Playing with the Codex Amiatinus

For the last few days, and this morning, I’ve been pursuing a puzzle that has to do with the apocryphal Psalm 151 in the Codex Amiatinus (part of revising a talk I gave on this apocryphon in Anglo-Saxon England). Amiatinus is one of the most–many would say the most–important witnesses for the early text and circulation of Jerome’s translation of the Bible into Latin, what would become known as the Vulgate. It is also a major artifact for early Anglo-Saxon culture.

Mostly, I wanted to examine digital images of Amiatinus, which are available on a CD-ROM facsimile, produced in 2000. Unfortunately, this presented some frustrations: the program is based on Windows 95/98 technology for PC, and Mac OS 8.5. Digging a bit deeper into the file system of the CD-ROM, I found the right “images” folder with a hoard of jpgs–only to find that they’re not high resolution, and are not readily usable for zooming or detailed viewing. For example, the page I wanted to examine (folio 418r) looks like this (I’ve also included the file information beside it):

Codex Amiatinus 418r detail, with file information.
Codex Amiatinus 418r detail, with file information.

And that’s about the best display without losing quality from zooming in.

My first reaction to all of this was surprise and frustration at the fact that I couldn’t find the Codex Amiatinus online. Since it’s recognized as a major medieval cultural artifact, and a significant manuscript in many respects, why wouldn’t a digital facsimile be available online? (I know that there are, of course many possible reasons for this–finances, politics, etc.) My second reaction was dismay at the data that is available–and slowly becoming obsolete. A lot of this reminds me of Will Noel’s continual outcries for libraries to free their data. Of course, the data I wanted was available, it just wasn’t adequate. That’s also part of Noel’s notions that “data should S. U. C. K. It should be sustainable, it should be usable, it should be complete, and it should be known–that is, it should be out there.” So I’ve been pondering this a bit. And I’ve been hoping that more libraries will heed the call of many cultural historians to put out more data will “S. U. C. K.”