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Reading in the orthography of the ancient Romans

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Reading in the orthography of the ancient Romans

Postby Χριστόφορος » Tue May 26, 2009 6:05 am

I notice through reading various articles on the subject of Latin orthography, that the spelling conventions used nowadays differ quite a bit from the actual orthography used in ancient Rome. My question is, mainly just out sheer curiosity, where it is a) possible to obtain texts in the "authentic" orthography and if so, b) whether it is at all common for many people to do so. When I get around to learning Latin, I think it would be rather nice to read texts in the exact way the Romans would have read them, especially considering the effort I'd be taking to learn their language in the first place.
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Re: Reading in the orthography of the ancient Romans

Postby jchthys » Tue May 26, 2009 1:50 pm

It seems that there was never one ‘correct’ orthography in use: throughout history many different spelling systems were used.
Oxford texts attempt to be more ‘original’ by not making a distinction between ‘i’/‘j’ and ‘u’/‘v’.
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Re: Reading in the orthography of the ancient Romans

Postby Lucus Eques » Tue May 26, 2009 2:05 pm

Here is an example of Imperial writing (it's a folio of Vergil):

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/c ... rtrait.jpg

I too once craved to write in the orthographic style of the Romans, and you can manage it too pretty easily:

all capital letters
no spaces
no punctuation
no paragraphing

But, we're not used to this way of writing, or reading. The Irish language, for example, was once written in a very cumbersome alphabet that was designed for carving on wood — but was completely superseded by the Roman alphabet — indeed, the form with all its lowercase letters and punctuation that we know and love; and that is the official writing system for Irish.

There is stylistic loveliness in the ancient Roman style of writing that lacks our modern conveniences. For example, I had at one point fully adopted the habit of writing "V/u" and never "U" or "v" in Latin, and many others out there still prefer this as a sort of homage to the Roman way of doing things.

But I discovered that this led to unnecessary ambiguity, especially with regard to poetry; the letter 'v' serves as the consonant, and 'u' as the vowel by convention; likewise, 'j' may serve as the consonantal version of 'i' — the reasons for abandoning this practice are illogical; the distinction of these letters is critical, as they are totally different phonemes, and are not distinguishable otherwise except through memorization.

It is for this reason I fully adopted "j" and "v," for Latin benefits in clarity of expression (the purpose of all language, fundamentally) — the Roman way of doing things, I found, was not always the best way.

This is comparable to neologisms in Latin: I used modern Latin terms for everyday things that the Romans would never have dreamed of; and I use neologisms, not classical Latin glosses of words that are cumbersome and unclear. So, thus, as I make use of the invention of modern terms, so too do I make use of the invention of punctuation, miniscule, and j's & v's, as they permit ease of communication.

But that's my opinion. ;)
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Re: Reading in the orthography of the ancient Romans

Postby thesaurus » Tue May 26, 2009 2:23 pm

Χριστόφορος wrote:When I get around to learning Latin, I think it would be rather nice to read texts in the exact way the Romans would have read them, especially considering the effort I'd be taking to learn their language in the first place.


While you're at it, make sure to read texts written in all capitals without punctuation, preferably written by hand on papyrus scrolls.

I jest, but my point is that we can gain a lot by availing ourselves of modern advances in writing, including standardized spelling. Of course, if you are interested in Latin from a historical linguistic perspective, you'd want the original spellings. That way you could see how pronunciation varied over time and space. It's my understanding that Roman inscriptions (on statues and such) are often useful incidences of peculiar spelling and orthography.

Dum ita agis, vide ut libros litteribus lapidariis scriptos et sine interpunctione legas, potius manu papyroque scriptos.

Adludo, sed promotiones artis scribendi hodiernas sicut orthographia recta sunt, ut dicam, nobis bonis magnis atque haud spernendae. Certo, si lingua latina inquisitionis historici causa linguarum tibi interest, oportet verba ut a Romanis ipsis scripta fuerunt consultes. Ita qua ratione locutio tempore locoque mutaverit vidi potest. Ut intellego ego, inscriptones Romanas (in imagines et alia) saepe usui sunt ut orthographia hic illicque inspiciatur.
Horae quidem cedunt et dies et menses et anni, nec praeteritum tempus umquam revertitur nec quid sequatur sciri potest. Quod cuique temporis ad vivendum datur, eo debet esse contentus. --Cicero, De Senectute
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Re: Reading in the orthography of the ancient Romans

Postby Benedarius » Tue May 26, 2009 4:55 pm

Lucus Eques wrote:The Irish language, for example, was once written in a very cumbersome alphabet that was designed for carving on wood — but was completely superseded by the Roman alphabet — indeed, the form with all its lowercase letters and punctuation that we know and love; and that is the official writing system for Irish.

Well that's stretching it a good bit. Ogham was never "written", it was merely used for grave stones and boundary markers and the like. It is possible it was carved on wood, but the only evidence of it is around stones. Also, it was used by all Celts, not just Irish.

It was not a "writing system" as such. It was not superseded as such either, there simply was no writing system in Ireland until the introduction of Latin, unless runes were used, but again there is no evidence of that. After the introduction of Latin, a variation of the Latin alphabet was used, known as the Irish Uncial alphabet, or "Cló Gaelach", and that was used up until about 40 years ago, when spelling was radically reformed.
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Re: Reading in the orthography of the ancient Romans

Postby Lucus Eques » Tue May 26, 2009 6:05 pm

I stand corrected. :)

Though I still write with uncials in my handwriting (it's much easier to write with, in my opinion, and more attractive), and I saw them all over Ireland as a decorative sort of printed letter. What radical reformation do you mean?
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Re: Reading in the orthography of the ancient Romans

Postby Benedarius » Tue May 26, 2009 6:19 pm

Uncials are still used, but rarely printed anymore. All newspapers and most signs are now in the normal Latin alphabet, and uncial isn't thought in school anymore, so I can read it pretty well, I cannot write it, and I get confused between s and r.

Lucus Eques wrote:What radical reformation do you mean?

Well spellings are radically different from about 50 years ago, a huge number of the silent letters have been removed. Some of the more obvious examples are:
idhe - í
lubhaidh (or something like that) - lú.
I think they call it the "Caighdeán Oifigiúil" or official standard, and that is the standard written form of the language. It is pretty much based on the Connaught dialect, plus a bit from Munster. It is an artificial standard, in that it doesn't accurately represent any one particular dialect of Irish, but for Munster and Connaught, it represents the Irish spoken pretty well. Donegal pronunciation is quite different to it though, but I think most people still write like that, and pronounce it as in their dialect.
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Re: Reading in the orthography of the ancient Romans

Postby edonnelly » Tue May 26, 2009 6:39 pm

Lucus Eques wrote:It is for this reason I fully adopted "j" and "v," for Latin benefits in clarity of expression (the purpose of all language, fundamentally) — the Roman way of doing things, I found, was not always the best way.


Lucus, is that really you? Surely someone has stolen your login info and posted this under your name!
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Re: Reading in the orthography of the ancient Romans

Postby NuclearWarhead » Tue May 26, 2009 10:34 pm

Lucus Eques wrote:Here is an example of Imperial writing (it's a folio of Vergil):

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/c ... rtrait.jpg


This manuscript is the Vergilius Romanus from the 5th century written in the capitalis rustica.

Χριστόφορος wrote:I notice through reading various articles on the subject of Latin orthography, that the spelling conventions used nowadays differ quite a bit from the actual orthography used in ancient Rome. My question is, mainly just out sheer curiosity, where it is a) possible to obtain texts in the "authentic" orthography and if so, b) whether it is at all common for many people to do so. When I get around to learning Latin, I think it would be rather nice to read texts in the exact way the Romans would have read them, especially considering the effort I'd be taking to learn their language in the first place.


Depending on whether you would want to learn a script for a nice manuscript for a rich man or you want to learn how people would write on notes, in letters, on walls, etc., there are different choices. Period is also a consideration.

I have scanned three pages from Bischoff's Latin Palaeography so you can see the scripts out of context:

http://img156.imageshack.us/img156/977/1capitalisandwaxtablet.jpg
http://img156.imageshack.us/img156/6417/2capitalisandcursive.jpg
http://img218.imageshack.us/img218/3954/3uncial.jpg
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Re: Reading in the orthography of the ancient Romans

Postby edonnelly » Tue May 26, 2009 10:46 pm

NuclearWarhead wrote:I have scanned three pages from Bischoff's Latin Palaeography so you can see the scripts out of context:


Cool. Two questions. The first scanned page has "Latin script in antiquity." About what time period is it referring to? Also, what are the three letters after "z" ?
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Re: Reading in the orthography of the ancient Romans

Postby Χριστόφορος » Fri May 29, 2009 1:24 am

I must agree with "thesaurus" that there is a lot to be said for reading in the modern orthography, not least of all its greater ease compared with the older styles where there are no spaces, punctuation markers etc. Perhaps I should adopt this mindset and go modern then, especially considering I'll be encountering most if not all Latin in that orthography anyway.

NuclearWarhead, thanks for scanning those pages, they're very interesting. :)
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Re: Reading in the orthography of the ancient Romans

Postby Alatius » Sat Jun 06, 2009 8:03 am

One often sees statements about how the Romans regularly read without any interpunction and word divisions; it has been mentioned several times in this thread already. This may be true for roughly the period 300 to 700 AD, which is the period in which our oldest extensive manuscripts were written. However, in classical times, say AD 200 and earlier, the evidence rather shows that the interpunct was regularly used as a word separator. It is found in most papyrus fragments, graffiti, and of course inscriptions.

For examples of handwriting with interpunct, see the Vindolanda tablets and the fragment of "de Bellis Macedonicis" (possibly ca. 100 AD; also note the apices!)

There are also evidence for classical interpunctation; see E. Otha Wingo, Latin Punctuation in the Classical Age, Mouton, 1972.

edonnelly wrote:Also, what are the three letters after "z" ?

They are ligatures: OR, VNT, VR. (Strictly speaking, they are examples of "nexus", rather than ligatures. Ligatures, as a technical paleographic term, is when two letters are simply connected without any element added or removed. Nexus is when two letters share elements.)
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Re: Reading in the orthography of the ancient Romans

Postby metrodorus » Sat Jun 06, 2009 8:13 pm

The Romans did not write handwriting in capitals - they had a form of writing used on monumental inscriptions, another for publishing books, and yet another for everyday writing - such as is found in the letters from Vindolanda.
These can be read online.

Evan.
I run various Latin sites, including Schola and the Latinum YouTube channel - the main portal to these is http://latinum.org.uk
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Re: Reading in the orthography of the ancient Romans

Postby Χριστόφορος » Tue Apr 20, 2010 6:42 am

Just bumping an old thread I made here. I figured it might be better than starting a new thread for essentially the same topic...

Anyway, I've taken an extract of Tacitus and am attempting to convert it to the original orthography. One of the reasons I'm attracted to Latin in the first place is the idea of reading the exact words the Romans would have used.

Can anyone confirm or correct the following passages?

The original:
Prima novo principatu mors Iunii Silani proconsulis Asiae ignaro Nerone per dolum Agrippinae paratur, non quia ingenii violentia exitium inritaverat, segnis et dominationibus aliis fastiditus, adeo ut C. Caesar pecudem auream eum appellare solitus sit: verum Agrippina fratri eius L. Silano necem molita ultorem metuebat, crebra vulgi fama anteponendum esse vixdum pueritiam egresso Neroni et imperium per scelus adepto virum aetate composita insontem, nobilem et, quod tunc spectaretur, e Caesarum posteris: quippe et Silanus divi Augusti abnepos erat. haec causa necis. ministri fuere P. Celer eques Romanus et Helius libertus, rei familiari principis in Asia impositi. ab his proconsuli venenum inter epulas datum est, apertius quam ut fallerent. nec minus properato Narcissus Claudii libertus, de cuius iurgiis adversus Agrippinam rettuli, aspera custodia et necessitate extrema ad mortem agitur, invito principe, cuius abditis vitiis per avaritiam ac prodigentiam mire congruebat.

I had to upload images of the edited versions, because they won't display properly otherwise:

In capitals, U replaced with V, without spaces or punctuation:
Image

In capitals, U replaced with V, no punctuation expect for a middle dot as a space:
Image

The second is near-impossible to read, and it seems the third is perhaps more in line with what would have been read. I just don't know for sure. Does anyone know what the original manuscripts looked like? How would Tacitus have written the whole thing?

Sorry if this seems silly, but I'm determined to do this! :mrgreen:
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Re: Reading in the orthography of the ancient Romans

Postby adrianus » Tue Apr 20, 2010 11:23 am

Χριστόφορος wrote:Does anyone know what the original manuscripts looked like? How would Tacitus have written the whole thing?

I gave this elsewhere on Roman handwriting, Χριστόφορος:
De orthographiâ Romanâ hoc, Χριστόφορος, alibi scripsi:
I recommend these books, vastor // Hos libros tibi commendo, vastor
Jean Mallon, L'Écriture Latine (Paris, 1939)
Jean Mallon, Paléographie Romaine (Madrid, 1952)
Bernard Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages (CUP, 1990)

Most importantly though, make sure to check out the illustrated examples of lettering from the historical documents.
Ante omnia autem, litteras textuales è codicibus historicis quae ibi exhibentur benè scrutinare.
I'm writing in Latin hoping for correction, and not because I'm confident in how I express myself. Latinè scribo ut ab omnibus corrigar, non quod confidenter me exprimam.
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Re: Reading in the orthography of the ancient Romans

Postby Hampie » Tue Apr 20, 2010 2:58 pm

Χριστόφορος wrote:Just bumping an old thread I made here. I figured it might be better than starting a new thread for essentially the same topic...

Anyway, I've taken an extract of Tacitus and am attempting to convert it to the original orthography. One of the reasons I'm attracted to Latin in the first place is the idea of reading the exact words the Romans would have used.

Can anyone confirm or correct the following passages?

The original:
Prima novo principatu mors Iunii Silani proconsulis Asiae ignaro Nerone per dolum Agrippinae paratur, non quia ingenii violentia exitium inritaverat, segnis et dominationibus aliis fastiditus, adeo ut C. Caesar pecudem auream eum appellare solitus sit: verum Agrippina fratri eius L. Silano necem molita ultorem metuebat, crebra vulgi fama anteponendum esse vixdum pueritiam egresso Neroni et imperium per scelus adepto virum aetate composita insontem, nobilem et, quod tunc spectaretur, e Caesarum posteris: quippe et Silanus divi Augusti abnepos erat. haec causa necis. ministri fuere P. Celer eques Romanus et Helius libertus, rei familiari principis in Asia impositi. ab his proconsuli venenum inter epulas datum est, apertius quam ut fallerent. nec minus properato Narcissus Claudii libertus, de cuius iurgiis adversus Agrippinam rettuli, aspera custodia et necessitate extrema ad mortem agitur, invito principe, cuius abditis vitiis per avaritiam ac prodigentiam mire congruebat.

I had to upload images of the edited versions, because they won't display properly otherwise:

In capitals, U replaced with V, without spaces or punctuation:
Image

In capitals, U replaced with V, no punctuation expect for a middle dot as a space:
Image

The second is near-impossible to read, and it seems the third is perhaps more in line with what would have been read. I just don't know for sure. Does anyone know what the original manuscripts looked like? How would Tacitus have written the whole thing?

Sorry if this seems silly, but I'm determined to do this! :mrgreen:

If we add the lengthmark the romans used to the third text I’d find it almost more readable than many modern text lacking macrons :3. QVÓ•ÚSQVE•TANDEM•ABÚTÉRE•CATILÍNA•PATIENTIÁ•NOSTRÁ
Här kan jag i alla fall skriva på svenska, eller hur?
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