Skip to main content

Paleography, Greek

PALEOGRAPHY, GREEK

The philological discipline dealing with Greek writings on papyrus, parchment, and paper from the 4th century b.c. to the 16th century a.d.

The Epigraphical Style of the Papyri and the Formation of the Ptolemaic Literary and Documentary

Hands. Before the copious finds of papyri in the second half of the 19th century, inscriptions were almost the sole evidence for the form of Greek writing before the 4th century a.d. (see papyrology). The earliest Greek papyri from the second half of the 4th century b.c., such as the Vienna Papyrus, the Curse of Artemisia, the Berlin papyrus containing the Persians of Timotheus, and the Orphic text on a charred papyrus found in a Hellenistic grave near Thessalonica in 1962 and not yet published, all exhibit in their writing close connections with inscriptions incised on stone. It is surprising to note that there are no ligatures in these earliest examples of Greek handwriting. The letters follow each other without connection, and word and sentence divisions are absent. Round forms are avoided, Epsilon and Sigma are written in angular form as in inscriptions, and Phi shows a triangle in place of a circle or ellipse. This form of writing, which may be called the "Epigraphical style" (Hunger), falls regularly within the space of two lines (majuscule writing) with only individual letters (e. g., Epsilon, Rho, or Nu) rising above or going below these boundaries.

On the basis of the few examples so far known from this early period, it appears that the Greeks did not have a cursive hand before the Hellenistic Age. The investigation of early Ptolemaic papyri has shown that both the literary hand, i.e., the calligraphic script employed for literary texts and books, and the documentary hand, i.e., the cursive or common form of writing, of the last centuries b.c., developed from the epigraphical style (see epigraphy, christian). While the literary hand in principle avoids ligatures, the cursive tries constantly to combine two, three, or more letters, and often employs numerous time and space saving abbreviations, without, however, obscuring the meaning of the text for the addressee familiar with the circumstances or allusions. The literary hand always remained essentially a majuscule script running between two lines. The cursive, on the contrary, soon broke through the two-line system and, from the Late Empire, became a typical four-line form of writing.

Development of the Greek Literary Hand to the End of the Uncial. During the more than 1,000 years during which the Greek literary hand flourished in a majuscule form, few stylistic tendencies can be noted, and they are limited to a few centuries. In the 1st century b.c. and the 1st century a.d. the so-called Hook style was in vogue, but its antecedents are to be traced to a much earlier period. The most famous example of this type of writing is the Florentine papyrus containing the Lock of Berenice of Callimachus (Papiri greci e latini 1092). The rounded forms predominate not only in the case of Epsilon and Sigma, but also in that of Alpha, Mu, and Pi. In the way of ornament many letters standing on the line are furnished with little horizontal hooks or serifsso Eta, Iota, Mu, Nu, Pi, Rho, Upsilon, and Phi. Occasionally such hooks are found on the upper line as well. The two-line system is strictly maintained, and there are no ligatures. The famous rolls of Herculaneum, which were already discovered in the 18th century, fall largely within this stylistic category.

Many papyri of the 2d and 3d centuries a.d. exhibit another stylistic form that, since W. Schubart, is called the Strict style. Marked regularity in the composition of the individual letters and of the whole line gives the script an aesthetically pleasing character. While some papyri of the Strict style observe regularly the vertical position in their letters, and others admit a slight slope to the right, all show in common a contrast between unusually broad and especially small letters. Eta, Mu, Nu, Pi, and Omega are broadened to a marked degree, and Delta, Kappa, Lambda, and Chi are flattened. On the other hand, letters such as Beta, Theta, Epsilon, and Sigma are kept extremely small. Omicron, Sigma, and Omega are frequently written in such small and cramped form that they cannot fill the interval between the two lines, which in other cases is well occupied. True letter connections (ligatures) are lacking. Through the writing of two letters close together (juxtaposition), however, there are frequent examples of apparent ligatures. As reading aids, accents, apostrophes, and punctuation marks are found in papyri of the Strict style, especially in those containing poetic texts. They are to be explained by the contemporary interest in the theory and use of accents (see Herodian, Καθολικ προσ[symbol omitted]δία, 2d century a.d.). Subsequently, this usage declined until a full accentual system was developed

in the Middle Byzantine minuscule. Characteristic representatives of the Strict style are the Bacchylides Papyrus (British Museum), the Alcaeus Papyrus (Oxyrhynchus Papyri 1234), the Vienna Xenophon (G.24568), and the Phaedrus Papyrus (Oxyr. Pap.1016).

The "Biblical style" developed out of the Strict style in the course of the 3d century a.d. It takes its name from the famous biblical MSS of the 4th and 5th centuries, namely, the Codex Sinaiticus (London), Codex Vaticanus (Vat. Gr. 1209), and Codex Alexandrinus (London). The conventional designation "uncial" for this stylistic form is rightly questioned, but, in any case, to avoid misunderstandings the term should not be used for other types of writing. To the early precursors of the Biblical style in the 2d and 3d century a.d., a London Homer Papyrus (Pap. Lit. Lond. 7) and a Berlin Homer Papyrus (Pap. Berol. 7499), must now be added the earliest witness for the Gospel of St. John, known only since 1956 (Pap.66 = Pap. Bodmer II). The most important characteristic feature of the Biblical style is the tendency to equalize the divergent sizes of small and broad letters. In this style most letters can be reduced to a basic square form or inscribed in a square. Iota, Rho, Phi, and Omega are the only exceptions. Full, rounded forms dominate, and the two-line system is strictly observed. Narrow or "emaciated" letters are avoided except at the ends of lines.

After the century of the great Biblical MSS this style developed only very gradually. The uncials of the famous Dioscorides MS at Vienna, which was written c. 512, exhibit thickenings at the extremities of Epsilon and Sigma, heavy dots on the top of the upper line in the case of Kappa, Pi, and Tau, and knoblike feet on the extended base of the Delta. Kappa frequently appears in two parts, a phenomenon that leads to popular confusion of EK and EIC. The length of the lower parts of Phi, Rho, and Upsilon is marked. Besides the uncial MSS showing vertical letters, others are found with a significant slope. This

slope, however, should not be employed as a criterion for dating. In the Middle Byzantine period the uncial was used beside the newly introduced minuscule, especially in liturgical texts, well into the 12th century. Characteristic features of this late and so-called liturgical uncial are pointed oval forms of the earlier round letters, long trunnions on the crossbars of the Gamma, Delta, Theta, Pi, and Tau, and a marked contrast between light upstrokes and heavy downstrokes.

A special development of the uncial in the 6th to the 10th centuries has recently been called the Coptic style (by J. Irigoin). The Copts adopted the Greek uncial as the literary hand for committing their own literature to written form, but they stylized it probably under the influence of the chancery of the Alexandrian Patriarchatein the direction of the chancery hand. The Coptic style exhibits unusually large individual letters, a small Alpha, and a deep-saddle form of Mu. Good examples are the Papyrus Codex of cyril of alexandria in Dublin, Paris, and Vienna, and the Paschal Letter from Alexandria of 719, now in Berlin. The Biblical Style, as an ornamental script for superscriptions, colophons, lemmata, and marginalia lived on for centuries in the form of a small uncial influenced by the chancery hand.

The Cursive from the Early Empire to the Arab Domination in Egypt. The Greek cursive of the Imperial Age developed without marked transitional features from the Ptolemaic documentary hand. The papyrus documents of the Early Empire are often written in a small, narrow script that consciously ignores stylization and constantly permits interchange in the ductus of its letters. The same letters are often written by the same hand in two or three different ways. The possibilities of confusion between various letters, as between Mu and Nu, Eta and Upsilon, multiply. In the 2d and 3d centuries, Beta usually rests on a broad horizontal base, and the bipartite Epsilon rises above the upper line. In the 3d century the lower extremities of letters increase in length to such a degree that they extend into the next line or even beyond it. The neglect of style, ductus, and alignment, and the deterioration of regular letter forms in documents written in this script increased steadily from the 4th century. As opposed to this kind of writing, the chanceries of high officials clung to their markedly characteristic style (the Chancery style). The vertical is emphasized, and the letters are regularly formed, but they are always taller than they are broad, so that the script reminds one of a trellis or lattice (Lattice Script). Individual "emaciated" forms (Alpha, Omicron, and also Delta and Omega), marked lower extensions, and ornamental hooks at the foot of many letters distinguish the Chancery style.

After the establishment of constantinople as the new imperial residence and the foundation of the Byzantine Empire, the field belonged to the so-called Byzantine cursive, which is preserved in many thousands of papyrus documents and letters of the 4th to the 7th century. This new script of everyday use was strongly influenced by the Chancery style. Through numerous extensions of its letters upward and downward it became, toward the end of the 4th century, a true four-line system of writing. The most striking upward extensions are shown by Beta, Epsilon, Eta, Iota, and Kappa, and by Delta also in the shape of the Latin D. Extensions downward appear in Beta, Gamma, Iota, Rho, Phi, Chi, Psi, and especially in Lambda, which sinks completely below the line. Large and small letters are set off clearly from one another. The Byzantine cursive, with its many gradations and its frequent baroque ostentation, is the living image of the Byzantine spirit and outlook, characterized by its predilection for orders of rank and ceremonial in all phases of life.

Following the Arab conquest of Egypt (641) the Byzantine cursive deteriorated, and the difference between large and small letters increased even more. In a parallel development, however, there should be noted the gradual consolidation of letter forms that laterfrom the second half of the 8th centurywere to constitute the elements of the new Byzantine minuscule. Hence many documents of the 7th and 8th centuries exhibit side by side in their colophons uncial and half-cursive letter forms that point to the coming of the minuscule.

The Byzantine Minuscule from Its Beginning to the 16th Century. The greater number of some 60,000 extant Greek MSS from the Byzantine period are written in the consciously created script that is customarily called book minuscule, calligraphic minuscule, or simply minuscule. The beginnings of this script, which developed out of the Byzantine cursive, may be traced back to c. 800. Clearly an attempt was made to combine the beauty and clarity of the uncial with the fluidity and practical utility of the cursive. The so-called Codex Uspensky, an evangeliarium written in 835, is the oldest dated MS to show pure minuscule. The transfer of the extant works of ancient literature from uncial MSS to MSS written in the new minuscule was a process of decisive importance for the history of the transmission of texts. It was carried out in the age of the Macedonian dynasty (9th and 10th centuries).

The minuscule, like the Byzantine cursive, is a four-line system of writing: the elements of many letters rise above or sink below the lines. It exhibits a tendency to combine two to ten, or even more, letters into a continuous unitoften without regard for separation of words. The following features are valuable for dating in the first centuries of the minuscule: writing above the linethe letters standing on the pre-drawn or impressed line (mostly in the 9th century); a slight slope to the left (likewise in the 9th century); and the form of the rough breathinga half-Eta in the 9th and 10th centuries, an angular form in the 10th and 11th centuries, and a round form predominating from the late 10th century and gaining ground steadily in subsequent centuries. The entrance of uncial letter forms into later MSS (from the 10th century) can also be observed, but not everywhere with the same regularity.

The older division of minuscule MSS into three or four periods has been abandoned. It seems preferable to make only two major divisions: (1) the period from the 9th to the 12th century, characterized by a predominantly conservative script retaining symmetrical forms and exhibiting gradual introduction of changes; (2) the period from the end of the 12th century, characterized by marked changes in the form of writing and a pronounced deterioration of order or regularity in ductus.

From the 9th to the 12th Century. In general, the minuscule MSS of the 9th and 10th centuries present a fairly symmetrical aspect, with an austere to reserved character that results from a certain angularity of forms. In the 11th century the scribes in the scriptoria of the capital overcame this harshness or primness by using regular round forms, avoiding points and angles, and eliminating uncial letters and abbreviations. Because of the resemblance of many groups of letters in which the elements of this script, especially the circular Omicron and the fanlike round Upsilon similar to a string of pearls, predominate, this form of writing has been christened "Pearl script" (Hunger).

The changes in the aspect of writing that appear in many MSS of the 12th century resulted from the enlargement and cruder formation of many letters, new ligatures, and abbreviations, and from the piling up of letters on one another. The circumflex is extended in use and spans three or more letters, and the boundaries of the writing area are broken by lines running into the margin, or by letters with excessively large upper and lower extremities in beginning and closing lines. A glance at the originals of imperial documents of the 10th and 11th centuries shows that the script of the imperial chancery reveals in especially pronounced forms the characteristic features mentioned above. In all probability, therefore, the chancery may have exercised its influence on the minuscule.

From the End of the 12th to the 16th Century. The majority of minuscule MSS experienced marked changes in the course of the 13th century. The phenomena noted above increased in a much more extensive manner. The ligatures Epsilon-Rho and Epsilon-Xi pass from the pointed to the rounded form. The syllable μεν is written in a single character with a high, drawn-out and hooklike Epsilon. The prepositions π and μετ appear in cursive abbreviation, and Iota subscript and the modern Epsilon (sloping to the left) are frequent. Accents are connected not only with abbreviations, but also with letters and tachygraphic signs. Neglect of alignment and ductus, and abandonment of aesthetic considerations, often transform the calligraphic minuscule into a purely utilitarian hand.

The influence of political events is closely connected with the history of writing. The establishment of the latin empire by the Venetians and the crusaders (1204) forced many Byzantines to leave Constantinople. From new centers (Nicaea and Epirus) they planned restoration of the Byzantine state. During this period, following the dissolution of the Byzantine imperial chancery in the capital, it was possible to employ the large ornamental letters and flourishes and the extended extremities of letter forms that had hitherto been restricted to the imperial chancery. It should not be overlooked, however, that in addition to such degenerate and undisciplined hands of the 13th century, there were others that, in a consciously archaizing tendency, attempted to continue an approximation of the Pearl script of the 11th century. In most such cases there is question of biblical texts or liturgical MSS. A closer examination indicates that the archaizing scribes from the 13th to the 15th centuries sooner or later betrayed themselves by the use of modern elements in their writing.

In the late 13th and in the first half of the 14th century two further styles of Greek writing may be noted. Many MSS from the period 1275 to 1325 are characterized by the fact that some of their rounded letters, such as Omicron, Sigma, Omega, Alpha, and the ligature Epsilon-Iota are written especially large. These closed, round forms float over the jumble of the rest of the script after the manner of blobs of fat in a soup (the "Blob style").

The imperial chancery under andronicus ii (ruled 12821328) and his grandson, andronicus iii (ruled 132841), employed another distinctive style. Archaizing and calligraphic elements were used to create a new and aesthetically satisfying minuscule that, to its advantage, turned away from the examples of the unpretentious common script described above. Its limited use of abbreviations and large letters with long upper and lower extremities, its reduction of the large accent marks to small form, and its moderation in the employment of ligatures, all bear witness to the work of disciplined scribes. Since this style, in addition to its use in imperial documents of the age, appears especially in MSS containing the works of Theodore Metochites, Grand Logothete and friend of Andronicus II, it may be called the Metochites style (Hunger). It is foundin somewhat modified formuntil the end of the 14th century.

In the early 15th century the Byzantines, in an effort that parallels that of the Western humanists in Italy, attempted to go back to the minuscule forms of the 9th to the 12th centuries, thus improving the contemporary script and putting a brake on further deterioration. By the use of separation of letters and words, punctuation, and free standing accents, the MSS written in the revised styleoften containing classical authorswere made much more legible.

Following the invention of printing by Johann gutenberg, the first book set wholly in Greek type, namely, the Greek Grammar of Constantine Lascaris, was published at Milan in 1476. The cutting of Greek type fonts, difficult as it was at first, reached its maturity by the 1490s at the presses of Zacharias Calliergis, but especially in the outstanding productions of Aldus manutius. At this time, and far into the 16th century, a reciprocal influence may be noted in MSS and printed books. Many letter forms of the "Press Minuscule" betray their origin by a certain rigidity and lack of adaptability. The singlestroke Tau with handlelike crossbar; the elongated Gamma with a similar handle; the ugly, squashed majuscule Theta; and the angular Phi, all characterize the Press Minuscule.

Bibliography: b. a. van groningen, Short Manual of Greek Palaeography (3d ed. Leiden 1963). e. m. thompson, An Introduction to Greek and Latin Palaeography (Oxford 1912). a. dain, Les Manuscrits (rev. ed. Paris 1964). w. schubart, Griechische Paläographie (Munich 1925). r. devreesse, Introduction à l'étude des manuscrits grecs (Paris 1954). a. sigalas, στορία τ[symbol omitted]ς λλενικ[symbol omitted]ς Γραφ[symbol omitted]ς (Salonika 1934). v. gardthausen, Griechische Paläographie, 2 v. (2d ed. Leipzig 191113). h. hunger, Studien zur griechischen Paläographie (Vienna 1954); "Antikes und mittelalterliches Buchund Schriftwesen," in Geschichte der Textüberlieferung der antiken und mittelalterlichen Literatur, ed. h. hunger et al. (Zurich 1961) 1:25147, esp. 72107. j. irigoin, "Pour une étude des centres de copie byzantins," Scriptorium 12 (1958) 208227; 13 (1959) 177209; "L'Onciale grecque de type copte," Jahrbuch der österreichischen byzantinischen Gesellschaft 8 (1959) 2951. c. h. roberts, Greek Literary Hands, 350B.C.A.D. 400 (Oxford 1956). k. and s. lake, eds., Monumenta palaeographica vetera. First Series: Dated Greek Minuscule Manuscripts to the Year 1200, 10 v. (Boston 193439), indexes tov.110 (1945). e. mioni, Introduzione alla paleografia greca (Padua 1973). e. gamillscheg and d. harlfinger, Repertorium der griechischen Kopisten 8001600 (Vienna 198197). e. follieri, Codices graeca Bibliothecae Vaticanae selecti, temporum locorumque ordine digesti commentariis et transcriptionibus instructi (Vatican City 1969).

[h. hunger]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Paleography, Greek." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Dec. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Paleography, Greek." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 19, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/paleography-greek

"Paleography, Greek." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/paleography-greek

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.