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

CHAPTER IX. Greek Palaeography (continued)

The Literary or Book-Hand in Papyri.

| HOME | contents | << | introduction | greek literary or book-hand by century : 3 ; 2 ; 1 | < BC : century : AD > | 1 ; 2 ; 3 ; 4 | systems of dating | additions & corrections | >> | Note: This chapter features some Egyptian MSS. To properly display the text you should have a font installed that includes Coptic, such as New Athena Unicode. Download it from HERE, then you may need to reset your browser for this font. |

Our first division of Greek writing is the Literary or Book-hand in papyri. It is not, however, to be understood that all surviving literary remains are written in this hand; for there are exceptions, certain works having been copied out, apparently, by scholars for their own use, or at least by persons not writing for the book trade, in less formal hands which we must class as cursive. There is, indeed, in the case of the early papyri, some difficulty in drawing the line of division between the literary hand and the cursive hand, certain documents being written with sufficient care to give them a claim to be separated from the cursives and yet with not enough formality to be included under the book-hand. On the other hand, there are one or two instances of the formal literary hand being used for ordinary documents. We would define the literary hand to be that which professional scribes would employ in writing books for the market ; and in the following review of this division, only such MSS. are noticed as are thus formally written, together with one or two (not literary) documents in which this class of hand is adopted.

The earliest surviving specimens of Greek writing of the book-hand are contained in the papyrus fragment in the Imperial Library at Vienna, which is inscribed with an invocation of a certain Artemisia against the father of her child, and in the fragments of the Phaedo of Plato and the Antiope of Enripides, recently discovered at Gurob. ← 1 See above, p. 112.

The invocation of Artemisia ← First described by Petrettini, Papiri Greco-Egizi del I. R. Museo di Corte (1826), p. 4, who gives a very rough facsimile ; afterwards by Blass in Philologus, xli. 746, and in Müller's Handbuch der klassischen Alterthums- Wissenschaft (1886), i. 280; and again by Wessely in Eilfter Jahresbericht über das Franz-Joseph-Gymnasium in Wien (1885), p. 4. A facsimile is given in Pal. Soc. ii. pl. 141. may be placed at least as early as the first half of the third Century B.C. This ascription is supported by the similarity of the handwriting of the other fragments mentioned above, which there is every reason to believe are nearly of the same period. The writing approaches the epigraphic style, the letters standing quite distinct and unconnected, and some of them showing transitional forms.

Artemisia Papyrus
Papyrus of Artemisia—3rd century B.C.
ω δεσποτο σεραπι καθε[οι]— | η δαμασιος θυγατηρ κα[τα]— | και της θηκης ει μεν ου[ν]— | ως περ μεν ουν αδικαεμε— | μη τυχειν εκ παιδων θ[ηκης]— | καταβοιης ενθυτα κει[μενης]—

It will be observed that the cross-stroke of the Α is horizontal, the bottom of Β pointed, the top horizontal of Ε extended ; Θ and Ο are small ; the cross-stroke of T generally extends more to the left than to the right ; and the shapes of C and ← Coptic capital OOU. are transitional, that of the former between the angular and curved forms, and that of the latter between the epigraphic Ω and the ← Coptic capital OOU. of MSS. In this papyrus the double point (:) is also used as a mark of punctuation, as found in inscriptions.

As already stated, the fragmentary papyrus of the Phædo of Plato may be placed in the first half of the 3rd century B.C., for it was found in company with official and other documents which are actually dated in the reigns of the second and third Ptolemies ; and these would naturally have been regarded as of a more common and ephemeral character than a literary work of a great writer, and would have been thrown aside in an earlier period of existence.

Plato's Phaedo
The "PHAEDO" of Plato.—3rd. century B.C.
—[αισθη]σεων πειθουσα δε εκ τουτωμ ← Final ν is changed into μ before a following μ. | [με]ν αναχωρειν οσομ μη αναγκη | χρησ[θ]αι αυτην δ εις εαυτην συλ | λεγεσθαι και αθροιζεσθαι παρακε | λευεσ[θ]αι πιστευειν δε μηδενι αλλωι

This beautiful MS. of Plato would no doubt have been treasured by its original owner for many years, if not for a lifetime, and it can only have been by some accident that it was at length used up as waste material. The small portion of the Antiope of Euripides which has met with the same fate and has descended to us in the same way must be nearly of the same date. But the writing of the latter is not quite so good, and though there may be little to choose between tbe two MSS., yet preference may be given to the MS. of Plato. The text of the latter is written in narrow columns of twenty-two lines, which are from 2½ to 3 inches in length. The width of the papyrus appears to have been 8½ about inches. The facsimile represents a few of the most perfect lines of one of the fragments.

The writing is a very beautiful uncial hand, minute and exact, the chief general characteristic being the great breadth, almost flatness, of many of the letters (e.g. Γ, Ζ, Η, Μ, Π, ← Coptic capital OOU.), as compared with their height. That this is a characteristic of the period, and not a personal usage of the writer of the MS., is proved by its prominence in other documents of the third century B.C. As in the Artemisia papyrus, in certain forms the writing departs from the recognized curves of the uncial, and approaches more nearly to the rectangles of lapidary inscriptions. This is seen in the Α, and in many instances of Ε, in which the upper horizontal stroke is not only perfectly straight, but also of disproportionate length. Certain letters aredistinguished by their small size, as Θ (which also often has only the dot in the centre instead of the transverse bar), Ο, C, and ← Coptic capital OOU. The head of the iota is in many instances thickened a little, and sometimes it is slightly hooked on the right. This peculiarity appears to mark the letter in early periods, the hook or thickening being removed to the left side of the head in later times.

The next papyrus from which we shall select a specimen of the literary or book-hand is the fragment of a dialectical treatise, now at Paris, which was written earlier than the year 160 B.C., as proved by the existence on the back of it of memoranda of that year (Not. et Extr., pl. xi., no. 2). There remain fourteen narrow columns of the work, written in slightly sloping uncial letters, not to compare in elegance with the writing of the Plato fragments just noticed, but very simply formed and evidently written by a professional scribe. ln this MS. is noticeable the tendency of the columns to work downwards to the left, as is seen in other papyri of an early period : that is, the marginal line of writing is not perpendicular, but each successive line begins a little more to the left than the one above it, with the result that the last line of a column may begin as much as an inch outside the true perpendicular drawn from the commencement of the first line.


Dialectical Treatise
Dialectical Treatise.—before 160 B.C.
ναι ου αλκμαν ο ποιητης | ουτως απεφαινετο ου | κ ης ανηρ αγροικος ουδε | σκαιος ει ουτως απο | φαινοιτ αν τις δευτ εμ | πεδος ειμι ουδ αστοισι | προσηνης ου ανακρε—

Where the letters are so simple, there is no special remark to be made about them individually, except in regard to the alpha, in which the left down-stroke and the cross-stroke are made together without lifting the pen, their point of junction being sometimes looped. This form of the letter is seen also, with a more decidedly developed loop, in the fragments of Demosthenes and Hyperides, on papyrus, in the British Museum, which may be of the 2nd or 1st Century B.C., and in some of the Herculanean papyri. It will be noticed in the facsimile that the paragraphs of the text are marked off by the insertion of marginal strokes between the lines, according to the ancient system.

The papyrus containing the orations of Hyperides for Lycophron and Euxenippus is probably of tbe 1st Century B.C. The writing, of a round type, is remarkably regular and elegant (see facsimile, ed. Babington ; Cat. Anc. MSS., pls. 2, 3; Pal. Soc. i. pl. 126).

Oration of Hyperides for Lycophron.—1st cent. B.C.
—δι ταφηναι εαν ουν | κελευητε ω ανδρες | δικασται καλω τινα | βοηθησοντα ανα | βηθι μοι θεοφιλε | και συυνειπε ο τι εχεις | κελευουσιν οι δικα | σται || απολογια υπερ | λυκοφρονος

Here, as in the previous example, tbe columns of writing trend away to the left. The facsimile represents the last few lines of the oration for Lycophron, and again affords an instance of the ancient system of punctuation, and also of the slight degree of ornamentation in which a scribe of that period would allow himself to indulge, namely, the flourish which is drawn in the margin after the last words, and the light touches of the pen which decorate the colophon or title of the speech.

The writing of the Harris Homer is of quite a different case from that which has just been examined. The letters have more squareness and are more rigid ; they are verv delicately formed, and have all the simplicity characteristic of age. This papyrus, containing portions of Book xviii. of the Iliad,may be placed without hesitation as early as the Ist century B.C.

Harris Homer
Harris Homer.—1st century B.C.
καλα τα μεν πηληι θεοι δοσαν aγλαα δω[ρα] ηματι τωι οτε σε βροτου ανερος εμβαλον ε[υνηι] ως οφελες συ μεν αυθι μετ αθανατης αλι[ηισιν] ναιειν πηλευς δε θνητων αγαγεσθαι α[κοιτιν] νυν δ ινα και συ πενθος ενι φρεσι μυριον[ειη]

The papyrus is so much discoloured that there is great difficulty in obtaining a good reproduction by photography; but the plate given in the facsimiles of the Palæographical Society (ii. 64) is fairly successful. The text has been considerably corrected and accented by a later hand. For the sake of clearness these additions have been omitted in our facsimile.

To follow chronological order, we now give a specimen from one of the Herculanean rolls.

Philodemus. — about A.D. 1.
τως ουχ επι τοις μετα την τελευτην | οταν δε τις ευ γε βεβιωικως ηι και | φιλοις αξιοις εαυτου κεχρημενος υ | πο δε τυχης η πονηριας ανθρωττων | κεκωλυμενον τυχειν ουδ ελαχισ | τηι συνεξεται λυπη το μηδ εσεσθαι | προς εαυτον λογιζομενος ωι γαρ ε | πιγινεται το λυπηρον ουκ εσκεν αλ—

It is reproduced from one of the published copper-plates, in default of more satisfactory facsimiles, as explained above; and represents a few lines from Philodemus περὶ θανάτου. The date may be about the beginning of the Christian era. The writing is neat and regular, and the letters are simple in form.

All the MSS. from which the above facsimiles have been selected may be said to represent the book-hand as generally written on papyrus, as distinguished from the uncial writing which is found in the early vellum MSS. None of our specimens could be pointed to as the immediate parent of this latter hand,although no one would dispute that there is a relationship. The forms of individual letters may be very similar, both in the papyrus hand and in the vellum hand, and yet, if we were to place two such MSS. as the Lycophron of Hyperides and the Codex Vaticanus side by side, we should not venture to derive the writing of the latter directly from that of the more ancient MS. But here a most valuable document, lately discovered, comes to our assistance in the task of determining the parentage of the later uncial hand. This is a fragmentary papyrus containing a deed concerning property in Arsinoë in the Fayoum, which bears the date of the seventh year of the Emperor Domitian, A.D. 88. The writing is not in the cursive character that one looks for in legal documents, but is a formal style, in which a likeness to the uncial of the early vellum MSS. is at once most obvious. In the first Century, then, there was in use a set form of writing from which that uncial hand was evidently derived by direct descent. And it may be concluded with fair certainty that this style of writing must have been in existence for a considerable period of time ; for here we find it common enough to be employed by an ordinary clerk. ← We have proof that uncial writing was used. was the copy-hand for writing lessons in schools, such copies being found on early waxen tablets (see above, p. 23). The fortunate accident of its having been thus used in a dated document has provided us with the means of settling the periods of other important MSS.

Conveyance.—A.D. 88.
—[πτ]ολεμαιδι ευεργετιδι του α— | και η τουτου γυνηι διοδω[ρα]— | πεθεως ως ετων τριακον[τα]— | γραφην απο της προγεγρα[μενης]—

It is to be noticed that the writer of this document does not keep strictly to the formal uncial letters. As if more accustomed to write a cursive hand, he mingles certain, cursive letters in his text : side by side with the round Ε, there stands in one or two places the cursive (not shown in the facsimile), in which the cross-stroke is only indicated by the finishing curve ; and, more frequently, the cursive upsilon is employed as well as the regular letter. Among the other letters, may be remarked the tendency to make the main stroke of the alpha rather upright, which eventually leads to a distinctive form of the letter, as seen fully developed in the palimpsest MS. of the Gospel of St. Matthew at Dublin (Codex Z) ; in some of the titles of the Codex Alexandrinus ; and above all in the Codex Marchaliarnus of the Vatican ← Lately reproduced in facsimile, with a commentary by A. Ceriani, Rome, 1890.—this being in fact the Coptic form of the letter.

It is also remarkable that in one or two places the writer has employed large letters at the beginning of the clauses into which he breaks up the text. This practice foreshadows tbe use of large initial letters, which it has been customary to consider as rather a mark of advance in the early vellum Greek MSS.

The Bankes Homer, from which our next facsimile is chosen, is the best preserved papyrus of the Iliad that has yet been found, being nearly eight feet in length and containing sixteen columns of text; and the material being still fairly white and the writing quite legible.

British Library p114.
Bankes Homer
Bankes Homer.—2nd century.
ποι[ητης].—ως εφατ' ουδε τις αυτοθ' ενι πτόλ[εï λιπετ' ανηρ] oυδε γυνη· παντας γαρ αάσχετον[ίκετο πενθος·] αγχὸυ δε ξύνβληντο πυλᾶων ωε[κρον αγοντι·] πρωται τόν γ άλοχός τε φιλη και [πότνια μητηρ] τιλλέσθην επ αμαξαν εΰτροχο[ν αΐξασαι] ἁπτόμεναι κεφαλης· κλαιων δ'[αμφισταθ' ὁμιλος]

This MS., which, with the data obtained from the preceding document, may now be assigned with more certainty than before to the 2nd Century, shows a further development of tbe uncial hand of vellum MSS., which is here reduced to the exact forms of letters which were to remain essentially unchanged for many centuries. It may be noticed that the horizontal strokes of ← Coptic capital EIE. and θ are placed rather low, and even vary in position : one of those indications of carelessness or decline from a higher standard which is generally looked for in a hand which is beginning to fall into desuetude. Judging from the analogy of later periods, and from the fact that the late Hawara papyrus of Homer is also written in the same cast of uncial writing, one is tempted to suggest that, in producing choice copies of a work of such universal popularity and veneration as the Iliad, a traditional style of writing may have been maintained, just as in the middle ages tbe sacred texts and liturgies still continued to be written in a form of handwriting which had generally passed out of use. If this view is correct, we may find in it an explanation of the adoption of the uncial character (the form of writing which before all others had been consecrated to the texts of Homer) for important copies of the sacred text of Scripture.

One or two points of interest in the Bankes Homer, apart from the actual handwriting, may be mentioned. The lines are marked off in hundreds by numerical letters inserted in the margins ; and the speeches of the different persons are indicated by their names, and the narrative portions by a contracted form of tbe word ποιητής, as shown in the facsimile. With very rare exceptions, corrections, accents and breathings and other marks are by a later hand.

As an example of a rougher style of uncial writing of about the third century, a few lines from the recently found papyrus of the iambographer Herodas are selected (Brit. Mus., Papyrus cxxxv.).

Herodas.—3rd. century.
δουληστι δουλης δω ταν ωθριη θλιβει αλλ ημερη τε κηπι μεζον ωθιται αυτη συ μινον η θυρη γαρ ωικται κᾱνεῖθ ο παστος ουχ ορηις φιλη κυνναι οι εργα κο̑ινην ταυτ ερις αθηναιην

There is no attempt at calligraphy in this MS., which is probably a cheap copy made for the market by a scribe who was neither very expert nor accurate.

About the same period or a little later, we meet with specimens of sloping uncial writing on papyrus, in which the letters are laterally compressed, derived no doubt from the round style and developed as a quicker method of copying. It is remarked that the round uncial of vellum MSS. develops exactly in the same way a style of sloping writing at a later period. An early and elegant example is given by Wilcken, Tufeln zur ältern griech. Palæographie, 1891, taf. iii. ; and another is found in the papyrus of the Iliad, Books ii.—iv. (Brit. Mus. Papyrus cxxvi.), which is probably of the 4th century.

Homer.—4th century.
ες πεδιον προχέοντο σκαμάνδ[ριον]— σμερδαλεον κοναβιζε ποδων— εσταν δ' εν λιμπωνι σκαμανδ[ριω]— μεριοι οσσα τε φυλλα και άνθεα— νϋτε μυιαων αδιναων εθνε[a]— αι τε κατα σταθμον ποιμνηιον—

Accents are occasionally used ; and in the left margin is seen a paragraph mark formed by a couple of oblique strokes.