Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Key Tools Greek: Hesychius' Lexicon

There were several men named Hesychius () who crop up in the literature, and are often confused with one another.    The one we're interested in came a bit later, and wrote a Greek Dictionary.  Here's the Wikipedia blurb:
Hesychius of Alexandria (῾Ησύχιος ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς), a grammarian who flourished probably in the 5th century CE, compiled the richest lexicon of unusual and obscure Greek words that has survived (in a single 15th century manuscript). The work, titled "Alphabetical Collection of All Words" (Συναγωγή Πασών Λέξεων κατά Στοιχείον), includes approximately 51,000 entries, a copious list of peculiar words, forms and phrases, with an explanation of their meaning, and often with a reference to the author who used them or to the district of Greece where they were current. Hence, the book is of great value to the student of the Greek dialects, while in the restoration of the text of the classical authors generally, and particularly of such writers as Aeschylus and Theocritus, who used many unusual words, its value can hardly be exaggerated. Hesychius is important, not only for Greek philology but also for studying lost languages and obscure dialects (such as Thracian and the ancient Macedonian language) and in reconstructing Proto-Indo-European.
Hesychius' explanations of many epithets and phrases also reveal many important facts about the religion and social life of the ancients.
In a prefatory letter Hesychius mentions that his lexicon is based on that of Diogenianus (itself extracted from an earlier work by Pamphilus), but that he has also used similar works by the grammarian Aristarchus of Samothrace, Apion, Heliodorus, Amerias and others.
Hesychius was probably not a convert to Christianity. Explanations of words from Gregory Nazianzus and other Christian writers (glossae sacrae) are later interpolations.
The lexicon survives in one deeply corrupt 15th century manuscript, which is preserved in the library of San Marco at Venice, (Marc. Gr. 622, 15th century). The best edition is by Moriz Wilhelm Constantin Schmidt (1858–1868), but no complete comparative edition of the ms has been published since it was first printed by Marcus Musurus (at the press of Aldus Manutius) in Venice, 1514 (reprinted in 1520 and 1521 with modest revisions).
A modern edition has been published under the auspices of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, begun by Kurt Latte (vol. 1 published in 1953, vol. 2 posthumously in 1966) and completed by Peter Allan Hansen and Ian C. Cunningham (vol. 3, 2005, vol. 4, 2009).

It so happens that two volumes of Schmidt have been scanned and posted on Internet Archives, here:

Internet Archives: Schmidt - Hesychius' Lexicon

Download this baby in pdf. format and use it on your computer instantly!
Here's a snap from the opening letter:

Click to Enlarge

To give an idea of the exhaustiveness and usefulness of this nice book, here's an entry page:
Click to Enlarge
You can have hours of fun looking up entries in this massive tome...


Friday, April 22, 2011

Greek printed typography

I'm quoting for educational purposes and review an excerpt from Barry B. Powell's book Homer (Wiley-Blackwell, 2007).  It has a great introduction to the problem of the difference betweeen printed Greek texts and actual manuscripts:

"Early printed editions were set in typefaces made to imitate handwriting in medieval Byzantine manuscripts, an orthographic system (= "way of writing") much changed since ancient times, with many abbreviations and ligatures in which more than one letter is combined into a single sign.
Certainly Plato could not have read the first printed text of Homer, nor can a modern scholar without special training, even a professor who has spent an entire lifetime teaching and studying Greek.
In the 19th century, modern printed typefaces and orthographic conventions replaced those based on manuscripts handwritten in Byzantium before the invention of printing, but in no sense did such modern conventions attempt to recreate the actual appearance, or material nature, of an ancient text of Homer.
For example, the forms of the Greek characters in T.W. Allen's standard Oxford Classical Text, first published in 1902, imitate the admirable but entirely modern Greek handwriting of Richard Porson (1759-1808 [by which the Porson Font is named]), a Cambridge don important in early modern TC.  
Complete with lower and upper-case characters, accents, breathing marks (that is, pronounced with an H or without), dieresis marked by two horizontal dots (separate pronunciation of contiguous vowels), punctuation, word division, and paragraph division, such Greek seems normal to anyone who studies Greek, say, at Oxford or Wisconson U today.  Here is what the 1st seven lines of the Illiad looks like in a modern printed type (from Loeb):

If you study Greek today, and take a course, you will expect to translate such a version.   You are reading "Homer" you think, but in fact the orthography, the way things are written, is a hodgepodge that never existed in the 19th century A.D.   A full accentual system, only sometimes semantic ("with meaning"), does not appear untile around 1000 A.D. in Greek writing and is never used consistently.   The distinction between upper and lower case letters is medieval.
Porson's internal sigma [inside words] is drawn σ, but in the Classical Period the sigma was a vertical zigzag Σ (hence our "S") and after the Alexandrian period always a half-moon shape C  (the lunate sigma");  the shape σ appears to be Porson's invention.   The dieresis, or two horizontal dots to indicate that vowels are pronounced separately (e.g. προοιαψεν), is a convention of recent printing.   Periods and commas are modern, as is word division, unknown in Classical Greek.  
The Oxford text would have mystified Thucydides or Plato just as much as the first printed text based on Byzantine conventions.  The much earlier, we might say original, text of Homer would have puzzled them just as much, which seems to have looked something like [below]:

The direction of reading switches back and forth from right to left, then left to right (called boustrophedon writing, "as the ox turns").  In the earliest form of Greek writing, as we reconstruct it from meager inscriptions, there is no distinction between omicron = short o and omega = long o, or between epsilon = short e and eta = long e.  and doubled consonants are written as single consonants.  there are no word divisions or upper and lower-case letters, or diacritical marks such as accents, or capitals of any kind. 
In reading such an early text the exchange of meaning from the material object to the human mind takes place in a different way from when we read Homer in Porsonian Greek orthography or English. 
The philologist is keenly interested in how this might have worked.   Apparently the Greek reader of the 8th century B.C. was decoding his writing by the ear.  For this reason the ancient Greek felt no need for word divisions or line divisions or diacritical marks or paragraph markers or quotation marks because to him the signs represented a continuous stream of sounds.  A thousand years after Homer the Greeks still did not divide their words.  (In Latin, words were often divided from the earliest times. )
When we read Greek (or English), by contrast, we decode the test by the eye.  We are deeply concerned where one word ends and another begins.  The appearance of our texts is semantic, it carries meaning, as when a capital letter says "A sentence begins here" or a space says  "the word ends here".  Our text of Homer is directly descended from an ancient Greek text, yes, but the text works for us in a different way.
When modern philologists attempt to recover as closely as possible an "original text", as editors claim, in fact they never mean that they are going to reconstruct an original text, that Homer might have recognized.   Rather they represent an interpretation of how an original text might be explained according to modern rules.   What appears to be orthography, in a modern text, "the way something is written", is really editorial comment on meaning and grammatical syntax.  If editors gave us the original, no one could read it."
(p 7-8)


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Identifying the Animal in a Parchment or Vellum

The following information cna be useful in identifying what animal was used to make a parchment or vellum folio:

Goatskin leather has a characteristic follicle pattern consisting of rows of hair pores, sometimes predominantly parallel and lying in the grooves of the grain. The grain exhibits numerous variations. Terms best avoided: Turkish leather, morocco, shagreen, and saffian.

As a rule sheepskin leather - notably that of wool sheep, rather than hair sheep - has a smoother surface and a less pronounced grain than goatskin; the hair pores are arranged in groups rather than rows. Sheepskin makes an inferior covering material: the removal of the high amount of fat (up to 30 %) during manufacture gives it a loose structure. Moreover, the upper layer is weak and easily damaged (chafed). Sheepskin is often impressed with an artificial grain (especially in the nineteenth century after being finished with water- and solvent-based finishes - editorial note) in imitation of better/more expensive kinds of leather.
Alum-tawed, red-dyed sheepskin is often used for binding purposes. Basan is a vegetable-tanned, natural sheepskin (its beige colour comes from the tanning).

Calfskin has a smooth surface and a very dense and random follicle pattern. Alt-hough usually vegetable-tanned it is occasionally alum-tawed. It is often dyed, sprinkled and so forth. Cowhide is too thick to be used for covering material, but has been used for straps and (usually alum-tawed) for bands.

Russia leather
The leather of young cattle, tanned with willow bark and impregnated with birch tar oil is called Russia leather. In most cases it is finished with an artificially applied check pattern.

Pigskin has a characteristic follicle pattern made up of groups of three and visible to the naked eye, and a not particularly pronounced grain. It is usually alum-tawed (and has often turned sallow and stiff).

Sealskin comes in fine and coarse grain variants. The follicle pattern is irregular and independent of the grain (hence it is found on the rises as well as in the hollows). There is some resemblance to goatskin and it has an oily feel."

Methods of preparing parchment also can give clues as to animal and the date it was made:

Parchment was used chiefly for writing, first on a scroll - as is still the case in Israel - and from the second century BC onwards in book form. To make a book, the rectangular cut sheets might be folded one or more times. The skins of sheep and goats from the areas round the Mediterranean were rarely more than 50 cm long by 40 cm wide. In northern regions we find larger skins and also calfskins being used to make books.
The term pergamena is first used in the Edict of Diocletian (301 AD); until that time the term membrana had been used. It is generally accepted that the use of a new term indicates a new or modified product, but so little is known about the parchment of those days that it is impossible to say with any certainty whether this was the case here.
One of our few informants about pre-Christian times is the (unreliable) Roman historian Pliny. He writes that the king of Pergamon (in present-day Turkey), Eumenes II (197-159 BC), was forced to look for alternative writing materials when the import of papyrus from Egypt was suspended. This is supposed to have led to the invention of parchment. Although parchment had been known at least eight hundred years before this date, Pergamon did have a reputation for good quality parchment in classical antiquity. The great change occurred around the 4th century AD, when people started manufacturing parchment using lime water. Until the fourth century skins were mostly treated with salt, flour and other vegetable products that were used to remove the hairs and to prepare the skin. The lime water method may have been introduced by Jews and Arabs to Spain in the early Middle Ages, after which it spread throughout the rest of Europe. Jewish parchment was lightly tanned on the surface with vegetable tannins. Another technique, the splitting of skins, was also known to the Jews and Arabs, even before the Middle Ages. In the West the traditional procedure to obtain the required thickness was to shave the full skin.
Formulas and depictions of parchment manufacturing have come down to us, especially from the late Middle Ages. There is considerable correspondence between these mediaeval formulas and those used by modern parchment makers, and even the processing and tools have not changed fundamentally. For the most part, parchment manufacture is still a matter of handwork.


The definition of parchment used in this publication and taken from Kneep en Binding, states that it is a skin treated with lime water and dried while stretched. This implies that all parchment-like skins that are treated with other substances, such as alum and enzymes, or have been given a surface tanning, or been dried unstretched, cannot properly be called parchment. However, these variants are seldom encountered in bookbinding conservation.
One of the oldest and most detailed descriptions of this lime water method is found in an early 12th-century formula. (Theophilus Presbyter, Schedula diversarium artium. British Museum MS. Harley 3915, fol. 128r.) More modern formulas (i.e. up to the end of last century), indicate how parchment is made 'nowadays'. If we compare the different formulas we find that the oldest does not explain the process whereas modern formula preparations often give very elaborate explanations.
Modern formulas, like those of the twelfth century, begin by soaking the skins in water so as to restore the moisture lost between fleecing and preservation. Soaking swells the skin, thus allowing the lime to penetrate more deeply, and rinses away the salt used as preservative.
In the twelfth century the skins were then put into a lime-water bath that had usually already been used for unhairing. The skins remained in this bath for about eight days (but twice as long in winter). In modern formulas the rinsed skins are not put into a lime-water bath, but placed over a wooden beam and trimmed on the flesh side with a blunt knife. This stretches them a little and removes dirt and remnants of flesh. It seems reasonable to assume that this was also done in the Middle Ages.
In the Middle Ages unhairing was done on the wooden beam straight after the lime-water bath. Modern formulas sometimes refer to a 'lime dressing' applied to the grain side of the skins, after which unhairing takes place. However, lime water was also used.
In the course of the nineteenth century, sodium sulphide was added to the lime water to speed up the unhairing process. During unhairing - with a curved or straight knife - the hair roots and the content of the sebaceous and sweat glands were also removed as much as possible. The skins were then put into a fresh lime-water bath (about eight days in the Middle Ages, one to three weeks in around 1900, depending on the size of the skins). This opens the skins up for the new, fresh lime and care must be taken not to 'burn' the skins with an excessively strong lime solution. After removal from the lime water the skins are returned to the wooden beam to be scraped clean once again on the flesh side.
Threads attached to tapered wooden pegs are then fastened to the edge of the wet skin. The pegs in turn are inserted in holes around the edge of a square, round or rectangular stretching frame. By turning the pegs the skin can be stretched into a smooth, creaseless surface. Stretch drying is essential for making parchment for it causes the fibres to lie in a flat plane parallel to the surface. Stretching also makes the parchment opaque. Rewetting manufactured parchment allows the stretched fibres to relax with the result that when the material dries again it becomes rough and horn-like.  Consequently, parchment should only be dampened if it is allowed to dry in a stretched condition.
In the medieval formula stretched skins are scraped on the flesh side with a sharp, semicircular knife (drawing 7), and left to dry in the shade for two days. After drying they are dampened again and the flesh side scraped with powde-red pumice.
In modern formula preparations the skin is also scraped smooth on the flesh side with a similar semicircular knife. Scraping is accompanied by the continuous addition of lime water. For this operation slaked lime is used, prepared by temporary exposure to air in order to diminish the etching effect. During this treatment the stretcher is in a horizontal position, with the flesh side up. The grain side is treated only with powdered chalk, which has a polishing effect. This is followed by further polishing with pumice or powdered pumice. Split skins are treated in the same way on both sides. Scraping and polishing is done several times until all loose fragments of skin on the flesh side and the papillary layer of the grain side have been removed. Removing the papillary layer is important because it also removes the pigmentation from the skin (black-patched calves!).
After scraping and polishing the parchment is dried in the shade for some days. When it is thoroughly dry, it is taken from the stretcher and, if necessary, cut to measure.
The old and the later formula preparations use much the same method of treatment. Similarly, tools and equipment, such as stretchers and knives, are virtually the same. In eight hundred years little has changed in the manufacturing of parchment; the main difference between then and now is in the use of chemicals. Modern machines make it possible to split the skins to the required thickness before they are turned into parchment. This produces a flesh split and a grain split. In antiquity sheepskins were also split into two layers, without the help of machines. This was possible because sheepskins consist naturally of two clear layers separated by a loose, fatty layer. The practice of splitting skins ended after the 3rd century, however. In order to give both sides of the skin the same surface, the grain was scraped off with a razor-sharp, semicircular or round knife. A knife-sharpener was used to make a burr on the edge of the blade, thus turning it into a kind of scraper. With the grain removed, the surface became velvety to the touch. This parchment was particularly suitable for books, because there was little difference between the verso and recto sides of the pages.
Nowadays, too, the grain is often scraped (using machines and sandpaper) instead of being split. Where the whole skin (grain and fibre network layer) is left unscraped, as for instance for bookbinding parchment, pigmentation is removed with alum, enzymes or a bleaching agent (hydrogen peroxide).

Parchment terminology

Like leather, parchment is also given various trivial names. Many of the terms we use hail from abroad, and this may cause confusion. It all started in France, where the term velin was used alongside parchemin. This gave rise to vellum which is used especially in Great Britain and, sometimes incorrectly, in the Netherlands. The British parchment manufacturer makes a distinction between parchment and vellum. Parchment is traditionally used for the split skin, vellum for the complete skin. In British technical jargon the terms sheepskin vellum and sheepskin parchment are used, although not always consistently. Dutch terms such as francijn and forril give no indication as to either the original animal or the method of manufacture.
It is important, especially for documentation relating to parchment conservation, that the terminology used be as unambiguous as possible. For parchment, as for leather, this publication has adopted the terminology as used in Kneep en Binding where parchment is defined as an 'animal skin, preserved by treatment with lime, stripped of hair and remnants of flesh, and dried while stretched, which causes the arrange-ment of the skin fibres to change, and its characteristic qualities to appear (slight thickness, a certain transparency and a light colour). It is sometimes possible to distinguish between the hair side (traces of hair pores; often smoother) and the flesh side (rougher structure); but some forms of treatment make it almost impossible to make this distinction.
Most parchment is made from sheep, goat or calves: sheep, goat or calf parchment; these are distinguished mainly by the hair patterns.'


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sad Truth: The Missing MSS of the 4th - 14th centuries

In the following concise account, we can simultaneously learn about the switch from papyrus, the preference for parchment, and the destruction of the bulk of ancient gospels all in one pass.  Here we can read another large piece of the heartbreaking puzzle of what happened to the thousands of Gospel manuscripts made between the 4th and 10th centuries:

Paper came before its time and had to wait for recognition. It was sorely needed. The Egyptian manufacture of papyrus, which was in a state of decay in the 7th century, ceased entirely in the 9th or 10th. Not many books were written during this period, but there was then, and for at least three centuries afterwards, an unsatisfied demand for something to write upon. Parchment was so scarce that reckless copyists frequently resorted to the desperate expedient of effacing the writing on old and lightly esteemed manuscripts. It was not a difficult task. The writing ink then used was usually made of lamp-black, gum and vinegar; it it had but a feeble encaustic property, and it did not bite in or penetrate the parchment. The work of effacing this ink was accomplished by moistening the parchment with a weak alkaline solution and by rubbing it with pumice stone. This treatment did not entirely obliterate the writing, but made it so indistinct that the parchment could be written over the second time. Manuscripts so treated are now known as palimpsests. All the large European public libraries have copies of palimpsests, which are melancholy illustrations of the literary tastes of many writers or bookmakers during the Middle Ages. More convincingly than by argument they show the utility of paper. Manuscripts of the Gospels, of the Iliad, and of works of the highest merit, often of great beauty and accuracy, are dimly seen underneath stupid sermons, and theological writings of a nature so paltry that no man living cares to read them. In Some instances the first writing has been so thoroughly scrubbed out that its meaning is irretrievably lost.
“Much as paper was needed, it was not at all popular with copyists; their prejudice was not altogether unreasonable, for it was thick, coarse, knotty, and in every way unfitted for the display or ornamental penmanship or illumination. The cheaper quality, then known as cotton paper, was especially objectionable.  It seems to have been so badly made as to need governmental interference. Frederick II, of Germany, in the year 1221, foreseeing evils that might arise from bad paper, made a decree by which he made invalid all public documents that should be put on cotton paper, and ordered them within two years to be transcribed upon parchment.  Peter II, of Spain, in the year 1338, publicly commanded the paper-makers of Valencia and Xativa to make their paper of a better quality and equal to that of an earlier period.
“The better quality of paper, now known as linen paper, had the merits of strength, flexibility, and durability in a high degree, but it was set aside by the copyists because the fabric was too thick and the surface was too rough. The art of calendering or polishing papers until they were of a smooth, glossy surface, which was then practised by the Persians, was unknown to, or at least unpractised by, the early European makers   ...
“There is a popular notion that the so-called inventions of paper and xylographic printing were gladly welcomed by men of letters, and that the new fabric and the new art were immediately pressed into service. The facts about to be presented in succeeding chapters will lead to a different conclusion. We shall see that the makers of playing cards and of image prints were the men who first made extended use of printing, and that self-taught and unprofessional copyists were the men who gave encouragement to the manufacture of paper. The more liberal use of paper at the beginning of the 15th century by this newly-created class of readers and book-buyers marks the period of transition and of mental and mechanical development for which the crude arts of paper-making and of black printing had been waiting for centuries. We shall also see that if paper had been ever so cheap and common during the Middle Ages, it would have worked no changes in education or literature; it could not have been used by the people, for they were too illiterate; it would not have been used by the professional copyists, for they preferred vellum and despised the substitute.
“The scarcity of vellum in one century, and its abundance in another, are indicated by the size of written papers during the same periods. Before the sixth century, legal documents were generally written upon one side only; in the tenth century the practice of writing upon both sides of the vellum became common. During the thirteenth century valuable documents were often written upon strips two inches wide and but three and a half inches long. At the end of the fourteenth century these strips went out of fashion. The more general use of paper had diminished the demand for vellum and increased the supply. In the fifteenth century, legal documents on rolls of sewed vellum twenty feet in length were not uncommon. All the valuable books of the fourteenth century were written on vellum. In the library of the Louvre the manuscripts on paper, compared to those on vellum, were as one to twenty-eight; in the library of the Dukes of Burgundy, one-fifth of the books were of paper.  The increase in the proportion of paper books is a fair indication of the increasing popularity of paper; but it is obvious that vellum was even then considered as the more suitable substance for a book of value.”  (- De Vinn, quoted for review from "Medieval Ink")

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dating MSS by Vellum Color

Some brief notes are recorded here for the assistance of palaeographers:


1. Switzerland: New Testament ( Testamentum Novum, cum Glossis Bedae, Hieronymi, et Gregorii).
Early XIIth Century. Latin Text; Revised Carolingian Script.
John 19.7-12, recto; John 19:12-19, verso.
... interlinear glosses and commentaries from the writings of Bede, Jerome, Gregory and other Church Fathers. These were inserted at various times during the following century around a central panel of the original text. All hands based on revival of early Carolingian minuscule. the beginning of the trend to compactness and angularity is seen in many of these later additions. 

'The colour and texture of the vellum is frequently an aid in allocating a manuscript to a certain district and time. The XIIIth century skins are often yellower than those of later dates as the result of the fact that a weaker lime-water solution was used in the bleaching process.'

3. Italy: Lectionary (Lectionarium; Secundam Lucam)
Middle XIIth Century, Latin Text; Revised Carolingian Script

A Lectionary contains selected readings from the Epistles and Gospels as well as the Acts of the Saint and the Lives of the Martyrs. These were read by the sub-deacon from a side pulpit. This practice necessitated that they be written in a separate volume, apart from the complete Missal. This fine large bookhand shown here, suited to easier reading in a dark cathedral, is a revival of the script developed nearly four centuries earlier in scriptoria founded by Charlemagne. Maunde Thomson calls this Lombardic revival the finest of all European bookhands. Even the XVth century humanistic scribes could not surpass it for beauty and eligibility.
The tone or hue of ink frequently helps allocate a manuscript to a particular district or century. Ink of brown tone is generally found in early manuscripts, less frequently after 1200 A.D.

"The quills used in writing were obtained from the wings of crows, wild geese, and eagles. To keep them sharp and their strokes of uniform width required skill and great sensitivity in hand pressure. It would be difficult to imitate or approximate the fine details even with the special steel lettering pens of today."


Very Early History of the English (Saxon) Bible

I'm posting this from a Russian blogsite, translated into English for readers:


Catalogue of Old English revision of the Bible

Click to Enlarge

by Dr. Teol. Dony K. Donev 

The formation of the English version of the Bible is inevitably linked to the presence of the Latin Vulgata in northern England. Old English biblical texts developed in two literary center: Uearmaut and Dzharou.Leading scientists have Kelfrid, Bidi [Bede] and Alkuin. Kelfrid manuscripts brought from Italy, which were used in the manufacture of Codex Amiatinus. Bidi (674-735) was the first English historian and Alkuin (735-805 years) in the history inextricably linked to the Latin Vulgata in the Middle Ages.The above two literary schools are the main motivators of the development of the English Bible, a process which involved the following writers and manuscripts:

 Aldhelm (639-709) was the first author staroanglisyki translation of the Psalms.
 Kedmon mentioned by Bidi is the author of Old English songs with biblical themes.
 Reverend Bidi translated the Gospel according to John in the English shortly before his death in 735, the
 Vespasiyanskia interlinearen gloss is Psalm of Psalms, written around 850, of mersianski dialect.
 Edvinskiyat Psalter Kanabara and 10 other gloss on the Psalms, dating from the ninth century, have reached today.
 Around 900, King Alfred ordered translation and transcription of many biblical texts such as the Ten Commandments, parts of the Pentateuch and Psalms. It is assumed that the translation us in Psalms Paris Psalter was made by order of King Alfred.
 Between 950-970, the, Alfdred added gloss written in nortambskiya staroanglisyki dialect.
 At the same time, a monk named Pharma gloss wrote the Gospel according to Matthew, which is still preserved in a manuscript known as Rashuartskoto gospel.
 Around 990, theAppears Tetraevangelia full translation of the West Saxon dialect, known today as Veseksko gospel.
 At the same time dorsetshirskiyat monk Alfrik end independent translation of the Pentateuch books accompanied by Joshua and Judges.
 Kedmonskite manuscripts are written in the period 700-1000, theand contain biblical texts speak English language.

(apologies: autotranslated from Russian online)


Secret MS Stashes awaiting 'discovery'

As paradoxical as it may sound, a probable majority of surviving manuscripts remains inaccessible to the public and unknown to scholars.   Nonetheless, they could become known at any time, as various wealthy private collectors die, and their estates are redistributed and the items auctioned off.   Its an ongoing process.

A Book of Hours:  many thousands sit in private hands

A large number of MSS soon to be "discovered" are of this type, rare objects remaining in private hands, and because of perhaps doubt as to the method of acquisition and legitimacy of ownership, will only slowly trickle out.

The various nefarious stories surrounding more recent 'discoveries' and purchases via international 'dealers' (DSS, Nag Hammadi etc.)  is really only the tip of an iceberg of stories and events affecting the movement and preservation of such treasures.

The description of the story of the personal collection of Leander van Ess, recently posted on the internet by Milton Gatch, gives a picture in microcosm of the political and religious events which expose ancient MSS to market forces:

"Although he was never a wealthy man, historical circumstances made it possible for Leander van Ess to acquire large collections of valuable books. He emerged from the monastery into the world because of the secularizing programs of the Napoleonic regime in Germany at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The dissolution of the monasteries involved the dislocation of extensive and ancient libraries. In some areas of Germany these books were gathered into university or royal libraries, but in northwestern Germany there were no such repositories and the holdings of monastic libraries, if not taken to France by the conquerors, were thrown open (as it were) to the world. They were sometimes taken by the former monks as they went on to other lives; often they found their way to the open market, sometimes under questionable circumstances.
 Leander van Ess amassed very large collections, apparently at nominal expense. He had books from Marienmunster, acquired when he left there; he had books from other former monastic libraries, including many from the Benedictine monastery at Hysburg in the diocese of Halberstadt, of which his cousin Carl had been a member. A large number of books originating from a number of south-west German monasteries, came from the duplicates collection of the unversity library at Freiburg im Breisgau. A significant group of manuscripts originated at the Carthusian monastery of St. Barbara in Cologne. Van Ess continued to acquire books at Schwallenberg, during his tenure at Marburg, and at Darmstadt.
By happy chance, most of the books once owned by Leander van Ess can still be identified. They are the collection of manuscripts and incunabula sold in 1824 to the great English collector, Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872) and van Ess's library, sold in 1838 to Union Theological Seminary in New York."   ( - Milton Gatch)
What is remarkable is how, just as recently as 180 years ago, miltary/political events (the rise and fall of Napoleon) caused the massive displacement and exchange of hands of perhaps the majority of MSS then residing in monasteries in the West, i.e., France and Germany.     The well-known (?) temporary capture of Codex Vaticanus by Napoleon was only one MS transport case, but Napoleon actually caused the movement of many thousands of books and manuscripts.

One can imagine, with some 100 wars and conflicts raging round the world at any time since the two World Wars (another story of vast displacements) just how frequent the transfer of goods, and sometimes loss, is occurring today.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Vellum Bindings: 1750s - a quick peek

Recently we began to investigate the production of vellum, particularly that taken from unborn or recently born animals (and briefly the practice of book-bindings from human skin also came forward).   As vellum production appears largely to have become a lost art, it was interesting to note that a 'fine vellum' book cover was found on a recent antique book for sale on Ebay, namely a printing of a Greek strategy book.   Here are a few shots of this cover, and the vellum is certainly striking for its 'milky-white' look, while still maintaining a translucent edge according to the photos:


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Uncial Talk (3) - M. Brown

We continue our survey of Latin Capitals and Greek/Latin Uncials with some more observations of value from Michelle Brown's book, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 (U of T press, 1993);

Rustic Capitals (cont. from our previous post)

Vat. Lat. 3867, Vergilius Romanus:  (c. 4th  century  A.D.)

"Script:  An elegant example of Rustic Capitals, written with great fluidity of the pen and with a tendency towards calligraphic flourishes (seen in the treatment of the heads of F and X and the descent of L below the line).  Bows are minimal.  Note the curved head of the secnond minim of H, another scribal feature.  Curvaceous feet are systematically applied to minims.
Punctuation is by the medial punctus (centre-dot) which imposes word division, rather than the more usual scriptura continua, in the manner of monumental epigraphic inscriptions.
The Column Picture is an increasingly popular element of de luxe manuscripts from the 4th century onwards.  The naturalistic impressionism of antique painting is beginning to give way to a more linear and stylized approach."
Two important points noted above are:

a)  Spaces between words were already commonplace in Latin and Greek writing by the 4th century.  Thus the presence of spaces cannot be used to indicate later dates for manuscripts.

b)  Even such fancy adornments as full column-width pictures embedded into the text were also popular features from the 4th century onwards.  

The significance of this is that manuscript decoration and production was already quite varied and sophisticated even in the 4th century, and so this feature cannot be used to assign later dates to manuscripts with such features, nor can their absence be used to date manuscripts to the 4th century or earlier.

Especially important is that any discussion of decoration and/or pictography or the lack of it must be done in the light of the controversies re: icons, which occurred after this period.  Many manuscripts containing "idolatrous" icons and pictoral decoration were destroyed during the "Iconoclasm" battles, which would have provided a more complete picture of scribal practices for earlier periods.


Monday, April 4, 2011

The Alum Scrolls of Eastern Turkey

Many materials have been used in the production of scrolls and books, and perhaps none has been rarer, or misunderstood as much as the use of aluminium as a writing-material.
Aluminium scroll-making was first introduced in Iraq and Eastern Turkey, and began soon after the smelting of Mongolian bauxite had achieved the subtlety to make it viable for weapons, ornamental decorations for Icons, and of course the thin sheets used for scrolls, made by laboriously hand-rolling using carefully honed and precise steel rollers mounted on hardwood frames.

Many objects, as this Imperial wall decoration for the Khan's royal bedroom, were only recently found to be tooled aluminium, painted using special veneers.

Aluminium Floral Decoration in Relief

Other uses included box and book covers, where the heavier Aluminium sheets of the early times were better suited and more durable, than woods and leathers.

Early Aluminium Box Cover

Special tools were need to work the stiffer, more brittle aluminium sheets, as opposed to softer and more pliable metals such as copper and gold.

Aluminium Scroll-making tools

Military use of Aluminium sheet, made into continous rolls from early wooden outdoor smelters, began with the making of the vast lists of personnel and supplies needed for the early Mongol campaigns.   The invention of 'tin-snips' of various sizes to accommodate the new medium was developed out of the popular sheep-shears originally used to remove wool.

The Legendary Aluminium Army Rosters,
Kublah Kahn, Copenhagen Museum
Early attempts to make Aluminium sheets involved the careful shaving of solid Aluminium bars, specially cast for the purpose.  A dedicated lathe was used equipped with a hardened steel blade, to shave the aluminium into thin continuous strips.   Below are pictured cast aluminium bars stored for use by the Mongol army accountants:

Aluminium Bars prepared for 'turning'.

In order to save costs and materials, aluminium was often made as thin as possible, and backed by heavy felt to give it durability and a solid feel.  But scribes were prone to poking holes in the thin surface, and so the practice was discontinued.
Mixed media Aluminium/felt scrolls
The Mongol artisans became very good at surfacing and patterning aluminium for decorative use in book manufacture.  Featured below are various Islamic patterns from the later Aluminium Age of the Levant.

Semi-automated pattern stamping from Turkey

Techniques of dieing and fixing color to aluminium, now known chemically as anodization, was practiced from ancient times, but improved as religious centers like Venice took up the expanding trade and manufacture of aluminium codices.

Aluminium scroll colors available c. 640 A.D.

Of course the new materials were applied in all spheres of life in this central area of Asia Minor.   Here below are displayed common cooking implements made from aluminium and more rarely, pewter.

Turkish Pottery from the Aluminium Era


Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Cost of Imported Papyrus

 The Basic Method of Manufacture of Papyrus

Papyrus manufacturing process has not changed in thousands of years :
1.  The papyrus plant grows in the Nile’s fresh water.It has long roots and stems and the ancient Egyptians used it in building ships and making Papyrus paper.
2.  The outer bark of the papyrus plant is removed and the inner pith sliced into thin strips which are subsequently hammered to break the fibers and drain the water.They are then reimmersed into ordinary water for three days until the fibers become flexible and transparent.
3.  The papyrus strips are then cut to the required length and placed on a piece of cotton each at a slight overlap making two layers one horizontal and the other vertical.
4.  The papyrus sheets are put between (used to be big stones) two pieces of cardboard and placed under a hand press until dry.The cardboard is changed every eight hours and the drying process takes about three days.
5.  Finally,the papyrus sheets are ready for painting and are given to artists.

The following is taken from the Marxist site, and is apparently under "copyleft" (i.e., open copyright):

The Annales School 1929

The Price of Papyrus in Greek Antiquity

by Gustave Glotz

Source: Annales d’histore économique et sociale. 1929, Vol 1, no. 1;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2009.

Scholars have often asked what the price of paper of papyrus fiber was in the countries of ancient Greece. The question is not only of great interest for the history of civilization. Since it is a matter of a product and commerce exclusively Egyptian, it also has its importance in economic history and, as we shall see, in the history of international relations.
Until 1912 we only found three indications on the question in our literary and epigraphic documents, which were in any case contradictory. While lamenting the rarity of information, most authors maintained that papyrus had always been dear. Only Gardthausen was of the opinion that it was dear before and after the Hellenistic period, but for four centuries the low cost of primary materials and labor, as well was the facilities for fabrication, allowed Ptolemaic Egypt to furnish an inexpensive product to the Mediterranean world. When in 1912 Durrbach published the accounts of the Delian hieropes of the period 314-250 [BCE] I observed in an article “On the Price of Goods in Delos” that these accounts provided a fair number of new indications concerning the price of papyrus and refuted those authors who had treated the question. But I must note that this article remained in those shadows into which writings published in scientific reviews are plunged: Schubart, in his excellent Einfürung in die Papyruskunde, which appeared in 1918, says (p. 39): “Ueber die Preise des papyrus wissen wir trotz verienzelten Angaben ungefähr nichts. Billig was er nicht;” and he gives the reasons for its dearness which he admits for all of antiquity, without distinction as to period. Now that Durrbach has published a second series of Delian inscriptions (1926) and is going to publish a third whose proofs I have read, and as a result of which I have dispose of new data for the years 231-179 BCE, I would like to return to the overall question. It is worth the trouble, since to three indications from the past, which apply to the years 407, 333, and 322, are added – independently of those provided by papyrology – 18 others which are spread out over thirteen years between 296 and 179.
We know that Egyptian papyrus had been imported to Greece since the Sixth Century, but it was rare because of its price. It is for this reason, Herodotus tells us, that the Ionians long employed, in order to write, the skins of sheep and goats which, he adds, the barbarians still do, obviously those of Asia. At the end of the Fifth Century the precious sheets were much more widespread in Greece, but remained dear. In 407 the epistates[1] charged with the labors at Erechteion [2] bought two of them in order to transcribe the copies of their accounts that they were obliged to deposit in the archives. They paid 1 drachma, 2 obols per sheet. This was a high price at a time when a day’s work was worth 1 drachma, even for an architect.
It is true that they oppose to this price, found in an official act, one they think they can deduce from a literary text. Plato has Socrates say that on the square of the agora we can find Anaxagoras’ “Treatise on Nature” for no more than a drachma. Dziatzko maintained that if the manuscript was worth a drachma, the paper certainly wasn’t worth more than a third and that, the volume being composed of several pages, the sheet couldn’t have cost more than one obol. But the copies which Socrates speaks of with a smile are low quality copies. The booksellers of the market had not the least pretention of producing out of date items for the price of new paper or, and with even more reason, the price of paper increased by the salary formerly paid in the past to the scribe, a salary which, on its own, represented more than one day of work. Plato thus gives us precious information concerning the sale of used books, but he gives us no information on the value of papyrus in the Greece of his times.
The market price of the year 407 held steady for three quarters of a century. In fact, in Epidaure, according to Thymele’s accounts, they pay 4½ Aeginetic [3] obols, that is, one Attic drachma and ½ obol, for a sheet on which is to be written an expenditure record. We would like to have a certain date for this. Unfortunately, all that we believe is that the purchase in question was made in at least the sixteenth, and perhaps in the twenty-seventh year after the beginning of the works in progress, and that these works began around 360, thus around 344-334 BCE. All of this is quite vague. Nevertheless, I think we can be more precise. Four years before this papyrus purchase the accounts mention a purchase of lead at twice the normal price. Such an increase can only be explained by a cause similar to the one that produced the same effect in the final years of the Fifth Century, i.e., by a total cessation in mining exploitation in the Laurion basin. One of these crises was determined by the presence of Spartans in Decelie and the desertion of slaves; the other one could only have been by the arrival of the Macedonian army on the Attic border, after the battle of Cheronee. It is thus four years after 438/7, in 434/3 that the sheet of paper in Epidaure was worth more than one Attic drachma. Thus, for three-quarters of a century the price hardly varied, at least in normal times.
But suddenly, ten years later, in 322, the plea “Against Dionysodoros” teaches us that the great merchants of Athens write their most important contracts on tablets worth two chalkoi [4] and on pieces of paper every bit as inexpensive. Is this one of those exaggerations so customary among lawyers? In truth, it is quite possible that the Pseudo-Demosthenes gives a real price for the tablet and an approximate price for the papyrus. But he wouldn’t have dared to speak as he did if papyrus still cost 32 times more, as in 407, or 26 times as in 333. Nevertheless, we could continue to quibble about this if we didn’t have any other, similar indications.
The great, the inestimable advantage that the Delos inscriptions present in the economic history of antiquity is that they give a series of prices that spread out across a century and a half. The differences are characteristic, and the highs and lows always have a meaning that one must sort out. A few years ago I was able to demonstrate by a typical example, that of a product as small as the pea, how the Delian market price reflects Greek history over a century. We will see that the variations in pricing of papyrus are not without their importance.
The first indications the hieropes [5] of Delos provide us concerning the price of paper date from 296. They number two for that year, both of them in conformity with that given by the orator of 322. 1 - A sheet (harthς) is paid for at a price that mutilation by a stone renders uncertain, but is perhaps one obol and in any event remains below one drachma. 2- For one drachma one can have several scrolls (bidlia), i.e., at least two scrolls of at least two sheets and probably of more than two sheets. The sheet is thus worth 1 ½ obols at the very most, but it is much more likely worth much less and could even have been, as in 322, a single tetartemorion.
We thus have a period of at least 26 years (322-296) for which a base price is certified.
But this period is exceptional. From the year 279 until 179 the Delos accounts give us 16 prices for 12 years. All these pries are higher, not only and by a large amount to those of the preceding period, but even to those of 407 and 333.
Twice (267,231) the sheet cost....1 dr. 3 ob.
Five times (274, 250, 200, 179).... 1 dr. 4 ob.
Once (250)........ 1 dr. 4 ob. 1/4
Once (250).... 1 dr. 5 ob.
Once (218)..... 1 dr. 5 ob. ½
Twice (279, 204).... 2 dr.
Two and probably three times (269, 258, 224-222).... 2 dr. 1 ob.
Once (267).... At least 10 dr.
We thus have a series of prices that includes seven degrees, from 9 to 13 obols, after which, by a great leap, we arrive at the single price of 10 drachmas. We shouldn’t think, though, that over the course of this century the price varied with the times: it is 1 drachma 4 obols in 274 as well as in 179, and in the year of 250 it goes from 1 drachma 4 obols to 1 drachma 4 ¼ obols. Even more, in the year of 267 alone we find both the lowest and highest of all. This latter price should be set aside: 10 drachmas or more could only be asked for papyrus whose age-old renown places it above all others, that which was 11 fingers (0 m .20) long and which was distinguished for its fineness, solidity, whiteness, and shine, that which in Egypt was reserved for sacred books and acts of royal authority, (harthς), (ieratihoς), and (basilihoς). As for other prices, they could be asked for for papyrus of ordinary good quality, with the trademark of “The Amphitheatre,” which was produced near the amphitheater of Alexandria, and which was nine fingers (0 m 17) long.
Consequently, if papyrus was inexpensive in Greece since the final quarter or third of the Fourth Century, it again became dear during the first quarter of the Third, and this time forever. Before asking how we can explain the period of decrease noted during the years 322 and 296, let us clarify the beginning and end dates of this period. We have seen in inscriptions that it can be extended 10 years ab initio and 16 years a fine. But if nothing prevents us from beginning it in 332, it doesn’t seem that it lasted until 279. The Delian accounts of the year 281 could, in this regard, provide us with precious information: they mention a purchase of papyrus, but they are mutilated just after the word harthς at the place of the price. In the case where it would have borne a low price it would have, within two years more or less, dated the event that so strongly modified the price of papyrus. But it is more likely that it already had a high price. In fact we know that a few years previously in Greece paper wasn’t on object in wide use by those without much money. Having no choice, poor people did as in the distant époque of ostracism: they wrote on pieces of broken pots. In 283 and 282, when Cleanthe began to take lessons in the Portico he only had at his disposal to collect the thoughts of his master Zeno shards of vases and shoulder blades of oxen. Forced to work in order to live, papyrus was too expensive for him. This anecdote could very well reduce by three or four years the interval into which we can place the return of high prices.
We must now turn to Egypt in order to understand what happened for the first time in the interval from 333 to 332, and a second time forty or fifty years later. For the production and sale of paper was an industry and commerce strictly Egyptian.
Everything indicates that in Egypt paper could be quite inexpensive. The cultivation of the plant was widespread in the Delta. The work demanded care, but wasn’t complicated. Labor was abundant and barely cost more than the price of maintenance. The cost of production was thus not high. It was this very reason that led Gardthausen to believe that before being exploited by the imperial tax authorities papyrus was moderately priced. But as we have seen, this hypothesis is correct for only a limited time. This is not so either for the period prior to 333-322 or for the years after 296-282. Why?
It is because the monopoly that was to make papyrus so dear under the Roman emperors already existed under the pharaohs and was reconstituted under the Lagides [6] We can now see what it was that happened between 333 -322 and determined an enormous drop in paper. It was simply this: during the winter 332-331 Alexander opened wide the gates of Egypt and poured oriental merchandise onto the Greek markets. In replacing national administrations with Macedonian domination it put an end to the monopolies that from time immemorial had made wealthy the temple treasuries and the royal coffers. There then began a reign of liberty in the production and sale of papyrus that still continued at the beginning of the Third Century. We know, and can see in the accounts of Delos, that Ptolemy, son of Lagos, independent satrap since 311, king since 305, had not yet reorganized the monopolies in 296. Otherwise, in a year when the master of the islands, Demetrius Polioricete, found himself in a state of war with the master of Egypt, papyrus, already more dear in 322, would have been nearly unaffordable.
Everything seems to indicate that Ptolemy Soter didn’t change fiscal policy until his abdication in 285. His successor, on the contrary, returned to pharaonic traditions. We know from the “Revenue laws” that in the 27th year of his reign Ptolemy Philadelphus gave a definitive constitution to certain monopolies. This was a reform, not a creation. The price paid for papyrus in 279 and Cleanthe’s anecdote teach us that the paper monopoly had been re-established during the sixth, and perhaps even the second year of the reign. In any case, a reason of this kind was needed for the price of papyrus to be so high in 279, since in that period the commerce of the islands with Egypt was facilitated by excellent relations, as is proved by the invitation addressed to the Nesiotes and accepted by them to officially participate in the Olympic festival and the foundation of the Ptolemaia in Delos.
We possess sufficient information on the papyrus monopoly in the time of the Lagides so that it is impossible for there to be any doubt. Primary matter was purchased from individuals in accordance with the price fixed by the royal administration. The work was done in public workshops, except for the privilege reserved to priests to meet by their own means the needs of temples. Sale was assured by retailers who stocked themselves from the king’s stores. The sale price was thus fixed less often by the cost than by the profit demanded by the tax authorities.
Thus, inexpensive paper couldn’t be obtained even in Egypt. It has often been observed that without the necessity to economize the subject of the Lagides would not regularly have written on the verso of their pages, or even more had recourse to the pitiful practice of the palimpsest. And they would have even less used ostracons if they had had at their disposal a more convenient and cheaper material. Finally, in a country where the respect for the dead was always scrupulously maintained, embalmers would never have wrapped mummies in old discarded paper if they could have had new ones at a good price.
The indications we have on the price of papyrus in Egypt bear a close relationship to those given in the Delos inscriptions of the same period. Between them we find sometimes the normal difference represented by export rights, shipping costs, and the profit of the intermediary, sometimes a large difference explained by a disturbance in commercial relations caused by political events. In 251-250, while the accounts of the Delian hieropes twice give the price of 1 drachma 4 obols, once that of 1 drachma 4 ½ obols, and once that of 1 drachma 5 obols, the Zeno’s accounts mention the price of 1 drachma 1 obol. The difference is hardly greater in the Second Century: while in Delos they pay 1 drachma 4 obols per sheet, retail price, an Egyptian government office pays 100 drachma for 100 sheets, 1 drachma per sheet, semi-wholesale price. It is true that at certain moments the price decreases to below 1 drachma in the country of production. An account from Fayoum indicates as the price of a sheet of ordinary format (harthς) as 4 obols ¾ or 3/8, and the price of small-format sheets (hartidion) as 1 obol the sheet and 8 drachmas the hand of 48 or perhaps 50 sheets. In this case, lacking the precise date, we can’t make a comparison. But around 259-258 we find an enormous spread. The Delos accounts in 258 bear the high price of 2 drachmas 1 obol, perhaps because Egypt is implicated in the Cyrenaic events and the risk of war hinders Greco-Egyptian commerce. Around the same time, Zeno’s accounts mention a purchase of papyrus that the publisher believes he can evaluate, despite the difficulties in reading that he truthfully mentions, as 40 drachmas for 60 sheets, thus 4 obols the sheet. If the number x=60 should truly be maintained for the quantity, for the price we might replace m by n, which would be more in conformity with the market price of the time. It is nevertheless not impossible that the Third Century before Christ already knew this price of 4 obols, which is certified for the middle of the Second Century after Christ. In any case, since the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, the price of papyrus in Egypt – even if from 1 drachma 1 obol at its highest it descends to 4 obols at its lowest – still remained above the price paid in the importing nations like Attica and Delos, and even more so in the producing country before the re-establishment of the monopoly.
It remains to examine a document where Gardthausen believed he had found a confirmation of his theory, but which on the contrary leads us to better understand the monopoly on paper. On a papyrus from Tebtynis a comogramatte mentions, in the year 112, the following expense: hartwn i, an (a) r, A, i.e., hatergon for 10 hartai, at 100 (copper) drachmas each, 1000 drachmas.” For Crönert, who examined this text, harthς doesn’t designate a sheet of papyrus, but a scroll, a hand, a scapus of twenty sheets. A purely arbitrary hypothesis. Yet Gardthausen adopts it and after having correctly translated hatergon by Lohn he continues by reasoning as if it were a question, not of a salary, but of a sale price. And here is his conclusion: 10 hands of papyrus are worth the same as 1000 drachmas of copper. Thus one hand costs 100 drachmas, so one sheet costs five drachmas which means, in an era when copper money lost much value in relation to silver money, a reduction of one pfenning. Let us simply return to our text and translate: “Salary for the production of 10 sheets at 100 drachmas each, 1000 drachmas.” It is a matter of a sum owed by the administrators of the monopoly to a worker or a paper producer later on called hartopoioς. In addition, given that the relation of minted silver to copper was then at 1:475, the worker received 0 fr 20 silver per sheet, and not 0 fr 01, as Crönert and Gardthausen think.
The profit to the royal treasury was thus quite substantial, since the price for the sheet for the Egyptians was at least 0 fr 65 silver (4 obols) and even reached 1 fr 15 ( 1 drachma 1 obol). That of Greek importers and resellers was nothing to sneer at, since the price of the sheet varied in Delos between 1 fr 50 silver ( 1 drachma 3 obols) and 2 fr 15 ( 2 drachmas 1 obol).
One can judge from this detailed study how useful it can be to gather and classify figures, however rebarbative in appearance, that are scattered about our inscriptions and papyri.
It could suffice to recall and confront twenty prices scattered over two centuries to cast a bit of light on the economic history of antiquity which the historians of the time have neglected. It is through a series of analogous studies that we will have some precise notions on retail and wholesale commerce, on the general conditions of international exchange.
I chose as an example a product which, in addition, teaches us about the political history, not to mention the intellectual history of the Hellenic countries. It is not a matter of indifference to note one of the effects suddenly produced on Egypt’s material situation by the Macedonian conquest, one of the profound differences that distinguishes the reign of Ptolemy Soter from that of Ptolemy Philadelphus. And we can reflect on the consequences of a system that had as its primary result that of only turning over to consumption a paper as dear as stamped paper is in contemporary societies. The monopoly had hardly been suppressed by Alexander than the Athenian Lycurgus, who was even so a thrifty administrator, had made and deposed in the archives an official copy of the tragic poets, which was quite a lovely beginning for a National Library. But the monopoly reestablished by Philadelphus transmitted to the book the dearness of paper. Thus is explained the incomparable importance that the library of Alexandria immediately took on and maintained for centuries: the Ptolemies furnished it with papyrus either free or at a low price. At the same time, they were masters of its sale overseas at a rate they alone fixed and even – as Evergete II did – prohibited its export.

1. In Athens the epistates presided in the council and the assembly; in the Hellenistic kingdoms the title was given to an agent of the king within the subject city.
2. The most sacred temple in Athens
3. One of the various weight standards for currency
4. Eight chalkoi = One obol
5. Priest/administrator
6. Dynasty of the Ptolemies.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Uncial Talk (2) - Brown & Lovett

Here are some short excerpts from "The Historical Source Book for Scribes" (U of T, 1999), by Michelle P. Brown, Patricia Lovett.  They give us a clear picture of the difference between simple Capital Letters, and the Uncial Script.

Capital Scripts (p. 21)

"Capital letters are the oldest to have been used in the Roman or Latin alphabet, which is still used in the West.  They evolved via Phoenician, Greek and Etruscan alphabets and were used by Romans from the 1st century BC onwards.  Square Capitals were probably the earliest, their angular form being governed by the chisel which worked them for monumental inscriptions (scriptura monumentalis).
... The effort required to write Square Capitals with a pen meant that they were rarely used for complete texts, although some rare examples of ostentatious early codices written in Square Capitals survive, notably a 4th century Italian copy of Virgil's Georgics (The Codex Augusteus, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Vat. LAt. 3256).  However, ...they were frequently used in display scripts designed, with decorated initials, to mark important divisions in the text."

Virgil in Square Capitals (4th c.) 
Click to Enlarge: Backbutton to return

Uncials (p. 39)

Uncial is the most formal book script to have enjoyed any major degree of use.  Its rounded forms, which evolved during the 2nd to 4th centuries AD, were suited to the action of the pen and represented a fusion of capital letter forms and rapidly written variants with fewer strokes, which had become a script in themselves - Old Roman Cursive.   The term "Uncial" is attributed, apocryphally, to St. Jerome who is said to have criticised this de luxe script for being so ostentatious that it could appear to be an 'inch high' (uncia is the Latin for "inch"). 
Uncial was commissioned of professional scribes by the publishers of the later Roman Empire and was used for sacred texts by the bishops and clerics who filled the vacuum left by the civil service at its demise, from the 5th century onwards.   Its most influential patron was Pope Gregory the Great, instigator of missionary work amongst the 'barbarian' heirs to Roman rule in northern Europe.  Around 600 A.D. Gregory encouraged the clerical scribes of Rome to pen elegant uncial copies of Scripture and of works by the Church Fathers (including Gregory's own influential compositions).  These were designed to equip the expanding Church and to enhance the authority of this religion of the Word through the beauty and imposing character of its books.  
The symbols of faith, the Cross and the fish, began to adorn major letters and therein the process of integrating text and image through the decorated initial had its genesis, embodying Gregory's tenet that in images 'the illiterate read'.  This pronouncement was a major step in determining the future of book arts in the West.  
Idolatry was a significant preoccupation.  The Islamic response [post 622 A.D.] was to espouse sacred calligraphy and to prohibit figural representations in sacred contexts.   Byzantium was to be plunged into a lengthy period of iconoclasm during which images were actively destroyed, as they were around a millenium later during the English Civil War.  
In the West, Gregory's approval of the didactic use of images and decoration set the tone (although the question was sometimes reopened, especially in the Carolingian orbit).   This allowed the 'barbarian' peoples of northern Europe to lavish their strong sense of ornament and style, with all its accompanying connotations of power and prestige, on to the new medium of the book.   Only from such a heady brew of 'barbaric' and Mediterranean influences could manuscripts as stunning and innovative as the Book of Durrow, the Lindisfairne Gospels and the Book of Kells have been distilled.   

Book of Durrow 
Lindisfairne Gospels

Book of Kells: "Half-Uncial" Script

Book of Kells

The direct influence of the cautiously decorated uncial books produced in Gregory's Rome can be detected in the already more ambitious initials of the earliest Insular manuscripts to survive from Britain and Ireland, such as the Cathach  (or 'battler' of of Columcille (Dublin, Royal Irish Academy).  This is now thought to date around 630, but was for centuries thought to be the Psalter that St. Columba plagarised, earning the famous legal judgment of "to every cow its calf and to every book its copy" - the first statement of copyright.   The conflict which ensued led Columba to leave his beloved Ireland in voluntary exile for Christ (peregrinatio) and to establish a monastic family (paruchia) which was to comprise such important foundations as Iona and Lindisfairne.  Book production remained a core function of all such centres.  ...

Cathach of Columba

Cathach of Columba

Uncial continued in use in the cathedral cities and monasteries of early medieval Italy and Merovingian Gaul, often developing regional variant letter-forms, such as the Merovingian hooked 't' which can be so pronounced that it resembles an 'a'. "...