Greek Paleography From Antiquity to the Renaissance [by T. Janz]


The Old Round Minuscule which we studied in the previous page is the script of the oldest dated Greek minuscule manuscript, and it is the one which is most clearly associated with the Studite monastery which appears to have been instrumental in the development of early Greek minuscule. However, there were also other styles of minuscule which flourished in the ninth and tenth centuries. The number of manuscripts from this period which are still extant is not enormous, but those that do exist are of outsize importance since they are typically the oldest extant witnesses to the texts which they contain. Most of the manuscripts from the mid- and late tenth century are written in scripts which we will investigate in the following page of this pathway (Bouletée and Perlschrift). Those of the ninth and early tenth century are more diverse, and E. Follieri made a valiant attempt to classify them in an article we have already mentioned, namely her contribution to the 1974 Paleography Conference in Paris (pp. 139-165, reprinted with some additions in ead., Byzantina et italograeca, pp. 205-224). To each of her groupings she gave a name which was either descriptive or referred to the scribe of one (or more) of the salient examples within the group.

Follieri's classification has stood the test of time in the sense that it is still referred to today and has not been replaced, in the forty-odd years since she presented it; it was still cited in L. Perria's manual (published in 2011). This is not to say that it is flawless, or that everyone is happy with every detail of it (indeed Perria herself did not follow it rigorously). Certainly, for didactic purposes, some of her groupings are not obviously enlightening. The modified version of her classification which is given below, with the manuscripts adduced to exemplify the groupings (including those suggested by Perria), may be useful for observing the sorts of scripts which can be attributed to this period (not including the Old Round Minuscule, Bouletée and Perlschrift styles, which are treated elsewhere in this pathway). Manuscripts which are included in the collage below are in bold.

(If you are confused by the way manuscripts are referred to here, please see this page.)

Below, you can see several (very small) samples from each of these categories. You should be aware that the images are not to scale, but are rather scaled so that the lines of script are aligned. (In printed books, it is generally considered best practice to reproduce manuscript pages to scale, and of course for comparison of an impression d'ensemble it is preferable to compare whole pages; however, aligned samples like those below can be useful for direct comparison of many different scripts, which is what we need to do here; they also show with greater clarity the differences in letter-shapes and in the proportions between the parts of a letter, differences which may be obscured in to-scale images by sheer size differences.) In any case, the links in the list above will allow you to see full-page images of most of these manuscripts (the ones included in the collage are listed in bold). For the sake of comparison, two samples of "Old Round Minuscule", which you have already met, are included at the beginning.

Old Round Min.: Vat. gr. 2079, f. 69v; Vat. gr. 1, f. 101r. Old Square (or Squarish) Min.: Oxon. Clark. 39, f. 368v; Oxon. Barocc. 217, f. 7v; Oxon. Barocc. 235, f. 7r; Vat. gr. 503, f. 6v. Old Angular Min.: Oxon. Chr. Ch. 5, f. 12r; Vat. gr. 155, f. 3v; Vat. gr. 462, f. 3v. "Anastasius Type": Ottob. gr. 85, f. 157r; Par. gr. 1470, f. 6r. Old Slanted Min.: Pal. gr. 220, f. 14v; Urb. gr. 35, f. 295v. "Philosophical Coll. Type": Vat. gr. 2197, f. 71v; Vat. gr. 2249, f. 184v; Marc. gr. 196, f. 164r. "Baanes Type": Par. gr. 451, f. 24r; Vat. gr. 218, f. 32v. "Ephraim Type": Barb. gr. 87, f. 12v; Vat. gr. 124, f. 184v; Ross. 169, f. 118v.

A. Old Round Minuscule

We have already met this script, but only now can we compare it with other minuscule scripts to see its distinctive characteristics. Despite its name, it is in fact notable for the fact that its letter-bodies are never quite circular, tending rather to a vaguely triangular shape. Letter bodies have an "aspect-ratio" which is tends to be wide rather than high (in other words, they fit into a square or a low rectangle, rather than into a high rectangle); and the module is uniformly small. Another feature of this script is a very perceptible stroke contrast which, however, is irregular, i.e. thick strokes may be vertical ones (this is the most common case) but also horizontal ones (see e.g. the sigma which is the last full letter in the first sample) or diagonal ones. If there is a tendency in the first sample (Vat. gr. 2079), then it is that the thickest strokes tend to be ascending ones; however, in the second sample (Vat. gr. 1; similarly also in the Petropol. gr. 219), they tend to be descending ones (contrast the chi in ἔχειν in the last line of the first sample with the majuscule lambda's of the second sample, esp. the lambda in πλεῖστα in the third line). This could be explained by the use of wide nib if we supposed that the scribe of the first sample was left-handed. A better explanation is probably that the stroke contrast does not result here from the use of a wide nib but rather from variations in the pressure applied to the pen; at any rate, irregular stroke contrast is a notable feature of this script. The axis is upright, and many letters have small flourishes at their extremities, especially hooks on descenders.

B. Old Square (or Squarish) Minuscule

In addition to the Old Round Minuscule, Follieri distinguished an "Old Oblong" minuscule (or "Eustathius Type") and an "Old Square" minuscule; the main difference between these groups, and between them and the Old Round Minuscule, was their "aspect ratio", with her "Square" group having letter-bodies which tend to fit into a square and her "Oblong" group having letter-bodies which tend to fit into a high rectangle. In the context of this introductory pathway, it has seemed preferable to combine the latter two groups, separating out from the "Oblong" group the angular scripts which form our next group. Apart from their "aspect ratio", these scripts are in fact quite similar (and indeed similar also to the "Old Round Minuscule", though their larger module produces a rather different visual effect, with the letter-bodies taking up more space relative to the other strokes). Stroke contrast is subdued in all of these scripts, except in the last sample (Vat. gr. 503), which is the most "oblong" of the samples and which displays very fine stroke contrast, though here too it seems due to pen pressure rather than nib width.

For practice reading and transcribing this script, please see Vat. gr. 503.

C. Old Angular Minuscule

While Greek minuscule script is generally composed of curves and loops, eschewing right angles as much as possible, we have already noted, in the Old Round Minuscule, a slight squaring of the U-shaped curves along the baseline. This characteristic was taken to an extreme by some scribes in the late ninth and early tenth century, producing scripts like the three samples which exemplify our "Old Angular Minuscule"group (in Follieri's classification, they are divided between the "Old Oblong" and the "Upright Square Minuscule" groups), which is characterized by the proliferation of right angles, especially along the baseline. This in turn results in a proliferation of parallel vertical strokes, which tend to be placed very close together (especially in mu, nu and pi), contrasting with those letters which maintain a round shape like epsilon, omikron and sigma. Stroke contrast plays no significant role in these scripts. The axis is upright or slightly left-leaning.

For practice reading and transcribing this script, please see Vat. gr. 155.

D. "Anastasius Type"

The contrast between large round letter-bodies and narrow spaces between vertical strokes is taken to an extreme in this script, which Follieri named for the scribe (RGK 2,19) of the twin manuscripts Par. gr. 1470 and 1476. This script is also quite angular, though somewhat less so than the previous one. The module is very large and the axis is upright. Stroke contrast is clearly perceptible, with thick vertical strokes and thin horizontal strokes; it appears that a wide nib was held at only a slight angle from the horizontal. There has been some discussion, based on codicological observations, about whether some or all of the manuscripts of this type were written in the Greek-speaking areas of southern Italy or whether they were produced in the eastern part of the Byzantine empire. The question is not settled and need not trouble us here (for the relevant bibliography, see Perria's manual, p. 80 note 108).

For practice reading and transcribing this script, please see Ott. gr. 85.

E. Old Slanted Minuscule

While the scripts we have seen so far have an axis which is uniformly upright (or even slightly slanted to the left), there was also a slanted type, which Follieri called "Slanted Square Minuscule" but which is notable not so much for its squareness as for its slightly oblong letter-shapes. There are few extant examples of this script, but those that survive are also characterized by the sobriety of the few flourishes which appear at stroke-end and by the lack of stroke contrast. None of the extant manuscripts in this script is explicitly dated, but the Urb. gr. 35 was copied (by a scribe named Gregory, RGK 3,147) for Arethas of Caesarea (according to a note on f. 441v), which guarantees a date in the late 9th or early 10th century.

For practice reading and transcribing this script, please see Pal. gr. 220.

F. "Philosophical Collection" Type

In 1893, T. W. Allen discovered that nine Greek manuscripts containing mostly philosophical texts (Heidelb. Pal. gr. 398, Laur. 80.9, Marc. 196, Marc. 226, Marc. 246, Marc. 258, Par. gr. 1807, Par. gr. 1962, Vat. gr. 2197) all shared similar scripts and codicological characteristics. He identified five anonymous scribes across these nine manuscripts and posited that they had worked as a team to prepare these books for an unknown patron. Further work has been done since then, which is conveniently summarized, with bibliography, in the relevant French Wikipedia page (which however is not always kept up to date). The identity of the patron, if indeed there was one, remains mysterious; but the number of manuscripts in this "Philosophical Collection" has increased to sixteen or eighteen, which can be attributed to five or six different hands — there is some controversy about this, and also about which manuscripts should be included in the "Collection" itself; however, there is no doubt that all eighteen manuscripts in our list above share the distinctive script which characterizes it, and that is all that needs concern us here. None of the manuscripts is dated, but it is generally agreed that they should be placed somewhere in the second half of the ninth century. The script generally has a very small, even cramped module, an upright axis, round letter-shapes, and is characterized especially by the blobs which end many of the strokes. The three samples shown above belong respectively to the hands which are conventionally numbered I, II (or IIa, for those who believe that there were six scribes) and III.

For practice reading and transcribing this script, please see Vat. gr. 2197 (Hand I) and Vat. gr. 1594 (Hand IIa).

G. Cursive bookhands

All of the styles mentioned above are fairly formal bookhands; but there are also a few manuscripts from the ninth and early tenth centuries which exhibit scripts incorporating a larger proportion of cursive elements (they are not really "cursive", despite the heading above; but the English language lacks a word like the Italian "corsiveggiante"). Follieri distinguished between "corsiveggianti" hands with an upright axis, which she associated with a scribe named Baanes (RGK 1,30; 2,43), and those with a slant to the right, which she associated with a scribe named Ephraim (RGK 3,196).

Baanes, in the year 913/4 CE, copied the manuscript Par. gr. 451 (our first sample above) for Arethas, Archbishop of Caesarea (whom we have already met in the "Old Slanted" section above): see his subscription on f. 401v. Another manuscript with an upright cursive hand from the same period is Vat. gr. 218 (our second sample), which was obviously not written by Baanes himself but may nonetheless be grouped with those which were. Note how the greater "cursivity" of these hands produces a "polymorphism", i.e. the use of varying shapes for the same letter depending on context) which we have not seen so far (see for example the two tau's in τρίτη at the bottom of the second sample: the cross-bar of the first tau comes down to meet the bottom of the loop of the rho, while the second tau has a normal, horizontal cross-bar). Note also the very cursive ligature between tau and epsilon in (ἑκά)τερα (second sample, beginning of l. 2), where the bottom half of the epsilon is represented merely by the dip in the cross-bar of the tau, while the ascender of the epsilon is combined with its headline stroke in a single curve.

For practice reading and transcribing this type of script, please see Vat. gr. 218.

As for Ephraim, he copied the manuscript Vat. gr. 124 (the middle one of our three samples for this type), probably in the year 947 CE (his subscription, which you can see on f. 304r, does not explicitly mention the year, but only the indiction; however, given that he explicitly subscribed other manuscripts in the years 948/9 [Vatop. 747] and 954/5 [Marc. gr. 201], the year 947 is much more probable than the nearest alternatives, which would be 932 or 962; see Follieri's comment on plate 16 of her reader, p. 26). The other two samples, which are not dated, are not by Ephraim himself: the Barb. gr. 87 is likely to be rather earlier (perhaps by half a century or more), and the Ross. 169 perhaps contemporary with Ephraim's floruit. There is a considerable bibliography about Ephraim himself and the hypothetical scriptorium wher he may have worked, starting with J. Irigoin's already mentioned article in Scriptorium 13 (1959), pp. 177-209 (esp. pp. 181-195); for further details and bibliography, see Perria's manual, p. 86. You will notice that Ephraim's script, while incorporating many cursive elements, nonetheless gives an overall impression of well-proportioned harmoniousness, which in many ways prefigures the Perlschrift which we will consider in the next page. One typical cursive element of note in his script is the connection of rho to a following letter from the bottom, which is not found in earlier scripts.

For practice reading Ephraim's script, please see Vat. gr. 124.