Reviews of

La syntaxe du codex

In Brepols, Codicology, Dan Batovici, Manuscript Studies, Manuscripts, Marilena Maniaci, Patrick ANDRIST, Paul CANART, Uncategorized on January 23, 2017 at 2:56 pm


2017.01.03 | Patrick Andrist, Paul Canart, Marilena Maniaci. La syntaxe du codex: Essai de codicologie structurale. Bibliologia 34; Turnhout: Brepols, 2013. ISBN: 9782503543932.

Review by Dan Batovici, KU Leuven.

Many thanks to Brepols for providing a review copy.

This book, a collaborative project based on the extensive previous work in the field of the three authors, is an attempt to produce a comprehensive and coherent typology for describing complex codices. While the most obvious aim of this book is to offer an extensive tool for manuscript cataloguing, it is also meant and will likely prove quite useful in all connected fields. Indeed, there are well known difficulties in describing complex manuscripts in biblical studies as well—for  instance the generalised use of the ever-ambiguous ‘miscellany’ term—where a plus of specificity as well as descriptions up to date with technical codicological terminology would be welcome.

The book has four main parts. After an extensive survey of past scholarly efforts on the topic (ch. 1), the authors first describe the constitutive parts and the types of transformation of a codex (ch. 2) and, from the other end, the various types of discontinuities that occur in a codex (ch. 3), then exemplify how the typologies from the previous two chapters can be applied in order to better grasp the history of such a manuscript (ch. 4). An appendix, extensive bibliography, three indices (cited manuscripts, modern authors, and codicological terms), and a number of 16 black and white, helpful plates complete the volume.

The extensive critical survey that forms the first chapter reflects a persistence over half a century in codicology and related disciplines of concerns with regard to concepts such as ‘booklet’, ‘caesurae’, ‘codicological  units’, ‘libelli’, ‘miscellaneous codices’ and others, employed in attempts to properly describe complex codices. The survey also reflects the variety of only partially overlapping, mostly incongruent solutions, which in turn points indeed to the need of a comprehensive treatment of all involved elements in a coherent manner, as the one which this book aims to offer.

The second chapter is also the main part of the book and starts by rigorously defining basic codicological terms—book, codex, leaf, bifolium, gathering, then contents, work, text, ruling, layout and related terms—in view of and by contrast with previous proposals. Then it sets out to describe the possible transformations of a codex in terms of production and circulation. Two concepts are put forward. First that of production unit,  which envisages a codex or a part of a codex which was made in one go, within the same production process, however complex. It can therefore be a whole codex, but it can also designate a layer of corrections or comments written later on. Secondly, a circulation unit designates all the elements that form a codex at a given time, which can be the result of one production unit or indeed a combination of several production units combined in the same codex.

With these two tools, the authors describe the ways in which a codex can grow or decrease, proceeding from simple to complex. Simple transformations would be additions of both new leaves and new text, of only text in the blank spaces of the initial codex, of a combination of both (e.g. writing the beginning of a new text in the blank spaces on the initial codex and adding further leaves for the remainder of the new text), or indeed by rebinding two extant codices in one. In all these cases, the result is a new circulation unit combining the initial production unit(s) with the added production unit. Similarly, a codex can decrease by being completely destroyed (for instance by washing the initial text for rewriting, in the production of a palimpsest), partially destroyed (e.g. through loss of leaves at the beginning or end), or divided in smaller codices. These transformations too result in a new circulation unit, or in several new circulation units in the latter case. A  number of complex transformations are then discussed in detail, comprising various combinations of simpler transformations.

The third chapter discusses at length the types of discontinuity that can be identified in a codex, be it a change of material, gathering structure, ruling, hand and content. This direction of inquiry is meant as an aid for better recognizing the various production and circulation units of a codex. Ultimately, a full tabulation of all discernible units would be helpful in understanding the history of a codex. Subsequently, the fourth chapter offers a demonstration of how the tools developed in the previous chapters can be put to work in order to create better grounded hypotheses in reconstructing the history of a complex codex. Finally, the appendix picks one complex manuscript as an example (Vat. gr. 469) and presents on the one hand two extant catalogue entries for it, and on the other an updated catalogue entry using the concepts, distinctions and vocabulary proposed in this volume.

On the whole, one might quibble that multiple definitions—and there are many here, at each turn of the argument—might complicate things more than explain them, but the volume does deliver what it promises: a better grounded and more coherent syntax of how the various parts of a complex codex relate to one another. It is therefore a very useful tool for codicologists, cataloguers, and manuscript librarians in general, and it will also very likely serve well connected fields. For instance, scholars interested in reception history will find the notion of ‘circulation unit’ helpful in distinguishing the various layers of reception of a text as mirrored in the transformation history of the codex that contains it. It would be certainly useful to see an English translation, even more so given the fact that most of the bibliography with which this book is in conversation tends to be either in French or in Italian.

Dan Batovici
KU Leuven
dan.batovici at


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