The British Library has digitized 284 volumes of Greek manuscripts as part of a move to make important ancient documents available over the Internet. Among the collection are the Theodore Psalter from the year 1066 and 123 Aesop-style fables.
Scholars are excited to have such easy access to images of fragile and rare documents, supported by enhanced metadata which enables users to search using key words. Mary Beard, a professor of classics at the University of Cambridge, says: "This is exactly what we have all hoped for from new technology, but so rarely get. It opens up a precious resource to anyone – from the specialist to the curious – anywhere in the world, for free. I?m looking forward to a new wave of fascinating and important work on this material, made possible by this new electronic open access."
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world?s greatest research libraries. It is a repository for 14 million books, 920,000 journal and newspaper titles, 58 million patents, 3 million sound recordings. The current release on the Internet is part of their more than 1,000 Greek manuscripts, 3,000 plus Greek papyri, and their comprehensive collection of early Greek printing. It is one of the most important collections outside of Greece for scholastic study of Hellenic culture spanning more than 2,000 years.
The manuscripts are considered fundamental to understanding the Classical and Byzantine world. The illuminated Theodore Psalter is a collection of psalms ? 150 ancient songs, grouped together to form one of the Old Testament books of the Bible. It is said to be of pivotal importance for the understanding of Byzantine art. It was made when the anti-image movement of the iconoclasts, who adhered to the admonishment against graven images, had just been beaten back, allowing representational art to flourish again. Monk Theodore of the Studios monastery in Constantinople made 435 marginal illustrations as a commentary on the text of the Psalms. Presented on parchment, the first two psalms are written in gold, as are the titles and initial letters of every verse of the entire psalter. The manuscript has a full goat-leather binding. It is a uniquely rich source of insight into monastic organization, spirituality, book production, and other aspects of Byzantine life. Also part of the collection is a rare, late 12th century, gospel book that has already been digitized during this go-round. It integrates images of Christ?s life into the Gospels.
In addition to the recent free Internet offering from the British Library, the University of Illinois earlier created a CD-ROM of the 416 page Theodore Psalter for $75, also available from Amazon.com where it is listed as 3,344,934 on their best seller list. Try it out for a unique topic at your next cocktail party. Claire Breay, lead curator of Medieval and earlier manuscripts at the British Library, provides an interesting overview with images on YouTube.
Babrius?s Fables, written in the second century AD, were, themselves, used for scholarly pursuits, and even read and quoted from by the Roman Emperor Julian in 362 AD, according to the Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece. Although Babrius wrote in Greek, clues point to him being Roman. His works reflect the tradition ascribed to Aesop, a somewhat elusive character, possibly of the 6th century BC. JSTOR, an online system for archiving academic journals, now part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization helping the academic community use digital technologies to preserve scholarly records, tells us about what is known of the mysterious Aesop in Greek Fables and Babrius, by W. H. Oldaker. Such fables are reproduced today in children?s books.
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation provided funding for the digital project. Scot McKendrick, Head of History and Classical Studies at the British Library, said the Foundation "has generously agreed to fund a second phase and we look forward to presenting a further 250 manuscripts in full in 2012."
While the British are preserving Greek culture, Greece?s Prime Minister George Papandreous is causing protests by members of that country?s Hellenic Culture Organization. In an attempt to reduce deficits as required for a European Union bailout, the union members are facing replacement by state workers. Protestors have been gathering outside the New Acropolis Museum in Athens.