An outline of the manuscript tradition of the Speculum Maius
Speculum Historiale (Douai version), beginning of book XXIV, from manuscript New Haven, Yale University, Beinecke Library 350, fol. 163r
"Set of (manuscript) volumes" and "(manuscript) volume" are key notions of the manuscript tradition of the Speculum Maius.
Depending on the parameters chosen, one can mention ca. 190 to 300 manuscript volumes that contain at least one book of one of the specula. One arrives at the high number of about 300 if one considers each individual volume a copy of that specific speculum. This number decreases considerably, however, if one takes into account that a full copy of a speculum took up a set of at least two manuscript volumes. Thus, a copy of the entire Speculum Maius needed a set of at least six manuscript volumes.
So far, only two sets of volumes have been identified that were produced as a complete copy of the entire Speculum Maius.
- A complete copy was made for the Cistercian monastery at Cambron, ca. 1280 (sigla Nb8, Do5 and Hd5 in the manuscript inventory). Seven volumes of this set survive, while two are missing. This set is scattered over several libraries.
- Another complete copy was made in the 14th century, of which six volumes survive and one is missing (sigla Nb16, Do10 and He83). Today, this set is kept in the library of the Sorbonne at Paris.
Smaller sets of volumes have been identified, which make up a copy of, e.g., the Speculum Naturale plus the Speculum Historiale. Some sets were produced at the same time in the same place of production; others have been collected by a single collector within several decades after their date of production.
Judging from the manuscript inventory, the specula of the Speculum Maius were often distributed separately. The Speculum Historiale was by far the most popular, whereas the popularity of the Speculum Naturale and Speculum Doctrinale, viewing the number of surviving manuscripts, was much smaller. Of the Speculum Morale only five manuscripts survive.
The notion "set of volumes" also applies to the individual specula. Several sets of volumes have been identified of just one individual speculum that were produced at the same time in the same place of production. A few other sets appear to have been collected by a single collector within several decades, showing differences of date and even of geographical area of production (see for instance the set He54-He116).
From the inventory one may also deduce that several medieval commissioners ordered just partial copies of a speculum. In line with this, many volumes contain lists of chapters covering only the books that are enclosed within them. Similarly, some volumes of the Speculum Historiale contain a partial alphabetical index, disclosing only the particular stretch of text that they contain.
The existence of text versions complicates the manuscript tradition of the Speculum Historiale. Some scribes unconsciously combined material from different versions. A few scribes, however, noticed the existence of text versions and tried to merge conflicting material in the volumes they produced. Thus, a number of volumes offer a mix of two or more text versions. The same phenomenon occurs within some sets of volumes, combining several versions (see for instance the sets He49-Ha10, Hd7-He18, and Hd10-He94-Hde2).
The inventory reveals that the Cistercian order, and notably its Morimond and Clairvaux affiliations, played a key role in the diffusion of the Speculum Maius. To a lesser degree, the Benedictine order also played a role.
The focal point of the manuscript diffusion of the Speculum Naturale was in France and the Low Countries; most manuscripts date from the second half of the 13th century or first half of the 14th century. A similar picture offer the eleven surviving manuscripts of the Speculum Doctrinale that contain the complete text or large portions of it. The small corpus of Speculum Morale manuscripts, however, offers no coherent picture.
For the Speculum Historiale the picture is different. Manuscripts of the earlier versions (Dijon, Klosterneuburg and Vienna versions) found their ways to, especially, the regions east of river Rhine and Central Europe. The focal point of the manuscript diffusion of the Saint-Jacques version was in Northern France and the Low Countries; similar to the Speculum Naturale and Speculum Doctrinale, most manuscripts of the Saint-Jacques version date from the second half of the 13th century or first half of the 14th century. Manuscripts of the final (= Douai) version are found in many regions of Europe; their dates of production run from the second half of the 13th up to the early 16th centuries.