A colourful medieval manuscript that depicts the story of Alexander the Great is now available online from the National Library of Wales’s website.
Peniarth 481D, one of the most elaborately decorated medieval manuscripts in the Library, has survived in its original binding. The popular medieval legendary account of the life of Alexander the Great was an ideal text for the illustrator, and the text is also lavishly decorated with borders and gilded initials. The manuscript was written on parchment in the late 15th century. The manuscript is in two parts, and it is likely that both parts were bound together as one volume from the outset, probably in England.
The first part of the manuscript was written by an English scribe and illustrated by a Flemish artist and is one of dozens of manuscripts from Wales and the continent, which can be enjoyed on the National Library’s Digital Mirror website. It contains two texts:
The popular Latin textbook of proverbial advice called Disticha Catonis (‘The Distichs of Cato’), with Benedict Burgh’s Middle English paraphrase in rhyme royal interposed; the Latin text of Historia de preliis Alexandri Magni (‘The History of Alexander’s Battles’,), based on a 10th century translation into Latin by Leo of Naples of a Greek text.
The first part of the manuscript is illustrated with 30 miniatures in a Flemish style. Four miniatures, mainly of author and translator, illustrate the Disticha Catonis, whilst the Historia de preliis has 26, several subdivided to give a total of 47 subjects.
The second part of the manuscript was written and illuminated in the German city of Cologne. It contains John of Hildesheim’s 14th century Historia trium Regum (‘History of the Three Kings’), accounting for the presence in Cologne of the relics of the Magi mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel.
This is one of a few medieval manuscripts at the National Library of Wales to retain its original binding. It is bound in wooden boards, covered with crimson velvet, and retains brass bosses, corner pieces and pins and fastenings for thongs. It was probably bound in England in the late 15th century.
Source: National Library of Wales