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COURSE TUTOR: Professor Charles Burnett

The aim of this course is to introduce students to the very texts that medieval readers had in front of them, i.e. to bypass modern printed editions and go straight to the manuscripts in which texts were set out in different ways according to the subject matter, and according to whether they were written as notebooks for the scholar or as textbooks for the student. Examples will be taken from the seven liberal arts, natural science, medicine, alchemy and magic.

In each case the task of the student will be to decipher the text, and to translate or summarize it in English (much as the medieval student in Oxford would have done), and to notice the functions used to facilitate the understanding of the text: punctuation, paragraphs, letters of different sizes and colours, diagrams, pointing fingers etc. In the course of this exercise the student will get to know the medieval forms of letters and numerals, the standard abbreviations and the recurring symbols. They will experience the satisfaction of realizing the meaning of what at first may look like an indecipherable muddle. At the end of the course they will be much more confident in approaching a medieval manuscript of any age and concerning any subject. 

No previous experience with manuscripts is required, but the student must have a basic knowledge of Latin and, preferably, access to Adriano Cappelli’s Dizionario di Abbreviature latine ed italiane (or one of its translations).  

All sessions in person, Senate House, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU.

Day 1 - Monday 8 April 2024
First session: 10.00am to 1.00pm The quadrivium: calculating ‘the Indian way’, the theorems of geometry, the cosmic proportions in music, and the construction of the cosmos.
Second session: 2.00pm to 4.00pm poetry and music: the notation of rhythm and melody.

Day 2 - Tuesday 9 April 2024
First Session: 10.00am to 1.00pm Medicine and alchemy, texts and illustrations.
Second session: 2.00pm to 4.00pm Astrology, talismans and spirits.

Day 3 - Wednesday 10 April 2024

Session from 10.00am to 12.00pm Working with a manuscript belonging to the Warburg Institute.

For 10 classes, Spring Term 2024, with a 10% discount for students continuing from this year's online Latin Palaeography course.

  • Standard: £170 [continuing students - 10% discount £153]
  • Warburg Staff & Fellows/external students/unwaged: £155 [continuing students - 10% discount £139.50]
  • SAS & LAHP-funded students: £100 [continuing students - 10% discount £90]
  • Warburg Students: £85



Image: Constantine the African, Pantegni Theorica in MS Cambridge, Trinity College, 906, fol. 1r.