Friday, October 3, 2014

Here's A Book I Like A Lot

It's an example of what I would spend all of my time on if my Stoic sense of duty didn't drag me into conflicts which I enjoy much less, like whether or nor Jeebus really lived. (That's right, I said "my Stoic sense of duty." I feel that I must sometimes leap into the fray for the sake of the intelligent study of history. I don't always go round and round with the historicists and mythicists just for fun.) This is a volume of palaeography:

Specimina Codicum Latinorum Vaticanorum. That's Latin for "examples of Latin manuscripts in the Vatican library." That's not an exact translation but it's what the title of this terrific book by Francis Ehrle and Paul Liebart actually means. It's what the book actually is. Descriptions of 59 pages from 59 different Latin manuscripts, copious references to other descriptions of each one in other books, reproductions of the texts or the beginning of the texts in case where the editors felt the reader might need help deciphering the handwriting, and then photos of them all. Grouped by handwriting styles: Maiuscule. Beneventian. Merovingian. Visigothic. Anglo-Saxon. Carolingian minuscule. Gothic. Humanist. Etc. Etc. Handwriting styles which flourished between the 4th and the 15th centuries. (Stopping at the 15th century because that's when printing started, dontcha know. These manuscripts were mostly or all aimed at a reading public, as opposed to things like private letters and shopping lists.)

I've been studying Latin all on my own for over two decades, and that means I've been doing it all my own way, and that I don't know how the academics tend to go about it. My way has been to read Latin texts in critical editions, and what I've learned doing that has naturally branched out into other interests: for example, the more one studies Latin, the more one's curiosity about Greek will naturally grow.

For another example, the more prefaces to texts one reads mentioning manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon or in Carolingian minuscule or in rustic capitols, etc, etc, the more one's curiosity will grow about those various handwriting styles. For all I know, a typical student of Latin studies these handwriting styles right from the start. I know that a typical professor of Classics will be expected to identify various handwriting styles from various times and lands as a matter of course. It's a part of the job description. It's a big part of making all those critical editions I've been reading.

For me, until I got my hands on a copy of this book a couple of months ago, these handwriting styles were mostly just names in prefaces to texts, mostly ancient texts but also Medieval and later texts. They were like the names of people I'd been exchanging letters with for years, names to which I hadn't been able to attach faces. With a few exceptions: a photograph of a manuscript page in a few of those critical editions, a photo randomly come across on the Internet or in a book of history.

But with Specimina Codicum Latinorum Vaticanorum, I now have a photo album of all of my friends. (So that's what you look like, Visigothic! Much different than I'd pictured you.)

I'm still not your guy if you need to determine where and when something was hand-written based on the handwriting. Unless you're going to be satisfied with a rough guess within a couple of centuries and within several European nations. Then I might be your guy, based on what I've learned from my cool new book, and from further study (for example, some of the many above-mentioned references to other books) arising naturally from the curiosity which my recently-attained knowledge has aroused.

The book is new TO ME. And my copy is newly-printed. But the book is not newly-published, but a reprint of the 2nd edition of 1932. Perhaps an actual expert on Latin palaeography would smack her forehead in frustration at the very thought of someone getting so excited about an 82-year-old book on the subject, and start exclaiming about advances made in the field since 1932 which render this book useless. But the fact that the original publisher, De Gruyter, is still printing it, I think, gives me some cause to think that it may not yet be hopelessly out of date. The photos are still all in black and white as they were in 1932. That's the only thing I'd like to see changed. Some of the manuscripts are pretty colorful. Bam:

Specimina Codicum Latinorum Vaticanorum is written entirely in Latin, the prefaces, the descriptions of the manuscripts and of course the manuscripts themselves. Actually, some of the manuscripts include a little bit of Greek and Arabic in addition to the Latin.

In 1932, all-Latin books were by no means unusual, not even when the subject was something other than literature. Today even critical edition of ancient texts are appearing more and more often with prefaces in modern vernaculars rather than in Latin. This aggravates me because it seems to be an imitation that Classicists are just giving up and saying, well, people aren't fluent in Latin anymore, are they.

Well, it's your JOB to TEACH them, isn't it, Classicists?

Whatever. Maybe I just don't understand because I'm autistic, the way I miss sarcasm and a lot of other things. Anyway, SOME prefaces are still written in Latin, which gives me hope that SOME people haven't given up yet, and agree with me that there is no good reason to edit and publish a Latin text and then attach a preface to it which is nit in Latin. (Are those people who agree with me about this also all autistic? Surely not ALL of them.)

Anyway. Kitties are nice and gorillas are awesome and I'm not actually a monkey, and I am a genius in some respects even though I'm quite atypical and sarcasm-impaired, and Specimina Codicum Latinorum Vaticanorum is way, way cool.

And MOST of the Oxford Classical Texts and the Bibliotheca Teubneriana are still either all Latin or part Latin and the rest is Greek. So there, 21st century!

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