Lucanus (Marcus Annaeus) Pharsalia, manuscript on paper, [Northern Italy (possibly Padua), first half of the fifteenth century].
294 x 217mm., I + 149 + I leaves (including defective leaves and 3 blanks), sixteen quires, lacking three quires at the beginning and fols 123, 154 and 157, else complete (except that the last 36 leaves are so increasingly fragmentary that very little text remains), collation:1-410, 54-1, 6-910, 1010-1 [of 10, lacking iii], 11-1210, 1310-2, 14-1510, 1610-1, text block: 168 x 100mm., single column, 20 lines, ruled throughout, horizontal catchwords within radiating flourishes, traces of alphabetical leaf signatures, modern pencil foliation taking account of missing leaves and presumed cancels, text written by different scribes mostly in a gothic book-hand, fol. 71 in a sloping humanistic cursive (perhaps an early replacement), the first capital letter of each line set out, rubricated on fols.113v-115r only, simplified T-O map of the world on fol.157v, extensively glossed throughout in various cursive and semi-humanistic hands, some light stains and marginal repairs, the first 113 leaves generally in excellent condition, extensive conservation to the last 36 leaves, by fol.152 marginal defects begin to creep into the text area and from then on the text is increasingly defective so that by fol.179 only inner ribbons survive, all professionally repaired with toned paper, contemporary wooden boards sewn onto three leather thongs (replaced), covered with reversed leather ruled into a frame and saltire pattern, nine metal bosses on upper cover, stubs (only) of two clasps held by pairs of metal pins, trace of title on upper cover '[Lu]canus', lower cover largely replaced by modern wooden boards (by James Brockman), modern vellum endleaves, in a red half calf and marbled paper fitted case, title lettered in gilt on brown leather spine label (chipped).
The Pharsalia or De bello civili is Lucan's only surviving work, composed between 59 and his suicide in 65 AD. The poem is divided into ten books and describes the wars between Caesar and Pompey (the place Pharsalus in Thessaly is where Pompey was defeated in 48 B.C.). The present manuscript opens in Book II, line 396, "Umbrosis mediam qua collibus ...", continuing with Books III (fol. 40v), and IV (fol. 60r). This breaks off on fol.70v at line 437; lines 438-450 are in a slightly later hand. There is no Book V and the alphabetical leaf signatures do not allow for it. The poem continues with Books VI (fol. 81r), VII (fol. 102r), VIII (fol. 124r), IX (fol. 145v) and X (fol. 175r). The last leaves are very defective. The ends of the words visible on fol.188v are remains of lines 531-539, which allows for the text to have ended correctly at line 546 on that page. There must have been a verse colophon at the top of fol.189r, of which only a few words remain.
In the lower margin of fol.157v there is a T-O world map, the best known and most repeated of early cartographic images, illustrating the division of the world into the three continents of Europe, Africa and Asia, with the prevailing winds: the West wind (Zephyrus), the North wind (Boreas), the East wind (Eurus), and the South wind (Notus). Asia is separated from Europe and Africa by the river Tanais (the Don) and the Nile.
Lucan was a school text in late antiquity and very popular in the Middle Ages. Dante placed Lucan with Homer, Horace, Ovid, Virgil and himself as the greatest poets of all time (Inferno IV: 88-90). Chaucer includes him in the House of Fame.The present manuscript has been extensively glossed by several different hands. One hand supplies a general running commentary reminiscent of the lecture-hall, another hand (mostly in Book II) is that of a textual critic who supplies alternative readings. A third hand provides geographical and ethnographical data on people, places and rivers mentioned in the poem. A further point of interest lies in the presence of the T-O world map. The tradition of illustrating Lucan with a world map goes back a long way, though not all manuscripts contain it (nor do the early printed editions). It probably served as inspiration for the world map in Isidore of Seville.
Despite the defects, this is a substantial, even handsome, and extensively glossed manuscript of the greatest Latin epic after the Aeneid.
E. Fantham, "Introduction", in Lucanus, De Bello Civili Book II, Cambridge 1992, pp. 17-19; M. Destombes, Mappemondes, Amsterdam 1964, p. 74