London, Lambeth Palace Library MS 204 Gregory the Great, "Dialogues': Ephraem the Syrian, "Sermo asceticus"

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Rolf H. Bremmer
Kees Dekker


313. London, Lambeth Palace Library MS 204

Gregory the Great, "Dialogues':

Ephraem the Syrian, "Sermo asceticus"

[Ker 277, Gneuss 510]

HISTORY: An early-11c manuscript containing the Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great, followed by a text identified by the scribe as the 'Liber beati Efrem diaconi qui primus sedit in libro gerenticon: This text, attributed to Ephraem the Syrian, is known as the Sermo asceticus, a Latin translation of Λóγoς Aoκητικóς, the title of its Greek original in Assemanus (1732: 1.40-70). This is an incomplete version of a text known variously as the Ammonitio, Monita, Institutio ad Monachos, or De compunctione cordis, based on hymns by Ephraem the Syrian, besides two Syriac sermons and spurious material. The popularity of this text in the Middle Ages is borne out by translations into Coptic, Arabic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Georgian, Slavonic, and Latin, the last as early as the 6c (Sims-Williams 1985: 206; Stevenson 1998: 7; Bischoff and Lapidge 1994: 237-39; Ganz 1999). This homily, which the scribe claimed to have found in the Liber geronticon de octo principalibus vitiis (by the 6c monk Paschasius), is not the same as what Allen and Calder (1976: 86-93) translated as part of the sources for Christ III. It is, however, the only text attributed to Ephraem the Syrian appearing in an A-S manuscript from before the Conquest (Stevenson 1998: 7). The last recto in the manuscript contains a so-called rota, a wheel with eight spokes containing verse lines running through the center and in the circle. The "Dialogues" and the homily by Ephraem contain scattered OE glosses and a line of text, which were already noticed by Wanley and mentioned in his catalogue ( 1705: 269). Also distinctly A-S is one of the various scratched drawings. It depicts, in the lower margin off. 74v, an A-S warrior inscribed as 'Engle' holding a spear and shield, called 'rex' and a viking 'Dene; holding an axe and shield, and named 'Magnus'. The most likely figures to have been thus depicted are King Harthacnut or Edward the Confessor and the Norwegian pretender Magnus of Norway, the son of St. Olaf, but another possibility is Magnus, the son of Harald Hardrada. Whichever of the two it may be, it suggests a date of 1040-1060 for the manuscript, since the sketch was presumably there before the text. On the basis of palaeographical as well as circumstantial evidence, Ker (Cat., p. 341; 1964: 78) regards the texts as constituting one manuscript, originating probably from Ely. Bishop (1971: xvi) suggested that the manuscript might have been written at Christ Church, Canterbury, but that it was later in Ely appears on f. 129v from the coat of arms of Robert Steward (d. 1557), the last prior of Ely Monastery as well as first dean of Ely Cathedral after the Reformation. Steward was eager to claim his ancestry from a Sir John Steward, related to the royal house of Scotland (Heal 2004), and a description of the coat of arms in French was added right beside it. Gneuss (no. 510) also postulates that the manuscript originates from Christ Church, Canterbury, but that its provenance is Ely. Later the manuscript belonged to Richard Bancroft (1544-1610), the founder of Lambeth Palace Library, as appears from the catalogue of his manuscripts (Ker, Cat., p. 341). There is an old press mark 'TS' at the right side of the lower margin of f. 1 r, which is the press mark of the pre-164 7 Library. Upon its arrival in Cambridge in 1647, it was given the press mark 'I. 11- 12; and after its return to Lambeth in 1664, Archbishop William Sancroft (1677, deprived 1690) had the manuscript rebound and added a list of contents on f. ii recto (see above, the "History" of Lambeth Palace Library 173 [312], p. 90).

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