9. SCIENTIFIC WORKS OF BEDE fols. 58v-123r: OVERVIEW
This section of the manuscript contains the following:
Following the mathematical anthology is the largest single item in MS 17, Bede's three treatises on cosmology and computus. De temporibus is on fols. 51v-61v, De natura rerum on fols. 62r-65r, and De temporum ratione on fols. 65v-123r. However, MS 17's compilers intended that the treatises be read in the order De natura rerum, De temporibus, De temporum ratione. The explicit of De natura rerum written by Scribe A at the foot of fol. 65rb states: "EXPLICIT DE NATVRA RERVM LIBER. Hic deberet sequi hunc liber de temporibus qui est in anteriori quaternatione." ("Here ends De natura rerum. De temporibus, which is in the preceding gathering, ought to follow this book.") 1
If MS 17's presiding scribe thought that De natura rerum ought to come before De temporibus, why does it not do so? The codicological structure of gathering 7 suggests a plausible explanation. It would appear that when MS 17 was being planned, and during the initial stages of its execution, no exemplar of De temporibus was available at Thorney. The original lay-out envisioned the mathematical anthology filling all of gathering 7, while De natura rerum began on the first folio of gathering 8, and led directly to De temporum ratione. At some point after Scribe B had completed De natura rerum and begun De temporum ratione, an exemplar of De temporibus turned up. Indeed, the anomalous nature of MS 17's text of De temporibus supports the hypothesis that its exemplar came to Thorney from a different source than that which provided the other two treatises.The manuscript's planners wanted to associate De temporibus as closely as possible with the other Bede treatises, but it was now impossible to insert it in the traditional place between De natura rerum and De temporum ratione. They therefore elected to copy it onto the last folios of gathering 7, which had not yet been filled. The present folios 57 and 58 originally formed the central bifolium of this quire, and already contained the fraction table of Hermannus Contractus, but the remaining three and one-half sheets were deemed adequate for De temporibus. In fact, the planners felt they could spread the text a little in order to fill exactly the allotted space: hence the wider ruling of this section, and the choice of scribes D and E with their open and generous scripts. On the last page (fol. 61v), however, they realized they were running out of room. Extra lines were ruled onto the foot of the page, and Scribe A himself undertook the delicate task of squeezing in the last column, so that De temporibus could end on cue, albeit five lines over the writing frame.
Thus the scribes achieved their goal of connecting the three treatises of Bede, but in so doing, they disrupted the original lay-out for the mathematical anthology. It was probably their intention that the abacus texts straddle the second fraction table of Hermannus Contractus. Now, however, they were obliged to pad the first half of gathering 7 with two extra sheets in order to accommodate this material. Here they erred somewhat on the side of caution, and finished with a whole page (fol. 57r) blank.
1. For medieval readers, De temporibus was the title of both of Bede's treatises on computus. The work we now know as De temporum ratione was usually distinguished from De temporibus as De temporibus liber maior. This seems to have affected the scribe who laid out the monumental capitals of the beginning of chapter 1 of De temporum ratione on fol. 66r: beneath DE TEMPORVM RATIONE... one can make out a drypoint sketch of the incipit DE TEMPORIBVS.