Liberal Arts and Education
BPL 17 (France?, c. 1200): Elementarium (Elementary?), parchment, 100 fols., 328 x 240 mm, 2 cols., 69 lines.

This manuscript contains the first fully recognizable dictionary from the Middle Ages, the Elementarium, and was written by lexicographer Papias in the first half of the eleventh century. Papias arranged the words in alphabetical order, provided their definition and noted their vowel length and gender. Papias made use of the writings of many famous scholars such as Boethius, Priscian, and Isidore of Seville, whom he often quotes. In some cases, he copied excerpts from textbooks and glossaries.

This manuscript also contains Papias’ Ars grammatica (a survey of Latin grammar), the Mythologiae by Fulgentius, glosses on the Bible, and other texts on grammar and etymology. In the Mythologiae, Fulgentius tries to explain and interpret a series of Greek and Roman legends by using allegory and etymology. Much like the other texts in this manuscript, it is probable that the Mythologiae was used by students to gain a better understanding of the meaning of the Latin language.

Each letter of the alphabet within this manuscript is introduced with a pen-flourished or colored initial. Lines that are not fully occupied by script are filled in with red decorations, called line fillers (see for example fol. 67v).1

(Gumbert, 2009, p. 20)


  1. When the quires were filled with text, the rubrics were in place, and the scribe had corrected his work, it was time for the finishing touches. Many medieval books contain some kind of decoration in addition to the written words. What kind of decoration can you find in this manuscript? Give three examples.
  2. Medieval page design entails a wide range of components. The main text is an important part, of course, but so are marginal space, commentaries, reading aids, chapter titles, etc. Everything included on the page was given a specific location and a feature was usually included for a good reason. Make an inventory of the components included in this manuscript’s page design and speculate why the scribe opted for this specific design: why did he or she included these specific elements? If your design is plain, why would this be; if it is complex, what may the rationale have been?


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