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Decorative Initials

Greek 401 is a manuscript of the Spiritual Homilies of Saint Theodore the Studite. Almost every homily begins with the words, Ἀδελφοὶ καὶ Πατέρες, ‘Brothers and Fathers’. Throughout the manuscript, the opening decorative initial is an alpha. Some of these are of a knotted interlace filled with yellow, red, and blue pigment.

In others, the scribe created an alpha by depicting a bird grasping a column.


In others, the alpha is formed by intertwined serpents.

Inevitably, the bird and the snakes face off. In this initial, the bird has sprouted teeth and is attacking the serpent.

But this is not always the case. The serpent also has his day.

Scholars feel that the manuscript was written in Southern Italy, most probably Rossano.

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