Saturday, 16 April 2011

The cost of the manuscript

Having just finished Kiernan, I am currently re-reading Whitelock - the Audience of Beowulf [AoB]. It is wonderful. Dated in some respects, but so inspiring. And how I have changed myself since I was a student, nearly thirty years ago, and rather resented the book. I had just lost my faith. I wanted Beowulf to be pagan, at least essentially pagan. And there it read: all Christian, Christian, Christian.

I was already interested in codicology at the time, due to the late Professor Jos M.M. Hermans immensely inspiring lectures. I had started on bookbinding, which gave me hands-on experience with books and the making of books.

There was just one thing that was puzzling me already at that time, and it still does. Somebody spent a considerable sum of money on a manuscript which dealt with Danish deeds of valour, and that around AD 1000. By the way, we still believed that the manuscript was the umpteenth copy, for no one seemed to have read Kiernan, at university. To me, the AD 1000 MS was enough to dismiss AoB.

Yet Whitelock only rules out a dating during Cnut's reign, on the sole ground that the ms must be dated earlier:
It could hardly be located in English England until the reign of Cnut, and that is later than our surviving manuscript. [AoB p.25]

Calculating the cost
AoB p92. "six sheep or one ox could be bought for a mancus of gold, forty-eight sheep or eight oxen for a pound of silver."

A mancus - as weight equalled 4.25g - of gold.

So if one sheepskin would provide enough parchment to make one quire(gathering),
Kiernan collating the Beowulf MS (should I say Codex or rather: autograph?) into 9 quires,
thus requiring (roughly guessing) 9 sheepskins = 1.5 mancuses of gold.
1.5 mancuses of gold = 6.375g = 6.375*$47.79=$304.66 at today's value.

How much is that? Three hundred dollars is a small price in the Western world.
But what about nine sheep in, say, Africa?

By comparison
Parchment from a modern supplyer:

Full-Size Sheepskin - 8-9 sq ft
$151.20 [times 9!]

"Our full sheepskins are available in size categories ranging from 6–8 square feet to 12–13 square feet."

9 Sq ft = 9*0,093 m2 = 0.837 m2

The manuscript measures 195 x 130 mm [Theoretically, a 9 sq ft skin might be good for 0.837/0.025 = 33 leaves
The Beowulf codex then, would require just two sheep or 1/3 mancus of gold.

Using a different calculation, and bifolia of 260*200 mm [width*height], one skin might make 13-14 bifolia.

We will need [non-destructive] DNA-research to establish the sheep that were used for the manuscript. I am not sure if this is a possibility.
In the meantime I must find out from Kiernan the exact collation and see if I can get more certainty.