HANDBOOK OF GREEK & LATIN PALAEOGRAPHY by Sir E M Thompson. 3rd edition, published 1906. Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co Ltd, London.

CHAPTER IV. writing- implements, etc..


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The Stilus, Pen, etc.

Writing materials

Of writing implements the στύλος, γραφεῖον, γραφις, γραφίδιον, stilus, graphium, made of iron, bronze, or other metal, ivory, or bone, was adapted for writing on waxen tablets, the letters being scratched with the sharp point. The other end was fashioned into a knob or flat head, wherewith the writing could be obliterated by smoothening the wax, for correction or erasure: hence the phrase vertere stilum, ← Horace, Sat. I. x. 72 : " Saepe stilum vertas." " to correct." Among the Roman antiquities found in Britain, now deposited in the British Museum, there are several specimens of the stilus, in ivory, bronze, etc. Many of them are furnished with a sharp projection, at right angles to the shaft, near the head, for the purpose of ruling lines on the wax. The passage in Ovid, Metam. ix. 521, thus describes the action of the writer :—

" Dextra tenet ferrum, vacuam tenet altera ceram,
Incipit, et dubitat, scribit damnatque tabellas.
Et notat et delet, mutat, culpatque probatque."

Here the stilus is simply ferrum. In another place, Amor. I. xi. 23, Ovid gives its title of graphium : "Quid digitos opus est graphio lassare tenendo?'; This riddle on the stilus also occurs;—

" De summo planus, sed noti ego planus in imo.
Versor utrimque manu; diversa et munera fnngor:
Altera pars revocat quidquid pars altera fecit."
← Riese, Anthol. Lat. I. no. 286.

The case in which such implements were kept was the γραφιοθηκη, graphiarium,; as in Martial, xiv. 21, " armata suo graphiaria ferro."

For writing on papyrus the reed, κάλαμος, δόναξ γραφεύς, σχοῖνος, calamus, canna, was in use. ← Pliny, Nat. Hist. xvi. 36: "Chartisque serviunt calami." Some specimens of ancient reeds cut like a pen (Ausonius, " lissipes calamus'') are in the Egyptian gallery, British Museum. Suitable reeds came chiefly from Egypt, as referred to by Martial, xiv. 38 : " Dat chartis habiles calamos Memphitica tellus "; or from Cnidus, as in Ausonius, Ep. vii.: " Nec jam fissipedis per calami vias Grassetur Cnidiae sulcus arundinis." Parallel with our use of steel pens is that of the ancient metal reeds, of which a few specimens, in bronze, have been found in Italy, and one in England. ← See Bulletino dell' Instituto, 1849, p. 169 ; 1S80, pp. 68, 69, 150. The one found in England is preserved among the Romano-British antiquities in the British Museum. The case in which reeds were kept was the καλαμοθήκη, καλαμίς, calamarium, theca calamaria.; as in Martial, xiv. 19 : " Sortitus thecam, calamis armare memento." In Diocletian's edict, De pretiis rerum venalium, the reed-case appears as made of leather.

Reeds continued in use to some extent through the middle ages. In Italy they appear to have survived into the fifteenth century. ← For detailed information, see Wattenbach, Schriftw. 186.

The κονδίλιον, peniculus, penicillus, was the brush with which writing in gold was applied. ← Theophilus, De diversis artibus, iii. 96, mentions the reed for this purpose: "Atque rogo pariter, calamo cum ceperit aurum, Illum commoveat, pulchre si scribere quaerit."

The pen, penna, is first mentioned by an anonymous historian who tells us that, to enable the unlettered Ostrogoth Theodoric to write his name, he was provided with a stencil plate, through which he drew with a pen the strokes which formed the first four letters of his name: " ut, posita lamina super chartam, per eam penna duceret et subscriptio ejus tantum videretur.'" ← In the Excerpta printed at the end of Gronovius's edition of Ammianus Marxellinus, 1693, p. 512. Isidore, Orig. vi. 13, describes the pen thus : " Instrumenta scribae calamus et penna. Ex his enim verba paginis infiguntur ; sed calamus arboris est, penna avis, cujus acumen dividitur iu duo, in toto corpore unitate servata." But, although no earlier mention of the quill pen than these has been found, it can scarcely be supposed that, as soon as vellum came into general use, so obviously convenient an implement, always ready to hand, could have been long overlooked, particularly in places where reeds of a kind suitable for writing could nob be had. The hard surface of the new material could bear the flexible pressure of the pen which in heavy strokes might have proved too much for the more fragile papyrus.
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Inks, etc.

Writing materials

Black ink, the ordinary writing fluid of centuries, μέλαν, or more exactly γραφικὸν μέλαν, μελάνιον, atramentum, or atramentum librarium to distinguish it from blacking used for other purposes, later ἔγκαυστον, incaustum, differs in tint at various periods and in different countries. In early MSS. it is either pure black or slightly brown; in the middle ages it varies a good deal according to age and locality. In Italy and Southern Europe it is generally blacker than in the north, in France and Flanders it is generally darker than in England; a Spanish MS. of the 14th or 15th century may usually be recognized by the peculiar blackness of the ink. Deterioration is observable in the course of time. The ink of the fifteenth century particularly is often of a faded, grey colour.

The ancients used the liquid of the cuttle fish, as in the lines of Persius, iii. 12 :—

" Tunc queritur crassus calamo quod pendeat humor,
Nigra quod infusa vanescat sepia lympha,
Dilutas queritur geminet quod fistula guttas."

Pliny,. Nat. Hist. xxxv. 6, mentions soot and gum as the ingredients of writing ink. Other later authors add gall-apples. Metallic infusions seem also to have been used at an early period. In the middle ages vitriol was an ordinary ingredient. Theophilus, in his work De diversis artibus, written probably early in the twelfth century, gives a recipe (i. 40) for the manufacture of ink from thorn wood boiled down and mingled with wine and vitriol.

Inks of other colours are also found in MSS. of the middle ages: green, yellow, and others, but generally only for ornamental purposes, although volumes written entirely in coloured ink are still extant. Red, either in the form of a pigment or fluid ink, is of very ancient and common use. It is seen on the early Egyptian papyri; and it appears in the earliest extant vellum MSS., either in titles or the first lines of columns or chapters. The Greek term was μελάνιον κόκκινον, Latin minium, rubrica. A volume written entirely in red ink, of the 9th or 10th century, is in the British Museum, Harley MS. 2795. The purple ink, κιννάβαρις, sacrum incaustum, reserved at Byzantium for the exclusive use of the emperors, seems to have originally been of a distinct kind. Later the same term, κιννάβαρις, appears as a synonymous term with minium.

The ink-pot, μελανδόχον, μελανδόχη, μελανδοχεῖον, atramentarium, used by the ancients, was generally, as appears from surviving examples, a small cylindrical jar or metal box, the cover often pierced with a hole to admit the insertion of the reed. In paintings on the walls of Pompeii double ink-pots, with hinged covers, are depicted, the two receptacles being probably for black and red ink. Museo Borbonico, i. pl. 12. Throughout the middle ages the ink-horn was in common use.

Gold was used as a writing fluid at a very early period. In a papyrus at Leyden, of the third or fourth century, there is a recipe for its manufacture. ← Leemans Papyri Graeci Mus. Lugd. Bat., tom. ii. (1885) p. 218. Something has already been said on its use in connection with purple-stained vellum. Ordinary white vellum MSS. were also written in gold, particularly in the ninth and tenth centuries, in the reigns of the Carlovingian kings. In most of the large national libraries examples are to be found. ← Such MSS. in the British Museum are Harl. MS. 2788, the "Codex Aureus," a copy of the Gospels, in uncial letters, of the 9th century; Harl. MS. 2797, also a copy of the Gospels, in minuscule writing, late in the 9th century, from the monastery of St. Genevieve, Paris. The Cottonian MS., Tiberius A. ii., which was sent as a present to king AEthelstan by the emperor Otho, also contains some leaves written in gold. The practice passed from the continent to England, and was followed to some considerable extent in this country, not only for partial decoration, but also for the entire text of MSS. The record of a purple MS. written in gold, by order of Wilfrid of York, late in the 7th century, has already been noticed (p. 41, note 1) ; but the way in which this volume is referred to: " Inauditum ante seculis nostris quoddam miraculum " proves that such sumptuous MSS. were not known in England before that time. St. Boniface, writing in A.D. 735 to Eadburg, abbess of St. Mildred's, Thanet, asks her to get transcribed for him in gold the Epistles of St. Peter. ← " Sic et adhuc deprecor ... ut mihi cum auro conscribas epistolas domini mei Sancti Petri apostoli, ad honorem et reverentiam sanctarum scripturarum ante oculos carnalium in praedicando, et quia dicta ejus qui me in hoc iter direxit maxime semper in praesentia cupiam habere."—Jaffé, Monumenta Moguntina, iii. 99.
But the existing English examples are of later date. ← The foundation charter of Newminster, Winchester, granted by king Edgar in 966, in Cotton..MS. Vesp. A. viii., is written in gold. The Benedictional of AEthelwold, bishop of Winchester, A.D. 963-984, also contains a page in gold. Gold writing as a practice died out in the thirteenth century, although a few isolated instances of later date are found. State letters of the Byzantine emperors were also sometimes written in gold, and the same was used for imperial charters in Germany, as appears from extant examples of the twelfth century, and for similar documents in other countries.' ← Wattenbach, Schriftw. 214-217.

Writing in silver appears to have ceascd contemporaneously with the disuse of stained vellum. This metal would not show to advantage on a white ground.
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Various Implements.

For ruling papyri, a circular plate of lead, κυκλοτερὴς μόλιβος, τροχόεις μόλιβδος, κυκλομόλιβδος, was used. Ink was removed with the sponge. Papyrus would scarcely bear scraping with the knife. If the ink was still wet, or lately applied, its removal was of course easy. Martial, iv. 10, sends a sponge with his newly-written book of poems, wherewith the whole of his verses might be cleaned off.

"Dam novus est rasa nec adhuc mihi fronte libellus,
Pagina dum tangi non bene sicca timet,
I, puer, et caro perfer leve munus amico,
Qui meruit nugas primus habere meas.
Carre, sed instructus : comitetur Punica librum
Spongia; muneribus convenit illa meis.
Non possunt nostros multae, Faustine, liturae
Emendare jocos; una litura potest."

Augustus effaced his half-completed tragedy of Ajax, with the remark : " Ajacem suum in spongiam incubuisse." ← Suetonius, Aug. 85. With vellum MSS. the knife or eraser, rasorium or novacula, came into use. While wet the ink could still be sponged away ; but when it was hard and dry, and for erasure of single letters and words without obliterating also the surrounding text, it was scraped off.

The penknife was the σμίλη, γλύφανον, γλυπτήρ, or γλυφίς, scalprum librarium, the mediaeval scalpellum, cultellus, or artavus ; the ruler was the κανών, canon, norma, regula, lincarium ; the pricker or compass for spacing off the ruled lines was διαβάτης, circinus, or punctorium ; and lastly, the office of the modern pencil was performed by the pointed piece of lead, μόλυβδος, plumbum, or plummet.
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