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Iii Set Minuscule Writing

cursive, hand, half-uncial, letters, irish, hands, carolingian, uncial, origin and adopted

III. SET MINUSCULE WRITING One after another, the national minuscule cursive hands were superseded by a set minuscule hand which has already been men tioned. Its origins may now be traced from the beginning.

Half-uncial Writing.

The early cursive was the medium in which the minuscule forms were gradually evolved from the cor responding majuscule forms. Minuscule writing was thus cursive in its inception. As the minuscule letters made their appearance in the cursive writing of documents, they were adopted and given calligraphic form by the copyists of literary texts, so that the set minuscule alphabet was constituted gradually, letter by letter, following the development of the minuscule cursive. Just as some documents written in the early cursive show a mixture of majuscule and minuscule forms, so certain literary papyri of the 3rd century (Oxyrhynchus Papyri, iv., pl. vi., No. 668; xi., pl. vi., No. 1,379), and inscriptions on stone of the 4th century (Pal. Soc., pl. 127-8; Arch. pal. ital., v., pl. 6) yield examples of a mixed set hand, with minuscule forms side by side with capital and uncial letters. The number of minuscule forms increases steadily in texts written in the mixed hand, and especially in marginal notes, until by the end of the 5th century the majuscule forms have almost entirely disappeared in some mss.

This quasi-minuscule writing, known as the Half-uncial (see the many examples in Chatelain, Semiuncial Script.) is thus descended from a long line of mixed hands which, in a synoptic chart of Latin scripts, would appear close to the oldest librariae, and between them and the epistolaris (cursive), from which its characteristic forms were successively derived. It had a con siderable influence on the continental scriptura libraria of the 7th and 8th centuries.

Irish and

Anglo-Saxon Writing.—The half-uncial hand was introduced in Ireland along with Latin culture in the 5th century by priests and laymen from Gaul, fleeing before the barbarian invasions. It was adopted there to the exclusion of the cursive, and soon took on a distinct character. There are two well established classes of Irish writing as early as the 7th cen tury: a large round half-uncial hand, in which certain majuscule forms frequently appear, and a pointed hand, which becomes more cursive and more genuinely minuscule. The latter developed out of the former (Keller, Angelsiichsische Palaeogr.). One of the distinguishing marks of mss. of Irish origin is to be found in the initial letters, which are ornamented by interlacing, ani mal forms, or a frame of red dots. The most certain evidence, however, is provided by the system of abbreviations and by the combined square and cuneiform appearance of the minuscule at the height of its development (cf. Schiaparelli in Arch. stor. ital., lxxiv 1-126).

These two types of Irish writing were introduced in the north of Great Britain by the monks, and were soon adopted by the Anglo-Saxons, being so exactly copied that it is sometimes difficult to determine the origin of an example. Gradually, however, the Anglo-Saxon writing developed a distinct style, and even local types (Keller, op. cit.; Lindsay, Early Welsh Script), which were

superseded after the Norman conquest by the Carolingian minus cule. Through St. Columba and his followers, Irish writing spread to the continent, and mss. were written in the Irish hand in the monasteries of Bobbio and St. Gall during the 7th and 8th centuries.

The Carolingian Minuscule.

In Ireland, an imported quasi-minuscule hand developed into a perfect minuscule. On the continent, where the copyists of books commonly used a cursive script, it is more difficult to trace the transition from the half-uncial to the perfect minuscule, which appeared in the time of Charlemagne and is consequently known as Carolingian. The origin of this hand is much disputed. This is due to the confusion which prevailed before the Carolingian period in the libraria in France, Italy and Germany as a result of the competition between the cursive and the set hands. In addition to the calligraphic uncial and half-uncial writings, which were imitative forms, little used and consequently without much vitality, and the minuscule cursive, which was the most natural hand, there were innumerable varieties of mixed writing derived from the influence of these hands on each other. In some, the uncial or half-uncial forms were preserved with little or no modification, but the influence of the cursive is shown by the freedom of the strokes; these are known as rustic, semi-cursive or cursive uncial or half-uncial hands. Conversely, the cursive was sometimes affected, in vary ing degrees, by the set librariae; the cursive of the epistolaris became a semi-cursive when adopted as a libraria. Nor is this all. Apart from these reciprocal influences affecting the movement of the hand across the page, there were morphological influences at work, letters being borrowed from one alphabet for another. This led to compromises of all sorts and of infinite variety between the uncial and half-uncial and the cursive. It will readily be understood that the origin of the Carolingian minuscule, which must be sought in this tangle of pre-Carolingian hands, involves disagreement. The new writing is admittedly much more closely related to the epistolaris than the primitive minuscule; this is shown by certain forms, such as the open a ), which recall the cursive, by the joining of certain letters, and by the clubbing of the tall letters b d h 1, which resulted from a cursive ductus. All palaeographers agree in assigning the new hand the place shown in the following table: Controversy turns on the question whether the Carolingian minuscule is the primitive minuscule as modified by the influence of the cursive or a cursive based on the primitive minuscule. Its place of origin is also uncertain; Rome, the Palatine school, Tours, Metz, Reims, St. Denis and Corbie have been suggested, but no agreement bas been reached. (For the latest pronounce ment cf. Steinacker in Miscellanea Ehrle, iv., 126 sq.) In any case, the appearance of the new hand is a turning point in the history of culture. So far as Latin writing is concerned, it marks the dawn of modern times.