By Roderick Saxey, June 29, 2012
This is our second summer working on the microfilm project—wonderful work for people of a certain inclination, who enjoy creating greater order out of lesser (or occasionally out of chaos) and presenting others with something useful and worth their while. I come excited every morning at nine and am always sorry to leave at five.
As to imposing of order on things, an experienced bibliothecarian put it to me as “I want the forks with the forks and the spoons with the spoons.” It’s a marvelous feeling to take the Escorial’s bizzare nota antiqua Ψ.II.12 and relegate it to a parenthesis after the far neater Cod. 447 of Revilla & Andrés’s catalogue. (As I say, people of a certain inclination.) And, though alternations of anger and despair are not an uncommon experience when going through some catalogues (or certain Italian websites), there’s great satisfaction in turning an overlooked corrigendum into an obedient correctum.
For presenting something useful, I have little doubt. Some great and long-established scholars have stopped by our little office (affectionately, «τὸ Μπουντρουμάκι») with various questions and we’ve been very gratified to be able to share online resources with them or point out bibliography they hadn’t seen but that we came across just by chance. These things and more, including things overlooked by the existing catalogues, we include in our descriptions of the manuscripts (separate from our descriptions of the films) and many of them will be helpful to researchers, first here at D.O. and later to anyone in the world.
One danger of working with the films – and a blessing as well – is simply that we come across so many cool things. If dealing with sloppy or ill-conceived catalogues is like trudging through the Augean Stables, then traveling through a constant series of palæographical masterpieces is like sailing past the Sirens. (“Stop! We will give thee wisdom! …Take a photo; it’ll last longer!”) Sometimes you have to stop your ears with wax and concentrate on the folio-numbers.
Just now, as I was writing this, young Vladimir came across yet another parchment masterpiece: Patmos Codex 171, a 9th-century illustrated and annotated manuscript of Job, in uncials. Some of the pictures are available on line, such as the following, and I hope that eventually the whole codex will be part of the great democratizing of learning that characterizes our age (see: BL), but for now it, like so many others, are not available except in the libraries that house them and in those, like ours, that own good films. So we can offer people something of value indeed.
About me: I studied Shakespeare and mediæval Greek before coming to D.O. I’ve just finished yet another Master’s degree and am now looking for further adventures in teaching or in research, library work, etc. I’m very happy that I finally get to go back to Oxford—if not in real life, then at least through cataloguing our many Bodley manuscript films.
(More illustrated Job here!)