The Circle of the Sun: Secular Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts

The Circle of the Sun exhibit poster

The Circle of the Sun, the second of a pair of exhibitions of Western European manuscripts and fragments, will open in the Peterson Gallery, Green Library, Stanford University on Feb. 3. The exhibition draws on Stanford's medieval and early modern manuscript holdings, including a number of recent acquisitions, to show how secular learning was recorded and transmitted in complex networks and communities of textual production and interpretation.

From antiquity, scholars divided knowledge into res divinae (sacred) and res humanae (secular). The 2012 exhibit Scripting the Sacred featured religious writings, many of which were splendidly illuminated. The Circle of the Sun examines the seven liberal arts in cathedral schools and universities; the rise of professions in law, medicine, and commerce; and the emergence of Scholastic philosophy, history, vernacular literature, and Renaissance humanism.
Today, manuscript studies is a highly interdisciplinary and increasingly digital field for which paleography, the study of old writing, remains a fundamental tool. Paleography was first used scientifically to detect forgeries in diplomatic documents; its principles were later applied to related academic disciplines such as epigraphy, textual criticism, and codicology, which are also discussed in the exhibition.
Highlights of manuscripts on display, dating from the ninth through seventeenth centuries, include complete codices of ancient works by Ovid, Vergil, and Cicero; illustrated astronomical and legal texts; a portrait of Geoffrey Chaucer; medieval poetry; and fragments of rarely seen treatises on Latin lexicography, etymology, and allegory. Visitors will also see a selection of Roman writing implements, coins and inscriptions as well as goatskins prepared as parchment by a modern artisan.
The Circle of the Sun is co-curated by Sarah Temmer Weston, Class of 2014, English and Art History and David A. Jordan, assistant director for library development and associate curator for paleographical materials.