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What are the longest texts, say top 5, transmitted via manuscript from the Classical/Early Medieval period?

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    I would bet that top 1 is either Euclid's Elements either the Bible. They weren't originally written in latin but old translations are known.
    – user3165
    Commented May 12, 2019 at 18:37
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    The Codex Amiatinus is the Vulgate text. It comes to more than 1000 leaves and weighs in at 75 pounds. But that's not really what I'm looking for, the Bible being an amalgam of lots of texts. And I guess there might have been complete one before Bede, but I'm not sure of that. Thanks for the suggestions though. Will research Euclid and Isidore and report back.
    – DWPorter
    Commented May 12, 2019 at 21:21
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    Can you define length? Number of pages in modern print? In Ancient manuscript? In number of sentences? Words? Letters? I think in words or letters will be quite difficult to compare...
    – Cerberus
    Commented May 12, 2019 at 21:25
  • Link to Isidore penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Isidore/…
    – Hugh
    Commented May 12, 2019 at 21:33
  • Euclid Elements, Adelard's translation ed. HLLBusard.(Studies and Texts 64)Toronto 1983 worldcat.org/title/…
    – Hugh
    Commented May 13, 2019 at 0:21

3 Answers 3

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The longest in one package may be
Codex Amiatinus, https://smarthistory.org/codex-amiatinus/ which is the earliest complete text of the Bible.

Isidore of Seville's Etymologies aimed to include all knowledge in one volume. Text

In monastery Libraries the commonest large multivolume work with most pages was Gregory's Commentary on Job, but this is partly because it was dinnertime reading in big script designed to be read by candle-light.

The longest classical texts change abruptly with the move from the scroll to the codex. Just as there is a jump from manuscript to printed book.

Among the printed books:
Cicero Orationes in 12 Volumes 1642;
Ovid 3 volumes.1682
Augustine Opera

Before that Euclid in fifteen books (translated, I think, by Boethius c.500 Gk to Latin (Lost) and by Adelard of Bath c1100 Arabic to Latin.)
Vergilius Aeneid in six books.
Lucretius DRM in six books.
Livy histories

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Cerberus made this valid point:

Can you define length? Number of pages in modern print? In Ancient manuscript? In number of sentences? Words? Letters? I think in words or letters will be quite difficult to compare...

In fact, if we were to merely define length by size, then the longest text would be the Codex Gigas (13th century though), which is the largest manuscript of the Bible ever made (before the printing press) (it also contains other texts though; see article). Here is a picture, just to given a idea of its size:

enter image description here

There are other examples of massive medieval bibles (e.g. here).

Another option to add to the list is Saturnalia, written around 400 AD by somebody called Macrobius. According to this site:

Although we only have parts of it, this book, written in the 5c A.D., is one of the longest extant works from Late Antiquity.

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  • I love the photograph! Do you happen to know when it was taken and who this mustached gentleman is?
    – Alex B.
    Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 18:06
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    @AlexB. According to this site and this document, it is the "machinist" Gustaf Liljegren, perhaps at the National Library of Stockholm.
    – luchonacho
    Commented Aug 29, 2020 at 9:45
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    Thanks! The linked pages are very interesting too, e.g. "It was nearly destroyed in 1697 when a fire raged at the Royal Castle in Stockholm, where it was kept at the time. It was saved because it was thrown out of a window, seriously injuring a bystander."
    – Alex B.
    Commented Aug 29, 2020 at 15:11
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I also find it strange you'd discount the Vulgate, the work (while composed of smaller works), was a singular translation effort by one individual. In essence, it is a singular, continuous text by one author with a ballpark of 600,000+ words.


In response to the comments:

Jerome did start mostly from scratch and didn't just use the Vetus Latina. I'm currently making a new version of the Vulgate. The writing style is very consistent throughout, the only obvious differences are between the old and new testaments (probably a side effect of translating Hebrew vs Greek). He went back to the Hebrew sources and didn't just translate the Septuagint (which is what the Vetus Latina did). To me, the evidence that he at least did revisions throughout is shown by word choice and grammatical constructions. Uses of specific spellings like inclytus (inclitus), obēd- vs oboed- haere- vs hērē- are consistent throughout the work. Also, word preferences are shown throughout, specifically, Jerome loves cūnctus -a -um and uses it at every opportunity.

As far as books of the Vetus Latina included, these seem to be the Apocrypha (if wikipedia is correct as you put it), Maccabees, Sapientia, Ecclesiasticus, etc. I would have to look at Vetus Latina sections of works outside of the Gospels to determine if they are identical or not. I do know he translated the old testament from the Hebrew, and that alone is probably the longest single text in Latin. The entire new testament represents less than 20% of the bible. So if we're splitting hairs about whether he redid the entire new testament or not, it doesn't really matter, we still have 80% of the entire bible done mostly (if not entirely) by him.

Also, post Jerome additions to the Vulgate can't really be put on him as plagiarism, but nonetheless, the Vulgate stands as the longest Latin work to date (even if it is post-classical, but not really medieval either).

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    I'm not sure that's really true, not just that his work was partly a revision of earlier work, but because it's not known that he did all of it, and some earlier work that wasn't his was apparently included (in most editions) unrevised. "While he revised all of the Gospels of the Vetus Latina from the Greek, it is not known who revised the rest of the New Testament. Several unrevised books of the Vetus Latina Old Testament also commonly became included in the Vulgate." (That's if Wikipedia is correct.) But Isidore may have copied other people's work too.Plagiarism wasn't seen as bad back then.
    – rjpond
    Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 12:05
  • (Actually, plagiarism isn't really the right term, but I was reaching the max comment length.)
    – rjpond
    Commented Aug 28, 2020 at 12:07
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    @rjpond There is a response to your comments in the answer now.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 18:50
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    Thank you, @JoonasIlmavirta, for letting me know, and thank you, Colin, for taking the time to address my point.
    – rjpond
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 19:05

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