The IMS-Classics joint research event explored Hernando Colón’s epitomical work

Dr Yavuz and Dr White discussed the rediscovery, analysing, and translating work being undertaken of Hernando Colón’s Book of Epitomes.

On 9th March, the Institute for Medieval Studies and the Classics department of the University of Leeds organised the first event in what is hoped will be a regular opportunity for both departments to share research interests and build stronger relationships. The paper was given by Dr N. Kivilcim Yavuz from the Institute for Medieval Studies and Dr Paul White from the School of Languages, Cultures, and Societies. The paper was entitled ‘Exploring the Universal Library: Hernando Colón’s Book of Epitomes’, discussing the catalogue and summary of many of the books that Colón possessed that was recently rediscovered in the Árni Magnússon manuscript collection in Copenhagen. 

Both Dr Yavuz and Dr White are involved in the project entitled ‘The Book of Books: Hernando Colón’s Libro de los Epítomes at the Arnamagnæan Institute at the University of Copenhagen that began in May 2020. The project aims to create an edition and English translation of this previously lost manuscript, mostly written in Latin, to be published in digital and printed form. 

Dr Yavuz began proceedings by introducing Hernando Colón and his Book of Epitomes. Hernando Colón, son of Christopher Columbus, had been responsible for collecting many different books and manuscripts on a wide range of topics and genres, implying that Colón intended his library to be a collection encompassing the whole scientific and cultural heritage of Europe. The Book of Epitomes was written primarily as a summary of the works he had, but also included some appraisals of the works it included. These appraisals were often written by sumistas who added in which they were interested. After his death, Colón’s collection was passed down through the centuries with books being dispersed to different collections and the Book of Epitomes being lost. In March 2019, while Dr Yavuz was working within the Arnamagnæan institute in Copenhagen, MS AM 377 was discovered to be the lost Book of Epitomes, having been acquired by Árni Magnússon without its identity being recognised. The original beginning of the manuscript is missing and so the manuscript currently starts in the middle of one of the epitomes, meaning that there was no title page or rubric that could identify the text, which would perhaps explain why it was not discovered before. 

Dr Yavuz, continuing her side of the paper, offered some intriguing insights about Colón’s approach to cataloguing. She described examples that demonstrated a complex cross referencing system using a set of numbers that he placed underneath the summaries that related to their catalogue numbers within his library. 

Dr White took over to explain his work in translating the contents of the Book of Epitomes and the successes and challenges of such an endeavour for this particular project. The epitomes within the manuscript, as hinted at before, relate to a wide range of literary works translations, commentaries, and even other epitomes. Some of the works discussed include 46 of Plato’s works, 10 by Plutarch and 5 by Ovid. The selection of these works was mostly determined by the many different sumistas, who epitomised items that they were interested in. The epitomes are mostly written in Latin, some of them seemingly being translated into Latin from other languages, as those entries are peppered with loanwords. Also, the style of Latin used in each of the entries, as Dr White discovered while comparing the texts in different epitomes, varied to reflect the style of the epitomised work. Both of these complexities, according to Dr White, have made the process of translating the epitomes challenging and a great pleasure. He concluded by stating that the epitomes within this manuscript present a textured and layered reflection of medieval literary culture. 

In the questions after the talk, it was asked if there were any other copies of the Book of Epitomes, as within the talk, both Dr Yavuz and Dr White made reference to another manuscript in Seville. They explained that the Seville manuscript is considered a partial draft of the recently discovered manuscript discussed in the paper, known as AM 377, which is considered a clean copy of the Book of Epitomes. It was also asked when the edition that was being created of the AM 377 manuscript would be available. Dr White said that they hope to have a completed version by 2026, published by Oxford University Press. 

To fine out about future research seminars in the series and other events for the department, please go to the What’s on at Leeds webpage.