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British Library Digitised Greek Manuscripts Now Available Online

The British Library has digitised over a quarter of its Greek manuscripts (284 volumes) for the first time and made them freely available online at thanks to a generous grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

The website provides researchers with access to high quality digital images of a major part of the British Library’s Greek manuscripts collection, supported by enhanced metadata which enables users to search using key words.

The British Library holds over 1000 Greek manuscripts, over 3000 Greek papyri and a comprehensive collection of early Greek printing. These collections make the Library one of the largest and most important centres outside Greece for the study of over 2000 years of Hellenic culture. The Greek manuscripts contain unique and outstandingly rich information for researchers working on the literature, history, science, religion, philosophy and art of the whole of the Eastern Mediterranean in the Classical and Byzantine periods.

The Greek manuscripts that have been digitised provide witnesses of the rich culture of the Greek-speaking peoples from the time of the Iliad and Odyssey throughout the Hellenistic, early Christian, Byzantine and Ottoman eras and beyond. They are fundamental to understanding of the Classical and Byzantine world.

Highlights include:

The Theodore Psalter – Produced in Constantinople in 1066, this highly illustrated manuscript of the Psalms is arguably the most significant surviving manuscript illuminated in Constantinople. It is one of the greatest treasures of Byzantine manuscript production and of pivotal importance for the understanding of Byzantine art. Made for Abbot Michael of the Studios monastery there, it is named after its scribe and illuminator, the monk Theodore who produced 435 marginal illustrations that act as a commentary on the text of the Psalms.
Illuminated Gospels -A late 12th century gospel book which is rare because of its integration of images of Christ’s life into the Gospels. Whereas portraits of the evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, became a traditional feature of copies of the Gospels in Greek, narrative images were much less frequently included. This manuscript contains 17 narrative images of the life of Christ and the saints in addition to the four evangelist portraits.
Dialogues of Lucian – This early 10th century manuscript is the oldest surviving manuscript of the works of second-century author Lucian. The text of the Dialogues is accompanied by marginal commentaries, or scholia, in the hand of the first owner of the manuscript, Arethas of Patrae, Archbishop of Caesarea from 902. They illustrate the deep interest of a prominent Byzantine churchman in classical antiquity and its pagan literature.
Babrius’s fables – The discovery of this manuscript on Mount Athos in 1842 gave rise to the first edition of Babrius’s fables in 1844 and this manuscript remains the principal source for this text. It contains 123 Aesopic fables and was corrected by the great Byzantine scholar, Demetrius Triclinius.
Breviarium Historicum – A late 9th-century manuscript of the history of the Byzantine Empire from the death of the Emperor Maurice in 602 to 713, by Nicephorus, Patriarch of Constantinople. Only one other manuscript of this history survives and is kept in the Vatican Library. These two manuscripts preserve a very rare attempt by a Byzantine author to write what would be accepted as proper history.
Scot McKendrick, Head of History and Classical Studies at the British Library, said:

“This website offers everyone, wherever they may be in the world, the opportunity to engage for the first time with over 100,000 pages of newly digitised, unique manuscripts which provide direct insights into the rich written legacy of the Greeks of classical antiquity, Byzantine times, the Renaissance and beyond. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which funded this project, has generously agreed to fund a second phase and we look forward to presenting a further 250 manuscripts in full in 2012.”

Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, said:

“The British Library has one of the world’s great collections of Greek manuscripts. This is exactly what we have all hoped for from new technology, but so rarely get. It opens up a precious resource to anyone – from the specialist to the curious – anywhere in the world, for free. We should all be very grateful to the generosity of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and to the enterprise of the British Library. I’m looking forward to a new wave of fascinating and important work on this material, made possible by this new electronic open access.”

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world’s greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library’s collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation. It includes: books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages.

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