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Miniscule Handwriting - Manuscript Walkthrough 1


As mentioned in a previous post, I would like to share a "walk-through" of the 12th century miniscule manuscript 1432, as found on the Münster Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung website. Starting at the beginning of the book of Mark, I intend to "walk through" a small portion of this manuscript, pointing out some of the more unique miniscule letter forms and common ligatures, abbreviations, and contractions.

Again, I am not an expert. I merely wish to share my own investigations into miniscule handwriting with others who might be interested. For those who know the material better than I do, please feel free to offer any observations or corrections.


The rest of this post may be nearly unintelligible without a little up-front preparation. You should be able to follow along using only online resources by opening the following links in separate tabs or windows (this can be done by "right-clicking" on the links and selecting the desired/available option):

First, take a few moment to familiarize yourself with each of the pages you have just opened so that you know what they contain. Next, you will want to expand the image of the manuscript to its normal size so that the text will be readable. This is done in Netscape and Firefox by simply clicking once on the image. In Internet explorer, there should be a square symbol in the lower right portion of the image that you can click.

Of course, to minimize the tabs or windows, feel free to substitute any books available to you. For a critical Greek New Testament text, I prefer to have Reuben Swanson's New Testament Manuscripts edition of Mark open. For palaeographical references, I use Bruce Metzger's Manuscripts of the Greek Bible but especially Edward Maunde Thompson's Introduction to Greek and Latin Palaeography (because of its detail on abbreviations).

On the Handschriften page, manuscript 1432 is listed as a 12th century manuscript. As mentioned in my previous post, the miniscule handwriting of this period is commonly referred to as Vetusti. The palaeographical glossary tells us that this period is characterized by the mixing of uncial letter forms with the pure miniscule letter forms. As you look through this manuscript you will begin to notice this mixture of letter forms if you keep an eye on the pure miniscule column (col. 1) of the Greek Miniscule Letter Forms chart you have opened in another tab/window.

Finally, most miniscule manuscripts, including this one, are of the Byzantine Majority textual tradition. This is the reason that I provided the link to the Parallel Greek New Testament. It will allow you to follow along with the Greek of the manuscript by looking at the Byzantine Majority line and will allow you to also note its differences with the Alexandrian text (which many scholars believe to be closer to the original).

Let's Begin!

When you open the manuscript image, you'll notice that it has two pages. The left-hand page is the ending of the gospel of Matthew. The book of Mark begins on the right-hand page immediately beneath the large, square decoration. Inside this gilt, or illuminated, decoration is a circle in which is written "Gospel according to Mark" in red ink like this:
† εὐαγγέ
λιον κα
τα μάρ
κον >

In this brief phrase, I'd like to specifically point out the uncial forms of the epsilon, upsilon, gamma, nu, and kappa. Though the gammas are in an uncial form, they are linked in cursive fashion, the small one to the larger one. Note the miniscule forms of alpha (whose tail curves back up to the top line) and of mu (which should be familiar from modern lowercase Greek print). Already we see the mixing of uncial and pure miniscule forms common to the Vetusti period.

The large, decorated initial alpha begins the first word of the book of Mark, Ἀρχὴ. If you can read uncial script, the first three letters are easy to recognize, but the form of the eta (similar to an English 'h') may be new to you.

Jumping over the definite article we arrive at our first grouping of connected letters, the first six letters of εὐαγγελίου. Ligatures involving epsilon are common. Though they may seem difficult at first, you will see them so many times that it won't take long to recognize them. So, check out your ligature chart and find the ligatures for ευ and αγ. If you also refer to the miniscule letter chart, it may help you to recognize the pure miniscule letter parts within the ligatures.

Since pictures are worth a thousand words, let's look at an image of the word that I cropped and colored to bring out the letters and ligatures.

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Each color in the above image approximately represents a letter and will hopefully make it easier to pick out the portions of the letters forming the ligatures. The leftmost portion of the orange upsilon really also forms part of the cursive crossbar of the epsilon, and the rightmost portion forms part of the alpha.

The tail of the alpha (which curves back up to the top line in miniscule) combines with and shares part of the first gamma. The connected gammas appear, to me at least, to be a later, altered form of miniscule gamma that looks vaguely similar to the mathematical square root sign (refer to chart, col. 2). The top-bar of the second gamma is linked to an uncial epsilon.

Most of the letters following εὐαγγελίου in the first line will probably be easy to identify. I'll just point out that there are three Nomina Sacra, ίῦ (Jesus), χῦ (Christ), and θῦ (God). Interestingly, the nomen sacrum for υἱοῦ (son) is not used.

At this point, since this post is becoming a bit unwieldy, I'll break off and begin a new post in the next day or so. I will end with a question, however, for those who might be in the know. At the top of the page, above the decoration, there is a rubric that begins with four dots in a diamond configuration. It appears to say πρὸ τῶν φώτων (before the light), but the phrase really begins with a kappa (with a small stroke at the bottom of the right leg) and an upsilon with a bar over them. I thought this might be the Nomen Sacrum for Lord (...of [the] Lord before the light?), but the "foot" on the kappa makes me wonder. Can anyone shed some light on this and why it might be alone at the top of the page before the decoration?


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