Good Evening, my happy family of medievalists! I recently went to look at a manuscript as a primary source. I know, it’s a never ending exercise in frustration. When you pull out a manuscript (or more likely, photos of the pages) it sometimes seems like you are staring at another language even when it is written in English. Guess what? Chances are good that it IS written in another language. Today’s Links list will educate you on the whys and hows of Medieval Cryptology, a past time that originated in the need to write quickly and condense a complicated language down to its essentials. This ancient basis for modern shorthand marks is the very reason your eyes get so tired attempting to decipher those medieval marks on the page. Read on (thankfully, in modern English), and learn how to cheat, and look like a pro at cryptology!
(All images come from the links preceding them in the text except where noted)
Dame Aoife Finn (m/k/a author Lis Gelatt), writing from sunny Endless Hills in Æthelmearc.
Image source:Reading Medieval Script
English Language and Usage: How did 7 become the abbreviation for ‘and’ in Old English? Did you ever wonder how some abbreviations or shorthand characters came to be? The link above details how a common modern shorthand character found frequent usage.
Reading Medieval Script in Three Not-So-Easy Steps. Often, when we sit down to do research into a given subject we are confronted with several difficulties in period sources. This author addresses those difficulties so that you, the scholar, don’t end up looking like the fellow pictured after a day of primary source reading. Arundel 490, fol. 81
How to Read Medieval Handwriting. There are many difficulties to medieval handwriting, not the least of which are the many “fonts.” Find out how to adjust yourself to these puzzling language characters at this link.
Medieval Abbreviations (I). Origin. Where did this peculiar need to abbreviate meaning in written word originate? At this link you will find out how and why medieval shorthand began. Yes, it is for the same reason we use shorthand today. You won’t believe how old shorthand really is, though.
Medieval Abbreviations (II). Medieval Period. Shorthand and abbreviations took a turn for the more complicated in the Medieval period. In a way, monks and scholars were hoarding information for themselves by creating and using this “secret language” known only to the initiated. Here’s how to crack that code for yourself.
The Ciphers of the Monks—A forgotten number notation of the middle ages. Yes, this is another secret language from the middle ages. And you thought the number system for referencing passages in the Bible was convoluted!
Manuscript abbreviations in Latin and English. Use this handy guide as you read your source documents. It will prove invaluable in deciphering those abbreviations.
A Dictionary of Abbreviations in Medieval Manuscripts Here is another dictionary of words found abbreviated in medieval manuscripts. You’re welcome. I’m glad to have this on tap, myself!
Medieval Manuscript Manual. Originating as a class reference, this site has become a European scholarly site for references on all sorts of manuscript ephemera, and features manuscripts in many languages. The site itself is available in several languages to boot.
Cracking Codes in Medieval Books. This, it turns out, is quite a hobby in itself. If you want to research certain manuscripts, however, this will be an invaluable tool. Some scriptorium preferred certain symbols and abbreviations over others.
Tironian Notes. Socrates had a scribe whose family name was Tiro. Tiro devised a system for rapid note-taking, and Tironian notes (the first known shorthand) was born. Still in use by the late middle ages, Tironian notes allowed scholars to rapidly write spoken word as well as to write all over source material in a secret language, summing up the contents for themselves. These margin notes are fascinating to modern scholars. On this site, we see some of the system, which became incredibly complex, in action as well as several translation tables and examples of the marks in situ.
Medieval Cryptology–Aethelmearc’s own Mistress Phiala has a site dedicated to Medieval Cryptology, noting many ways medieval scribes made knowledge harder for modern scholars to interpret. This site is the Pennsic University basis for her class on the subject.
Decrypting the Most Mysterious Book in the World. If you thought any of the above was difficult, you should see the Voynich manuscript, a 600 year old book that NO ONE but the author understood. Until now….