Manuscript BNF Français 25550

Ms Fr. 25550. The dance starts on page 234.
Français 25550

This manuscript is one of the oldest. It is the one that Dufour called B.

The book's old names (two of them) are Saint-Victor TT 12 and Saint-Victor 543 because this manuscript originally resided at the Saint-Victor's Abbey of Paris just like Ms. Lat. 14904 did. The first pages are legible (picture to the right) with 16 lines per page, but another scribe quickly takes over with 20-22 lines per page and crabbed writing. Around the canon, merchant and Carthusian monk a page is missing (42 lines).

This manuscript is roughly as old as Ms. Lat. 14904. Gilbert Ouy dates Ms. Lat. 14904 to "around 1440", and Fr. 25550 more vaguely to "second quarter of the 15th century".(1)

The structure and headlines are more or less the same as in Lat. 14904. Both start with 2 + 4 lines of Latin text (picture to the right), but there are no headlines until we meet "Le mort" and "Le Pappe". The astrologer is called "Le maistre", while the usurer's client is "Le poure".

At the end of the dance, the dead king is described like this in borh manuscripts: »Vng roy mort tout nu couchie en uers« (i.e. "A dead king all naked lying in worms"), while the authority is »Vng maistre qui est au bout de la dance« (i.e. "A master who is at the end of the dance").

The text ends with "versus magistrales" headlining a further 14 lines of Latin text.

Does the manuscript describe the dance in Saint Innocents?

One might feel a shadow of doubt: Is the text that we can read, which the various books calls "La Danse Macabre", the same that was painted on the cemetery wall of St. Innocents? Maybe "danse macabre" is just the name of a genre, and maybe the various danse macabre-s are as different as — for instance — the dance of death in Lübeck is from the one Basel?

This is where the manuscripts from the Saint-Victor's abbey get even more interesting, because there's a persistent story that these old manuscripts from Saint-Victor claim for themselves that they are copies of the dance on the cemetery wall of St. Innocents. One is led to believe that the scribe himself gives us his word of honour that he hasn't copied any old "danse macabre" but is quoting the fresh text from the newly painted mural (the painting would be only 5 years old at the time).

This is true for three manuscripts from the Saint-Victor abbey:

  1. BnF, fr. 15163: Item in gallico La Dance macabre sicut habetur apud Innocentes(2)
  2. BnF, lat. 14904: La dance macabre prout habetur apud Sanctum Innocentium
  3. BnF, fr. 25550: Dictamina Choree Machabre prout sunt apud Innocentes Parisius

This is only a partial truth, for to begin with fr. 25550, we need only to look at the image at the top right of this page to note that there is no such statement at the beginning of the text.

/Dictamina Choree Machabre prout sunt apud Innocentes Parisius.235./

The abovementioned self-description is taken from the table of contents at the start of the manuscript (picture to the left). In Latin it says that "the words from danse macabre, which we find at [St.] Innocents in Paris" are one page 235.

The only thing these quotes tells us then, is that the librarian in 1514, thought that the text in the manuscripts reminded him of the one on the cemetery at St. Innocents.

For further details, see the Saint-Victor's Abbey of Paris.


Further information

Footnotes: (1) (2)

Hanno Wijsman, La Danse macabre du cimetière des Saints-Innocents et un manuscrit de Philippe le Bon, page 8, footnote 24: »Gilbert Ouy date le lat 14904 autours de 1440 et le fr. 15163 et le fr. 25550 plus vaguement dans le deuxième quart du XV' siècle«.
Quoted from Hanno Wijsman; see previous footnote.

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