Codex Gigas

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The Codex Gigas

The Codex Gigas (English: Giant Book) is the largest extant medieval manuscript in the world.[1] It is also known as the Devil's Bible because of a large illustration of the devil on the inside and the legend surrounding its creation. It is thought to have been created in the early 12th century in the Benedictine monastery of Podlažice in Bohemia (modern Czech Republic). It contains the Vulgate Bible as well as many historical documents all written in Latin. Eventually finding its way to the imperial library of Rudolf II in Prague, the entire collection was taken as war booty by the Swedish in 1648 during the Thirty Years' War, and the manuscript is now preserved at the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm, although it is no longer on display for the general public.[1]

Description[edit]

The codex is richly illuminated throughout.

The codex is bound in a wooden folder covered with leather and ornate metal. At 92 cm (36 in) tall, 50 cm (20 in) wide and 22 cm (8.7 in) thick, it is the largest known medieval manuscript.[2] Weighing 74.8 kg (165 lb), Codex Gigas is composed of 310 leaves of vellum allegedly made from the skins of 160 donkeys or perhaps calfskin.[3] It initially contained 320 sheets, though some of these were subsequently removed.[4] It is unknown who removed the pages or for what purpose but it seems likely that they contained the monastic rules of the Benedictines.

Legend has it, that it was written by one scribe in one night.[5]

The codex features a portrait of the Devil, which is approximately half a metre in height. He is shown quite frontally, crouching with arms uplifted a posture creating a dynamic effect, as if at any moment he could jump up to seize a new victim in his claws. His size is terrifying in itself here he alone fills the entire space of Hell, even though he does not reach up to the tops of the towers. He is naked except for a white loincloth covered all over in small comma-shaped red dashes which have been interpreted as the tails of ermine furs, the distinguishing attribute of a sovereign, in this particular case the Prince of Darkness, a mighty potentate. He has no tail, and his body, arms and legs are of normal human proportions, but his hands and feet with only four fingers and toes each, terminating in large claws, are bestial, as are his huge horns, which, like all his claws, are red as though dipped in blood. He has a large, perfectly round, dark green head, the colour of which reminds us of the deadly sin of envy, and his hair forms, as it were, a skull cap of dense little curls. His eyes are small, with red pupils, which gives him a vicious glare, and his red-tipped ears are large, enabling him to pick up all the gossip and slander entitling him to the souls of the calumniators. His open, leering mouth reveals his small white teeth, and two long red tongues flicker from the corners of his mouth. This doubling of tongues evokes negative associations with serpents, which have forked tongues, and false, double-tongued human beings. The expression ‘forked tongues’ is an ancient one already to be found in the Bible (Nordenfalk 1975, n. 15).

History[edit]

According to legend, the Codex was created by Herman the Recluse in the Benedictine monastery of Podlažice near Chrudim in the Czech Republic. The monastery was destroyed sometime in the 15th century during the Hussite Revolution. Records in the codex end in the year 1229. The codex was later pledged to the Cistercians Sedlec Monastery and then bought by the Benedictine monastery in Břevnov. From 1477 to 1593, it was kept in the library of a monastery in Broumov until it was taken to Prague in 1594 to form a part of the collections of the Emperor Rudolf II.

At the end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648, the entire collection was taken as war booty by the Swedish army. From 1649 to 2007, the manuscript was kept in the Swedish Royal Library in Stockholm.[6] The site of its creation is marked by a maquette in the town museum of Chrast.

On Friday, 7 May 1697, a fierce fire broke out at the royal castle in Stockholm, and the Royal Library suffered very badly. The codex was rescued from the flames by being thrown out of a window. This damaged the binding and knocked loose some pages which are still missing today. According to the vicar Johann Erichsons, the codex landed on and injured a bystander.[7] In September 2007, after 359 years, the Codex Gigas returned to Prague on loan from Sweden until January 2008, and was on display at the Czech National Library.[8][9][10]

A National Geographic documentary included interviews with manuscript experts who argued that certain evidence (handwriting analysis and a credit to Hermann Inclusus – "Herman the Recluse") indicates the manuscript was indeed the work of just one scribe.[11]

Content[edit]

Illustration of the devil, Folio 290 recto. Legend has it the codex was created by a monk who sold his soul to the devil.

About half of the codex consists of the entire Latin Bible in the Vulgate version, except for the books of Acts and Revelation, which are from a pre-Vulgate version. They are in the order: Genesis–Ruth; Isaiah–Daniel; Hosea–Malachi; Job; Samuel and Kings; Psalms–Song of Solomon; Wisdom of Solomon; Wisdom of Jesus; Esdras; Tobit; Judith; Esther; and Maccabees. Between the Testaments are Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews and De bello iudaico, as well as Isidore of Seville's encyclopedia Etymologiae and medical works of Hippocrates, Theophilus, Philaretus, and Constantinus. Following a blank page, the New Testament commences with Matthew–Acts, James–Revelation, and Romans–Hebrews. Following the picture of the devil, Cosmas of Prague's Chronicle of Bohemia, a list of brothers in the Podlažice monastery, and a calendar with necrologium, magic formulae and other local records round out the codex. The entire document is written in Latin; in addition, it contains Hebrew, Greek, and Slavic alphabets (Cyrillic and Glagolitic).[1]

The manuscript includes illuminations in red, blue, yellow, green and gold. Capital letters are elaborately illuminated, frequently across the entire page. The codex has a unified look as the nature of the writing is unchanged throughout, showing no signs of age, disease or mood on the part of the scribe. This may have led to the belief that the whole book was written in a very short time (see Legend), but scientists are starting to believe and research the theory that it took over 20 years to complete.[12]

Folio 290 recto,[13] otherwise empty, includes a unique picture of the devil, about 50 cm tall. Directly opposite the devil is a full page depiction of the kingdom of heaven, thus juxtaposing contrasting images of Good and Evil. Several pages before this are written on a blackened parchment and have a very gloomy character, somewhat different from the rest of the codex. The reason for the variation in coloring is that the pages of the codex are of vellum. Vellum, or scraped and dried animal hide, "tans" when exposed to ultraviolet light. Over centuries, the pages that were most frequently turned have developed this tell-tale darker color.

Legend[edit]

According to one version of a legend that was already recorded in the Middle Ages, the scribe was a monk who broke his monastic vows and was sentenced to be walled up alive. In order to avoid this harsh penalty he promised to create in one night a book to glorify the monastery forever, including all human knowledge. Near midnight, he became sure that he could not complete this task alone so he made a special prayer, not addressed to God but to the fallen angel Lucifer, asking him to help him finish the book in exchange for his soul. The devil completed the manuscript and the monk added the devil's picture out of gratitude for his aid.[1][14][15] In tests to recreate the work, it is estimated that reproducing only the calligraphy, without the illustrations or embellishments, would have taken five years of non-stop writing.[12]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "Codex Gigas". National Library of Sweden, Kungl. Biblioteket, Stockholm. Retrieved 2016-02-13. 
  2. ^ Boldan, Kamil; Michal Dragoun; Duan Foltýn; Jindřich Marek; Zdeněk Uhlíř (2007). The Devil's Bible - Codex Gigas. The Secrets of the World's Largest Book. NKP. p. 15. ISBN 978-80-7050-532-8. 
  3. ^ "Description of the MS - Kungliga biblioteket". Kb.se. 2007-06-19. Retrieved 2013-11-19. 
  4. ^ Boldan, Kamil; Michal Dragoun; Duan Foltýn; Jindřich Marek; Zdeněk Uhlíř (2007). The Devil's Bible - Codex Gigas. The Secrets of the World's Largest Book. NKP. p. 17. ISBN 978-80-7050-532-8. 
  5. ^ M. Gullick, The Codex Gigas. A revised version of the George Svensson lecture delivered at the National Library of Sweden, Stockholm, November 2006, Biblis 28 (2007), pp. 5–19.
  6. ^ Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, "The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration", Oxford University Press (New York – Oxford, 2005), p. 103.
  7. ^ "The Stockholm Castle fire of 1697 - Kungliga biblioteket". Kb.se. 2007-06-19. Retrieved 2013-11-19. 
  8. ^ "Return of the Devil's Bible to Prague draws crowds of curious Czechs". The Canadian Press. 24 September 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-10-24. 
  9. ^ "Czech and Central European news, business and opinion". The Prague Post. Retrieved 2013-11-19. 
  10. ^ "Radio Prague - Borrowing the Devil's Bible". Radio.cz. Retrieved 2013-11-19. 
  11. ^ "Mysteries of the Bible Episode Guide". Archived from the original on 2011-02-10. 
  12. ^ a b "Devil's Bible". Archived from the original on 2011-09-03. 
  13. ^ "Devil's Bible - World Digital Library". WDL.org. Retrieved 2016-01-15. 
  14. ^ "Legends - Kungliga biblioteket". Kb.se. 2007-06-19. Retrieved 2013-11-19. 
  15. ^ Rajandran, Sezin (2007-09-12). "Satanic inspiration". The Prague Post. Retrieved 2013-12-10. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bártl, S., Kostelecký, J.: Ďáblova bible. Tajemství největší knihy světa, Paseka, 1993. ISBN 80-85192-64-0
  • Codex Gigas in the European Library: treasure of national library of Sweden
  • J. Belsheim, Die Apostelgeschichte und die Offenbarung Johannis in einer alten lateinischen Übersetzung aus dem 'Gigas librorum' auf der königlichen Bibliothek zu Stockholm (Christiana, 1879).
  • M. Gullick, The Codex Gigas. A revised version of the George Svensson lecture delivered at the National Library of Sweden, Stockholm, November 2006, Biblis 28 (2007), pp. 5–19.

External links[edit]