In Lincoln’s rich collections one of the more intriguing items is a Greek manuscript (no. 82), given to the College by the founder's nephew Robert Flemmyng.
Greek Manuscript (no. 82)
In Lincoln’s rich collections one of the more intriguing items is a Greek manuscript (no. 82), given to the College by the founder's nephew Robert Flemmyng. It contains the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, followed by a calendar of ecclesiastical feasts. It is one of the oldest books the College possesses. Yet the questions of its early history and the means by which it reached Lincoln are not entirely clear. The script is elegant and slightly mannered. It almost certainly dates from the first quarter of the 11th century, and it exhibits just enough individual character for expert palaeographers to have suggested, very plausibly, that the copyist was a certain Leon, whose work survives in various other manuscripts. In addition to the script the ornamentation points to origin in the south of Italy, almost certainly Calabria (it should be borne in mind that in the Middle Ages much of Calabria, Apulia and Sicily was Greek-speaking).
Flemmyng’s substantial initial donation to the College was made in 1465, but in the catalogue of the library made in 1474 this volume does not figure, so presumably it was acquired on his death in 1483. Two questions arise: how and where did he acquire it and what use did he make of it? It is extremely unlikely that he found it in England - though it should be noted, and this is very surprising, that in 1453 he had borrowed a Greek copy of the Liturgy of St Basil from Derley Priory, a volume which is now MS Laud gr. 28 in the Bodleian. Since he was an intrepid traveller and spent many years in Italy it seems most likely that that is where he obtained our manuscript. But how and when? One possibility is that it reached him through the good offices of Cardinal Bessarion, whom he could have met in Rome in the late 1450s, since the Cardinal was an avid collector and might have wished to help an Englishman who had taken the trouble to learn some Greek. Another possibility is that while in Rome he made an excursion to Grottaferrata, only about twelve miles away, where the Greek monastery had (and indeed still has) an excellent library.
The manuscript itself does not offer any clue. Nor, so far as I can see, does it show signs of having been used by Flemmyng or the Fellows of Lincoln. Perhaps one should give them credit for not spoiling the appearance of books by writing in the margins, but this scruple is modern. A few years after the arrival of the manuscript William Grocyn took rooms next door at Exeter and began the teaching of Greek at Oxford. One would like to think that some member of the College, inspired by the donation, went to hear him. But for the time being that remains a mystery. Though Lincoln had received a valuable gift, I suspect this is a case of opportunity missed.