Manuscripts as Evidence for the use of Classics in Education, c. 800–1200: Estimating the Randomness of Survival
Alberto Burri, "Sacco L.A.," 1953: burlap and acrylic on canvas, 39 5/16 x 33 7/8 inches (101 x 87 cm), inv. 5337 - © Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello – by SIAE 2016


Manuscript Studies
Manuscript Survival
Quantitative Codicology
Mediaeval Education
Latin Classics

How to Cite

Tahkokallio, J. (2018). Manuscripts as Evidence for the use of Classics in Education, c. 800–1200: Estimating the Randomness of Survival. Interfaces: A Journal of Medieval European Literatures, (3), 28–45.


Are the surviving copies of schooltexts representative of what was popularly used in schools in the medieval period? In other words, was the survival of these manuscripts a random or selective process? To approach this question, this article presents a series of comparisons between the numbers of manuscripts of different schooltexts. It demonstrates that the most popular schooltexts all survive in very similar numbers from each century, and that the typical number of copies varies from one century to another. The easiest explanation for such a survival pattern is to assume that the texts were produced in equal numbers and passed through a relatively random filter of losses. The article seeks to test this intuitive explanation by using a simple probability mathematical experiment. In addition, the article analyses how the numbers of surviving manuscripts relate to entries in medieval book lists and medieval library catalogues. This examination supports the interpretation that the survival of schooltexts was a relatively random process. In addition, comparison between medieval book lists and extant manuscripts advocates caution in using the book lists as evidence for the popularity of texts in the medieval centuries. Even though the catalogues provide snapshots of specific historical situations, this paper concludes that the mass of extant books is more likely to give us a realistic picture of the contemporary popularity of texts.

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