BMCR 1991.02.17

A guide to western historical scripts: from antiquity to 1600

, A guide to western historical scripts: from antiquity to 1600. . London: British Library, 1990. 138 pages. ISBN 9780712301770.

One of the best kept secrets of the book trade, owing to an unfortunate choice of title, is Michelle Brown, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600. Even the blurb on the back cover gets the thrust of the book wrong (it is not a book of documents on ancient and medieval history). But let me quote from the author’s introduction.

The aim of this work is to provide an aid for a wide variety of readers who wish to trace the evolution of scripts in the West from the world of Antiquity to the early modern period and who desire to read these scripts and to discover more about how they were formed. It is hoped that these purposes are perceived as complementary, or that they may become so….

A synopsis of each of the major phases of development is given, with bibliography, at the beginning of each section, together with comments on regional and chronological diffusion, where appropriate. These are followed by a number of relevant plates, each accompanied by a facing page of commentary, which consists of a brief description of the manuscript and its script, a passage of transcription, designed to assist reading practice, and notes highlighting any specific points. Full-page illustrations are given as far as possible in order to give an overall impression of mise-en-page.

The quality of the photographs of Latin book-hands (with a few documentary pieces to help illustrate the evolution of the book script) is excellent (even if not full-size, alas) and at $40.00 the book should be in the hands of every classicist (even Hellenists could l earn from this volume — they, after all, do live in the West). Most of the manuscripts are from the BL. There is a useful index of the illustrated scripts running from Anglicana Formata to Visigothic Minuscule.

One hopes that the sales will be brisk and that University of Toronto Press will be encouraged to keep the book in print. It has no rival here or abroad.