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Seneca; author
; production


Frank McClean


illuminated manuscript


other; type of text


circa 1350 circa 1399
with fifteenth-century additions


fourteenth century, second half


PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Parchment, i modern paper flyleaf + i lifted parchment pastedown + i parchment flyleaf (foliated 1) + 217 fols. (foliated 2-218) + i lifted parchment pastedown + i modern paper flyleaf, 270 x 185-190 mm (185 x 90 mm, 240 x 160 mm on heavily glossed pages), one column of 28 lines, ruled in hard point and plummet, running headers, leaf signatures

BINDING: Sixteenth century?, red leather over wooden boards with two metal clasps on leather straps and small metal bosses at the centre and each corner of the upper and lower boards; modern spine repair.

fol. 1r Notes on the name Hercules and on the genre of tragedy
fols. 2r-218r Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Tragedies with argumenta and commentary in the text hand, and further glossing

DECORATION: Six scenes taken from the Tragedies, drawn in brown ink over erased ornamental initials: fol. 2r Hercules furens, Hercules shoots arrow at Megaera and child; fol. 26v Thyestes, Tantalus reaches for fruit; fol. 47r Thebais, Oedipus; fol. 60r Phedra, Phaedra stabs herself; fol. 82v argumentum to Oedipus, Jocasta; fol. 82v Oedipus, Jocasta with sword; fol. 102r Troades, Aegisthus; ink drawings of heads and a king (?) on parchment flyleaves.

ORNAMENTATION: Ten ornamental initials [8-10 ll.] (fols. 2r, 26v, 47v, 60r, 82v, 102r, 124v, 144r, 163r, 181r), at the start of each play and eight ornamental initials [4-8 ll.] (fols. 2r, 26r, 47r, 59v, 82v, 102r, 124r, 143v) for argumenta to the plays, both extending into short acanthus borders painted with thin washes of either magenta, purple and orange, or green, brown and orange, through which under-drawing is still clearly visible; alternate red or blue initials [2 ll.], not executed after fol. 200r, for lesser divisions in the text, guide letters visible; one-line red or blue initials for lesser divisions in the gloss; alternate red and blue paraph marks signalling the change of speaker in text and gloss; marginalia, closely associated with a contemporary glossing hand, notably on fol. 4v (a protruding tongue acts as a pointer to the text), fol. 11r (human and boar heads), fol. 13r (head of Hercules wearing lion-skin), fol. 58r (dancer).

Place (legacy):

Italy, production, region


illumination; whole


parchment; support
gold; medium




bequeathed; 1904; McClean, Frank


Ownership inscription in a fourteenth-century hand, T[]cor Johanni, followed by note of purchase (fol. 1v); motto TE FORTUNA SEQUOR added in a fifteenth-century hand (fol. 1v); note in Hebrew (upper margin, fol. 218r); in the hands of a Spanish reader in the sixteenth century (fol. 5v, marginal note in Spanish); Ambroise Firmin Didot (1790-1876), his 1850 bookplate on verso of upper pastedown; his sale, Paris, June 1878, lot 23; Frank McClean (1837-1904); his bequest, 1904.


McClean, Frank; previous owner
Didot, Ambroise Firmin; previous owner


The crudeness of the illumination sits oddly with the simple but reliably executed initials and paraph marks used in the text and glossing. Close examination reveals that perhaps only the underdrawing for the illumination was completed (this is seen most helpfully on fol. 47v), and that a later reader had colour washes and crude gilding added. Subsequently, some of this colour was washed away to make room for the ink drawings added to six of the initials. The text of the pastedown inside the upper cover comes from Boccaccio, Genealogiae deorum gentilium libri, IV. 3 (Hyperion and his offspring); the pastedown inside the lower cover is part of a legal document. The scribal colophon on fol. 218r has been erased; there are many erased notes on the parchment flyleaves.


secundo folio; fol. 3r; Iraque nostra fruitur. In laudes suas


Saxl, F.. Meier, H.. 1953. Catalogue of Astrological and Mythological Illuminated Manuscripts of the Latin Middle Ages.London:
III. i, 440-41 and III. ii, pl. XXXV, abb. 91 and 92 (fols. 2r and 60r)

James, Montague Rhodes, Dr. 1912. A descriptive catalogue of the McClean Collection of Manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam Museum.Cambridge (Cambs.): Cambridge University Pressp. 310

MacGregor, A. P.. Temporini, H.. Haase, W.. 1985. The Manuscripts of Seneca's Tragedies: A Handlist.Berlin:
Source Title: Aufstieg und Niedergang der Romischen Welt(1985)
p. 1169


Object Number: MS McClean 161
(Manuscripts and Printed Books)
(record id: 176586; input: 2010-04-25; modified: 2012-08-29)


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