The Middle Ages — with us today
This year History students at HSE Perm, for the first time, study the history of medieval books - codicology. The course of lectures was given by Ilya Dines (PhD Medieval History), Research Fellow of the National Library of Israel (Jerusalem).
The course of lectures was given by Ilya Dines (PhD Medieval History), Research Fellow of the National Library of Israel (Jerusalem).
St Petersburg born Ilya Dines has been interested in history since childhood, when he joined a club at the Hermitage. He got into codicology rather by accident, his teacher shared interesting texts with him that only existed in manuscript form.
‘My first manuscript was a bestiary,’ Ilya said. ‘It was illustrated beautifully, I was amazed by the incredible blue color. And then there’s the ceremony – you have to swear an oath that you will not damage, ruin or steal the manuscript.’
‘Today there are about 800,000 medieval manuscripts extant in the world, of them only 7-8% have been published. So you either go to the manuscripts and dig out information yourself, or you use research done by other academics who may have distorted the meaning of the original text in their translation. So why repeat the mistakes of someone else?’
Why does a young man get interested in codicology?
The best answer is – simply because it is interesting. If something is not interesting, if you don’t get an adrenalin rush when you’re learning – then there’s no point doing it. All knowledge can be used in other disciplines, there is always a degree of overlap – somewhere. In codicology we learn to decipher the – apparently – undecipherable.
I can say that most universities do not offer a codicology course, even though it is a very important area of study. In this regard students at Perm HSE are lucky.
Today there are several hundred codicologists in the world, and a dozen are excellent. This is in many ways a dying profession. But I do think this will change over time. Every major library needs someone to study and work with their manuscripts, every major university needs a specialist who can read a course of lectures on the history of books, since this is the key to archaeology, history, art history and many other disciplines.