Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Some Terminology

Papyrus: A wetland variety of sedge, Cyperus papyrus was once widespread around the Nile delta. From about 3000 B.C. papyrus began replacing stone tablets as a writing medium. Slices of the plant stem were arranged in perpendicular layers and pressed together with makeshift glue. The word paper is derived from papyrus via a Greek adaptation of the name. Extraordinary examples include the Elephantine papyri and the famous finds at Oxyrhynchus and Nag Hammadi. Normally they were made as scrolls as opposed to book-sized documents. Exported papyri often faired poorly as they deteriorate with mould growth in non-arid areas.

Parchment: The untanned hides of sheep, goats and calves were prepared for dual sided writing by removing hair and applying lime and gradually came to replace papyrus. First used around the 5th to the 2nd century B.C. its heyday was during the middle ages. Vellum is a finer type of parchment (rubbed with pumice) and more precisely refers to parchment made from calf hide but the terms are generally interchangeable.

Codex: [Latin for book (codices or codexes pl.)] Used first around the beginning of the 2nd century A.D. it refers to handwritten works in bookform which came to replace the scroll as a writing format. It was still used in the early middle ages and the codex name designation is more generally applied, as with papyrus, to particular works from specific holdings eg. Codex Leicester, Codex Vaticanus and Aleppo Codex.

Paleography: The study of ancient and medieval manuscripts, independent of the language -- codicology, or the study of codexes is really subsumed within the paleographic definition. They are particularly schooled in transcribing often abbreviated primary works into modern editions. The expense and relative rarity of vellum and parchment meant that shortened versions were often produced originally.

Philology: Simply, it is the study of ancient texts and languages. With the modern emergence of spoken language based linguistics, some aspects, for example comparative linguistics, have been removed from the wider definition of philology. There is also no clear-cut boundary between interpretetive elements of philology and hermeneutics, the branch of philosophy concerned with human understanding and interpretation of texts.

Middle Ages: The traditional view of history (Eurocentric) divides human eras into prehistory, classical antiquity, middle ages, renaissance, early and modern historical periods. The middle ages commenced in about the 5th century, with the fall of the western Roman Empire, up to about the 15th century, with the advent of the classical revival in Italy.

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