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Ancient Texts and Their Medieval Manuscripts: From Main Text to the Margin and Back

Wednesday, February 6, 2019, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

The broad context of the talk is the transmission and reception of ancient and medieval philosophical and scientific texts within the physical framework of medieval manuscripts. Medieval manuscripts being handmade provide a physical and intellectual insight into the process of gradual change in the relationship between texts and their readers. It also provides an opportunity through the examination of glosses for the study of individual reader reactions. The talk discusses a cognitive approach to the structure and layers of the medieval manuscript page layout as the immediate environment for the transmission of texts and images with broader implications for late ancient and medieval writing and reading practices. It explores within this setup the concept and practice of visual thinking as an alternative to textual analysis, the connection between texts and diagrams and the nature and use of diagrams and diagrammatic reasoning. The case studies focus on a smaller group of ancient and medieval philosophical and scientific texts over a longer period of the Middle Ages in order to examine the development of ideas and the conceptual adaptations to new intellectual environments and new audiences.


Anna Somfai teaches history and philosophy of science, medieval codicology and Latin palaeography at CEU and specialised courses at the Palaeography Summer School at London University. She has previously held research positions at the University of Cambridge, at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine and the Warburg Institute in London, at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and at the Collegium Budapest. She received her PhD from the University of Cambridge and her research has since focused on the cognitive aspects of the manuscript folio, the nature of visual thinking, the visualising of philosophical and scientific concepts and the use of diagrams in medieval manuscripts of ancient and medieval philosophical and scientific texts. She has published on various aspects of her research and is currently working on a substantial study on diagrams and on a book on the medieval reception of Plato’s Timaeus and Calcidius’s Commentary on the Timaeus.