The Devil is in the Margins: Symbols for textual correspondences in MS Basel, UB, A X 44

Alexandra Baneu is a Research Assistant on The Rise of an Intellectual Elite in Central Europe: The University of Vienna from 1389 to 1450 (aka Rise, project no. PN-III-P4-ID-PCCF-2016-0064), coordinated by Dr Adinel Dincă and Dr Monica Brînzei, and hosted by Babeș-Bolyai University and the Romanian Academy. Rise Team: Alexandra Baneu, Alexander Baumgarten, Cristian Baumgarten, Luciana Cioca, Daniel Coman, Paula Cotoi, Ioana Curuț, Iulian-Mihai Damian, Lavinia Grijac, Edit Anna Lukács, Mihai Maga, Andrei Marinca, Mădălina Gabriela Pantea, Isabela Stoian. She has also recently been awarded an ERC Starting Grant for the project Note-taking and Notebooks as Channels of Medieval Academic Dissemination across Europe (aka NOTA, project no. 948152), which will be launched in 2021.

Luciana Cioca is a PhD student at Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj Napoca, Romania, studying the history of vesperal disputations at medieval universities. She is also a Research Assistant on the Rise Project.

The Manuscript

Basel, Universitätsbibliothek, MS A X 44, (henceforth Basel, A X 44) which is the main object of study for the RISE Project, belonged to Henry of Rinfeldia and served as his personal notebook. The general description and overview of the manuscript have already been the subject of another post on Teaching the Codex, and so we’ve chosen to focus here on … a marginal matter.

So, why the margins? Our witness is particularly generous when it comes to marginal notes, relying on them for several different reasons. Sometimes they just provide extra information, but they also give us resources to untangle the manuscript’s complicated internal structure.

1: Contextual Information

These kinds of notes tell us about dates and locations. In these examples, Henry tells us exactly when and where he wrote some of the pieces and attended some debates:

Basel, UB, A X 44, f. 84r, lower margin
Basel, UB, A X 44, f. 84r, lower margin

Scriptum anno domini 1396, in die Nicolai Confessoris, quod festum fuit quarta feria dominice prime adventus, in quo anno Francigene fuerunt interfecti a Turcis.

Written AD 1396 on the feast of St Nicholas the Confessor, which was the fourth day of Advent in the year the Franks were destroyed by the Turks

Basel, UB, A X 44, f. 110r, upper margin
Basel, UB, A X 44, f. 110r, upper margin

scriptum anno domini 1397

written AD 1397

Basel, A X 44, f. 29v, left margin
Basel, A X 44, f. 29v, left margin

Questiones disputate in stuba collegii domini ducis

Questions debated in a room of the college of the Lord Duke

Basel, A X 44, f. 31v, left margin
Basel, A X 44, f. 31v, left margin

In aula fuerunt disputata

The debate took place in the hall

2: Internal systems of reference

What we mean by ‘systems of reference’ is the connection established by any non-textual graphic sign or explicit textual indication between two or more fragments situated in different parts of the manuscript.

It’s clear from the nature of the manuscript why we need this kind of system. We are looking at a notebook intended for personal use, and whose author has spent many years writing and collecting material from different sources. Not unlike a student’s notebook today, the editorial effort is dictated by the needs of the scribe and the practical purposes of his work. The unifying element of all the different pieces is Henry’s constant intervention, even in the quires written in another hand.

Here are a few examples:

Look immediately below

At f. 18r, a question is asked: Utrum Deus sit simpliciter conceptibilis et proprie diffinibilis (Whether God is simply conceivable and specifically definable). However, this text is only the continuation of the same question that began at f. 126v, but in another hand.

Basel, A X 44, f. 18r
Basel, A X 44, f. 18r

At f. 126v, the question starts with a quod non and proceeds in a series of conclusions, which are then refuted in the continuation at f. 18r.

So, the order of reading is: f. 126v-128r -> 18r-18v.

Basel, A X 44, f. 126v, f. 18r
Basel, A X 44, f. 126v, f. 18r

But the arrangement of this particular question then gets even more complicated! At f. 18v we read the following marginal note, which appears to have been written at two different times:

Basel, A X 44, f. 18v
Basel, A X 44, f. 18v

Note about the concepts of God with this sign immediately below

Nota de conceptibus Dei cum tali signo infra immediate

And with a different ink, probably written sometime after: in alio latere ex opposito.

The sign is, indeed, found “immediately below”, at f. 19r: “Note that a singular absolute concept of God cannot be considered in the natural light.”

Basel, A X 44, f. 19r
Basel, A X 44, f. 19r

Nota quod non potest haberi in naturali lumine conceptus singularis absolutus Dei

The seamless transition from the fragment that ends at f. 18v and the next question beginning on the same page suggests Henry finished it and started a new one before realizing a piece was missing, or before having access to the piece. So, he finished the new question, added the missing fragment from the previous one, and explained this situation in the marginal note.

The case would have probably been a bit more straightforward if not for the addition, which seems to be written in another hand: in alio latere ex opposito. I’ve intentionally refrained from translating it, because its meaning is not entirely clear. Did its scribe mean to further refer the reader to another passage? Had they completed an argument in the main body of text and so it bears no relation to the marginal note? Are we sure that we should read opposito, and not obiecto? Many of these micro-puzzles remain temporarily unsolved, until such a time that a complete transcription of the manuscript allows for better insight into their origins and connections, or until a “sister” manuscript is discovered. And of course we fully expect some of them to remain unsolved.

Connecting texts across folios
Basel, A X 44, f. 45v, upper margin
Basel, A X 44, f. 45v, upper margin

Another example is at folio 45v, where we find a long marginal addition on the upper right side. The note is directly related to the question which begins on this very folio and is attributed to a certain Master Leonard (Magister Lionhardus): Utrum voluntas possit peccare sine previo iudicii errore (Whether the will can sin without a previous error of judgement). This fragment does not seem to fit anywhere in the main text of the questio. It is an extra comment in which the temporal and causal relation between the deviation from right reason and sin is analysed. Said note ends abruptly with the text quere in tertio folio sequenti in fine (go to the end of the third folio after this one), accompanied by a non-textual graphic sign.

And indeed, just three folios later, i.e. towards the end of folio 48v, the same non-textual graphic sign reappears, indicating to the diligent reader that the two pieces of this textual puzzle should be connected and read as a whole. It is accompanied by the explanation ad materiam precedentis tertii folii (regarding the matter of the third folio before this one). From the point of view of the content, this is a reasonable continuation of the first fragment, since it further analyses what it would mean for a sin to precede a deviation from reason and for the will to be moved directly by the senses, without any involvement of the intellect.

Basel, A X 44, f. 48v
Basel, A X 44, f. 48v

ad materiam precedentis tertii folii 

It has already been established that in MS. Basel, A X 44, non-textual graphic signs are heavily used to indicate connections between texts on different folios.

But what are we to do with those signs which don’t seem to have a pair? In the absence of any definitive evidence, we can suggest two possibilities: either these particular fragments are connected via the sign to texts in other manuscripts, or they are connected to other sections of MS. Basel, A X 44, but the scribe simply forgot to draw the corresponding graphic sign. But this is mere speculation.

Such a graphic sign can be found at f. 52bv:

Basel, A X 44, f. 52bv
Basel, A X 44, f. 52bv

The sign seen on the left is not repeated again in our manuscript.

This is also the case with the following sign on f. 59v, which is accompanied by: de hoc require alibi; et incipit ‘et non est facile videre’ (you must look elsewhere for this, and [the relevant section] begins with ‘and it is not easy to see’).

Basel, A X 44, f. 59v
Basel, A X 44, f. 59v


The diversity and richness of our manuscript’s internal references are a real modus legendi. Reconstructing their original structure is the only way to ensure a faithful reading of both the text and its context. Marginal notes, whether clear or obscure, create a challenging dynamic that reminds us that the scribe was human, with his own faults and quirks that we’re fortunate enough to be able to recreate – most of the time!

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