Liberal Arts and Education
BPL 139 B (Fleury, France, 900-1100): Abbo van Fleury, De syllogismis categoricis (On Categorical Syllogisms), parchment, 46 fols., 222 x 174 mm, 1 col., 25-38 lines.

The Trivium of the Liberal Arts consisted of three subjects: grammar, rhetoric and dialectic (also called logic). Dialectic is a method that tries to find the truth by using reasonable arguments to defend two or more opposite assertions. This manuscript contains, amongst other texts on logic, the De syllogisms categoricis, which was written by Abbo of Fleury (c. 945-1004) specifically for students of dialectic. The manuscript was copied by the Convent of Fleury-St. Benoit in France. Throughout the manuscript we can find many diagrams. Fol. 32r contains an anthropomorphic initial of a man that is being torn by two lions.

The manuscript has another interesting element - the flyleaf at the back contains various words and symbols that don’t seem to be connected to the contents of the manuscript. This has an easy explanation; the leaf was used by the scribe(s) to test the pen1. Just like a pencil, the nib of a pen becomes dull after a while. To rectify this, the scribe had to trim the nib with a knife. Afterwards he tested the pen to check if it was ready for use by scribbling lines, words, or little drawings.

This flyleaf with pen trials contains a strange drawing of a person, the name Petrus, and musical notations known as neumes. (see also BPL 2851).

(Gerritsen, 2007) (Gumbert, 2009, pp. 68-70)


  1. Manuscripts were made from parchment, paper or a combination of these two materials. The quality of these materials varied considerably. What material was used in this manuscript and how can you tell?
  2. Manuscripts were made for specific purposes and how a manuscript was going to be used is often reflected by its material design. Can you infer for what purpose this book was made? How is your verdict reflected by the book’s material features?


  1. Gerritsen, W. P. (2007). Europa’s leerschool: de zeven vrije kunsten in de Middeleeuwen. Een rondgang langs Leidse handschriften. Primavera Pers.
  2. Gumbert, J. P. (2009). Illustrated Inventory of Medieval Manuscripts in Latin script in the Netherlands. Verloren.