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


The "Palaeologan Renaissance" which we briefly mentioned in the last section was indeed relatively modest in material terms, but it was a time of remarkable cultural achievements, especially in the field of philology. The new situation is reflected in the scripts of this period in that there are now very few sumptuous manuscripts written in formal bookhands hewing to this or that definable style of script, while on the other hand the phenomenon of "scholar-scribes", which we saw emerging in the thirteenth century alongside that of "bureaucrat-scribes", now becomes even more prominent. Because book production is now more a private affair than an institutional one, studying the paleography of this period is more a matter of recognizing the personal handwriting of individual scribes (or "scholar-scribes") than of recognizing styles of script.

A. Scholar-Scribes and Scholarly Circles

Another interesting aspect of this de-institutionalization of book production is the proliferation of "scholarly circles" (for lack of a better term): we can see different groups of scribes working together and sharing scholarly projects, not, however, in a monastic or (formal) didactic context but rather in something akin to the "literary salons and coteries" first imagined by I. Ševčenko ("Society and Intellectual Life in the Fourteenth Century" in Actes du XIVe Congrès, pp. 69-92:70) and lately pieced together in greater detail by G. Cavallo ("Sodalizi eruditi e pratiche di scrittura a Bisanzio", in Bilan et perspectives, pp. 645-665) and by D. Bianconi (see esp. "Eracle e Iolao […]", BZ 96 (2003), pp. 521-558). These informal "circles" are not actually referred to in contemporary literature, but their existence can be inferred from paleographical observations.

The two most prominent "scholar-scribes" of this period are Maximus Planudes (c. 1255-c. 1305) and Demetrius Triclinius (c. 1280-c. 1340). For more information about them (and also about Byzantine scholars of earlier periods), an indispensable guide is N. Wilson's book Scholars of Byzantium.

Maximus Planudes (RGK 1,259bis; 2,357) is best known as the author of a wide variety of theological, grammatical and poetical works and above all as the compiler of the "Planudean" Anthology. His autograph copy of the Anthology is preserved in Marc. gr. 481 (dated 1299; Turyn, Italy, pl. 71-74), which is the source of the sample below (if you follow the link above, you can browse to Planudes' subscription on f. 122v, which however it is not very legible in the digitization).

Sample of the script of Maximus Planudes from Marc. gr. 481, f. 55v (photo © Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana)

You can see in this sample how the polymorphism of Palaeologan hands makes it tricky it is to characterize and identify scholarly scripts of this period. For example, in the last three lines of the left-hand column, there are three different shapes of the letter beta alone (a large "beta-gamma style" beta in the bottom line [βοώμενα]; a bilobular or "telephone-receiver" beta in the penultimate line [βασιλῆϊ]; and a small, heart-shaped beta in the line above that [πρεσβήϊα]). (Incidentally, you will also notice here a common feature of Byzantine manuscripts of poetical texts, namely that the lines are to be read across the page rather than down the columns: in this case, Anth. gr. 9,656 begins with the first line in the right-hand column [Οἶκος Ἀναστασίοιο…], continues in the second line of the left-hand column [μοῦνος ὑπερτέλλω…], and so on.)

Demetrius Triclinius (RGK 1,104; 2,136; 3,170) was probably the most remarkable Byzantine philologist of this (or indeed of any) period, being the first scholar since ancient times to possess a useable understanding of the meters of classical Greek poetry and in many ways a precursor of modern text-critical methodology. His earliest dated manuscript is Oxon. New College 258 (not yet digitized; see Turyn, Great Britain, pl. 49), dated to 1308 (at which time he called himself Δημήτριος Τρικλίνης; he changed to the form Τρικλίνιος later on). Of special interest for Triclinius' script is Marc. gr. 464 (Turyn, Italy, pl. 96-99), of which one part (ff. 20r-78r) was subscribed on f. 78r in 1316, while another (ff. 78v-218r) was subscribed on f. 218r in 1319. Turyn noted, in the commentary to his plates, that Triclinius used rounded breathings in the earlier portion of the manuscript (as well as in the New College manuscript dated to 1308) and angular breathings in the later portion. The two subscriptions from Marc. gr. 464 may be seen below, together with a small sample from the end of the relevant texts.

Sample of the script of Demetrius Triclinius from Marc. gr. 464, f. 78r (1316 CE, with rounded breathings) (photo © Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana)
Sample of the script of Demetrius Triclinius from Marc. gr. 464, f. 218r (1319 CE, with angular breathings) (photo © Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana)

It indeed appears that Triclinius made a conscious choice to use the archaizing angular breathings starting sometime between 1316 and 1319, and that this may be used as a criterion for dating his undated manuscripts. One such manuscript is the first part (ff. 2-120) of Vat. gr. 1509, which is signed (but not dated) on f. 118r by a "Demetrius" who is generally recognized as none other than Triclinius (the identification was first proposed by N. Wilson in Gnomon 38 [1966], p. 337). As you can see in the sample below, he uses rounded breathings, which indicates a date before 1319 (this manuscript is also rather unusual in its contents — Theodoret's commentary on the minor prophets — since Triclinius otherwise displays an almost exclusive interest in classical pagan literature).

Sample of the script of Demetrius Triclinius from Vat. gr. 1509, f. 56r

Among the characteristics of Demetrius Triclinius' script which you can observe in these samples are its general neatness (especially compared to the baroque tendencies of the preceding period); the generally small and consistent module; a majuscule alpha consisting of an oblique stroke with a loop perpendicular to it, often placed above the line if the letter is at the end of the word (and alternating with an unremarkable minuscule alpha); and an enlarged final lunate sigma (also alternating with an unremarkable minuscule sigma).

An example of the "scholarly circles" we mentioned earlier is provided by the Urb. gr. 125, a sort of philosophico-historical miscellany which includes some (pseudo-)Aristotle, rather a lot of Libanius, a bit of Philo and Aristeides, and a smattering of other (mostly pagan and mostly prose) authors. There is also a part of a poem attributed to Paul the Silentiary, on f. 212r, which you can see in the viewer below.

Urb. gr. 125 (initial view: f. 212r)

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There are no explicit subscriptions in Urb. gr. 125, but no less than eleven contemporary hands have been identified in this manuscript, all belonging to the period around the turn of the fourteenth century (see most recently the account in D. Bianconi's already mentioned article "Eracle e Iolao […]", p. 532 n. 43), and it is clear that they were working together in some sort of collaborative effort. The greater part of the volume was copied by Maximus Planudes, who seems to have been somehow in charge of the project. Unlike Triclinius, Planudes was a monk and a schoolmaster, in Constantinople, and thus no stranger to institutional settings; but it is rather difficult to imagine an institutional setting in which the sort of scribal teamwork which we see in Urb. gr. 125 could have occurred. The repartition of hands, according to Bianconi, is as follows:


The hands of Planudes' collaborators are unidentified, with the exception of John Zarides, who appears elsewhere also as a collaborator of Planudes (as detailed in Bianconi's article). One of them, however, scribe "I", who wrote only f. 212r (shown in the viewer above), was tentatively identified as Demetrius Triclinius by N. Wilson (in GRBS 22 [1981], p. 397). Wilson himself noted some differences between Triclinius' script and that of this scribe, and pointed out that "[i]n such a case it is scarcely possible to decide whether we are dealing with Triclinius or various other people who write very similar scripts, presumably because they were his friends or pupils". This idea was further developed by I. Pérez Martín (in her paper presented at the Cremona Paleography Conference in 1998, pp. 311-331), who attempted to describe a "Thessolonican style" of which Triclinius' script would merely be an example (albeit a very prominent one). Subsequent scholars have generally not accepted the identification of scribe "I" with Triclinius (you may form your own opinion by comparing the sample from Vat. gr. 1509 with the script in Urb. gr. 125, f. 212r); still, whoever he was, scribe "I" probably had some connection with Triclinius in Thessalonica, as well as with Planudes in Constantinople.

For practice reading and transcribing scholarly hands of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century, please see Urb. gr. 125.

B. Some (More) Formal Styles

Despite the tendency to individualism which we have noted, there are two more formal styles of script in the fourteenth century which should be noted. The first of these is yet another script whose name goes back to Herbert Hunger, who noted that a number of manuscripts containing the works of Theodore Metochites were written by a single, anonymous scribe, whom he called the "Metochites Scribe" (Metochitesschreiber), and that other manuscripts of the same author shared a similar style, which he dubbed Metochitesstil (first in Geschichte der Textüberlieferung, p. 102, and in greater detail elsewhere; see esp. the paper he presented at the 1983 Paleography Conference in Berlin-Wolfenbüttel, pp. 151-161). Hunger himself noted that his Metochitesstil resembled a style of script found in documents of the imperial chancery from the 1280's until about the middle of the fourteenth century, and that the Metochitesstil was thus likely to be an instance of the "bureaucrat-scribe" phenomenon. In fact, the Metochitesschreiber himself has since been identified by E. Lamberz with a functionary of the imperial chancery named Michael Clostomalles (see his article in the Festschrift for Marcell Restle, pp. 155-165). His script, which is highly legible and characterized by small module, regular letter spacing, a tendency to bilinearism and a very moderate use of ligatures and abbreviations, may be seen in the sample below from Paris. gr. 2003.

14th Metochites-Par-gr-2003-f-127r.jpg
Sample from Paris. gr. 2003, f. 127r (Photo: Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

While the Metochitesstil is mostly used in prose works of sacred content, it is useful to think of it more broadly as a category of small, regular fourteenth-century scripts which are devoid of extravant flourishes, including also scripts such as the one seen below from Vat. gr. 920, a collection of classical pagan poetry.

14th Metochites-Vat-gr-920-f-223v.jpg
Sample from Vat. gr. 920, f. 223v

For practice reading and transcribing scripts of the Metochitesstil type, please see Vat. gr. 920.

Finally, a well-characterized, archaizing style, found mostly in liturgical manuscripts of the fourteenth century, which is associated with the Constantinopolitan monastery τῶν Ὁδηγῶν and for that reason is known by the name Hodegonstil, was identified by L. Politis ("Eine Schreiberschule…" in BZ 51 [1958], pp. 17-36; 261-287; see more recently H. Hunger & O. Kresten, "Archaisierende Minuskel…" in JÖB 29 (1980), pp. 187-236; more briefly, H. Hunger's contribution to the Berlin-Wolfenbüttel conference proceedings, pp. 151-161:156-157). This style too is very regular and legible, with moderate modular contrast, a tendency to geometrical shapes and an almost total absence of abbreviations. A sample from Chig. R. V. 29, copied by one of the most prolific "Hodegon" scribes, Joasaph (RGK 1,208; 2,287; 3,344), may be seen below.

Detail from Chig. R.V.29 f. 242v

For practice reading and transcribing the "Hodegon-Style" script, please see Chig. R. V. 29.