GREEK WRITING. IL —TUE VELLUM CODICES
Uncial Writing.—It has been shown above how a round uncial hand had been developing in Greek writing on papyrus during the early centuries of the Christian era, and how even as early as the and century a well-formed uncial script was in use, at least for sumptuous copies of so great and popular an author as Homer. We have now to describe the uncial hand as it appears in Greek MSS. written on vellum. This harder and firmer and smoother material afforded to the scribes better scope for a calligraphic style hardly possible on papyrus. With the ascendancy of the vellum codex as the vehicle for literature, the characters received the fixed and settled forms to which the name of uncial is more exactly attached than to the fluctuating letters of the early papyri. The term uncial has been borrowed from the nomenclature of Latin palaeography' and applied to Greek writing of the larger type, to distinguish it from the minuscule or smaller 'character which succeeded it in vellum MSS. of the 9th century. In Latin majuscule writing there exist both capitals and uncials, each class distinct. In Greek MSS. pure capital-letter writing was never employed (except occasionally for ornamental titles at a late time). As distinguished from the square capitals of inscriptions, Greek uncial writing has certain rounded letters, as a, e, c, co, modifications in others, and some letters extending above or below the line.
It is not probable that vellum codices were in ordinary use earlier than the 4th century; and it is in codices of that age that the handsome calligraphic uncial above referred to was developed. A few years ago the 4th century was the earliest limit to which palaeographers had dared to carry back any ancient vellum codex inscribed in uncials. But the recovery of the Homeric papyri written in the large uncials of the and century has led to a revision of former views on the date of one early vellum MS. in particular. This MS. is the fragmentary Homer of the Ambrosian Library at Milan, consisting of some fifty pieces of vellum cut out of the original codex for the sake of the pictures which they contain; and all of the text that has survived is that which happened to be on the back of the pictures. The Ambrosian Homer has hitherto been generally placed in the 5th century, and the difference of the style of the writing from that of the usual calligraphic type of uncial MSS. of that time, which had been remarked, was thought rather to indicate inferiority in age. But the similarity of the character of the writing (taller and more slender than is usual in vellum codices) to that of the large uncials of the papyrus Homers of the and century from Hawara and Oxyrhynchus and Tebtunis is so striking that the
' St Jerome's often quoted words, " uncialibus, ut vulgo aiunt, litteris " in his preface to the book of Job, have never been explained satisfactorily. Of the character referred to as " uncial " there is no question; but the derivation of the term is not settled.
Ambrosian Homer must be classed with them. Hence it is now held that that MS. may certainly be as early as the 3rd century. But, as that century was still within the period when papyrus was the general vehicle for Greek literature, it may be asked why that material should not in this instance also have been used. The answer may fairly be ventured that vellum was certainly a better material to receive the illustrative paintings, and on that account was employed. The Ambrosian Homer may therefore be regarded as a most interesting link between the papyrus uncial of the 2nd century and the vellum uncial of the 4th and 5th centuries.
With the introduction, then, of vellum as the general writing material, the uncial characters entered on a new phase. The light touch and delicate forms so characteristic of calligraphy on papyrus gave place to a rounder and stronger hand, in which the contrast of fine hair-lines and thickened down-strokes adds so conspicuously to the beauty of the writing of early MSS. on vellum. And here it may be remarked, with respect to the attribution to particular periods of these early examples, that we are not altogether on firm ground. Internal evidence, such, for example, as the presence of the Eusebian Canons in a MS. of the Gospel, assists us in fixing a limit of age, but when there is no such support the dating of these early MSS. must be more or less conjectural. It is not till the beginning of the 6th century that we meet with an uncial MS. which can be approximately dated; and, taking this as a standard of comparison, we are enabled to distinguish those which undoubtedly have the appearance of greater age and to arrange them in some sort of chronological order. But these codices are too few in number to afford material in sufficient quantity for training the eye by familiarity with a variety of hands of any one period—the only method which can give entirely trustworthy results.
Among the earliest examples of vellum uncial MSS. are the three famous codices of the Bible. Of these, the most ancient, the Codex Vaticanus, is probably of the 4th century. The writing must, in its original condition, have been very perfect as a specimen of penmanship; but nearly the whole of the text has been traced over by a later hand, perhaps in the roth or I ith century, and only such words or letters as were rejected as readings have been left untouched. Written in triple columns, in letters of uniform size, without enlarged initial letters to mark even the beginnings of books, the MS. has all the simplicity of extreme antiquity (Pal. Soc. pl. 104). The Codex Sinaiticus (Pal. Soc. pl. Io5) has also the same marks of age, and is judged by its discoverer; Tischendorf, to be even more ancient than the Vatican MS. In this, however, a comparison of the writing of the two MSS. leads to the conclusion that he was mistaken. The writing of the Codex Sinaiticus is not so pure as that of the other MS., and, if that is a criterion of age, the Vatican MS. holds the first place. In one particular the Codex Sinaiticus has been thought to approach in form to its possible archetype on papyrus. It is written with four columns to a page, the open book thus presenting eight columns in sequence, and recalling the long line of columns on an open roll. With regard to such general outward resemblances between the later papyrus literary rolls and the early vellum uncial MSS., we may cite such papyri as the Berlin commentary on the Theaetetus of Plato of the 2nd century and the Oxyrhynchus fragment of Julius Africanus of the 3rd century as forerunners of the style in which the two great codices here mentioned were cast.
The Codex Alexandrinus (fig. 12) is placed in the middle of the 5th century. Here we have an advance on the style of the other two codices. The MS. is written in double columns only, and enlarged letters stand at the beginning of paragraphs. But yet the writing is generally more elegant than that of the Codex Sinaiticus. Examining these MSS. with a view to ascertain the rules which guided the scribes in their work, we find simplicity and regularity the leading features; the round letters formed in symmetrical curves; E and C, &c., finishing off in a hair-line sometimes thickened at the end into a dot; horizontal strokes fine, those of E, H, and e being either in the middle or high in the letter; the base of ,(l and the cross-stroke. IVELLUM `GOI ICES
of II also fine, and, as a rule, kept within the limits of the letters and not projecting beyond. Here also may be noticed the occurrence in the Codex -Alexandrinus of Coptic forms of letters (e.g. Q,Jj„alpha and mu) in the t ides of books, &c., confirmatory of the tradition of the Egyptian origin of the MS.
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The breathings also of this class are rectangular, in unison with the careful and deliberate character of the writing; and there is but slight, if any, separation of the words. In addition, as far as has hitherto been observed, the letters run above, or stand upon, the ruled lines, and do not depend from them as at a later period. The exact time at which this latter mechanical change took place cannot be named; like other changes it would naturally establish itself by usage. But at least in the middle of the loth century it seems to have been in use. In the Bodleian MS. of Basil's homilies of 953 A.D. (Pal. Soc. p1. 82) the new method is followed; and if we are to accept. the date of the 9th century ascribed to a MS. in the Ambrosian Library at Milan (Wattenb., Script. gr. specim., tab. 17), in which the ruled lines run above the writing, the practice was yet earlier. Certain scribal peculiarities, however, about the MS. make us hesitate to place it so early. In the Laurentian Herodotus (W and V., Exempla, tab. 31), which belongs to the loth century, sometimes the one, sometimes the other system is.. followed in different parts of the volume; , and the same peculiarity happens in the MS. of Gregory of Nazianzus of A.D. 972 in the British Museum (Pal. Soc. pl. 25; Exempla, tab. 7). The second half of the loth century therefore appears to be a period of transition in this respect.
The earliest dated example of codices vetustissimi is the copy of the Gospels belonging to Bishop Uspensky, written in the year 835. , A facsimile is given by Gardthausen (Beitrage) and repeated in the Exempla (tab. 1). Better specimens have been photographed from the Oxford Euclid of A.D. 888 (Pal. Soc. pls. 65, 66; Exempla, tab. 2) from a MS. of Saints' Lives at Paris of A.D. 890 (Omont, Facs. des MSS. gr. dates, 'pl. I), and from the Oxford Plato (fig. 17) of A.D. 895 (Pal. Soc. p1. 81; Exempla, tab. 3). Sabas (Specim. Palaeograph.), has also given two facsimiles from MSS. of '88o and 899.
Of dated examples of the first half of the loth century about a dozen facsimiles are available.
After the middle of the loth century we enter on the period of the codices vetusti, in which the writing becomes gradually
less compact. The letters, so to say, open their ranks; and, from this circumstance alone, MSS. of the second half of the century may generally be distinguished from those fifty years earlier. But alterations also take place in the shapes of the letters. Side by side with the purely minuscule forms those of the uncial begin to reappear, the cause of which innovation has already been explained. These uncial forms first show
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themselves at the end of the line, the point at which most changes first gained a footing, but by degrees they work back into the text, and at length become recognized members of the minuscule characters. In the 11th and 12th centuries they are well established, and become more and more prominent by the large or stilted forms which they assume. The change, however, in the general character of the writing of this class of codices vetusti is very gradual, uniformity and evenness being well maintained, especially in church books. On the other hand, a lighter and more cursive kind of minuscule is found contemporaneously in MSS. generally of a secular nature. In this hand many of the classical MSS. of the loth or 11th centuries are written, as the MS. of Aeschylus and Sophocles, the Odyssey and the Apollonius Rhodius of the Laurentian Library at Florence, the Anthologia Palatina of Heidelberg and Paris, the Hippocrates of Venice (Exempla, tabb. 32-36, 38, 40), the Aristophanes of Ravenna (Wattenb., Script. gr. specim., tab. 26), the Strabo of Paris (Omont, Facs. des plus anc. MSS. grecs, pl. 40), a Demosthenes (fig. 18) at Florence (Pal. Soc. ii. pl. 88, 89), &c. In a facsimile from a Plutarch at Venice (Exempla, tab. 44), the scribe is seen to change from the formal to the more cursive hand. This style of writing is distinguishable by its light and graceful character from the current writing into which the minuscule degenerated at a later time. .
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The gradual rounding of the rectangular breathings takes place in this period. In the 11th century the smooth breathing, which would most readily lend itself to this modification, first appears in the new form. In the course of the 12th century both breathings have lost the old square shape; and about the same time contractions become more numerous, having been at first confined to the end of the line.
When the period of codices recentiores commences, the Greek
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minuscule hand undergoes extensive changes. The contrast between MSS. of the 13th century and those of a hundred years earlier is very marked. In the later examples the hand is generally more straggling, there is a greater number of exaggerated forms of letters, and marks of contraction and accents are. dashed on more freely. There is altogether a sense of greater activity and haste. The increasing demand for books created a larger supply. Greater freedom and more variety appear in the examples of this class, together with an increasing use of ligatures and contractions. The general introduction of paper likewise assisted to break up the formal minuscule hand. To this rougher material a rougher style of writing was suited. Through the 14th and 15th centuries the decline of the set minuscule rapidly advances. The writing becomes even more involved and intricate, marks of contraction and accents are combined with the letters in a single action of the pen, and the general result is the production of a thoroughly cursive hand. In some respects, however, the change was not so rapid. Church books were still ordinarily written on vellum, which, as it became scarcer in the market (owing to the injury done to the trade by the competition of paper), was supplied from ancient codices which lay ready to hand on the shelves of libraries; and in these liturgical MSS. the more formal style of the minuscule was still maintained. In the 14th century there even appears a partial renaissance in the writing of Church MSS., modelled to some extent on the lines of the writing of the 12th century. The resemblance, however, is only superficial; for no writer can entirely disguise the character of the writing of his own time. And lastly there was yet another check upon the absolute disintegration of the minuscule book-hand in the 15th century exercised by the professional scribes who worked in Italy, and who in their calligraphical productions reverted again to the older style. The influence of the Renaissance is evident, in many of the MSS. of the Italian Greeks, which served as models for the first Greek printing types.
The Greek minuscule book-hand had, then, by the end of the 15th century, become a cursive hand, from which the modern current hand is directly derived. We last saw the ancient cursive in use in the documents prior to the formation of the set minuscule book-hand, and no doubt it continued in use concurrently with the book-hand. But, as the latter passed through the transformations which have been traced, and gradually assumed a more current style, it may not unreasonably be sup-posed that it absorbed the cursive hand of the period, and with it whatever elements may have survived of the old cursive hand.
End of Article: GREEK WRITING