3. COMPUTUS TABLES AND TEXTS I: 23. COMPUTUS POETRY OVERVIEWLocation:
fol. 14r-vRelated manuscripts:
- Post-Conquest English Computus Manuscripts: London, British Library Cotton Vitellius A.XII
- Carolingian Computus Manuscripts: St Gall, Stiftsbibliothek 250
- Anglo-Saxon Computus Manuscripts: London. British Library, Cotton Tiberius B.V; Leofric Missal ; Missal of Robert of Jumièges
This section comprises six poems on computistical subjects, namely:
- 1. Me legat annales cupiat qui noscere menses...
- 2. Bis sena mensum uertigine uoluitur annus...
- 3. Ianus et Octimber binis regulantur abenis...
- 4. September semper quinis Octimber habenis...
- 5. Bis sex signifere numerantur sidera spere..
- 6. Prima dies Phebi sacrato nomine fulget...
Two prose texts, one on the embolisms (fol. 14v-15r) and another on the saltus lunae (fol. 15r-v), separate this anthology from an additional poem on the months ("Incipit hic ianus cui traditur astrea capra...") added to fol. 15v by Scribe A. This last poem, along with others, also appears in the calendar.
Poetry is one of the oldest genres of computistic writing. Isidore of Seville speaks of carmina cyclica, Bede quotes Ausonius Ecloga 16 on the relationship between the months and the zodiac signs in De temporum ratione 16, and Priscian, the Aratea, Dracontius and others were adopted or adapted for computistical purposes. The classical Latin exemplars are mainly verses about the twelve months of the solar year, 1 but the medieval genre expanded to include mnemonics for the various lists of data a student of computus was expected to master. 2 MS 17's poems on the solar regulars and lunar regulars (nos. 3 and 4 above) are typical examples. The mnemonic potential of computus poetry was sometimes enhanced by setting the verse to music. 3
Not all computistical poetry was utilitarian. Many of the poems in MS 17 concern things that it hardly seems necessary to memorize, such as the four seasons (no. 1), or the Roman names for the weekdays (no. 6). Much of it may have been composed for pure delight, or as an exercise in ingenuity. Poems and even prayers were composed so that the initial letters of words or verses served as a code for computistical information, rather like the mnemonics on fol. 12r of MS 17. These jeux d'esprit could contain a key to the Easter terminus, the date of Easter, the intervallum , and even the littera punctataof Easter day. 4 Probably the most elaborate of these table-poems is Abbo of Fleury's Ephemeridafound on fol. 25r-26r of MS 17
Computus poetry can appear in anthologies (as is the case here), or if appropriate, split into monthly units and distributed across the pages of a calendar. MS 17's calendar also contains versus de mensibus. Computistical poetry is also found in association with metrical martyrologies like the one in MS 17. 5
Three of the six poems in the present anthology, namely 2. Bis sena mensum uertigine uoluitur annus... , 3. Ianus et Octimber binis regulantur abenis... and 4. September semper quinis Octimber habenis... are cited by Byrhtferth in his Enchiridion; a fourth, 1. Me legat annales cupiat qui noscere menses... , is found in the early section of Symeon of Durham's Historia regum ascribed to Byrhtferth. This would seem to support the hypothesis of Baker and Lapidge that the segment of MS 17 encompassing the core computistica (fol. 13r-41r) was derived from the computus manuscript made or used by Byrhtferth. However, no anthology of this type survives in either the Peterborough or Winchcombe computi, two manuscripts which Baker and Lapidge regard, along with MS 17, as representing Byrthferth's collection.
By contrast, anthologies of computistical poetry are quite characteristic of the Leofric-Tiberius group of late Anglo-Saxon computi . 6 Cotton Tiberius B.V and the Leofric Missal share a number of poems, including some found in MS 17: Tiberius (fol. 15v) has 6. Prima dies Phebi sacrato nomine fulget... , while Leofric fols. 53v-54r (pp. 51-52) has, in this order,6. Prima dies Phebi sacrato nomine fulget... , 3. Ianus et Octimber binis regulantur abenis... 4. September semper quinis Octimber habenis... and 2. Bis sena mensum uertigine uoluitur annus... To this we would add the Missal of Robert of Jumièges , fols. 19v-20r (pp. 35-36), as well as British Library Cotton Vitellius A.XII fols. 40v-42r (6. Prima dies Phebi sacrato nomine fulget... , 2. Bis sena mensum uertigine uoluitur annus... ).
4 "Ostertagtexte und Intervalltafeln," in Bischoff 1966-1981, 2.192-227
5 Hennig 1955, 72. In Cotton Vitellius A.XII, a poetic martyrology separate from the calendar is accompanied by calendar verses, including the monosticha on the Egyptian Days ("Iani prima dies...") found in MS 17's calendar. In St Gall 250the computistical poetry follows the metrical martyrology of Wandalbert
6 Baker and Lapidge 1995, xlvii.