Author Topic: Codex Gigas  (Read 474 times)

Offline Zivio

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Codex Gigas
« on: June 09, 2023, 12:17:51 PM »
Apropos of nothing, except a bit of desultory research into my Bohemian ancestory and connections with script, I encountered the Codex Gigas this morning. Compared to many of you, my interest in script is only a few years old, and no doubt @K-2 could add much pedantry to this topic, but this was my first introduction to this amazing work!

If there are any of you interested in this, I found the short video here edifying:

https://www.kb.se/in-english/the-codex-gigas/film-about-the-codex-gigas.html
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Offline K-2

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Re: Codex Gigas
« Reply #1 on: June 09, 2023, 06:54:56 PM »
@Zivio - I'm not going to open the firehose of pedantry all the way here, because I'm prepping for a research trip and overseeing a summer institute at the moment, but here are a few pedantic thoughts about the codex....

The Codex Gigas has lots of interesting quirks!  I've seen the original in Sweden!  It really is gigantic!  "Gigas" means "Giant" in Latin - so "Codex Gigas" means "Giant Book".  And indeed, it's the largest extant medieval manuscript; in fact, we don't know if anyone ever made a bigger one: 92 cm (36 in) long; 50 cm (20 in) wide; 22 cm (8.7 in) thick; weighing 74.8 kg (165 lb).

You can read a good layman's account of it on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Gigas
And see high-quality scans of it without going to Sweden (where they're not going to let you look at it anyway): https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Codex_Gigas

Sometimes it's called "The Devil's Bible" because it has a big picture of a Devil in the middle of it. Despite what you may read online about this feature, it's not that unusual to have pictures of devils or demons in bibles or psalters or other manuscripts - what makes the one in the Codex Gigas unusual is the SIZE of the picture. Usually the little demons/devils/monsters/grotesques and other outlandish pictures, like the guys jousting on snails or the pooping monks or the nuns picking penises from trees are miniatures done in the borders of the text, but here in the Codex Gigas, the Devil has a full folio spread!

What's really important and unusual about the text is that it's composed in a single hand - we're sure that it's the work of a lone scribe, working over the course of perhaps 20 years, although there is a lurid legend about the monk making a deal with the devil to make the work go faster.

What seems charming to me about the codex (and what the wiki page and the Swedish film don't really say) is that it gives us information about the monastery it was made in - an intimate view into what must have been a relatively small, isolated, poor community of Benedictine monks, far away from the great centers of art and learning.

First of all - it has geometric and plant designs, but not many drawings of people or animals, which says to us that the illustrator (who may or may not have been the same monk that penned the script) didn't get out much, and didn't have a lot of other illustrated books to copy.

Second - it's done in the Romanesque style, both in terms of size and script (a really beautiful proto-gothic hand). There was a sort of fad for really big books in the 11th century. And that again tells us that the makers of this text were isolated (in Bohemia or current-day Czechia, at the Benedictine monastery of Podlažice near Chrudim) and kind of behind the times. Elsewhere in Europe, by the early 12th century, they stopped making comically over-sized books, and also developed the calligraphic hand called littera textualis (ie textura quadrata / "gothic"). So the Codex Gigas, dating from the early 13th century, was actually pretty old-fashioned for its time.

Third - it's done on parchment made from donkey skins and it has no "illumination" (that is to say, no gold leaf), which hints at a relatively smaller budget for production. Calfskin or sheepskin was finer and more expensive; gold leaf was very expensive (as it still is!).

Finally - We again know that the monastery must have been poor, because not long after the text was completed, the monks of Podlažice pawned it to the Cistercians monks at Sedlec, and didn't get it back until the end of the century.

Eventually the Hussites destroyed the monastery at Podlažice, the book moved to Prague, and eventually got looted from Prague by the Swedish during the 30 Years War. That's why it resides in Sweden (although they loaned it back to Prague for a few months in 2007-2008).

/pedantry

Hope that helped scratch your pedantry itch, Karl!
--yours, K

Offline Zivio

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Re: Codex Gigas
« Reply #2 on: June 09, 2023, 08:23:47 PM »
Wow, @K-2, your response did much more than scratch the itch! I especially enjoyed reading it because of your summary of the high points, things I might only have uncovered by wading through lots of online information.  I’m even more so honored that you took the time to offer it during a very busy time. Thank you — your scholarship, as always, is admirable and your reply much appreciated.

As for family history, my father was born and raised in the small village of Skuteč — only a short four-mile walk to Podlažice — until the age of nine when family immigrated to the United States.

Wishing you many joys and the best of success in your upcoming research trip! Hoping you may be able to share anything that may be of particular interest to this Flourish Forum society.

Peace and cheer,
~Karl
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Offline Mary_M

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Re: Codex Gigas
« Reply #3 on: June 11, 2023, 01:41:19 PM »
This is amazing. The amount of work to write a book of this size blows my mind. I don’t know much about medieval manuscripts but I enjoy learning about them. I love the combination of the disciplined writing and the imaginative the imaginative creatures and scenes. Thanks for posting and thanks @K-2 for the interesting details.