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Feb. 14, 2005

By Jennifer Botchie

LEWISBURG, Pa. - The fragments and leaves are rare and ancient texts that make up a new study-collection donated by Bart and Joyce De Gregorio to the Ellen Clarke Bertrand Library's Special Collections/University Archives.

The collection includes The Thirteenth-Century Bible, an imprint published in 1994 with an original leaf from a French Bible of that era; a leaf from a psalter, or book of psalms, produced for a member of the French court; a linen fragment containing two lines from The Egyptian Book of the Dead; and a vellum fragment with two lines of Bactrian script from a business contract.

The manuscripts offer study possibilities in a host of disciplines. Curator Doris Dysinger says the e-mail responses from the campus community have ranged from "splendid" to "wonderful."

"The Special Collections/University Archives of the Ellen Clarke Bertrand Library is an undergraduate research center," says Dysinger. "We adapt to class assignments of faculty members in each discipline. When we present the De Gregorio collection to students in user-education sessions, the information is specific to curricular content."

Students in art, history, French and classics have already viewed or will soon view the collection. Faculty objectives range across a variety of different learning experiences.

History faculty, for example, may be able to use some of the material in class discussions to demonstrate the impact of printing in Europe in the 14th through 18th centuries. Students from the classics department studying ancient cities and ancient Egypt will be particularly interested in the fragment from The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Those comparing styles of medieval art will be able to examine the fine detail in the illuminated leaves from the bible and psalter.

"The entire department of classics is grateful to the De Gregorios for their generous gift. We are all excited to use the new material in our teaching of the ancient Greek and Roman classics," says Stephanie Larson, assistant professor of classics. "All four of the new pieces complement Bucknell's already excellent collection of rare texts and manuscripts that the classics department uses in teaching ancient languages and culture."

Mary Brantl, a former visiting assistant professor and faculty associate working with the Campus Heritage Project, says, "The De Gregorios' recent contribution to Bucknell's Special Collections is a rich one. From the perspective of an archeologist, historian, art historian or studio artist, these pieces offer us the `stuff' which we teach and study.

"The highest quality digital projection may clearly depict the warp and woof of a piece of linen, but the linen fragment from an Egyptian Book of the Dead makes it real," Brantl says. "One has a sense of materiality and, of course, of age. So, too, the Bactrian contract fragment and, of course, the manuscript leaves."

The Thirteenth-Century Bible is a bound volume incorporating an explanatory essay, with an original illuminated leaf from a French Bible circa A.D. 1200-1225. "Illuminated" refers to the decoration of the parchment page with color and burnished gold.

"At the beginning of the Book of Judges, on the recto, or front side, there is an exquisite majuscule, an enlarged capital letter elaborately illuminated with red and blue pen work; the verso, or reverse side, includes truly extraordinary marginalia in red and blue," Dysinger says. Marginalia is a series of designs inked in the margins of the text.

The leaf from the psalter, circa A.D. 1200, is on vellum and includes similar illumination in red and blue inks and burnished gold. "This is the finest example of illumination I have ever seen," says Dysinger. "The verso is unbelievably beautiful."

Visible on both the Bible and psalter are grid lines, precisely measured lines within the leaf used as the standard method of registration to fit all elements - calligraphy, majuscules, marginalia - within the layout of the page.

The Egyptian fragment on linen contains two lines from The Book of the Dead, circa 800 B.C. Egyptians commissioned these texts before they died to serve as a guidebook to a happy afterlife. The book was placed in a coffin to be read by the deceased as they journeyed into the underworld. It taught the deceased passwords, clues and routes and also served as a form of identification to the gods, to gain their help and protection. The book from which this fragment was taken was written in hieratic script.

The Bactrian contract fragment, circa A.D. 467, is "the most exceptional piece in the collection," says Dysinger. Bactrian is the ancient language of Bactria in what is now northern Afghanistan. Because Bactria was conquered by Alexander the Great, Bactrian was written in Greek script, making it unique among the languages of the region.

Examples of Bactrian script are extremely rare, and this particular sample is among a small number of recently discovered documents from a period for which there was previously no direct evidence. Previously the only published examples of Bactrian were found in inscriptions on rock, from a single eighth- or ninth-century Manichean text and on coins and seals.

The text on the fragment reads, "Has been [written in parchment]. And whosoever may dissent from this Statement and (commit) deceit … [shall pay a fine to the royal treasury] of a hundred dinars of struck gold (and) the same to the opposite parties."

The study-collection offers viewers a trip back in time, in addition to its many academic possibilities.

"No descriptive walk into the medieval scriptorium, no slide, no 1970s reproduction text offers the immediate insights possible in studying a single manuscript leaf - its glorious materials, its skillful craft, its artistry," says Brantl.

"Over the last few years, I've taught ancient and medieval art history courses, as well as a class on collecting. To all such Bucknell pursuits, the De Gregorios have made a significant contribution."


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