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British Library digitises Greek manuscripts

The British Library has digitised over 100,000 pages of its Greek manuscripts and made them freely available online.
Digitised Manuscripts
The library was able to digitise, for the first time, over a quarter of its Greek collection (284 volumes) after receiving a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation - the international organisation offering grants in the areas of arts, culture, education, medicine, and social welfare.

The microsite - www.bl.uk/manuscripts - provides researchers with access to high quality digital images of a major part of the library’s Greek manuscripts collection, supported by enhanced metadata which enables users to search using key words.

The digitised materials provide witnesses of the rich culture of the Greek-speaking peoples from the time of the Iliad and Odyssey throughout the Hellenistic, early Christian, Byzantine and Ottoman eras and beyond. They are fundamental to understanding of the Classical and Byzantine world, according to British Library.

Mary Beard, professor of Classics, University of Cambridge, said: "The British Library has one of the world's great collections of Greek manuscripts. This is exactly what we have all hoped for from new technology, but so rarely get.

“It opens up a precious resource to anyone - from the specialist to the curious - anywhere in the world, for free. I'm looking forward to a new wave of fascinating and important work on this material, made possible by this new electronic open access."

British Library holds over 1000 Greek manuscripts, over 3000 Greek papyri and a comprehensive collection of early Greek printing, making the organisation one of the crucial centres outside Greece for the study of over 2000 years of Hellenic culture.

The Greek manuscripts contain rare and rich information for researchers working on the literature, history, science, religion, philosophy and art of the whole of the Eastern Mediterranean in the Classical and Byzantine periods.

Among the digitised materials is the Theodore Psalter- the highly illustrated manuscript produced in Constantinople in 1066. it is considered one of the greatest treasures of Byzantine manuscript production and of pivotal importance for the understanding of Byzantine art.

Other highlights in the website include Illuminated Gospels -a late 12th century gospel book which is rare because of its integration of images of Christ's life into the Gospels; Dialogues of Lucian - the oldest surviving manuscript of the works of second-century author Lucian; Babrius's fables- the manuscript that contains 123 Aesopic fables and was corrected by the great Byzantine scholar, Demetrius Triclinius; and Breviarium Historicum - a late 9th-century manuscript of the history of the Byzantine Empire from the death of emperor Maurice in 602 to 713.

Scot McKendrick, head of History and Classical Studies, British Library, said: “The website offers everyone, wherever they may be in the world, the opportunity to engage for the first time with over 100,000 pages of digitised manuscripts which provide direct insights into the rich written legacy of the Greeks of classical antiquity, Byzantine times, the Renaissance and beyond.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which funded this project, has agreed to fund a second phase and the library will present a further 250 manuscripts in full in 2012.