Liberal Arts and Education
BPL 194 (Germany or Netherlands, 1000-1100): Guido of Arezzo, Micrologus (On Music), parchment, 46 fols., 171 x 103 mm, 1 col., 31 lines.

This manuscript contains two important texts by Guido of Arezzo: the Micrologus and the Dialogus. Arezzo (c. 991- c. 1033) was an Italian monk and music theorist. He is credited with the invention of the use of staff lines to annotate music. Arezzo is also famous for “The Guidonian Hand”, a mnemonic system that teaches how to sing from sight. An example of a Guidonian Hand can be found in Fol. 1r of this manuscript. Once a singer was familiar with the Guidonian Hand system he could easily sing notes that corresponded to whichever part of the hand the music teacher pointed to. There are several other tools throughout the manuscript, including diagrams that aided the reader in better understanding the music theory that was described in the texts.

During the Middle Ages the study of music was a very theoretical endeavor, and thus was broken up into three phases. The lowest phase was the study of the human voice and the music made by instruments. The second phase studied the musica humana, the harmony between body and soul. The third phase was the study of musica mundane - the harmony of the cosmos. It was hoped that by studying the numerical ratios in music, students would be able to fathom all levels of this complicated subject.

(Gumbert, 2009, p. 94) (Gerritsen, 2007, pp. 38-41)


  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. Book design was not only influenced by the manner in which the book would be used, but also by its contents. This is not surprising, of course, since contents and use are closely related: you generally use a book because of the texts it contains. Perform a modest online search about the text in this book and assess for what reason or reasons it was commonly used (education, church rituals, reference, professional use, etc.). Now try to relate the contents of the book to the material features it was given. Can you relate the two? Which material features you observe make sense now you know more about the text? Are there any that don’t?


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