Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Auct. F.4.32 / St Dunstan’s Classbook

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Auct. F.4.32 is a curious collection of material comprising four parts of diverse origin. Part two has material in Old English and dates from the middle of the eleventh century. Parts one, three and four are ninth-century booklets of Breton and Welsh origin, but having been imported into England, these parts would seem to have been brought together there by no less a figure than the monastic reformer St Dunstan: certainly, his hand (‘Hand D’) makes additions and repairs to all three booklets. It is for this reason that the manuscript has come to be known as ‘St Dunstan’s Classbook’. Since the book belonged in the later Middle Ages to Glastonbury Abbey, it is likely that Dunstan made his additions between c. 943 and 957, while he was abbot there, and before he moved on to become archbishop of Canterbury (961–88); but this point remains a matter of some doubt. The additions certainly postdate his becoming a monk. The four parts may be briefly described as follows:

  1. Eutyches with Old Breton glosses (fols. 1–9). A single quire of nine leaves, the main item in this part is a fragment of Eutyches’ Ars de uerbo, a treatise on the conjugation of Latin verbs, also known—as in this manuscript—as De discernibus coniugationibus (fol. 2r). The fragment comprises only the first third of the work, the remainder having been lost. Given the report that he was a student of Priscian, Euytches would seem to have flourished in the first half of the sixth century. This item is written in a Caroline miniscule script which has been dated to the second quarter of the ninth century. It is prefaced on folio 1v by an introduction to Eutyches in the same hand. The scribe has included many interlinear and marginal glosses. Since some of these are in Old Breton, this booklet would seem to have originated in Brittany, but little more may be said about its provenance.
        In the second half of the tenth century a frontispiece was added to folio 1r, which had previously been left blank. It shows a monk prostrate in humility before a much larger scale image of Christ holding a rod in his right hand and a book in his left. The image is set rather low on the page—images of Christ in this form usually show his feet—raising questions about how and why the drawing was made—as a pen test? The inscriptions imply a serious purpose, however. The hexameter couplet above the monk identifies him as Dunstan: Dunstanum memet clemens rogo, Christe, tuere / Tenarias me non sinas sorbsisse procellas [‘I ask, merciful Christ, that you may protect me, Dunstan, that you do not permit the Taenarian storms to drown me’]. The Taenarum was the stormy entrance to the underworld in Statius, Thebaid, ii.32–35. The inscriptions on the image derive from the Bible. That on the sceptre reads Virga recta est... virga regni tui, and is an allusion to Psalm 44:7 (‘the sceptre of thy kingdom is a sceptre of uprightness‘). That on the book reads Venite filii audite me, timorem domini docebo vos, and is taken from Psalm 33:12 (‘Come, children, hearken to me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord’).
        The inscriptions are written, according to Richard Hunt, by the hand ‘of a person taught originally to write in insular script, who later learned to write Caroline miniscule’ (p. xiv), but there is room for doubt as to whether those on the book and rod were written by the scribe of the hexameter couplet. Some earlier interpreters also thought that the monk, a seemingly less-assured figure, was a later addition, but this has now been disproved. It is tempting to think that the image is Dunstan’s work, not least because Osbern wrote in his late eleventh-century life of the saint that he was skilled in making a picture and in forming letters (Vita Dunstani, § 8, ed. Stubbs, p. 79); but of the various components, only the hexameter couplet can be safely ascribed to him with total confidence. Some of the others may be his work, but how many remains unclear.
        Hand D also adds to this section a brief epigram from De bono pacis by Eugenius of Toledo (d. 657) on fol. 1v.
  2. An Old English Homily on the Invention of the Cross (fols. 10–18). The only item in this quire of nine leaves is a sermon written in an Anglo-Saxon mixed miniscule of the late eleventh-century. It begins GEHERAÐ GE NU HWÆT IC EOW SECGAN WILLE ymbe þa halgan rode [‘Now hear what I shall tell you about the Holy Cross’]. The quire’s most interesting codicological feature is that it was once folded up the middle.
  3. Liber Commonei, ‘The Book of Commoneus’ (fols. 19–36). Comprising a single quire of eighteen leaves, this section contains a range of computistical and liturgical materials written in an insular miniscule of a type current in Wales in the first half of the ninth century. The computistical items include a paragraph on numbers and a set of Old English runic letters, here called the ‘Alphabet of Numminus’ (fol. 20r), a table tracking the course of the moon through the Zodiac based on Bede, De temporum ratione, § 17 (fol. 20v), a paschal table for the years 817–832 (fol. 21r), an excursus on St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians 2:14 (fol. 21v), a series of computistical rules beginning En onoma Christi: incipit paruum argumentum de luna [‘In the name of Christ, here begins a brief proposition about the moon’] (fol. 22), and excerpts from the Calculus of Victorius of Aquitaine (fol. 23).
        The liturgical items comprise a series of parallel texts in Latin and Greek: a series of lessons drawn from the books of the Prophets in the Old Testament (fols. 24r–36r), and a series of lessons and canticles for the Easter vigil as celebrated in Rome prior to the reforms enacted by Pope Gregory the Great (fols. 28v–36r + 19rv). In the first series, the Greek version is given in Greek characters in a column on the left, a Latin version is given in miniscule script on the right; in the second series, the Latin appears on the left and a transliterated Greek text is given on the right.
        The scribe has left a colophon—that is, an inscription at the end of a book, often giving the maker’s name or some information as to why it was produced—at the foot of folio 19v, which was the final leaf of this booklet as first assembled. It reads: Finit opus in domino o thei quiri altisimo meo patre commoneo scriptum simul ac magistro. This note is usually interpreted as implying that the scribe produced the booklet at the request a certain ‘Commoneus’ who was at the same time his father (or spiritual director) and his teacher. This interpretations has not gone uncontested, one objection being that ‘Commoneus’ is not otherwise attested as a Welsh personal name, but may have been derived, plausibly enough in the case of a monastic teacher, from the Latin verb commonere, ‘to remind, adomish, exhort’. It might, however, have been copied from the exemplar, possibly of Irish origin. In any case, all of the items in this section help to illuminate the literate culture of the Welsh Church in the period when they were copied.
        To this section, Hand D has contributed, among other minor additions, a half-page with nine lines of text, in order perhaps to replace a page that had become damaged at the end of the booklet.
  4. Ovid’s Ars amatoria (fols. 37–47). A single quire of ten leaves, this part houses one of the oldest copies of book one of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, ‘The Art of Love’. Except for the final page of the text, it is written in the rounded form of square miniscule script which was current in Wales in the late ninth century. The final page, fol. 47r, was written by Hand D, in the Caroline miniscule which was introduced into England during the third quarter of the tenth century. There are numerous interlinear glosses and a few marginal items as far as line 389, and after that a few among lines 623–52. The hand(s) that enter these glosses are similar to those (?) that entered the text as far as the foot of fol. 46v, and some are in Old Welsh. Fol. 47v has a sentence in Old English which was added in the eleventh century and taken from the Penitential of Pseudo-Egbert (iii.15).

That the book was at Glastonbury at the end of the Middle Ages is implied by a fifteenth-century inscription at the foot of the final leaf: In custodia fratris H. Langley (fol. 47v). An identical inscription appears in another Glastonbury manuscript, preceded by the ex libris of that abbey (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud Lat. 4, fol. 272r). The book was evidently one of several which were allocated to Henry Langley, who is listed among the monks who were present at the election of Walter More as abbot in 1456. The manuscript—or rather, the section with Eutyches’ Ars de uerbo—is also listed as a most ancient book in a catalogue of Glastonbury books compiled in 1247/8; and the antiquary John Leland saw the book there when he visited the abbey in about 1538.

Another inscription at the top of folio 1r indicates that the book was given to the Bodleian Library by Thomas Allen of Gloucester Hall: Tho. Allen D[ono] D[dedit]. The gift took place in 1601. At the top of the same page is an inscription in a Gothic hand which Hunt, noting a slight artificiality, identifies as an early sixteenth-century attempt to imitate older forms: Pictura et scriptura huius pagine subtus uisa, est de propria manu sancti Dunstani [‘The picture and writing on his page, seen below, is in St Dunstan’s own hand’]. The manuscript was long treasured, it seems, as a memorial to Dunstan and perhaps even as one of his relics.

Printed Facsimile: Richard W. Hunt, Saint Dunstan’s Classbook from Glastonbury: Codex Biblioth. Bodleianae Oxon. Auct. F.4./32, Umbrae codicum occidentalium 4 (Amsterdam, 1961). John Rylands Library, Deansgate: R117183.

Online Facsimile: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Auct F.4.32. Attention is directed chiefly to folios 1r (the frontispiece), 37r (the opening leaf of the booklet containing Ovid’s Ars amatoria), and fol. 47r (the final page of the Ovidian content). A transcript and translation of fol. 47r is available on the Moodle website.

Full Description: Hunt's introduction (pp. v–xvii) provides a fullish description of the manuscript and bibliographical references for the items in Welsh and Breton, but its emphasis is on the proving that Dunstan's hand (‘Hand D’) is to be found not only on the frontispiece, but also in parts III and IV of the manuscript.

Editions and Translations

  • Eutyches, Ars de verbo, ed. B. Löfstedt, Corpus Christianorum continuatio medievalis, vol. 40, pars 3.2 (Turnhout, 1977).
  • Morris, R. (ed.), Legends of the Holy Rood, Early English Text Society, os. 46 (Oxford, 1871). Journals Y6.
  • Ovid, Ars amatoria, Book I, ed. A.S. Hollis (Oxford, 1977). XJ.O96.


  • Alexander, J. J. G., Medieval Illuminators and their Methods of Work (New Haven, CT, 1992), p. 9 and fig. 10 (the frontispiece). Oversize VSR.B.
  • Backhouse, J., D. H. Turner and L. Webster (eds), The Golden Age of Anglo-Saxon Art, 966–1066 (London, 1984), no. 31. Oversize V3ea.B.
  • Bishop, T. A. M., English Caroline Minuscule, Oxford Palaeographical Handbooks (Oxford, 1971), no. 1. LDY.
  • Budny, M., ‘“St Dunstan’s classbook” and its Frontispiece: Dunstan’s Portrait and Autograph’, in N. L. Ramsay, M. Sparks and T. Tatton-Brown (ed.), Dunstan: Life, Times and Cult (Woodbridge, 1992), pp. 103–42. PN.DM.D9. Suggests that fol. 47 may have been added as part of an act of censorship which involved the deletion of the racier second and third books of the Ars amatoria (pp. 121–2).
  • Charles-Edwards, T. M. O., Wales and the Britons, 350–1064, History of Wales (Oxford, 2012), pp. 643–50. MWW.P. Argues that three hands were responsible for the section of Ovid's Ars amatoria, book one, in square miniscule script on fols. 37r–46v: Hand A, ‘an exceptionally accomplished scribe’, wrote the text up to fol. 42r8; Hand B from fol. 42r9 to the end of fol. 46r; Hand C wrote fol. 46v, while Hand D (St Dunstan) wrote the final page, fol. 47r. There glosses are the work of Hands A and B, which probably derive from the exemplars before these scribes: it was ‘a patron’s book’ rather than a class-book (pp. 644–5).
  • Conway, G., ‘Towards a Cultural Context for the Eleventh-Century Llanbadarn Manuscripts’, Ceredigion, 13.1 (1997), 9–28, at p. 15.
  • Dales, D., Dunstan: Saint and Statesman (Cambridge, 1988).
  • Duckett, E. S., Saint Dunstan of Canterbury: A Study of Monastic Reform in the Tenth Century (London, 1955). PN.DO.D9.
  • Brooks, N. P., ‘The Career of Dunstan’, in N. L. Ramsay, M. Sparks and T. Tatton-Brown (eds), Dunstan: Life, Times and Cult (Woodbridge, 1992), pp. 1–23 (esp. p. 40, for the possibility that the Dunstan materials were not entered in the manuscript at Glastonbury, but at Canterbury). PN.DM.D9.
  • Gneuss, H., ‘Dunstan und Hrabanus Maurus: Zur Hs. Bodleian Auctarium F.4.32’, Anglia, 96 (1978), 136–48. Journals 7Y6.
  • Higgitt, J., ‘Glastonbury, Dunstan, Monasticism and Manuscripts’, Art History, 2 (1979), 275–90. Journals V6.
  • Kaster, R. A., Guardians of Language: The Grammarian and Society in Late Antiquity (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, 1997). For Eutyches, see pp. 282–3, 348. ACLS Humanities E-Book.
  • Kenney, E. J., ‘The Manuscript Tradition of Ovid’s Amores, Ars Amatoria, and Remedia Amoris’, The Classical Quarterly, n.s. 12 (1962), 1–31. JSTOR.
  • Ker, N. R., Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon (Oxford, 1957), p. 355.
  • Lapidge, M., ‘St Dunstanís Latin Poetry’, Anglia, 98 (1980), 101–6. Journals 7Y6.
  • Lapidge, M., The Anglo-Saxon Library (Oxford, 2005). ZQ3.B.
  • Law, V., Grammar and Grammarians in the Early Middle Ages, Longman Linguistics Library (London, 1997). WD3.
  • Law, V., The Insular Latin Grammarians, Studies in Celtic History 3 (Woodbridge, 1982).
  • Lindsay, W. M., Early Welsh Script, St Andrews University Publications 10 (Oxford, 1912), pp. 8–10.
  • Ramsay, N. L., and M. Sparks, The Image of Saint Dunstan (Canterbury, 1988). Exhibition Catalogue.
  • Ramsay, N. L., M. Sparks and T. Tatton-Brown (ed.), St Dunstan: His Life, Times and Cult (Woodbridge, 1992). PN.DM.D9.
  • Robinson, J. A., The Times of St Dunstan (Oxford, 1923).
  • Sharpe, R., J. P. Carley, R. M. Thomson, and A. G. Watson (eds), Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues, vol. 4, English Benedictine Libraries, the Shorter Catalogues (London, 1995). ZVRea2.
  • Watson, A. G., ‘Thomas Allen of Oxford and his Manuscripts’, in M. B. Parkes and A. G. Watson (eds), Medieval Scribes, Manuscripts and Libraries: Essays presented to N. R. Ker (London, 1978), pp. 279–313. ZJM5.
  • Wieland, G. R., ‘The Glossed Manuscript: Classbook or Library Book?’, Anglo-Saxon England, 14 (1985), 153–73. Available at Cambridge Core and at MVB.
  • Wormald, F., English Drawings of the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries (London, 1952), p. 74.

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