On Ruling grids

Having just spent a month and a half travelling around France and Northern Italy looking at some of the manuscripts of the Liber legis langobardorum for my research project, I am now back in the office and writing up copious amounts of notes. One of the main things I have to be working on is the descriptions of the ruling grids, as used by the scribes to lay out the page and position the main text-block, decorative initials, glosses in the margins and the such like.

I’ve previously found analysis of these to be highly informative when considering the general ways in which a given manuscript was physically produced, and long hours spent considering the minutae of exactly which lines are extended to the outer edge of the folio or across the centrefold of the bifolium often prove to be worthwhile. Even if at the time, barely perceptible scratched lines, damaged parchment and dozens upon dozens of folios can cause the eyes to cross and the attention to wander.

At the moment I am writing up the details for Padua, Biblioteca del Seminario Vescoville, MS DXXVIII, one of the latest copies of the Liber legis langobardorum dating to the first quarter of the twelfth century. It is a plain manuscript overall, written in a single column with simple, pen-drawn initials for each clause offset from the text-block in the left margin, made in what appears to be the same ink as used for copying the text itself. There are glosses copied in the outer margin of many of the folios (they appear to be in the same hand as the main text-block, but detailed palaeographic analysis is currently a little further down my to do list), and running headings in the upper margin of each folio, recto and verso.

Here and now, however, it is the ruling grid that has my attention. My focus in this post is to consider the methodology of describing and analysing these, the implications for the production of the book (skirted around here somewhat, but nonetheless present) must wait for a fuller article on the manuscript itself. A summary glance at the data could easily be used to say that only two grids are used: Grid A has 38 long lines to the column and is used on the vast majority of the folios, while Grid B has only 37 lines and is used only on folios 31-33 and 60-61.

Looking at which of the long lines the scribe chose to extend to the outer margins of the page and into the centrefold (close analysis shows that here the ‘through lines’ do not actually go through, but instead stop just shy. Each folio was ruled individually, not as an open bifolium), gives a more detailed picture. Between variations in extension of the first two to four lines, the last one to three lines, and any of none to three lines around the middle of the page (between lines 16 and 23), a much larger range of ruling grids appear. three for type B, and at least 24 for type A.

In fact, there may be more than 24 of type A, as there are some subtle variations on the given theme, usually where only one line is apparently missing from one side of the grid. As the lines are often faint and difficult to discern, I have given the grid the benefit of the doubt and labelled these variants with an additional code e.g. Grid AD2 or AD3, rather than giving them a whole new code to themselves. If the variants are included, a further eight ruling grids can be added to the total – making for thirty-two of type A (38 lines) and thirty-five in all. A sizeable number for a manuscript of only eighty-three folios, averaging at one for every 2.4 folios.

In all those grids, the duplicates are generally adjacent. Despite the overall similarity of the grids, there are surprisingly few repeats of exactly the same pattern. Grid AP first appears on fols 46-49 and again on fols 6-67, while Grid AF appears on fols. 14-15 and 22-24, then perhaps in a variant form (AF2, which includes line 36 as a ‘throughline’, but not as an extender) on fols 76-79.

My initial instincts are to draw a diagram to summarise each one, and it is an approach I have used in the past on other manuscripts (both the collection of Anglo-Saxon laws in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 383 on which my doctoral project was based, and on the copy of the Liber legis lagobardorum in Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek MS 471, that formed the foundation for my current postdoctoral research project). It may still prove to be a useful tool here, but the variations in the ruling grids are subtle and I am not sure how much information the reader might glean from comparing to ostensibly similar grids. Take for example grids AA and AB below, where the only variation is that mid-lines 18-20 are extended in AA, and 19-21 in AB.

Ruling Grid AA (fols 2-5)

Ruling Grid AB (fols 2-5)

Instead, I have focused on tabulating the information, a PDF of the draft file can be found here. This provides a very dense appendix to an article or manuscript description, which is nonetheless far more approachable than the initial extended table of page-by-page data, painstakingly gathered in the library direct from the manuscript. Editing the data into this tabulated form is as much a process of analysis as presentation, and as actively constructed data (is there any other kind?) belays interesting suggestions on how the manuscript was produced. As such, there is a balance between the density of the information provided and its usability.

I wonder (idly, not as a challenge!) how many people will check the tabulated data in detail, preferring instead to refer to the key points that I draw attention to. This, then, like any research, is a case of forming, analysing and curating data. And as such, I will keep sifting through it partly to see what patterns and suggestions fall out for myself, but also to see if better ways can be found to present it.


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