Materiality of Translation

Erene Rafik Morcos (Princeton/Rome)

 ...διά χειρὸς τοῦ πολυαμαρτήτου Ῥωμανοῦ ...

... by the hand of the great sinner Romanos ... 

By needing to negotiate the needs of two alphabets on a single page and two writing systems in one book, Greco-Latin codices offer modern manuscript scholars an invaluable glimpse into the complexities of bookmaking. These bilingual manuscripts pose challenges—of interpretation, classification, and production—that become increasingly complex when trying to also understand these codices as legacies of local bookmaking. Nonetheless, Greco-Latin manuscripts are especially common in the Middle Ages in a variety of configurations spanning the spectrum of luxury commissions to humble functional texts and prompt inquiries into the visuality of language and the effect of language on the materiality of a book. 

Romanos of Ullano was a bilingual scribe active in the late thirteenth century. Among his surviving output are three Greco-Latin Psalters and a set of Greco-Latin Gospels dating from the years he sought refuge in Rossano from pirate raids threatening his monastic community in Reggio Calabria. Bringing these four Greco-Latin codices into conversation, this paper will chart their approaches to manuscript production along with the diverging, colorful afterlives they have enjoyed. These books elegantly exemplify the stakes of the creation, reading and studying of Greco-Latin codices while also shedding light on medieval social and linguistic plurality.

Nelson Landry (Oxford)

A Five Dynasties Manuscript in relation to Tang Buddhist culture: A Study of S.3728 from the British Library

The literature preserved in Dunhuang, China, such as bianwen 變文 and yazuo wen 押座文 texts were long forgotten until the cave 17 manuscript cache was discovered in the Mogao grottoes in northern Gansu. Indeed, these texts authored between the fourth and the eleventh century were preserved in the caves for over a millennium before the arrival in Dunhuang of Sir Aurel Stein set in motion the slow triage of the cache’s content, unveiling varied manuscripts that continue to busy scholars to this day. Relevant to this seminar is a manuscript from the Stein collection at the British Library called S.3728. The recto is related to combustibles in Dunhuang. The verso has varied Buddhist material: a dialogue—most likely fabricated—between Emperor Xuanzong (r. 713-756) and an unknown master called Shengguang 勝光; an excerpt from Daoxuan’s 道宣 Ji Shenzhou sanbao gantong lu 集神州三寶感通錄 (Record of Miracles, for short; T2106); a paraphrased edict that was passed in the first year of the Renshou era (601) under Emperor Wen of the Sui;  two seat-settling texts (yazuo wen 押座文) authored by Yunbian, a Five Dynasties figure renown for his skill in lecturing on the Buddhist teachings.

This seminar speaks not only to the content of S.3728, but to its place in medieval Chinese social history. The scroll is something of a collage with writing excerpts that shift from the dialogic to the prefatory. The seat settling texts included in the manuscript are like syncretic homilies, marrying Buddhist rhetoric to Confucian filial piety. At first glance, the juxtaposition of all these different excerpts on the recto of S.3728 seems arbitrary, though I would like to find and discuss the common thread that ties them all together. Given that Buddhists were obviously reusing this paper—writing on the verso of an administrative document—the materiality of the manuscript is also of great interest. Bearing this in mind, this talk would present pre-modern Buddhism in its element, a lived religion that preserved not only scriptures or relics of holy persons, but also lecture notes and donor list and more—artefacts of what religious life might have looked like at the time. A look at this manuscript and its content may therefore cast a light on the cultural environment not only in Dunhuang, but across China during the Tang and Five Dynasties period.