragraph signs.

C. Line Endings

This manuscript contains no line endings.

D. Border Decorations

This manuscript contains no border decorations.

VI. Illustration

This manuscript contains no illustrations other than those noted in the section concerning initials.

VII. Binding

There are no remnants of the original binding. MS 13 was rebound in half-calf by Sangorski and Sutcliffe in London sometime between 1901, when the company was founded, and 1940, when Julia Burgess purchased the manuscript. "PHAEDON E VERS. LEON. ARETINI" is gold-stamped on the spine.

VIII. Additions to Manuscript

A. Inside upper cover, upper left corner: "13" (in pencil).

B. Inside upper cover, upper center: "A5" (in pencil).

C. Verso of first front flyleaf, upper left corner: "BOUND BY SANGORSKI & SUTCLIFFE, LONDON" (stamped, in black ink).

D. Recto of fourth front flyleaf, upper right corner: "Burgess Ms. 13" (in pencil).

E. Folio 1r, upper center: "Platonis Phædon, siue de Anime in Leonardo Aretino Latinem redditum" (in brown ink).

F. Inside lower cover, lower right corner: "#19964" (in pencil).

G. Recto of each leaf, upper right corner: page numbers (in pencil).

H. Occasional marginalia, possibly in the scribe's hand (in brown ink).

IX. Provenance

MS 13 was purchased by Julia Burgess from A. Rosenthal Ltd., a London bookseller, in 1940. It was part of the collection of manuscripts given to (and partly purchased by) the University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon. (JB, box 6, folder 12; see also Faye and Bond, pp. 432)


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