Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.10.23

Leonard E. Boyle, Paleografia Latina Medievale: Introduzione Bibliografica. Translated by Maria Elena Bertoldi. Presented by Fabio Troncarelli.   Rome:  Edizioni Quasar, 1999.  Pp. xxiv, 494; 8 facs.  ISBN 88-7140-144-1.  L.95,000.  

Reviewed by James W. Halporn, Indiana/Harvard
Word count: 470 words

This is an Italian translation of L.E. Boyle, Medieval Latin Palaeography. A Bibliographical Introduction, Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1984 (still in print), with the addition of eight plates and a supplement to cover the period 1982-1998.

Troncarelli's presents an overview of the history and meaning of the term "palaeography," with particular attention to Italian and English/American views. As Troncarelli sees it Italian scholars focus their research on the morphology of a script. Like the French, Italian scholars are historically trained, and look towards historical reconstruction. The English and American palaeographers are more empirical in their approaches. They go beyond the forms of letters to consider issues from codicology to miniatures, and widen the area of research to include epigraphy and diplomatics, and deal with the materials on which the writing appears as well as the inks used to produce it. American and English palaeographers often work for auction houses (like many art critics) and some are librarians. As a result many of these scholars are interested in cataloguing, and so investigate the date, provenance, and other external features of the manuscript book.

Troncarelli points to the distinction between palaeography "in the strict sense" which deals only with the ancient morphology of the letters (the Italian method), and palaeography "in the wider sense" which deals with all that is connected with writing in the past.1 Troncarelli is not surprised that Boyle emphasizes the "wider sense" of palaeography, showing the subject in a fruitful dialogue with other disciplines. He is always conscious that palaeography in its fullest expression involves an analysis of the relations between the writer and the reader.2 However palaeography is viewed, it remains a historical discipline, and, as such, has become involved in the controversy over "quantitative" and "qualitative" analysis of the research data.3

Boyle's book can serve as an instrument for showing that palaeography can be approached in many ways, and that the discipline can help us understand the society and culture from which the writing springs. The eight plates illustrate manuscripts of the Vatican Library from the sixth to the thirteenth century. Although the plates are used to separate major sections of the text, they are not mentioned in the table of contents, and do not particularly relate to the sections that precede. The English version was an annotated bibliography, and this feature has been carried over into the Italian version. Most of the supplementary material, however, has not been annotated. The indexes have been corrected and updated. All major research libraries should include this book. Boyle specifically stated that his volume was a "working bibliography for beginners" (xiv, English; xxii, Italian). This observation seems too modest for the amount of material and the thoughtful notes that the book contains. It is clear throughout how much every student and scholar of palaeography owes to Leonard Boyle.


1.   G. Cencetti, Lineamenti di Storia della Scrittura Latina, Bologna: Patron, 1954, 6 (the quotation marks are those of Troncarelli, xi; these words do not appear in Cencetti). Julian Brown expresses the same thought by distinguishing a "strict" palaeography as one that "[studies] ancient handwriting" from a "wider" kind which studies "all aspects of books produced by hand ...," A Palaeographer's View, London: Harvey Miller, 1993, 47.
2.   Useful additions to the supplementary bibliography can be made that reflect the point of view of the reader. In addition to the volume edited by Roger Chartier, Pratiques de la lecture, Marseille: Rivage, 1985, there is the important collection of essays edited by G. Cavallo and R. Chartier, Storia della Letteratura nel Mondo Occidentale, Rome: Laterza, 1995 (forthcoming in English translation as A History of Reading in the West, Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, October 1999), with full bibliography for all periods from ancient Greece to the modern world. See also the provocative 1985 Panizzi Lectures of D.F. McKenzie, Bibliography and the sociology of text, London: British Library, 1986.
3.   The discussion began with an observation by Bernhard Bischoff in his Paläographie des römischen Altertums und des abendländischen Mittelalters, Berlin: Schmidt, 1979, 17, "Mit technischen Mitteln is die Paläographie, die eine Kunst des Sehens und der Einfühlung ist, auf dem Wege, eine Kunst des Messens zu werden" (English translation, 3: "With the aid of technological advances palaeography, which is an art of seeing and comprehending, is in the process of becoming an art of measurement"). See Scrittura e Civiltà 19 (1995): 321-352 and 22 (1998): 396-417.

Read Latest
Index for 1999
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:26:32, Friday, 03 April 2009