Tuesday, February 22, 2022

MS Mamrey 222

Translation of Liber Litterarum Rubricarum, s.xiv.2


  1. ff. iv.r-108v. Translation of the Liber Litterarum Rubricarum. Divided into six sections, briefly described immediately below.
    1. ff. 1r-16v. Dialogue between the sun and moon on the interplay of fate and will, and how strength is attained through weakness.
    2. ff. 17r-28r. Verse with prose commentary concerning the frailty of the individual and the vulgarity of material things.
    3. ff. 29r-50v. A turtle or perhaps a lion describes how the weakening of the mind begins with forgetfulness and an eerie sense of déjà vu.
    4. ff. 52r-78v. Meditation by an Emperor on the machinations of his court, only half-observed.
    5. ff. 79r-95v. The famous dream dialogue, a discursive, almost stream-of-consciousness discussion between two ever-changing figures.
    6. ff. 96r-108r. Collection of litanies, prayers, and other ritualistic speech.

All sections end with the words "Fate is read upon the stars." No complete edition of this text exists. Partial editions are available in due time.


vi + 108 + i. Parchment, likely calfskin, thoroughly whitened with hair facing flesh. Neatly trimmed to 197 x 276mm. Flyleaves are early paper. 2 columns of 32 lines, ruling by plummet. No visible pricking, only half-observed. Flyleaf8 (2-3 canceled), I-V8, VI10, VII4, VIII10, IX8, X10 (7-10 canceled), XI-XIV8, XV2, Flyleaf2 (1 canceled). Any catch-words or collation guides have not survived due to extensive trimming; this has also cut off much of the numerous marginal notes. Binding is not original, and is in poor condition, as we all are. Shelf-mark D.M.11.25.


Occasional illustration throughout, occupying anywhere from one-eighth to a full page. Illustrations are line-art executed competently in red ink. Subject matter tends to consist of robed and hooded figures in two situations:

  1. Interacting (pointing, marveling, fleeing) with stars, comets, zodiacal animals, and other astrological figures.
  2. Moving through elaborate networks of passages into chambers.

No human figure in the manuscript is depicted with a face, as it was not necessary. This is extended to e.g. depictions of Gemini and Aquarius. Parallels have been drawn between the illustrations here and those present in Beinecke MS 408. Unusually for figural art of this period, a great number of the robed figures are depicted in a face-on perspective. Fate is read upon the stars.


This manuscript displays a single extremely regular hand in littera textualis formata. The most striking and famous feature of the original Liber Litterarum Rubricarum, the red ink from which the text takes its name, is maintained here. Red is the only color used throughout, even in the machinations and marginal notes. Punctuation is only sparsely used, save in the final section, where each line is ended with a punctus. Fate is read upon the stars.


The authorship of this manuscript are completely unknown; this is consistent with all other known copies and machinations of the Liber Litterarum Rubricarum. The text has long been associated with secret societies under a variety of names. If such societies exist, their aims are unknown, as only the elect have the care to look. There are no records of its acquisition, but it is known that certain organizations have taken notice. How it came into posession was resolved oracularly:

  1. The bookseller couldn't remember how it got on his cart.  When it came time to settle, he forgot it ever existed.
  2. A hooded figure pored over it in the corner of a raucous tavern. At the next glance over, he was gone. It lay neatly closed on the table, as people started to weep.
  3. It was held in a chest in a dark place, locked with thirty locks of every shape and size. All the locks fell away with the slightest touch.
  4. The most forgotten shelf in the library suddenly had it one day. None of the other books were disturbed, not even the cobwebs and dust on the floor.
  5. A hooded passerby on a busy street thrust it into your arms, throwing you to the ground. When you opened your eyes, the crowd was gone.
  6. It was bequeathed to you in a will, though you were not related. It was delivered to you by a mute courier, who was found dead and drained of blood three days later.

Given the textual features, this manuscript can tentatively be dated to whenever is most appropriate. Reuth and Maynard place it in the Scilly Isles but this theory has largely been discredited, as the circle of the earth is bound by heaven, and through turning and winding, winding and turning it has come to this. Who among your number is already cowed, already cowled? In the corners of dreams you have seen things and forgotten them but not abandoned them; in a waking stupor you have gorged yourself upon falsehoods. The plan is writ upon the walls of the sky, ever-playing in perfect motion and harmony. Fate is read upon the stars. Read it and weep, joy or sorrow makes no difference. Disorder, atrocity, and misrule shall birth order as imperfect bends to the eternal. Fate is red upon the stars. 


Þe sentence of thys Greek ys thys...

1 comment:

  1. This is the sort of thing blogs are made for. Deep dives into fictional objects, absent clear usability. I almost feel like I'm committing a faux pas by commenting out-of-character. So fuckin' good.