Balliol College (Balliol manuscripts 26, 27 and 246)

According to a reliable source the late Maurice De Wulf once gave a paper on the impact of the railroad on medieval manuscript studies.  The argument, presumably, being that with rapid and convenient transportation medieval scholars could now study manuscripts spread throughout the continent. While I am sure the railroad did enhance the study of medieval manuscripts, there can be no doubt that the availability of digital manuscript copies is currently revolutionizing the field.  Here are a few notes on various manuscripts of Robert Holcot recently made available by Balliol College and the current archivist Anna Sander.

I. Robert Holcot’s Commentary on the Twelve Minor Prophets (Balliol 26).

The second biblical commentary that Robert Holcot wrote originated with his lectures on the Twelve Prophets. This lecture series was given at Oxford while Holcot was regent master in theology (1336-1338). The lectures are interesting in that they have been preserved in a relatively unaltered state; as Smalley notes, “[Holcot] did not polish his notes on the Twelve Prophets enough to make them presentable” (EFA, 142). The result is that while the lectures never gained the fame of his other more polished commentaries, they do present one with a relatively pristine view of what was perhaps presented in the lectures themselves. The commentary on the Twelve Prophets is extant in four manuscripts and was never published in an early modern edition. The manuscripts are:

London, Gray’s Inn, fols. 1ra-72ra;
Oxford Bodleian Library, SC 2648 (Bodl. 722), fols. 1-140;
Oxford, Balliol College 26, fols. 1-176v; and
Valencia, Cathedral 191, fols. 125ra-169rb.

For a discussion of the manuscripts, see Kimberly A. Rivers, “Pictures, Preaching and Memory in Robert Holcot’s Commentary on the Twelve Prophets,” (M.S.L. Thesis, University of Toronto 1993), 27-28. Kimberly Rivers edited the book of Nahum from three of the extant manuscripts, thus providing a glimpse into Holcot’s earliest scriptural exegesis. The content of the work is an exegetical analysis of each of the twelve minor prophets in the Christian Old Testament (in the Vulgate, i.e.: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachai).

II. Robert Holcot’s Commentary on Wisdom (Balliol 27).

Robert Holcot’s Commentary on Wisdom is often called a “medieval best seller” and is extant in hundreds of manuscripts spread throughout Europe. The late Beryl Smalley preferred to use two manuscripts of the commentary on Wisdom: (1) Oxford, Balliol College 27; and (2) Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud Misc. 562. Regarding the former, Smalley writes that in the margins of Balliol 27 there are references to the ‘liber magistri’ (book of the master) written in a hand that is contemporary with the text itself. Indicating, it seems, that Balliol 27 was copied from a book belonging to Holcot. Further, she notes, the hand belongs to the period before 1350 and “might be rather earlier.”  Thus, Smalley concludes that Balliol 27 is “quite close to an autograph” (Smalley, “Robert Holcot,” 11).

Nota Bene: the header of this webpage is taken from Balliol 27, f. 2r. It is the first page of Holcot’s commentary on Wisdom beginning, “Dominus petra mea et robur meum [et salvator meus].” (The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer, II Samuel 22:2).

III. Robert Holcot’s Quodlibetal Questions (Balliol College 246) (not yet scanned).

Robert Holcot is one of the last fourteenth-century English scholars to leave a collection of quodlibetal questions. A few notes on Holcot’s quodlibets is instructive. First, it has proved difficult to date Holcot’s quodlibetal questions. Based on the dating of Holcot’s commentary on the Sentences, his quodlibetal questions are dated by Heinrich Schepers, William Courtenay, and Katherine Tachau to the years 1333-34. More recently, Hester Gelber has argued that Holcot’s Quodlibeta most likely occurred during his period of regency at Oxford between 1336 and 1338 (ICHBO, 91-95). In a subsequent article Rondo Keele correctly pointed out that at present the date of the Quodlibeta cannot be determined with any finality and that it is best to simply state that the work probably dates from between 1333 and 1338. Second, while the dating of Holcot’s Quodlibeta is difficult enough to determine, establishing the list of questions debated (and their proper order) is much more complex. The reason for this is that Holcot’s Quodlibeta include over a hundred individual questions which are preserved in at least three distinct traditions found in the following three manuscripts:

(P1) Cambridge, Pembroke College Library 236 (ff. 117ra-221vb);
(B) London, British Library, Royal (ff. 141vb-174ra); and
(R) Oxford, Balliol College Library 246 (ff. 182ra-264va).

These manuscripts present radically divergent lists of the quodlibetal questions: P1 preserves 99 questions, R preserves 91 questions and B preserves 38 questions. That said, there are over a hundred total quodlibetal questions, for, as Richard Gillespie demonstrated some time ago, R and B preserve questions that are missing from P1.  The majority of the quodlibets are rather short, with the typical question ranging from a single column of text up to a folio (i.e., 2 pages). Only a few of the questions extend to more than two folios in length.


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