A catalogue of Western manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries and selected Oxford colleges

MS. Digby 23

Summary Catalogue no.: 1624


Summary of Contents: This composite manuscript is famous for its second part, which contains the earliest copy of the Chanson de Roland. Written in the Anglo-Norman dialect of French, this copy was probably produced in England in the second quarter of the twelfth century, but its medieval provenance remains tantalisingly opaque. The first part of the manuscript, containing a Latin translation of Plato's Timaeus, was owned by Oseney Abbey from the thirteenth century: that the abbey also owned the chanson de geste is possible but unproven.

Physical Description

Composite: two manuscripts, separately foliated : fols. 1-55 || fols. 1-76


Standard binding of the Digby collection, between 1632 and 1634: light brown leather, stamped on each cover in gilt with the large armorial stamp of Sir Kenelm Digby, with his arms in a laurel leaf within a pointed oval frame which carries the legend ‘INSIGNIA KENELMI DIGBY EQVITIS AURATI’; two clasps.



Provenance and Acquisition

Both parts of the manuscript were demonstrably together in Thomas Allen's library (octavo section, no. 48: ‘Timaeus Platonis Lat: cum Romances Gallicis metro’). Whether they were together previously is uncertain. Possible evidence in favour of an earlier association is provided by matching rust stains and holes on part 1, fol. 1 and part 2, fol. 76 which may suggest a shared earlier binding. Samaran and Parkes believed that the word 'Chalcidiu[s]' in thirteenth-century script could be read on part 2, fol. 72r, which would suggest that the two parts had been together since the thirteenth century.

Against this must be set other arguments: the title on part 1, fol. 2r (thirteenth century, second half according to Ker) refers only to the Timaeus; and the added text at the end of part 1, fol. 55v, mid-14th century, would seem to suggest that this page was then the end of a volume. Worm-damage at the beginning of part 2 indicates that it was separately bound at some stage.

Kenelm Digby: his signature and motto, fol. 2r, ‘Vindica te tibi / Ken: Digby’.

Presented by him to the Bodleian in 1634.

MS. Digby 23 - Part 1


Language(s): Latin

(fols. 1v-2r)
Incipit: Vehementer opinamur beatam uirginem dei genitricem Mariam corpore resuscitatam et glorificatam
Explicit: aut sepultam reddant aut nobiscum resuscitatam pie credant
Arguments for the Assumption of the Virgin

Added in anglicana script in the second half of the thirteenth century.

(fol. 2r)

Ex libris of Osney abbey and pressmarks (see Provenance), with title 'Thymeus platonis', 13th century, second half (the pressmarks later; for dates see MLGB3).

(fol. 2v)
Incipit: Nulla res potest simul esse eadem festinata et examinata

13th century. Followed by the note ‘quere in 2o registri’ (15th century)

(fol. 3r)
Rubric: Incipit Thimeus Platonis
Plato, Timaeus

In the Latin version of Calcidius; most recently edited in On Plato's Timaeus, ed. J. Magee (2016).

(fols. 3r-4r)
Incipit: Isocrates in exortacionibus suis

Prefatory letter of Calcidius to Ossius, with interlinear and marginal glosses.

(fols. 4v-51r)
Incipit: Socrates. Vnus. iio. iiies. quartum enumero uestro Thimęę requiro
Rubric: (fol. 30v) Explicit liber primus incipit secundus
Explicit: ex leui admonitione perspicuo. Explicit.

Three layers of gloss:


Marginal and interlinear gloss contemporary with the original production of the book.

Incipit: (fol. 3r) In quodam libro in quo exortabatur homines ad uirtutem
Incipit: (fol. 3r) Calcidius ut aiunt archidiaconus cordubiensis osio pape romano uel ut quidam uolunt cordubensi episcopo
Incipit: (fol. 4v) Vtitur dialogo et ponit senarium numerum ut operis designet perfectionem

Marginal and interlinear glosses in several thirteenth-century hands.


Less frequent marginal and interlinear glosses in anglicana script (14th century, first half); also responsible for adding an incomplete (?) series of chapter numbers reflecting a division into three books of respectively 9, 15 and 17 chapters (book 1 in the original organization being divided into two books, the second starting at 'Est igitur (27d, fol. 18v)). For this division of the text see P. E. Dutton, 'Material remains of the study of the Timaeus in the later middle ages', in L'enseignement de la philosophie au XIIIe siècle: autour du "Guide de l'étudiant" du ms. Ripoll 109 ; actes du colloque international (1997), pp. 224-5.

(fols. 51v-55v)

The final quire is filled up with diagrams and notes, from or related to Calcidius’ Commentary on the Timaeus, Macrobius, and Martianus Capella.

(fol. 51v)

Diagram of the harmony of spheres with accompanying text on squaring the circle.

Incipit: Si uis reperire quadraturam in circulo
(fol. 52r)

Diagrams including planetary orbits, the zodiac, lunar eclipse

(fol. 52v)

Geographical diagrams including a Macrobian map of the world with its oceans, and another zonal map; and phases of the moon

(fol. 53r)

Diagrams of the elements

Rubric: Colligatio elementorum secundum platonicos numeros
Rubric: Colligatio elementorum secundum solidos numeros
(fol. 53v)

Diagram of musical intervals

(fol. 54r)

Cosmographical diagram of the five elemental layers; and Calcidius’ lambda diagrams, combined.

(fol. 54v)

Diagrams of the elements and seasons

(fol. 55r-v)

Short contemporary additions:

a. (fol. 55r)
Incipit: Quibus ita diuisis consequenter implebat interualla duplicis et triplicis quantitatis [Tim. I.35c-36a]. sesqualteris. et sesquitertiis. et binis medietatibus. medietas alia est arismetica. alia geometrica. alia armonica. Arismetica est que consideratur in sola identitate differentiarum.
b. (fol. 55v)
Incipit: Sumpsit unam Uisis uiribus anime, considerandum est qui sint motus eius
c. (fol. 55v)
Incipit: Discipline due sunt species. Astronomia. Astrologia. Astronomia est que consideratur secundum rei veritatem
(fol. 55v)
Incipit: Mitte mihi per Johannem fratrem tuum dimidium centum de partie Gold

Request for gold and colours (presumably materials for painting or illuminating) added in anglicana script, mid-14th century

Physical Description

Secundo Folio: (fol. 4) tionis. calida
Form: codex
Support: parchment
Extent: ii + 1 + 54 folios
Dimensions (leaf): 175 × 120 mm.


medieval flyleaf (fol. 1), 1(10) (fols. 2-11), 2(8), 3(10), 4(8)-5(8), 6(10); medieval numbering i-vi at the ends of quires (fols. 11v, 19v, etc.), modern numbering 2-8 at the beginning of quires (fols. 1, 2, 12, etc.), implying a quire (added by Allen?) lost at the beginning


The main text in 1 col. of 15 lines, written space 120 × 60 mm. . Ruled in leadpoint, pricked in the outer margins only.


Good initials, diagrams. (P&A i. 475)

(fol. 1) decorated initial I


Marginal sketches and drawings including incomplete heraldry, fol. 28r.


Origin: 12th century, middle ; French (?)


J. L. Waszink (Plato latinus, vol. IV) thought this manuscript 'clearly English' but the script and decoration suggest a French origin.

'Liber ecclesie sancte Marie de Oseneya ex legato magistri Henrici de Langeleya', fol. 2r (thirteenth century, second half). Usually identified as mr. Henry of Langley (fl. 1246-1263); see A. B. Emden, ‘Additions and corrections to A biographical register of the University of Oxford to A.D. 1500 supplemental list no. 1’, The Bodleian Library Record, vol. VI no. 6 (Sept. 1961), pp. 668-688, at p. 677, and I. Short in Romania 94 (1973), 231 n. 1.

Osney Abbey: pressmarks ‘114’, ‘168’, fol. 2r.

MS. Digby 23 - Part 2


(fols. 1r-72r)
Chanson de Roland

R. J. Dean & M. Boulton, Anglo-Norman literature : a guide to texts and manuscripts (London, 1999), no. 76

Ed. I. Short in La Chanson de Roland, gen. ed. Joseph. J. Duggan, I (2005), with a full discussion of the scribe's language. The text was corrected or revised in the late twelfth or the thirteenth century (Short, pp. 103-4).

Language(s): Anglo-Norman French
(fol. 72r)

Six lines of badly faded text following the explicit were transcribed as follows by C. Samaran under ultra-violet light for the facsimile edition of 1932 (La chanson de Roland: reproduction phototypique) and dated by him to the 13th century; the readings were confirmed by R. W. Hunt in 1975 (see M. B. Parkes, Scribes, Scripts and Readers (1991), p. 76): ‘Ci fait la geste [que Turoldus declinet] | . odo ................. | .............. |C. . . (ligne sinueuse) |C os (?) [ ...]. C.]o rd[uben]s[is. ....] Chalcidiu[s] | .....’

(fol. 73r)

Ten lines of Middle English, written in leadpoint, c. 1400 (?) (not noted in Index of Middle English Prose or the Index of Middle English Verse). The following transcription was given by Samaran (La chanson de Roland: reproduction phototypique (1932), p. 32): ‘ men among he dos to wi | grene and gray as sinful me w | mykil wrong mani at was | at maked his song of so | all his ban say reant oym. W | him niht long for g Was | allaye(?) to hurten we | long was | nes ful a songe | wryte s

Language(s): Middle English
(fol. 73v)

Pen trials at the foot of the page.

(fols. 74r-75v)


(fol. 76r)

Three lines from Juvenal, Satires (viii.269-71) added at the foot of the page (former pastedown) by an early hand, 12th or 13th century.

Language(s): Latin

Physical Description

Secundo Folio: (fol. 2) Asez est
Form: codex
Support: parchment
Dimensions (leaf): c. 170-5 × 120-5 mm.


1(8)-9(8) (fols. 1-72), followed by four endleaves, of which fols. 73 and 76 are a medieval bifolium and fols. 74-5 a later parchment bifolium. Fol. 76 was the back pastedown of a previous binding, showing the marks of leather turn-ins, and two large holes (echoed at fol. 73) probably from the pins of two strap-and-pin fastenings.


Ruled in drypoint. 1 col., 27-30 lines. Written space c. 130-45 × 75-90 mm. Pricked in the outer margins only.


Initials in red (once, fol. 39r, in green) at the beginning of each laisse with occasional sparse decoration.


Origin: 12th century, second quarter (?) ; England


For assessments of the date see Short, pp. 19-20, with reference to earlier literature.

Possibly bound with part 1 since the thirteenth century (see above).

Additional Information

Record Sources

Description by Matthew Holford (March 2020, with thanks to Bruce Barker-Benfield for his comments). Previously described in the Quarto Catalogue (W. D. Macray, Bodleian Library Quarto Catalogues IX: Digby Manuscripts, repr. with addenda by R. W. Hunt and A. G. Watson, 1999).


    Printed descriptions, editions and facsimiles:

    La Chanson de Roland, gen. ed. Joseph. J. Duggan, I (2005)
    Otto Pächt and J. J. G. Alexander, Illuminated Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library Oxford, I (1966), no. 475 [part 1]
    La chanson de Roland : reproduction phototypique du manuscrit Digby 23 de la Bodleian Library d'Oxford, ed. A. de Laborde and C. Samaran (1933)
    Photographische Wiedergabe der HS. Digby 23, ed. Edmund Stengel (Heilbronn, 1878)

    Online resources:

Last Substantive Revision

2017-05-29: James Cummings Up-converted the markup using https://github.com/jamescummings/Bodleian-msDesc-ODD/blob/master/convertTolkien2Bodley.xsl