William Abbott Oldfather, a founding member of the UIUC Department of Classical Studies and a scholar of Latin, compiled a list of manuscript and incunabulae of the Ysopet-Avionnett tradition in order to reference them in his 1919 Critical Edition of the text. He then requested that the UIUC Library order photostatic facsimiles of these manuscripts, which the UIUC Library still has to this day in the Main Stacks.
This guide provides a list of manuscripts organized by country and city of holding library, background on the now-obsolete but once transformative photostat technology, and a small collection of facsimiles that have been digitized and can be accessed by the general public for free.
"The text here published consists of a collection of Aesopic fables in Latin verse, accompanied by a fourteenth century French translation..."
A Biography of William Abbot Oldfather
Biography of Professor William Abbot Oldfather from the University of Illinois archives.
New Manuscript Material for the Study of Avianus (1911)
Primary text written by Oldfather about photostat Avianus manuscripts.
Bibliographical Notes on the Fables of Avianus
Oldfather's notes on Léopold Hervieux's Les Fabulistes Latins (1893), which contained an extensive bibliographic record of Avianus's works. He was impressed by this record, but asserts that it's imperfections reveal that classicists have work to do before Avianus bibliographies can be considered complete.
Oldfather's 1919 critical edition on Aesopic fables in latin verse, translated to fourteenth-century Old French. Many of the manuscripts mentioned in this text are those that are listed in his 1914-1920 list (see 'Avianus manuscripts' page). Available on open internet archive.
Who was Avianus?
Avianus was a latin writer of fables. Some of his critics believe he was writing in the age of the Antonines (~138-180 CE), others believe he was writing as late as the 6th century AD. There are 42 fables that he is credited to have written, dedicated to someone called Theodosius. His fables became a popular school book that were widely read and distributed in medieval Europe. All of Oldfather's photostatic manuscripts are from cities throughout Europe, and contain different versions of the fables.
Source: Encyclopedia Brittanica
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Background on Medieval Fables and Bestiaries
The following resources are helpful background resources about the cultures and time periods within which these fable manuscripts were originally created.
Moralized Beasts: The Development of Medieval Fable and Bestiary (Arnold Clay Henderson)
The History of French Fable Manuscripts (George C. Keidel)
Producing, Distributing, and Using Manuscripts For Teaching Purposes in the Late Middle Ages (Michael Baldzuhn)
The Literatures and Languages Library is grateful to Kalyn Nowlan for her help in researching the material presented here and in creating the guide as part of a practicum in fall 2022.