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“Lent approaches with a slow and weary step”

Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459) recorded a tale about an uneducated priest who got his parish out of tempo with

12th century manuscript leaf showing calendar for the month of June.

12th century manuscript leaf showing calendar for the month of June.

the rest of Christendom.  The priest realized his mistake when he chanced upon some priests making the preparations for Palm Sunday while visiting a neighboring town. He hastened home and, summoning his flock, explained why fasting and penitence would be brief this year:

“Know this,” he explained. “Lent was slow this year due to the bad weather, and could not make the difficult journey over these mountains. Therefore, Lent approaches with a slow and weary step so that he brings now nothing more than a single week with him, with the remnants left along the road. In the limited time in which he will remain with you, confess all, and perform penitence.”

It is easy to sympathize with the priest when you look at one of the medieval calendars from our collections. They feature a complicated grid that coordinates four Interlocking cycles, enabling clerics to know when to celebrate the many moveable feasts of the liturgical year. On the far left in dark brown pigment there is

Golden Numbers

a column of roman numerals running from i-xix. These are called the golden numbers, and indicate where a year falls the nineteen-year Metonic cycle. The cycle was named for the fifth-century  Greek astronomer who discovered that the solar cycle has the same relationship to the lunar cycle every nineteenth year. The phases of the moon would occur on the same days in years with the same golden number.  Incidentally, if you want to know the golden number for any year, all you do is divide the year by 19.  The remainder + 1 gives you a year’s golden number. (The reason you need to add 1 is because the years are calculated from 1 BC.) The second column, with letters A-G, is used to find the dominical letter.  The dominical letter was

Dominical Letters

determined by the first Sunday of the new year. If it fell on January 1, the dominical letter for that year would be “A.” If it fell on January 2, it would be a “B.” on down to January 7. Since Sunday was on January 4 this year, the dominical letter for 2015 is “D.”  Once you determined the golden number and the dominical letter, you could figure out the date of Easter, which occurred on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

The next column is the Julian calendar, which the Middle Ages inherited from Rome.  The roman numerals

Roman Calendar

in the 3rd column indicate how many days before Kalends, Nones, or Ides a day falls. This information was less functional, and may be merely a relic from Roman calendars that outlasted their usefulness.  It could have been used for the sanctorale, or cycle of Saints’ days, which fell on fixed dates and were not reckoned from the date of Easter.

Lastly the column on the far right records the records the feast day to be celebrated that day. Each phrase begins with a decorated initial, usually an “s” for sancti, meaning “of saint…” The color of the initial serves more than a decorative purpose. The common dark brown pigments was used for common feasts. Whereas red or blue indicated that the feast was to be accompanied by more fanfare. In the calendar below, from late twelfth- century England, you can see that the last day of the octave of

Feast Days

Feast Days

Ascension, the feast day of Saint Barnabus, the apostle, the sun’s entrance into cancer, the feast day of St. Aethelthryth, and the commemoration of the Apostle Paul are all given special distinction. Most astronomical information is recorded in green pigment.

Book historians are particularly interested in this column because it can provide information about the community who made and/or used the book.  The addition or erasure of saints can also provide information about the dating of the manuscript.

The science of reckoning time, or computus, was a university subject in itself. Luckily for us, it resulted in some very attractive results. You can enjoy these calendar pages even if, like the hapless priest of Bracciolini’s story, you find computus all a bit of a bother.

 

A late 14th- or early 15th century calendar for the month of June

A late 14th- or early 15th century calendar for the month of June

Mid-15th century calendar with notes on calculating the date for Easter

Mid-15th century calendar with notes on calculating the date for Easter

 

14th century Irish calendar for the month of December

14th century Irish calendar for the month of December

 

Calendar for the month of may from an early 16th-century French book of hours

Calendar for the month of may from an early 16th-century French book of hours

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Generations: Reproduction, Heredity, and Epigenetics

What do old books have to do with cutting-edge science?  More than you might think.

Coste0044This year, the annual Life Sciences and Society Symposium is considering a relatively new scientific field: epigenetics.  “Epigenetics refers to the study of traits that are heritable but not caused by changes in the DNA sequence,” writes Dr. Karthik Panchanathan, an assistant professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Missouri.  “In some cases, events that happen during an individual’s life can sometimes result in epigenetic changes that are subsequently heritable. This is a form of Lamarckian inheritance, the idea that an organism can pass on characteristics that it acquired during its lifetime to its offspring.”

This year’s Life Sciences and Society Symposium considers the implications of epigenetics for human health and behavior.  Speakers will discuss what epigenetics means, how the environment affects genetic expression, and how the fast-changing field of epigenetics is transforming medicine and society.  See a lineup of speakers and register for the symposium on the Life Sciences and Society program website.

Special Collections is participating in the symposium with an exhibition of rare books and an opening lecture to kick off the symposium week. Although the scientific study of epigenetics dates only to the middle of the twentieth century, scientists have puzzled over related questions of heredity and development for hundreds of years.  Does it matter whether you inherit a trait from your mother or father?  How do your earliest stages of development influence the rest of your life?  Which characteristics are inborn, and which are learned?  These are questions being asked by epigenetics researchers today, and they are the questions we consider in a historical sense in the exhibition, through an in-depth look at topics such as early theories of generation, maternal imagination, child development, and original sin.

GenesCultureEvolution-gateway-bDr. Panchanathan will open the exhibit with a lecture entitled “Genes, Culture and Evolution.” Humans are unique among animals in the degree to which adaptive behavior is shaped by both genes and culture. Cultural transmission is a form of Lamarckian inheritance: individuals pass on cultural traits which they learned during their lifetime to their offspring. In this talk, Dr. Panchanathan will discuss how anthropologists think about and model cultural evolution. In particular, Dr. Panchanathan will discuss how and why natural selection on genes resulted in the human capacity for culture; how cultural evolution is similar to and different from genetic evolution; and how cultural processes have shaped our genes, so-called gene-culture co-evolution.

Dr. Panchanathan’s presentation is on Monday, March 9, at 1:00 PM in the Government Documents area in Ellis Library.  Generations: Reproduction, Heredity, and Epigenetics will be on display in the Ellis Library Colonnade March 5-30, 2015.

generations-poster

 

 

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Polybius and the Pre-digital Brain

Today we are featuring a manuscript draft made by Friedrich Otto Hultsch as he was editing Polybius’s Historiae. Hultsch (1833-1906) was a philologist of classical languages who published numerous critical editions throughout his career. He made the works of ancient mathematicians available to the scholarly world for the first time. He also wrote a monograph on ancient metrology that focused on Babylonian and Egyptian systems of weights and measures.

Hultsch-stackPolybius was a Greek historian who wrote in the second century B.C.E. His work was lost in the west until the fifteenth century. His work has continued to be of interest ever since as a witness of of Hellenistic Greek history and political theory and of the koine dialect of Greek.

Hultschdouble
To make the draft, Hultsch unbound the signatures of the previous edition of made by Emmanuel Bekker in 1844. He interleaved his own research notes, which included text from manuscripts not previously consulted. The draft is a monument to the resources of the human brain before computers.

Hultsch

The published edition came out in 1867 and is available in the open stacks. We are still researching the provenance of the draft. Perhaps one of his students or descendants immigrated to the United States and had some connection with the University of Missouri.

 

HultschfragmentaHultschnote

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