StorageSiteUCL Special Collections
Reference Number MS LAT/15
TitleSacrobosco, "Sphera", "Algorismus" and other tracts
DateEarly 14th century
DescriptionFourteenth-century manuscript volume containing tracts on mathematics, astronomy and astrology, including several by Johannes de Sacrobosco. This manuscript is a palimpsest with the erased text (a 13th century Italian hand?) still visible most clearly on folios 11r-14r and 19v-20v. There are many diagrams and marginalia throughout.

The manuscript consists of 33 leaves, in quires of 10, 8, 6, 4 and 6 leaves respectively. The last leaf of the 5th quire is missing. A piece of parchment has been torn from ff. 1 and 13, and there are holes in ff. 4 and 7. The last quire is of much finer and whiter parchment and may be of a later date than the other 4 sections.

In her "Descriptive Catalogue of Manuscripts", Coveney suggests that the text is written by at least 7 scribes in various minuscule hands of the 14th century. She identifies them as : (1) fols. 2r-10v ; (2) 11r-18r ; (3) 19r-24v ; (4) 25r-28v ; (5) 29r-31vb ; (6) 32ra ; (7) 33ry (corrected by later hands). The ink used is of various tints, that used by scribes 1, 3, 5 and 6 being much darker. Small black letters beside headings indicate that the manuscript was rubricated by a separate rubricator. Diagrams accompanying the text are in plain red or red and black.

There is a list of titles in Latin on f.1, with an entry in another hand dated 1383. Below this also appear the date 1340 and another inscription possibly by a former owner, "A S Dawes", dated March 1782. The volume bears on the spine: 'Liber Astro/logic / M.S.'. A cutting from a sales catalogue describing the manuscript is pasted inside the front cover, with the Graves bookplate pasted on the first free endpaper opposite.

The mansucript is structured as follows:
f.1r List of contents
(1) ff.2r-10v, Sacrobsco, "Tractatus d'spera" (note particularly the diagrams of eclipses on f.9v-10r and the further astronomical calculations in the marginalia. Written in full narrative style.)
(2) ff.11r-16r, Sacrobosco, "Tractat[us] algorismi".
(3) f.16r/v, De Lapidibus, de adamante.
(4) f.16v, De Geometria (including Euclidean theory, followed by practical texts on measuring objects, e.g. a barrel, a vase)
(5) ff.17r-18v, Explicit tractatus quadrantis
(6) ff.19r-21v, Liber quadrantis, incipit: "Post compositionem chilindre nunc cuiusdam instrumenti morologici [horologici?] videlicet quadrantis". Annotated in a later hand "Libro d'astologia".
(7) ff.22-23v (begins imperfectly)
(8) ff.23v-24v, De subita tristitia (what to do when suddenly overcome with sadness, depression)
(9) ff.25-28v, Compotus lunaris per uersus (possibly a later hand not contemporary with the other texts?)
(10) f.29r/v, Sermo de cruce
(11) ff.29v-32r, De articulis fidei secundum fratrum Egidium
(12) ff.32v-33v, Tabula temporum Solis et Lune 1349-1377

The first texts in the volume, including (1) Tractatus de Sphera (fols. 2r–10v), (2) Tractatus Algorismi (fols. 11r–16r), (3) De Lapidibus (fol. 16r), and (4) De Geometria (fol. 16v) are written continuously in a narrative style. Section (8) 23v-24r is in 3 cols., (11) 29r-32r is 2 cols., and (9) 25r-28v is written as verse.
Extent1 volume containing 33 leaves
AdminHistoryFew details are known about the life of mathematician and astronomer Johannes De Sacro Bosco or Sacrobosco. His name implies that he may have been born at Halifax, Yorkshire, in the late 12th century but the exact date is unknown. He studied and taught at the university of Paris and is reported to have been buried in the city, and he may also have studied at Oxford.

The three most well-known of Sacrobosco's works are 'Algorismus', 'Tractatus de sphera', and 'Computus'. Tractatus de sphera, often abbreviated to simply 'Sphera' became a fundamental text on astronomy from the medieval period to the 17th century, with hundreds of manuscript and printed copies produced. Based on the work of Ptolemy, it sets out theories on the terrestrial globe, the heavens, the rising and setting of the stars, eclipses, and on the orbits and movements of the planets. It was probably composed in the early 13th century but the precise date is disputed.

Sacrobosco's 'Algorismus" or "Tractatus de Arte Numerandi", is a textbook on arithmetic. It uses Arabic numerals in the text, which contributed significantly to their adoption by the modern world in place of roman numerals. According to the census undertaken by Seymour De Ricci (1881-1942), only three 14th-century copies of these two texts had been recorded at that time.
CustodialHistoryFolio 1r is inscribed 'A. S. Dawes / March 1782'. The manuscript appeared in the Libri sale in 1861 as lot 587, see "Catalogue of the mathematical, historical, bibliographical and miscellaneous portion of the celebrated library of M. Guglielmo Libri ... : which will be sold by auction by Messrs. S. Leigh Sotheby & John Wilkinson ... on Thursday, the 25th of April, 1861". It is not known whether John Thomas Graves (1806-1870), mathematician and Professor of Jurisprudence at University College London, acquired the manuscript at this auction, but it was part of his library which he bequeathed to UCL in 1870. Formerly Graves 3496. Other pressmarks: 13313; 149.c.3; 16.l.13.
AcquisitionGraves Library bequest, 1870.
AccessConditionsThe papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material, after the completion of a Reader's Undertaking.
Related MaterialFor another copy of 'Tractatus algorismi', cf University College London Special Collections MS LAT 4, ff 216-18.
For a later printed copy of "Tractatus de Sphaera Mundi" see MS LAT/29.
FindingAidsDorothy K Coveney, 'A Descriptive Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Library of University College London' (London, 1935); N R Ker, 'Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries' (London and Oxford, 1969); handlist at University College London Special Collections.
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