Liberal Arts and Education
BPL 137 D (France/Italy, 1150-1200): Ovidius, Fasti (The book of days), parchment, 52 fols., 208 x 106 mm, 1 col., 46 lines.

Texts may lose their popularity overtime. This almost happened to Ovid’s Fasti (The Book of Days) - six books in which the origins of Roman customs and their holidays are explained. For several centuries this text was used by teachers to instruct students in Latin grammar and Roman cultural practices and beliefs. In the twentieth century, however, scholars criticized the Fasti for being full of errors and declared it an unreliable source. The text regained its popularity during the 1980s, and is now considered to be one of Ovid’s major works.

This twelfth-century manuscript contains part of the Fasti (books 1, 2, and 3 are missing) in addition to fragments of the Ilias Latina and the De quantitate vocabulorum. The manuscript is a so-called “holster book”, due to its long, narrow format. In holster books, the page’s width equals sixty percent or less of its height. The unusual size was convenient for teachers, as the books could easily be held in one hand while he was walking through the classroom. Many manuscripts from the eleventh and twelfth centuries are in holster format. The glosses1 in the manuscript are from the thirteenth through the fifteenth centuries, showing that the text was frequently studied over a long period of time.

(Gumbert, 2009, p. 68)


  1. Medieval scribes recognized that readers may need some help finding their way throughout the book or within the texts they contained. Over time, a number of tools were invented to this end. What type of reading-aids can you find in this manuscript? Give three examples.
  2. Observe all written parts of the book in front of you (main text, rubrics, marginal additions, ownership inscriptions) and make an inventory of the different styles of handwriting. Some differences you observe may result from the fact that they are different script families, while others are a variation within one given script family. Focus on a small selection of letters of your own choice and deduce if they vary and how precisely. This is a difficult task that may require you to analyze individual letters, but that may also be sparked by an intuitive verdict: one style of writing may feel “much better” or “of higher quality” than another. Differentiate between the different writing styles to the best of your abilities and with any available means – quantitative or qualitative.


  1. Gumbert, J. P. (2009). Illustrated Inventory of Medieval Manuscripts in Latin script in the Netherlands. Verloren.