HANDBOOK OF GREEK & LATIN PALAEOGRAPHY by Sir E M Thompson. 3rd edition, published 1906. Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co Ltd, London.

CHAPTER VI. Stichometry.

| HOME | contents | << | stichometry | tachygraphy : greek ; latin | cryptography | systems of dating | additions & corrections | >> |

The Greeks and Romans measured the contents of their MSS. by lines. In poetry the unit was of course the verse ; in prose works an artificial unit had to be found, for no two scribes would naturally write lines of the same length. It has been calculated that this unit was a standard line of fifteen or sixteen syllables, or thirty-four to thirty-eight letters, that is, an average Homeric line, called by the earlier writers ἔπος, afterwards στίχος.

Records of the measurements of prose works are found in two forms: in references to the extent of the works of particular authors made by later writers, and in the entries of the actual figures in MSS. These latter entries may actually give the extent of the MSS. in which they are found; but more frequently they transmit the measurements of the archetypes. The quotations found in Greek writers are fairly numerous, and were no doubt mainly derived from the catalogues of libraries, where details of this nature were collected. Such a catalogue was contained in the famous πίνακες of the Alexandrian libraries published by Callimachus about the middle of the third century B.C. The earliest instances of the entry of the actual number of lines occur in papyri. Α fragment of Euripides, Un papyrus inédit de la Bibl. de Μ. A. Firmin-Didot, Paris, 1879. of a period earlier than the year 161 B.C., has at the end the words CTIXOI ΜΔ . In the Herculanean papyri are found such entries as ΦΙΛΟΔΗΜΟΥ ΠΕΡΙ PHTOPIKHC XXXX HH (=4200 lines), or ΕΠΙΚΟΥΡΟΥ ΠΕΡΙ ΦYCΕΩC ΙΕ. ΑΡΙΘ. XXXHH (= 3200 lines), which, however, are probably traditional numbers copied from earlier examples. In addition to the number of lines we sometimes find a record of the number of columns or σελίδες. Among the mediæval MSS. which have stichometrical memoranda, a copy of the Halieutica of Oppian, of the 15th century, at Madrid, contains a statement of the number of leaves (φύλλα) as well as lines in the several books, not of this parlicular MS., but of its archetype. In like manner the Laurentian Sophocles of the 11th Century has similar memoranda of the length of the several plays. The Laurentian MS. of Herodotus, of the 10th century, and the Paris MS. of Demosthenes, of the same period, afford data of the same kind. In certain of these more recent MSS,, as well as in the early papyri, the ancient system of Greek numeration is employed—a proof of the antiquity of this method of calculating the length of written works ; but, on the other hand, the later system of alphabetical numeration is followed in some of the Herculanean rolls.

The practice of stichometry can actually be traced back to nearly a century before the time of Callimachus, who has been sometimes credited with its invention. Theopompus, as quoted by Photius, Bibliotheca, cod. 176, § 120. See also Isocrates, Panathen. 136. boasts that he had written 20,000 ἐπη in rhetorical speeehes, and 150,000 in historical books. When we thus find a writer of the fourth century B.C. measuring his works in terms which are clearly intelligible and need no explanation for those to whom he addresses himself, we can understand that even at that early period the system must have been long established by common usage.

While stichometrical data can be gathered in fairly large numbers from Greek literature, those which are to be found relating to Latin authors are comparatively few ; but, such as they are, they show that the Latin versus corresponded closely with the Greek ἔπος or στίχος. ← See a notice printed by Mommsen in Hermes, xxi. 142, Zur Lateinischen Stichometrie, of a MS. at Cheltenham which affords evidence of the compilation, about A.D. 359, of the length of the works of Cyprian by the standard of a Virgilian line.

Besides the system of stichometry just explained, and to which, on account of its dealing with the full measurement of literary works, the title of " total stichometry " has been applied, there was also another system in practice which has been named " partial stichometry." This was the numbering of lines or verses at convenient intervals, which, in the first place, served the same purpose of literary reference as our modern system of numbering the verses of the Bible or tlie lines of a play or poem. Instances of such partial stichometry indeed are not very numerous among existing MSS. ; but they are sufficient to show that the system was recognized. Thus, in the Bankes Homer, the verses are numbered in the margin by hundreds, and the same practice is followed in other papyri of Homer (Classical Texts from Papyri in the Brit. Mus.) ; so likewise in the Ambrosian Pentateuch of the 5th Century, at Milan, the Book of Deuteronomy is numbered at every hundredth στίχος. Euthalius, a deacon of Alexandria of the fifth Century, also announces that he marked the στίχοι, of the Pauline Epistles by fifties. And in the Codex Urbinas of Isocrates, and in the Clarke Plato of A.D. 888, at Oxford, indications of partial stichometry have been traced.

The most practical use of such systems of stichometry was no doubt a commercial one. By counting the number of lines, the payment of the scribes could be exactly calculated and the market price of MSS. arranged. When once a standard copy had been written and the number of στίχοι, registered, subsequent copies could be made in any form at the pleasure of the scribe, who need only enter the ascertained number of lines at the end of his work. Thus, in practice, we find papyri and early vellum MSS. written in narrow columns, the lines of which by no means correspond in length with the regulation στίχοι, but which were more easily read without tiring the eye. The edict of Diocletian, De pretiis rerum venalium, of A.D. 301, settled the tariff for scribes by the hundred lines ; and a survival of the ancient method of calculating such remuneration has been found in the practice at Bologna and other Italian universities, in the middle ages, of paying by the pecia of sixteen columns, each of sixty-two lines with thirty-two letters to the line. An analogous practice in our own day is seen in the copyist's charge by the folio of either seventy-two or one hundred words.

We have hitherto considered στίχοι as lines of measurement or space-lines. But the same term was also applied to the lines or short periods into which certain texts were divided in order to facilitate reading : in other words, sense-lines. The works which would naturally more than others call for such an arrangement would be those which were read in public : the speeches of orators, or the sacred books of the Bible used for Church lessons. We have evidence of an early and regular division of the orations of Demosthenes and Cicero into short periods : the cola and commata to which St. Jerome refers in his preface to Isaiah. ← "Nemo cum Prophetas versibus viderit esse descriptos metro eos æstimet apud Hebræos ligari, et aliquid simile habere de Psalmis vel operibus Salomonis : sed quod in Demosthene et Tullio solet fieri, ut per cola scribuntur et commata, qui utique prosa et non versibus conscripserunt, nos quoque, utilitati legentium providentes, interpretationem novam novo seribendi genere distinximus." Manuscripts of the works of the Latin orator are still in existence, the text of which is written in this form, one of them being a MS. of the Tusculans and the De Senectute attributed to the 9th century, at Paris ; and it is evident from certain passages in the writings of early rhetoricians that they were familiar with this system in the orations of Demosthenes.

Suidas explains a colon as a στίχος forming a complete clause ; Joannes Siculus lays down that a clause of less than eight syllables is a comma, and that one of from eight to seventeen syllables is a colon. In the place cited above, St. Jerome tells us that he has, for convenience in reading, followed the system of the MSS. of Demosthenes and Cicero, and arranged his translation in this " new style of writing." But he had already found tbe same system followed in the Psalms and poetical books of the Old Testament—just where one would look for the first experiment of casting the text in sense-lines. Hence the title βίβλοι στιχήρεις or στιχηραί which was applied to them. The system was gradually extended to the other books of tbe Bible, the term στίχος being now used altogether to mean a sense-line, although the ancient stichometrical measurements of the text into spacelines were still recorded at the ends of the books. Euthalius is credited with having written at least the Acts and Epistles in this stichometrical sense-arrangement ; although it seems more probable that he only revised the work of predecessors, also accurately measuring the space-lines and numbering them as noticed above. As might be expected, one arrangement of the text of the Bible in rhythmical sentences or lines of sense would not be consistently followed by all editors and scribes; and hence we find variations in the length of lines and sentences in the different extant Biblical MSS.



The Greeks appear to have had a system of shorthand at a very early date. A fragment of an inscription found recently on the Acropolis at Athens has been shown by Gomperz Ueber ein bisher unbekanntes griech. Schrift-system aus der Mitte des vierten vorchristlichen Jahrhunderts, Wien, 1884. See also P. Mitzschke, Eine griech. Kurzschrift aus dem vierten Jahrhundert, in the Archiv für Stenographie, No. 434. to be a portion of an explanation of a kind of shorthand, composed of arbitrary signs, as old as the fourth Century B.C. A passage in Diogenes Laertius was formerly interpreted to imply that Xenophon wrote shorthand notes (ὑποσημειωσάμενος) of the lectures of Socrates ; but a similar expression elsewhere, which will not bear this meaning, has caused this idea to be abandoned. The first undoubted mention of a Greek shorthand writer occurs in a passage in Galen (περὶ τῶν ἰδίων βιβλίων γράφη) , wherein he refers to a copy made by one who could write swiftly in signs, διὰ σημείων eἰς τάχος γράφειν ; but there is no very ancient specimen of Greek tachygraphy in existence. The occurrence, however, in papyri of certain symbols as marks of contraction or to represent entire words, and particularly the comparatively large number of them found in the papyrus of Aristotle's work on the Constitution of Athens, written about A.D. 100, goes to prove that the value of such symbols was commonly understood at that period, and indicates the existence of a perfected system of shorthand writing. A waxen book of several tablets, acquired not long since by the British Museum (Add. MS. 33,270), and assigned to the 3rd Century, is inscribed with characters which are surmised to be in Greek shorthand, the only words written in ordinary letters being in that language. A system of shorthand was practised by the early Christians for taking down sermons and the proceedings of synods.

But we must descend to the tenth century before we meet with Greek tachygraphic MSS. which have been deciphered. The first is the Paris MS. of Hermogenes, which contains some marginal notes in mixed ordinary and tachygraphical characters, of which Montfaucon Palæogr. Græc. p. 351. gives an account with a table of forms. Next, there is a series of MSS. which owe their origin to the monastery of Grotta Ferrata, viz. the Add. MS. 18,231 of the British Museum, written in the year 972, and others of the same period (Pal. Soc. ii. pl. 28, 85, 86), which are full of partially tachygraphic texts and scholia, and also contain passages in shorthand pure and simple. And lastly there is the Vatican MS. 1809, a volume of which forty-seven pages are covered with tachygraphic writing of the eleventh Century, which have been made the subject of special study by Dr. Gitlbauer for the Vienna Academy, Some shorthand passages which occur in a fourteenth Century MS., and a passage from a fifteenth Century MS. in the Vatican, have recently been published. ← T. W. Allen, Fourteenth Century Tachygraphy, in the Journal of Hellenic Studies, xi. 286; Desrousseaux, Sur quelques Manuscrits d'Italie, in the Mélanges of the Ecole Française de Rome, 1886, p. 544.

The shorthand system of these later examples is syllabic, the signs, it is thought, being formed from uncials; and it has been concluded that it represents, if not a new creation of the ninth or tenth Century, at least a modification and not a continuation of the older system —in a word, that two systems of Greek shorthand have existed. For it is found that the forms of contraction and abbreviation in Greek MSS. of the middle ages are derived from two sources, most of them springing from an ancient system, but others clearly being contributed by the later system of shorthand.


According to Suetonius, ← " Vulgares notas Ennius primus mille et centum invenit. " the first introduction of shorthand signs, notae, in Rome was due to Ennius ; but more generally the name of Cicero's freedman, Tiro, is associated with the invention, the signs being commonly named notae Tironianae. Seneca is said to have collected the various notae known at his time, to the number of 5000. Shorthand appears to have been taught in schools under the empire ; and the emperor Titus himself is said to have been expert in writing it. There seems to have been, as it is natural there should have been, a connection between Greek and Latin tachygraphy, certain symbols being the same in both.

Down to the ninth Century the notes appear to have been in common use. In the Frankish empire they are found in the signatures and subscriptions of charters. They were also used by revisers and annotators of MSS. The scholia and glosses in a MS. of Virgil, at Berne, of the latter half of the 9th Century (Pal. Soc. ii. pl. 12) are partially written in these signs; but about this period they passed out of ordinary use. And yet there appears to have been an attempt made to check their total extinction; for there are still in existence MSS. of the Psalter, of the ninth or tenth Century, in shorthand, which, it has been suggested, were written for practice. And the survival of Tironian lexicons, or collections of the signs, copied at this time, seems to point to an effort to keep them in the recollection of men. Professional scribes and notaries continued to use them in subscriptions to charters down to the eleventh century.


The various methods which at different periods have been adopted for the purpose of concealing the meaning of what is written, either by an elaborate system of secret signs or " cyphers," or by a simpler and less artificial system, such as the substitution of other letters for the true letters required by the sense, only incidentally come within the scope of a work on Palæography. The cypher-system, like short-hand, has a special department of its own. It is only the modified practice of substituting letters and other common signs which need for a moment detain us, as it is followed occasionally in mediæval MSS. This simple system, as might be naturally inferred, appears to be of some antiquity. Julius Cæsar and Augustus, according to Suetonius, both had their own private methods of disguise, by substitution, of consonants for vowels. In the middle ages consonants for vowels, or vowels for consonants, or other exchange of letters occur; sometimes we have the substitution of Greek letters or of numerals or other signs. But the surviving instances are not very numerous and generally appear in colophons for the purpose of disguising a name or year of date, at the caprice of the writer.