The MARBAS Dragon
Ferocious in its raised claw, tame in the tilt of its head, this little dragon is like the unruly yet precise techniques at the foundation of Humanities research. It represents MARBAS's work in wrangling those techniques, and the languages and texts behind them.
The dragon comes from a late-thirteenth- or early-fourteenth-century manuscript at the British Library (Add. MS 21160), a parchment codex of the Hebrew Bible produced in Ashkenaz (Northern France and the German-speaking lands of the Middle Ages).
The book contains the Pentateuch, Hafṭarot, Five Scrolls and Job in Hebrew, accompanied by a translation into Aramaic dating from the second century, Targum Onḳelos. As a masoretic codex, it also contains notes on the text of the Bible, its vocalization and cantillation (masorah magna and parva).
Many of the manuscript's illustrations consist of micrography — tiny Hebrew letters forming animal and abstract shapes. Micrography was the distinctive art form of Hebrew scribes in medieval Christian Europe and the Islamicate world.
A Micrographic Bestiary
The manuscript contains a veritable bestiary of micrographic animals: eagles, lions, hares and hounds, as well as the unspecified beasts of Ezekiel's vision. But when we turned to the passage about God's creation of the land animals in Genesis 1:24–25, we fell in love with the rampant dragon occupying the lower left corner folio 19, recto.
In March 2021, the little dragon was given new life thanks to Princeton University's Creative Director, Laurel Masten Cantor.