Prudentius Orosius


  • Prudentius. Orosius. MS 023
  • Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, Parker Library 
  • Prudentius’s Psychomachia, which means ‘Battle of the Soul’, is the first fully allegorical work in the European literary tradition. It describes the battle between the vices and virtues for the Christian soul. The Psychomachia comprises 915 lines of dactylic hexameters, the standard verse form of classical Latin literature.

  • Prudentius was greatly influenced by the Roman poet Virgil (70–19 BCE). As well as borrowing verse forms from Virgil, he also imitated the earlier poet’s descriptions of military battles. The battles between the vices and virtues, therefore, read like the martial battles between the heroes of the great classical epics. 

  • CCCC MS 23 consists of two volumes bound together. The first is a famous illustrated manuscript of works by Prudentius (fl. 384-410), most significantly his Psychomachia, a poem about spiritual warfare between personifications of the vices and virtues. Many line drawings in coloured ink illustrate events in the text. It was made in England probably in the late tenth century, and it shares an artist with Bodleian Library MS Junius 11, the Junius manuscript of Old English poetry. Art-historical evidence has tended to link the production of part one of CCCC MS 23 with Canterbury, but a presentation inscription gives the manuscript provenance at Malmesbury, and it has also been suggested that it could have been made there. In the eleventh century Old English captions were added to the pictures. The second volume is a copy of Orosius, Historia adversus paganos of 417-18, written by six scribes working at Dover in the second quarter of the twelfth century. The two manuscripts were probably bound together by Parker.

  • Material: Vellum

  • Layout: 30 lines to a full page

  • Height (mm):365

  • Width (mm): 290

  • Writing: The hand is different, rounder and better

  • Latin

  • c 1000-1099


  • This is seen by historians as one of the finest surviving examples of manuscript art from late Anglo-Saxon England. It was featured in the British Library exhibition 'Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms' 2018-2019.

  • The 'presentation page' proves that it was once the property of Malmesbury and was the gift of Abbot  Æthelweard identified by Rod Thomson as the abbot of Malmesbury c. 1033-44.

  • Professor Michael Winterbottom has translated the text which is a curse threatening anyone who steals the book from the Library of Saint Aldhelm with damnation. The translation is as follows:

Whoever steals this book from holy Aldhelm, may you remain damned for ever along with the lot of the evil. Let him be without pity from God who either takes this book of Aldhelm away from this monastery or tries to sell it. You who read the verses inscribed here, remember to beseech Christ and say: May Æthelweard live for ever in peace,  Who gave this volume to Aldhelm, for whose sake may the bountiful Christ bring him bountiful gifts, lessening his crimes.

  • This work is copyright of the Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and is licensed under a Creative Common Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Reference Information