Thursday, May 26, 2011

Uncial Talk (5) - Greek Script: Ullman

The following is from B. L. Ullman, Ancient Writing and Its Influence (1932):
"Chapter VI: The Development of Greek Script
The papyrus finds of Egypt have furnished us with material for a study of Greek writing from the 4th cent. B.C. to the 8th cent. A.D.  Essentially there are two styles -- the literary book-hand and the cursive hand of everyday use.  These interact on each other from time to time.   The book-hand starts out with a character very similar to that of the inscriptions, as may be seen from the 4th cent. MS of Timotheus.   In the 3rd century, as a result no doubt of cursive influence, it becomes Uncial, i.e., some fo the letters become rounded.

First Σ becomes C; next E becomes e, and Ω becomes ω.  Soon after we find Z for  I ,  and α for A, and this eventually becomes a.  At the beginning of our era M has become U, the typical later Uncial form.   Under obvious cursive influence the three strokes of Ξ becomes ξ.  Thus we see a gradually developing uncial script from the 3rd century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D.

In the 2nd and 3rd centuries we find side by side with the broad Uncial a sloping, compressed Uncial, much as today we find vertical and slanting forms of writing side by side. 

In the meantime there arose a cursive hand, used for business purposes, in which letters were written together instead of separately.  This was at times written quite as carefully as the book-hand, just as our cursive hand also has its regularized type form, called "script".  The details of its evolution are of no interest to us here.  It is sufficient to point out that the changes in the the book-hand were due to its influence.  We can definitely say, for example, that the round alpha came into the book-hand from the cursive, for it is found two centuries earlier in cursive than in the book-hand.  Similarly with other letters.
It seems to be true that the chief borrowings from cursive came at two periods, one about 300 B.C., when Alexandria became the most important city of the Greek world, and the other nearly 300 years later, when the Romans took over Egypt.
It is natural that new political situations should affect the style of writing; history shows many such examples. 
To the earlier of these two periods we owe the forms ε C ω;  to the latter, a U ξ.   It is also worth noting that not all cursive forms affected the book-hand, but those which did generally required a century or two to succeed.  It is not impossible that Roman writing had an influence on both cursive and book-hands in the earlier period as it surely did in the later.

The earliest parchment MSS that have survived date from the 3rd or 4th century A.D.   They are written essentially in the Uncial characters of the papyrus scrolls.  But the new material led to a differentiation in that it permitted the shading of letters to a much greater extent.   It is true that some papyri show shading, but this probably is due to imitation of writing on parchment.  The ambrosian Homer of the 3rd or 4th century is thought to be our earliest example of a parchment book.   Other MSS of the 4th cent. are the Vatican and Sinai Bibles; the Codex Alexandrinus is attributed to the following century. 
Codex B (Vat. 1209)

Compressed, Sloping Uncial Script: 

The handsome, broad Uncial, with its square and round letters, continued to be used until about the 6th century, and was contemporary with its Roman counterpart.  But the sloping, compressed Uncial found in the papyri was also used on parchment, though at first it was less common.  The reason is obvious: it is a time and space-saving script, and in the earlier centuries, at least in Egypt, parchment was still the more expensive material and was used only when saving of time and space was not a consideration.  The most important early MS in sloping Uncials is the Washington (Freer Codex W) MS of the Gospels, which is thought to have been written in the 4th century.   This style of writing eventually became the dominant type.    It developed as its chief characteristic very heavy lines contrasted with fine ones and teneded to become pointed, like the Gothic style of Roman writing.   Upright forms with the same characteristics are also found.   This type, which became common in the 9th century, is called Slavonic Uncial because it formed the basis for the alphabet used in the Slavic languages.  After that the Uncial became more and more artificial.   It lasted in an upright form until about the 12th century. 
Codex W

The Minuscule Hand:

With the 9th century we come to a crossroads in the history of Greek writing.   The main road of Uncial goes on, but its traffic is that of the Slavic alphabet.   The Greek traffic is diverted to a road that before crossing the main road was little known but now becomes the main highway for the Greek alphabet.   That road, known as the cursive before it crosses the other highway, is the minuscule. 

It is only necessary to examine the highly artificial Uncial writing of the 10th or 11th century to see that something was bound to happen.   Writing such as this could not last.  It is not surprising therefore that in the 9th century a minuscule style of writing based on the old cursive came into use as a formal book-hand.

This style of writing, called "old minuscule", is at its best in the 9th and 10th centuries.  Though the letters are connected, there are no extreme ligatures; many of them involve the letter sigma.   The letters are well rounded.  In shape they are in general similar to modern Greek minuscules, except beta, which is similar to our u;  zeta, which  is at first like our 3, later has the Uncial Z form; eta, which is like our h; kappa which looks like our li without a dot; nu, which is round at the bottom like a mu without the last stroke.; pi, which has the form ω
 The script may be compared in general with the Caroline minuscules of the Roman alphabet in the 9th and 10th centuries, to which it possibly owes its inspiration.   The 9th century is noteworthy also because the use of accents and breathings becomes general, in both Uncial and minuscule manuscripts. 
[insert Vat. Gr 190]
Later Minuscule Styles:
In the following centuries we find what is called the "middle minuscule", whose chiefe characteristic is the use of the Uncial formst of many letters, especially beta, eta, and kappa.  We are on the way to a welding of Uncial and minuscule scripts.   At times it seems as if  the result might e a cursive Uncial.   In fact Uncial forms of every letter can be found in one or another MS of this period, but they are joined together in the cursive manner.   Ligatures and abbreviations become more numerous. 
[plate V Pierpont Morgan Lib. MS 639, 12 cent. Gosp.]

From the 13th century on we have preserved to us a number of more carelessly written MSS, filled with ligatures and abbreviations.  In this respect the script recalls the contemporary Gothic of Western Europe, though in appearance they are quite unalike.  SOme letters have many shapes in the same MSS; most have at least two.   It was a period of formlessness and carelessness, produced or at least assisted by political turmoil.  Furthermore, the introduction of paper, the new cheap writing material, was responsible for a lesser degree of care in writing.  

[Vat. Gr 144 1439 A.D.]

 With the reawakening of interest in Greek in 15th cent. Italy, Greek scholars and scribes came to Italy, especially after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.   Naturally they  brought with them the undesirable writing then current.
It was this unfortunate time that printing began, and the early Greek books printed in Italy preserve all the numerous ligatures and other peculiarities of this writing.   In the course of centuries the printed forms gradually became simplified under the influence of the Roman script, but it was not until the 19th century that all ligatures disappeared.    Even so the present printed form of Greek is less beautiful and less legible than Roman type.   As Rutherford said: 
"Nothing could well be imagined less likely to call up ideas of art or beauty than a modern page of printed Greek."  
Very recently there have been suggestions in Greece that the Greek alphabet be abandoned in favor of the Roman for the printed and written forms of modern Greek.  Unfortunately it is unlikely by reason of national pride that this movement will make much headway. "
(Ullman, p. 46-56)


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