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The Constellation Of Cignus, The Swan, In A Scientific Textbook

The Constellation Of Cignus, The Swan, In A Scientific Textbook

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1122

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Tiberius C I

Item number: f.24r

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

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The 16th-century English bibliophile, Robert Cotton, sometimes bound together unrelated manuscripts. This one contains a fragment of an early 12th-century English scientific textbook from Peterborough and an 11th-century pontifical (manual of services conducted by a bishop), part of which was probably made in France but to which additions were made at Sherborne Abbey in Dorset. The scientific textbook comes from two types of sources. First, an early medieval natural science tradition began in the treatises of Isidore of Seville and Bede, and was later expanded by Abbo of Fleury, who lived at Ramsey in the 10th century. The second part is a copy of a late Roman version of Cicero's latin translation of the poem by the Greek writer Aratus on the constellations, known as the 'Aratea' and which probably had a long tradition of illustration. Annals in another part of the book giving the death dates of Peterborough abbots and the handwriting's similarity to that of the Peterborough Chronicle (at the Bodleian Library, Oxford) place the manuscript's origin at that monastery. Swans occur frequently in Greek mythology, and it is therefore uncertain which one was intended by the constellation Cignus, but it may have represented the swan hunted by Hercules (the other was the eagle Aquila). In this illustration, the inscription within the figure of the swan tells of its appearance in mythology, in particular its role as the guise of the lecherous Jupiter. The caption in red gives the Greek name for the swan, "olor". The text written within the figure was a later addition to Cicero's translation and was always written within the pictures, which usually were not outlined. This copy of the 'Aratea' differs from earlier manuscripts only in the outlined figures and the use of lower-case letters instead of Roman-style capitals for the inscription.

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