Judeo-Spanish Spanish

“Orlando Furiozo”: Examining a Judeo-Spanish Manuscript in Oxford

This post, based on the research I undertook during my time in Oxford in Hilary Term 2022 as the first Oxford School of Rare Jewish Languages Visiting Fellow, is a kind of continuation of the post written by Dr César Merchán-Hamann regarding MS. Canonici 6. To read his post, click here.


The Orlando Furiozo manuscript in question has 200 paper folios with a semi-limp, unornamented parchment binding; simple endbands; ornamented upper and lower endsheets; and flyleaves. There are two bifolia quires at the beginning and end of the codex as well as 24 quires of four bifolia—it is on these 24 quires that the text of Orlando is written.

The paper of this manuscript is of various stocks. At the time (latter half of the sixteenth century), paper was an expensive commodity; therefore, scribes and even printing presses often did not have enough paper of the same stock, so mixed different varieties within one codex. In most such cases, the differing materials used were of the same density and quality. However, in this case, the paper differs not only in its watermarks but also in its quality. While most of the manuscript is written on thick, difficult-to-bend paper with hardly visible chain lines and watermarks, some quires are made of much softer and easily bendable paper with clearly seen watermarks as well as chain and laid lines.

Watermark on thick paper; MS. Canonici Or. 6 © Bodleian Libraries; Photo Credit: Alla Markova

In the first 19 quires of 8-folios each, there are two matching watermarks—an anchor with double arms and big flukes in a circle and surmounted by a six-pointed star. These watermarks and countermarks are similar to Mošin #1421 (V. Mošin, Anchor Watermarks, Amsterdam: Paper Publications Society [Labarre Foundation], 1973). The two subsequent quires (ff.157-164 and 165-172) are made of much softer and thinner, quite translucent paper and boast a similar watermark; however, in this instance, the anchor in a circle has singular and not double arms (similar to Mošin #1655).

Watermark on thin paper; MS. Canonici Or. 6 © Bodleian Libraries; Photo Credit: Alla Markova

The next quire (ff. 173-180) has a watermark with a double anchor similar to Mošin #736, while the following two quires (ff. 181-196) are made of different paper with completely different watermarks which resemble a lion, similar to Bofarull #207 (F. de Bofarull y Sans, Animals in Watermarks, Hilversum: The Paper Publications Society, 1959).

Mošin identifies the watermarks in question as Italian and dating to roughly 1560-80. In this particular manuscript, the watermarks on all quires of hard as well as most quires of soft paper are very similar; this resemblance may indicate that the paper was produced on the same mill. If all this were to be the case, then why is the paper so variegated to the touch? And why are the watermarks, chain, and laid lines barely visible on the thick, opaque paper of the first 19 quires yet easily traceable on the paper of the last quires?

Another strange phenomenon I observed in this manuscript is the near total absence of errors—or, rather, of their corrections. Indeed, a sofer is not permitted to make errors in sacred texts. However, Orlando Furiozo is not a sacred text, but rather a prohibited if not sacrilegious work: a transliteration into Hebrew letters of a frivolous text originally printed in Latin letters. Given the length of the work, the scribe must have made errors and must have noticed and corrected at least some of them. Still, upon my examination of the text, I could not see any indications of corrections as I have observed in other Judeo-Spanish manuscripts (e.g., signs above the letters or on the margins).

That being said, and while I was endeavouring to identify watermarks, I noticed strange translucent spots on some leaves of the manuscript. Using a magnifying glass, I discovered that a layer of paper had been scratched out—apparently to correct a letter or letters. I began checking other pages and found further examples of this technique, which reminded me of my childhood in the USSR when we used razor blades to scratch out a letter or digit in our notebooks (or even a grade on our report cards). From my own experience, I remembered that the ink spread—bled—around the letter or digit we wrote in place of the erased one. So, with a magnifying glass, I examined the letters written over the translucent spots; in most cases, the ink had spread as well, whereas letters on the opaque parts of the page never bled.

Translucent spots on a page; MS. Canonici Or. 6 © Bodleian Libraries; Photo Credit: Alla Markova
Translucent spots on a page; MS. Canonici Or. 6 © Bodleian Libraries; Photo Credit: Alla Markova

To prevent ink from bleeding, early paper was sized by gelatin with the addition of alum. There were two types of sizing: an internal sizing of the pulp and surface sizing of the ready paper leaves. There were cases when scribes, while preparing the material for an important work, did additional surface sizing themselves. It seems that the scribe of our manuscript, accustomed to writing sacred texts on parchment and correcting his/her mistakes by scratching out a layer of parchment, used the same technique with paper. But, to do so, s/he did additional surface sizing on most of the stock, making the paper thicker and less translucent. 

Scratched-out letters; MS. Canonici Or. 6 © Bodleian Libraries; Photo Credit: Alla Markova
Ink bleeding on scratched out place; MS. Canonici Or. 6 © Bodleian Libraries; Photo Credit: Alla Markova

On several of the thinner pages in the last quires, some repeated words are simply crossed out.

The layout of the pages is beautiful: there are two columns of five octavas, written in minuscule Sephardic cursive. When a new song starts, some of the lines are written across the full width of the page telling the contents of the song, resulting in four or four and a half octavas in a column. Everything is nicely measured, but there are no visible lines or dots—even using a magnifying glass, you cannot find any such marks. Each leaf has a catchword, and, on the top of each page, there is a sign “bh” (“baruch hashem”?) written in the same ink. The first page of most quires has a special sign also done with the same ink and apparently by the same hand.

While the text is written in black ink, the bottom-left corner of the first page of most quires displays a Hebrew letter written in brown ink and indicating the number of the quire. The numeration is done alphabetically (after yod goes kaph, lamed, etc.). Perhaps this numbering was done later by another hand.

In the upper-left corner of each leaf (up to 120) there is numeration with Arabic digits. On top of the verso leaves is written “kanto primero” (up to noveno on f. 40 v.), while “del furiozo” is written on recto leaves (up to 41 r.).

Additionally, there are some Judeo-Spanish marginalia and several marginalia in Latin letters. Most of them are words of the first line of the poem but seem to be transliterated from the text written with Hebrew letters: “Damas, armas, enprizas y amor.” The Latin letters look as though they were written by somebody who was learning to write.

All these marks and marginalia attest to the fact that the manuscript was read, and most probably by more than one person.

Though I only recently began working on this manuscript, I already can make some tentative conclusions. The manuscript, created by a highly professional scribe, is a work commissioned by somebody with wealth. It is a Hebrew-letters transliteration of a printed edition of Orlando, which means:

  • Printed editions of European books were available in the Ottoman Empire quite quickly after their publication in Europe;
  • Romance castellano was a language still commonly used by Jews in that part of the world;
  • It was easier for them to read it in Hebrew letters; and
  • Sephardic Jews enjoyed reading chivalric novels in Spanish even in the Ottoman Empire.
Ms Alla Markova
Senior Librarian, Brooklyn Public Library

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