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Leiden » Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit » MS Voss. Lat. F 96 A

Library Place Leiden
Library Name Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit
Shelfmark MS Voss. Lat. F 96 A
Folio Range Whole MS (4 fols)
Date IX ex. or X 1/2
  • Cornwall (?)


  • Medical remedies (in Latin only) (1r-v)
  • Medical remedies (in Latin and a Brittonic language) (2r)
  • A text combining Egyptian Days and Regimen prescriptions (2v).
Old Breton Materials Yes
Irish / Hiberno-Latin materials Yes
Connection with Brittany

Also known as 'Celtic Leechbook' or 'Leiden Leechbook', this single bifolium is a most interesting but also extremely problematic MS. Let us begin with the linguistic problem. For many decades after Stokes's 1897 edition of the numerous (c. 70) Brittonic forms contained in this MS, scholars have believed this fragment to be the earliest written specimen of Old Breton; thus, Fleuriot stated what follows in his dictionary (DGBV 4): 'c'est le plus ancien m[anu]s[crit] v[ieux-]breton ; il date probablement de la fin du VIIIe siècle' (at p. 18 of the same dictionary, Fleuriot argues that the MS was written at Landévennec). Bischoff's Katalog (Kat. §2208) likewise places the writing of this MS in Brittany, 'wohl VIII./IX. Jh. oder IX. Jh., Anfang', and, like Fleuriot, Deuffic (2008: 127) considers Leiden F 96 A as 'le plus ancien manuscrit d'origine bretonne continentale'. However, Dumville reopened the question in a lecture delivered in 1994 at Bangor (Wales), in which he stated that, on palaeographical grounds, the manuscript could not be Breton (cf. Falileyev and Owen 2005: 1; for a published trace of Dumville's view, cf. Dumville 1993: 12, n. 51). More recently, Falileyev and Owen (2005) have provided a fresh reassessment of the linguistic evidence: although the two scholars have not come to a definitive conclusion, they nonetheless affirm that 'the linguistic arguments are against the text being Welsh. The language could be Breton or Cornish' (Falileyev and Owen 2005: 85). Unfortunately, it is not possible to distinguish between Old Breton and Old Cornish on a purely linguistic basis (cf. the use of the common term 'Old South-West British' to refer to both languages in Schrijver 2011, where the author points out (p. 4) that 'it is impossible to find even one trait that distinguishes Cornish from Breton before the eleventh c[entury]'). For this reason, a solution may be find only by combining the linguistic and the palaeographical evidence.

We come then to the palaeographical problem. As has been mentioned above, Dumville's 1994 'revisionist' view on the origin of this MS was based on the palaeographical evidence. However, it took more than a decade for a detailed palaeographical analysis of Voss. Lat. F 96 to be published: in an Appendix published in Falileyev and Owen 2005, Simpson (McKee) has offered a study of the script of the four scribes who collaborated in the writing of this bifolium (Simpson (McKee) 2005: 88–94). Among the numerous important points raised by this scholar, we should mention in particular the use of a particular abbreviation for ut (with a v vaguely shaped like a bird-silhouette topped by a comma), belonging to a class of abbreviations described by Dumville (1999: 125) as 'Late Celtic', and found in Irish, Welsh and Cornish—but, significantly, not Breton—MSS from the middle of the ninth century onwards (Simpson (McKee) 2005: 89). On the basis of an analysis of such features and a comparison with other MSS, Simpson concludes that 'the Leiden Leechbook would be most easily acceptable as a specimen of Welsh handwriting, but a Cornish origin should not be discounted: its likelihood is merely impossible to evaluate, due to a lack of comparable material. A Breton origin seems significantly less reasonable, on current evidence. As far as the date of the Leechbook is concerned [...] I should favour a date within the first half-century after c. A.D. 900' (Simpson (McKee) 2005: 93).

At this point, since the linguistic evidence points to either Old Breton or Old Cornish, but not Welsh, while the palaeographical evidence points to either Wales or Cornwall, but not Brittany, Cornwall does seem to emerge from this multidisciplinary approach as the most likely area where the MS in question was written, thereby making it likely that the vernacular forms occurring therein belong to a particularly early form of Old Cornish. The presence of the interlinear Old Irish gloss tromm (fol. 1v, gl. Lat. sambuci, cf. Falileyev and Owen 2005: 9, 17) is certainly not incompatible with this solution (on the other hand, the presence of two Old English glosses in this MS is far from certain, cf. ibid., p. 9–10; Lambert 1986b: 317–18; Porck 2018): after all, the occurrence of glosses in multiple vernacular languages in a single MS is a rare but nonetheless documented phenomenon, the Cambridge Juvencus being of course one of the best-known specimens (for plausible scenarios in relation to the production and transmission of the Leiden Leechbook, see Falileyev and Owen 2005: 86–7; Simpson (McKee) 2005: 93–4). Overall, the present status quaestionis in relation to this MS indicates that it was probably written c. AD 900 in a Cornish scriptorium, rather than in Brittany (cf. Dumville 2005: 55, 'The evidence of script absolutely forbids a date before about 850 and also disallows the possibility of a Breton origin').

Interestingly, Stuart (1979) observed similarities between the text copied on fol. 2v of the Leiden Leechbook and materials occurring in Laon, BM, 426bis, a MS written (according to Bischoff, Kat. §2117) in North-Eastern Francia in the late ninth century.

Number(s) in Bischoff's Katalog 2208
Essential bibliography

Bischoff 1990: 90 (n. 44); Bronner 2017: 64; Deuffic 2008: 127–8, 130 (n. 233); DGVB 4, 15, 18; Dumville 1993: 12, n. 51; Dumville 2005: 55–6; Falileyev and Owen 2005 (with complete facsimile); Jackson 1953: 62; Lambert 1986b; Lambert 2018: 15–16; Lemoine 1985: 11–12, 287; LF §320; de Meyier 1973: I, 215; MIrA; PMSB 300 (§38); Porck 2018; Schlutter 1910; Schrijver 2011: 8; Simpson (McKee) 2005; Simpson (McKee) 2012b: 170; Smith 1992: 167 (n. 81); Stokes 1897; Stuart 1979; Wikipedia.

URLs for digital facsimile
Last Updated 2021-07-09 07:06:45
Author Jacopo Bisagni
DHBM Identifier #63
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