f. 82v

Team 1 will transcribe the version housed at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Fonds Français 14964, ff. 1r-117v.

For Phase I of the Image du Monde Challenge (September 25- October 9, 2020) teams will transcribe from the beginning of the work to Book 2, Chapter 4. In the BNF Français 14964, the text begins at f. 1r, line 1, and ends a f. 57v, line 10.



A Midlife Challenge 

In the middle of our challenge, with a week to go before a major milestone birthday, I realized that I had done my training in Latin paleography exactly half my lifetime ago. I had loved transcribing at the time, spending many more hours than necessary with one eye buried in a photographer’s loupe trying to decipher photocopies of English chancery hand for a grade. Yet after that I never worked with manuscripts again.  Nor did I ever catch up with the digitized world of manuscripts until now. My scholarship has been always been of the solo variety. I don’t think I have been on a team since high school. Who knew that competitive transcription would inspire a sense of exhilaration and shared purpose that I had not experienced in decades? I forgot to eat. I slept poorly. I neglected my job. I talked to old friends unexpectedly and made news ones.  It was wonderful. What a rare thing to create such a welcoming space for people to practice at their various skills levels and contribute to something meaningful that has the potential to be useful to many. What a joy to wake up and find that one’s teammates across the ocean have solved a puzzle while you slept. Over the span of the competition, Old French verses once difficult to decipher became nearly as easy to read as words on a modern printed page. I marveled, and am still marveling, at how things came into focus. 


A bit of context: The Seven Liberal Arts

The sixth section of part one of the Image du Monde tackles the seven liberal arts (BnF fr. 14964 f. 21r). This was a standard means of describing the educational curriculum in the Middle Ages. Gossuin devotes a chapter to each of the seven arts of Grammar, Dialectic (or Logic), Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy, which form parts of Philosophy. He makes a strong claim about the value of a liberal arts education, declaring:

Queles font home liberal / Et delivre estre de tout mal

The arts would have been familiar in the Middle Ages, not only because they were frequently referenced in texts, but also because they appeared on the facades of some churches, including Sens Cathedral, where they were probably carved at the end of the twelfth century. Here, as in Gossuin’s text, the arts are part of a larger conception of the universe. They appear to the left of the central portal, above images of beasts (including an elephant and a sciopod), but below column-figures that would have represented saints and Christ on the tympanum.

At Sens, the arts are all given equal space, suggesting an equivalence between them. The same is not true in Gossuin’s text. In BnF fr. 14964, the first art, Grammar, is given 18 lines. Logic is then given just 8 lines, setting out that it is the means to prove truth and falsehood. The third of the trivium of the arts concerning language, Rhetoric, gets more scope at 16 lines. The four arts of the quadrivium get more attention with 24 lines for Arithmetic and 17 lines for Geometry, before almost two pages (50 lines) dedicated to Music. Finally Astronomy gets an enormous 148 lines, laying the foundations for the descriptions of the universe later in the text. Yet despite the imbalance in the amount of text, Gossuin provides a line of continuity for his account of the liberal arts, ending the section on Grammar with the idea that God brought the world into being through words.


In Team 1’s manuscript, there are descriptions of “greater Asia”, India, Asia Minor, Europe, and Africa starting on folio 38v. This section also mentions Troy, Alexander the Great, and events from the Bible. There is no recent history, but some of this section comes from a contemporary source, the History of Jerusalem by Jacques de Vitry, who was Bishop of Acre from 1217 to 1229 (our manuscript is dated to 1265). First, on folio 50r:

Dautre part devers orient / Sont une maniere de gent
Qui descendirent de Juis / Et sont unes gens orde et viels
Ne femme espousee nont mie / Por ce que il ne croient mie
Que femme se puisse tenir / A un seul homme sans faillir
Nont cure de femme fors tant / Quil puissent engenrer enfant

Jacques describes the same people, “of Jewish stock”:

“They do not marry, for fear of the dissoluteness of women, who they believe are never faithful to one man…They have intercourse with them only in order to beget offspring…” (Jacques de Vitry, The History of Jerusalem, trans. Aubrey Stewart (Palestine Pilgrims Text Society, 1896), pg. 84-85).

Folios 50rv-51r continue:

Autre gent i a barbarins / Qui se font clamer Jacobins 
Por Jacob qui lor maistres fu / Et sont crestien corrumpu 
Et por prennent bien cele gent / .xl. regnes de tous seus
Quant il se confessent a dieu / Pres dals metent encens et feu
Et cuident quen cele fumee / Sen aille vers Dieu lor pensee

This is a summary of Jacques de Vitry’s description:

“Moreover, there are in the Holy Land…other barbarous nations…Of these, some are called Jacobites, from a teacher of theirs named Jacobus…more than forty kingdoms, they declare, belong to them…they confess their sins not to priests, but to God alone in secret, setting frankincense on fire beside them as though their sins would ascend unto God in the smoke thereof.” (Vitry, pg. 73).

Lastly, folio 51r reads:

Cele part sont une autre gent / Crestien en dieu miex creant
Em bataille puissant et fort / Que Sarrazin doutent tant fort
Que ne lor osent riens mesfaire / Ains lor sont dous et debonnaire
Et sont tout enclos environs / De gent mescreant, et felons
Cele gent sont bon crestien / Et ont a non Georgien
Car Saint Jorge, apelent tous jors / En batailles, et en estors
Contre paiens, et si laorent / Sor tous autres sains et honorent
Si ont tuit reses les corones / Dont li clerc les portent reondes
Et li lai quarrees les ont / Quant le sepucre [lacuna] vont
Li Sarrazin, nes osent prendre / Ne paiaige, ne risas sor vendre
Quil doutent quil ne revenissent / Que chier as autres nel vendissent
Les gentils dames, dou pais / Bien se combatent par pais
Armees sor chevals de pris / Ensamble avecques lor maris

This follows Jacques de Vitry even more closely:

“There is also in the East another Christian people, who are very warlike, and valiant in battle…They are much dreaded by the Saracens…being entirely surrounded by infidel nations. These men are called Georgians, because they especially revere and worship St. George, whom they make their patron and standard-bearer in their fights with the infidels, and honour him above all other saints…Their clergy have round tonsures, and their laity square ones. Whenever they come on pilgrimage to the Lord’s sepulchre…the Saracens in no wise dare to molest them, lest on their return to their own country they should revenge themselves on other Saracens…Their noblewomen…bear arms in battle like knights.” (Vitry, pg. 83-84)

So, although the Image du Monde usually pays no attention to contemporary events, the author was at least familiar with Jacques de Vitry.


There are diagrams that do their job and there are diagrams that shine – literally in the case of BnF fr. 14964, where the astronomical diagrams include gilded circles for the stars and planets. The early part of the manuscript, which has been the focus of this phase of the Image du Monde challenge, has diagrams that help to explain the form of the earth, and most are explicitly referred to in the text. The first diagram, on f. 31v, shows the earth as the innermost of four concentric circles, the others containing the elements of water, air and fire. Such designs were not unique to this treatise, but the diagrams in this manuscript are remarkable for being fully painted and sometimes unnecessarily elaborated, as on f. 38r where the earth is occupied by a large church, probably representing the idea of Jerusalem as the centre of the world. In other cases, the pleasing aesthetic of the diagrams is not matched by accuracy. For example, in the T-O maps on f. 39r the labels for Europe and Africa have been transposed from their usual positions, placing Africa to the north and Europe to the south. The lavish treatment of these diagrams, executed by a skilled artist (if not a geographer), together with other evidence such as the wide margins around the text (which have probably been trimmed – more details to follow), suggests that this manuscript was an expensive product, designed to showcase the owner’s social status as well as their erudition.

TEAM 1 Update, Sunday, September 27

Team 1 has come out of the gate strong, with nearly 41% of our manuscript either transcribed or ready for review by Sunday morning. We’ve been using the Slack channel to exchange ideas and solve problems. Among them: when do we use i or j? How do we transcribe the Tironian “7”? Where to find strange and unrecognizable place names? How many different verb forms actually exist? Watch this space for more on the manuscript itself, which seems to have seen better days, and on some of the strange idiosyncrasies of the BNF fr. 14964 scribe.

Team 1 members include: