Medieval Welsh manuscript digitised

A manuscript containing the earliest pieces of verse in Old Welsh, the Cambridge Juvencus (MS Ff.4.42), has just been digitised and added to the Cambridge Digital Library. The verses, known as the ‘Juvencus Nine’ and the ‘Juvencus Three’, were added in the late ninth century to the flyleaves and margins of an existing Latin text, a reworking of the four gospels in verse by the fourth-century poet Juvencus.

The ‘Juvencus Three’ is a particularly precious and precarious survival, found in the upper margins of three consecutive pages. When the early-eighteenth-century Welsh scholar and antiquary Edward Lhuyd came across them in the University Library, he could not resist cutting them off. They were found among his papers after his death and have since been restored to their rightful place in the manuscript.

The opening of Juvencus Three, the earliest written piece of Welsh verse, now reattached to the MS (CUL MS Ff.4.42, fol. 25v).

The opening of Juvencus Three, the earliest written piece of Welsh verse, now reattached to the MS (CUL MS Ff.4.42, fol. 25v).

Although we don’t know where exactly in Wales the manuscript was copied, remarkably we do know the name of the scribe of the main text since he signed his name at the end, “Araut dianuadu”, “A prayer for Núadu”. Though the language is Old Welsh, that formula and the name itself are both of Irish origin, suggesting that Núadu may perhaps have been an Irish scribe working in Wales in the late ninth century.

Scholars have identified thirteen additional scribes who added notes and glosses to the manuscript in the first century or so after Núadu completed his work. They wrote in Latin, Old Welsh and Old Irish, providing further evidence of links between Welsh and Irish scholars in early medieval Wales and a valuable insight into Latin learning in medieval Wales. One scribe added a cryptogram – a message in code – which when deciphered reveals a Welsh name, Cymelliauc.

The cryptogram written in Greek letters (CUL MS Ff.4.42, fol. 36r).

The cryptogram written in Greek letters (CUL MS Ff.4.42, fol. 36r).

The description of MS Ff.4.42 was prepared for the Digital Library by Myriah Williams, a postgraduate student working in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic on a PhD thesis on medieval Welsh manuscripts.

 

 

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