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Codicology and Palaeography

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Codicology is the study of a codex, an older handwritten book. It is closely related to palaeography, the study of handwriting in older manuscripts, and to philology, the study of language and culture in older texts. All three originated in Classical Latin and Greek studies, but later extended to the Medieval studies, and then to manuscripts and books from other pre-modern cultures and time periods.

Codicology concerns itself chiefly with the book as a physical object, and has therefore been referred to as 'the archaeology of the book'.

The various methods in which a book is put together, and the skills needed at each stage of this process, are the most obvious provinces of codicology: but the study of the book also involves the materials used to make the book: papyrus, membrane (also sometimes called parchment or vellum), paper and so on, as well as the technology of the quill pen and of ink. Marginalia and glosses, including ownership inscriptions, can be informative. The decoration inside the book (illuminated initials, miniatures, carpet pages) as well as the binding and the decoration of the cover are integral to codicological study.

Apart from the ways in which it can aid palaeographers, codicology is usually seen as a branch of cultural history. By a close examination of the physical attributes of a book, it is possible to establish the history and provenance of a book. By extension, codicologists also study the history of libraries and of book-cataloguing.

A codex (Latin for block of wood, book; plural codices) is a book in the format used for modern books, with separate pages normally bound together and given a cover. It was a Roman invention that replaced the scroll, which was the first form of book in all Eurasian cultures.

Although technically any modern paperback is a codex, the term is only used for manuscript (hand-written) books, produced from Late Antiquity through the Middle Ages. The scholarly study of manuscripts from the point of view of the bookmaking craft is called codicology. The study of ancient documents in general is called paleography.

New World codices were written as late as the sixteenth century (see Maya codices and Aztec codices). Those written before the Spanish conquests seem all to have been single long sheets folded concertina-style, sometimes written on both sides of the local amate paper. They are therefore strictly speaking not actually in codex format, although they more consistently have "Codex" in their usual names than other types of manuscript.

The codex was an improvement upon the scroll, which it gradually replaced, first in the West, and much later in Asia. The codex in turn became the printed book, for which the term is not used. In China, because books were already printed, but only on one side of the paper, there were intermediate stages, such as scrolls folded concertina-style and pasted together at the back.[1]

The Romans used similar precursors made of reusable wax-covered tablets of wood for taking notes and other informal writings. The first recorded use of the codex for literary works dates from the late first century AD, when Martial experimented with the format.

At that time the scroll was the dominant medium for literary works and would remain dominant for secular works until the fourth century. Julius Caesar, traveling in Gaul, found it useful to fold his scrolls concertina-style for quicker reference[citation needed], as the Chinese also later did. As far back as the early 2nd century, there is evidence that the codex—usually of papyrus—was the preferred format among Christians: in the library of the Villa of the Papyri, Herculaneum (buried in AD 79), all the texts (Greek literature) are scrolls; in the Nag Hammadi "library", secreted about AD 390, all the texts (Gnostic Christian) are codices.

The earliest surviving fragments from codices come from Egypt and are variously dated (always tentatively) towards the end of the 1st century or in the first half of the 2nd. This group includes the Rylands Library Papyrus P52 , containing part of St John's Gospel, and perhaps dating from between 125 and 160.[2]

In Western culture the codex gradually replaced the scroll. From the fourth century, when the codex gained wide acceptance, to the Carolingian Renaissance in the eighth century, many works that were not converted from scroll to codex were lost to posterity. The codex was an improvement over the scroll in several ways. It could be opened flat at any page, allowing easier reading; the pages could be written on both recto and verso; and the codex, protected within its durable covers, was more compact and easier to transport.

The codex also made it easier to organize documents in a library because it had a stable spine on which the title of the book could be written. The spine could be used for the incipit, before the concept of a proper title was developed, during medieval times.

Although most early codices were made of papyrus, papyrus was fragile and supplies from Egypt, the only place where papyrus grew, became scanty; the more durable parchment and vellum gained favor, despite the cost.

The codices of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica had the same form as the European codex, but were instead made with long folded strips of either fig bark (amatl) or plant fibers, often with a layer of whitewash applied before writing.

In Asia, the scroll remained standard for far longer than in the West. The Jewish religion still retains the Torah scroll, at least for ceremonial use.

Palaeography (British) or paleography (American) (from the Greek παλαιός palaiós, "old" and γράφειν graphein, "to write") is the study of ancient handwriting, independent of the language (Koine Greek, Classical Latin, Medieval Latin, Old English, etc.)

Palaeography is in many ways a prerequisite for philology, and it encounters two main difficulties: firstly, since the style of a single alphabet has changed constantly (Carolingian minuscule, Gothic, etc.), it is necessary to know how to decipher the characters that constitute a manuscript. Secondly, these manuscripts carry by necessity many abbreviations for the purpose of saving space — since each page was made from the skin of one sheep, one had to have a sizable flock just to produce a Bible, even an abridged one. The palaeographer must thus know the relevant abbreviations. The & sign, for example, originated from one of these abbreviations, as did the tilde.

This information, about the characters and the abbreviations, permits the palaegrapher to transcribe the document, that is, to produce a modern edition, reestablishing the abbreviations. This task is particularly important for transcribing texts in Latin, because the abbreviations frequently occur at the ends of words, and the declension of the Latin noun requires the usage of different endings.

History of the Latin Alphabet
Roman Cursive
Roman cursive (or Latin cursive) is a form of handwriting (or a script) used in ancient Rome and to some extent into the Middle Ages. It is customarily divided into old (or ancient) cursive, and new cursive.

Old Roman cursive
Old Roman cursive, also called majuscule cursive and capitalis cursive, was the everyday form of handwriting used for writing letters, by merchants writing business accounts, by schoolchildren learning the Roman alphabet, and even emperors issuing commands. A more formal style of writing was based on Roman square capitals, but cursive was used for quicker, informal writing. It was most commonly used from about the 1st century BC to the 3rd century, but it probably existed earlier than that; the comedian Plautus, in Pseudolus makes reference to the illegibility of cursive letters:

Calidorus: Cape has tabellas, tute hinc narrato tibi quae me miseria et cura contabefacit.
Pseudolus: Mos tibi geretur. Sed quid hoc, quaeso?
Calidorus: Quid est?
Pseudolus: Ut opinor, quaerunt litterae hae sibi liberos: alia aliam scandit.
Calidorus: Ludis iam ludo tuo?
Pseudolus: Has quidem pol credo nisi Sibylla legerit, interpretari alium posse neminem.
Calidorus: Cur inclementer dicis lepidis litteris lepidis tabellis lepida conscriptis manu?
Pseudolus: An, opsecro hercle, habent quas gallinae manus? Nam has quidem gallina scripsit.

Calidorus: Take this letter, then tell yourself what misery and concern are wasting me away.
Pseudolus: I will do this for you. But what is this, I ask?
Calidorus: What's wrong?
Pseudolus: In my opinion, these letters are seeking children for themselves: one mounts the other.
Calidorus: Are you mocking me with your teasing?
Pseudolus: Indeed, by Pollux I believe that unless the Sibyl can read these letters, nobody else can understand them.
Calidorus: Why do you speak harshly about these charming letters and charming tablets, written by a charming hand?
Pseudolus: By Hercules I beg you, do even hens have hands like these? For indeed a hen wrote these letters.

(Plautus, Pseudolus, 21-30)

Old Roman cursive can be very difficult to read for modern English speakers as well. The script uses many ligatures, and some letters are unrecognizable - "a" looks similar to a modern cursive "r", "b" and "d" are almost identical, "e" consists of two perpendicular lines, "r" and "t" are very similar, and "v" resembles a straight line written almost as a superscript, rather than resting on the baseline.[2]

New Roman cursive
New Roman cursive, also called minuscule cursive or later Roman cursive, developed from old Roman cursive. It was used from approximately the 3rd century to the 7th century, and uses letter forms that are more recognizable to modern eyes; "a", "b", "d", and "e" have taken a more familiar shape, and the other letters are proportionate to each other rather than varying wildly in size and placement on a line. This evolved into the medieval script known as Carolingian minuscule, which was used in 9th century France and Germany in the imperial chancery. The uncial and half-uncial scripts also most likely developed from this script; "a", "g", "r", and "s" are particularly similar. [3]

According to Jan-Olaf Tjäder, new Roman cursive influenced the development of not only uncial, but of all the other scripts used in the Middle Ages. [4]

* Latin cursive presented by the University of Michigan Papyrus Collection
* Vindolanda Tablets on the website of the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents at Oxford University

Medieval Paleography
When the Roman empire collapsed in the 4th century, Europe was taken over by mostly illiterate Germanic peoples; the Ostrogoths ruled Italy, the Visigoths took over Spain and southern France, the Franks settled in central and northern France and the Anglo-Saxons overran the Celts in Great Britain. The Roman Catholic church took on the task of converting the Germanic tribes to Christianity and educating them, and over time developed regional Roman-based, but unique, system of handwriting. These developed into the so called National Hands of Spain (Visigothic script), Italy (Beneventan script), France, and the British Isles (Insular script).

Prior to the time of Charlemagne several parts of Europe even had their own handwriting style. His rule over a large part of the continent provided an opportunity to unify these writing styles in the hand called Carolingian minuscule. Simplistically speaking, the only scripts to escape this unification were the Visigothic (or Mozarabic), which survived into the 12th or 13th century, the Beneventan, which was still being written in the middle of the 16th, and the one that continues to be used in traditional Irish handwriting, which has been in severe decline since the early 20th century and is now almost extinct (the printed form was abolished by the Irish government in the 1950s).

In the 12th century the Carolingian minuscule underwent a change in its appearance to bold and broken letter forms, the Textura (blackletter). This style remained predominant with some regional variants (e.g. the Rotunda) until the 15th century when the humanistic scripts revived the Carolingian minuscule and it spread from the Italian Renaissance all over Europe.

Modern Paleography
These humanistic scripts are the base for the antiqua and the handwriting forms in western and southern Europe. In Germany and Austria, the Kurrentschrift rooted in the cursive handwriting of the later Middle Ages. With the name of the calligrapher Ludwig Sütterlin this handwriting counterpart to the blackletter typefaces was abolished by Hitler in 1941. After World War II it was taught as alternative script in schools only in some areas until the 1970s; it is no longer being taught.

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