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

Observations on the Original Scribe(s) of Vat. gr. 1209

As noted here, according to Milne & Skeat, two scribes were involved in copying Vat. gr. 1209, alternating as follows:

  • Scribe A copied pp. 41-334 (Gn 46:28-1Rg 19:11);
  • Scribe B copied pp. 335-624 (1R 19:11-2Esd);
  • Scribe A copied pp. 625-944 (Ps-Tob);
  • Scribe B copied pp. 945-1518 (Hos-Dn, and the New Testament).

We also noted that this hypothesis was arrived at not on the basis of the script(s) of the scribe(s), but on the basis of other observations. The question thus arises whether the hypothesis is borne out by observation of the scripts themselves, in those few cases where the original letters have not been covered by the medieval retracings. There is no consensus about the correct answer to this question, and opinions may (and do) vary; however, a comparison of this sort can be very useful as a paleographical exercise. To facilitate the comparison, in the image below, the same remains of the original script which we have already seen are rearranged with the parts attributed to Scribe A in the left column and those attributed to Scribe B in the right column (a transcription arranged in the same way may be found here). Ideally, a study of this sort should be carried out by comparing each letter of the alphabet in turn, perhaps by carefully copying at least one sample of each letter into two columns for direct comparison.

Vat gr 1209 Scribe A vs B.jpg

To the question whether a comparison of the actual scripts lends any corroboration to the two-scribe hypothesis, the short answer would appear to be “not really,” as the two scripts (if indeed they are two) are remarkably similar. Study of the morphology of individual letters does not appear to yield any systematic variations between the sections attributed to Scribe A and those attributed to Scribe B. Some tendencies may however be observed, namely:

  • In letters which fit into a triangle (alpha, delta, lambda), samples attributed to Scribe B tend to make the two diagonal strokes meet at the top, while those attributed to Scribe A tend to place the top of the ascending diagonal well below the top of the descending one — contrast the alpha’s and lambda’s in line 9 of either column. However, this is no more than a tendency, and counter-examples can easily be found in both directions (it is perhaps worth noting that a disproportionate number of the counter-examples, in both directions, come from instances of the word διαψαλμα [column 1, line 17; column 2, line 13], which are not properly part of the Biblical text [this is the Greek translation of the enigmatic Hebrew word selah which appears, perhaps as a liturgico-musical marker, primarily in the Psalms] and might conceivably have been added throughout the manuscript by a third scribe who had no fixed preference for the morphology of triangular letters).
  • The flourish at the top of the ascending (right-hand) diagonal stroke in ypsilon is generally present in the samples attributed to Scribe A, and generally absent (or very faint) in those attributed to Scribe B (contrast υιων by “Scribe A” with ιδου by “Scribe B”, both in line 2), though again there are exceptions in both cases.
  • The two strokes of the letter chi — of which there are unfortunately very few examples (lines 14, 25 for “Scribe A”; lines 6, 20, 21, 23, 25, 37 for “Scribe B”) tend to be at symmetrical angles in the samples attributed to Scribe A, whereas in those attributed to Scribe B, the ascending stroke is more nearly vertical than the descending one, giving the letter a “backhanded” appearance.

Despite this last observation, which regards the axis of the script, and despite some other very obvious irregularities in the axis of the samples attributed to Scribe B (contrast the right-leaning descender of ρ in line 28 εκρατησα with the left-leaning central stroke of φ in line 29 εφυγον), the samples attributed to Scribe B give a greater general impression of regularity, particularly as regards the verticality of the axis and the regularity of the spacing. Such a general impression is the summed effect of the many individual strokes which compose the letters and of the way in which they are placed relative to each other. It is of course subjective and does not necessarily correspond to any data which could be gathered by studying the morphology of individual letters or groups of letters (even if precise measurements were taken); but, as the French paleographer Jean Irigoin noted in a seminal article (“Pour une étude des centres de copie byzantins,” Scriptorium 12 [1958], pp. 208-227:224), the “impression d’ensemble” is a very important datum in its own right which should be taken seriously, since it conveys information which cannot be gathered through individual observation or measurement.

In sum, it would appear that the evidence from the script(s) of Vat. gr. 1209 is not incompatible with the two-scribe hypothesis, but that it does not contribute greatly to confirm it; certainly it seems unlikely that the hypothesis would ever have been formulated on the basis of the script(s) alone, though the picture might look rather different if we could see what the whole manuscript looked like before it was retraced, rather than relying on the few small samples which remain today.

There is of course another famous hypothesis regarding the scribes of Vat. gr. 1209, namely Tischendorf’s idea that Scribe B is none other than Scribe D of Codex Sinaiticus (this suggestion was also based on characteristics other than the script itself). If you like, you may also evaluate this hypothesis by comparing the samples above with the appropriate pages of Codex Sinaiticus (here again you will probably come away with the impression that the identification is plausible but hardly compelling on the basis of the script alone).