BMCR 2007.10.04

To the Origins of Greek Stenography (P. Monts. Roca I)

, , To the origins of Greek stenography (P. Monts. Roca I). Orientalia Montserratensia ; 1. Barcelona: Publicacions de l'Abadia de Montserrat, 2006. 271 p., [29] p. of plates : color illustrations ; 24 cm.. ISBN 8484158470. €24.00.

Between stenography (or, as some would prefer, tachygraphy) and lexicography, the historical associations in ancient and mediaeval written languages are a recondite field of study that tends to be ignored by many palaeographers and codicologists. It is likely, however, that the Lexicon of Abbreviations and Ligatures in Greek Minuscule Hands, soon to be published by the Porphyrogenitus Project in the Hellenic Institute at Royal Holloway, University of London, will facilitate scholarship devoted to stenographic manuscripts in Greek and that, for the critical scrutiny of texts, stenographic evidence will be less subject to neglect. It thus seems opportune that Sofía Torallas Tovar, a Greek and Coptic papyrologist who is a research fellow in the Instituto de Filología (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid) and who, at the Benedictine abbey of Santa María de Montserrat (founded by the third son of Oliba Cabreta in 1025), is deeply familiar with the Roca-Puig collection of papyri, and Klaas Worp, a Greek papyrologist who is a member of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Leiden and whose collaborative scholarship with Roger Bagnall resulted in The Chronological Systems of Byzantine Egypt (Zutphen: 1978), have now published To the Origins of Greek Stenography (P. Monts. Roca I) as the inaugural volume of the series Orientalia Montserratensia.

Ramón Roca-Puig, the honorary canon ( el canónigo honorario) in Barcelona of Santa Eulàlia ( la Seu), was a native of Catalunya, born in Algerri 23 March 1906. Educated in Latin and in Greek, and after obtaining his theological doctorate at the Universitat Pontificia de Tarragona, he was much concerned with such relationships as he could discover between Biblical texts and written materials in Greek and Coptic papyri. And it was under the tutelage of Aristide Calderini (1883-1968) at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano that Roca-Puig gained his learning as a papyrologist and earned his doctorate in classical philology in 1939.1

In 1952, in Barcelona, Roca-Puig created the Fundació San Lluc Evangelista to advance the study of ancient documents and to serve as a repository for his papyrological collection. This was the collection that he eventually bestowed upon the abbey at Montserrat where he spent the last four years of his life. He died 29 June 2001.

In To the Origins of Greek Stenography, Tovar and Worp furnish an edition and discussion of inv. nos. 166r-178v in the Montserrat ( olim Barcelona) codex miscellaneus (inv. nos. 126-178, 292, 338), a single-quire codex, in papyrus, that was originally assembled in at least 28 bifolia of which 26 are known to be extant. Each folio has its own inventory number; but, for constructing the text, the sequence of inventory numbers is not to be understood to mean the order of foliation.

It was Roca-Puig who, in the 1950s, acquired portions of the Montserrat codex, which some have dated to the fourth century and others, less conservatively and perhaps less certainly, to a date no earlier than 200 and which may have been recovered from the Thébaïde, and who obtained more fragments of the codex from the Fondation Martin Bodmer in 1973. A very small fragment of this same codex is housed in the Papyrus Archive at Duke University where it is catalogued as P. Duk. inv. 798. The tiny scrap at Duke, which preserves a few words of Cicero, In Catilinam, can be viewed on line.

Beginning in 1965, Roca-Puig edited and published as much of the codex as remains in inv. nos. 128-161. (Inv. nos. 126-127 only subsist, as it were, ex hypothesi.) For the material that he left unpublished, he took copious notes; and, thus in debt to the scholarship of Roca-Puig, Tovar and Juan Gil Fernández (Seville) are soon to bring into print a narrative about the emperor Hadrian that is found in inv. nos. 162-165.

What Tovar and Worp have presented in To the Origins of Greek Stenography is a list of words in unaccented Greek, including some proper nouns, accompanied by a detailed exposition of the list as it is found in inv. nos. 166r-178v of the Montserrat codex and by an argument concerning its origins. The list is given in 2368 entries, a few of which contain more than a single word.

The first chapter gives a full codicological and palaeographic account of the manuscript in papyrus in which the list of words is found. Since each bifolium is about H 12.4 cm. x W 23 cm., the codex has the dimensions of a pocket book. The wrappers in which the codex is bound are of parchment, with the hair-side forming the outer surface. Tovar and Worp describe the hand in which the text was inscribed as “a small quickly written cursive” (p. 22). In this context, “quickly written” does not mean “stenographic.” There are, indeed, no stenographic signs at all in inv. nos. 128-161; but the lettering, which is exceedingly plain and is altogether neat, can be read by anyone at all who is familiar with the alphabet in Greek. Although, while the text was being written, a change of calamus evidently did occur, the hand remains the same.

It is on palaeographic grounds alone that the editors base their claim that the manuscript in papyrus was put into writing in the second half of the fourth century. Their palaeographic argument, however, is an assertion, not an argument.

There is, in the opening chapter, also some speculative commentary about the first owner of the manuscript but, concerning the topic of archaic ownership, nothing definite can be said.

The second chapter, which is devoted to what Tovar and Worp call “general remarks,” is of the greatest interest. In brief, the editors argue (1) that the list of words in the Montserrat codex is derived from a source in common with the lexicon of Hesychius, the abridgement of which survives in Venice, Biblioteca Marciana MS gr. 622, a documentary relic of the fifteenth century that arrived at the Marciana among 216 codices in the famous bequest of Giovanni Battista Recanati, FRS (1687-1734), and (2) that their “solution for the decisive interpretation” of the word-list “comes from a comparison with the content of the so-called ‘ Commentary‘” which, in 1934, under the auspices of the Egypt Exploration Society, Herbert John Mansfield Milne (1888-1965), the gifted polyglot who was an assistant “keeper” at the Department of Manuscripts in the British Museum, had published in Greek Shorthand Manuals: Syllabary and Commentary ( GSHM) (p. 31).

Comparison between the word-list in the Montserrat codex and the words recorded in the Commentary, a text in GSHM that Milne had established from papyrus found at Antino in 1913-14 and from British Library Papyri 2561 and 2562, acquired by the British Museum in 1924, and that illustrates stenographic signs in relation to their values, is indeed striking. The comparison, in point of fact, is what justifies the title, To the Origins of Greek Stenography, that Tovar and Worp chose to give their book.

In the Commentary in GSHM, each stenographic sign, with its value, constitutes an element. And Milne thus described the structure of words in the Commentary :

“To each main element is attached a group of four words, the so-called tetrad, which can be extended at need …. These tetrads are connected with the main element in a purely arbitrary way, but within themselves are as a rule arranged in a rough alphabetic order according to the vowels of the first syllable, usually AEOY (the last by this time including I and EI). Sometimes these words form a sentence or are interconnected in another way. Often, however, no such principle of coherence is apparent. In the main symbol they are represented by the shorthand equivalent of each final syllable, grouped around in a way which suggests the vowel positions of the Tironian system.”2

The full text of the Commentary, as Milne understood and presented it, ranges across 810 groups of words most, but not all, of which are tetrads.

Although correspondence between the word-list in the Montserrat codex and the words provided in the Commentary is not exact, its sufficiency does furnish Tovar and Worp with a solid basis for arguing, as indeed they do, that the Montserrat word-list can serve to repair at least some of the lacunae that Milne had left unsupplied in his text of the Commentary.

With regard to the lacunae that remain in the Commentary in GSHM, Tovar and Worp do not mention what Colin Henderson Roberts (1909-1990) remarked in 1936 as concerning the documents that Milne had employed: “The combined papyri provide us with a nearly complete text of the Commentary; and it happens that one of the gaps can be partially filled from an unpublished parchment fragment in the Bodleian to which Mr. E. Lobel has kindly drawn my attention.”3 “Mr. E. Lobel” was Edgar Lobel (1889-1982) who, at the Bodleian Library, was the Reader in Papyrology and who was a specialist in the decipherment of mutilated texts. Roberts did not identify the fragment to which Lobel had referred but, in their treatment of the Montserrat word-list, Tovar and Worp avail themselves of the document catalogued at the Bodleian as MS Gr. class. c. 41 (P) which, according to the Gazetteer of Papyri in British Collections, seems to be a glossary that can be dated no earlier than the ninth century and which supplies a few readings not found in what Milne had gathered for the Commentary in GSHM. If, however, this is not the fragment to which Lobel had drawn the attention of Roberts in 1936, the collection of manuscripts in papyrus at the Bodleian should be worth some further scrutiny.

What Tovar and Worp have observed in comparison of the Montserrat word-list with the Commentary does lend credence to their argument, in effect, that the word-list in the Montserrat codex belongs to the same stemma textuum as the abridgment of Hesychius that can be read in Venice, Biblioteca Marciana MS gr. 622. Because, for some, any such connection as may be postulated between the Montserrat word-list and the lexicon of Hesychius would be an object of reasonable doubt, Tovar and Worp prudently state their case:

“… it should be noted that once one starts comparing, via an integrated index …, the entries in our list with the lexicon of Hesychius, a clear link becomes manifest. There are far too many complete and partial identifications possible between words occurring in both sources than can be regarded as the result of mere coincidence. At the very least, it can be said that they had a common source at some point. While indeed quite a few of the entries in our text feature a complete correspondence with a Hesychius entry (provided by his editor, K. Latte, with an asterisk indicating if there is a link with the Glossarium of Cyrillus), many other entries do not show such a correspondence. In fact, to date not many papyri related directly to Hesychius have been published” (p. 30).

And they remark further:

“It is interesting that not only a relatively high percentage of the words in the Montserrat word list and in GSHM is also attested in Hesychius, but also that the words are often attested only (or at least mainly) in Hesychius or other lexicographers, while they seem unattested in pre-IVth century literature. Moreover, many of these words appear in both sources with aberrant spellings” (p. 45).

Because the materials of scholarly concern to Tovar and Worp were written and copied much in advance of the era of mechanized printing, their argument is not quite the same as reckoning that Isaac Pitman’s Phonographic Dictionary of the English Language (London: 1846) must have had a source in common with Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, Abridged from the Rev. H. J. Todd’s Corrected and Enlarged Quarto Edition by Alexander Chalmers, FSA, a condensed amalgam of words that the house of Rivington, in London, had published in 1820; but, to a logician, if not also to an adept in the mysteries of Textkritik, the distinction may be subtle.4 Against the hypothesis of a source in common for (1) a portion, and only for a portion, of the Montserrat word-list, (2) the Commentary, and (3) the lexicon of Hesychius, it may be wondered what, if anything, would count as evidence. And the reference made to “the Glossarium of Cyrillus” suggests that the hypothesis may involve even some further complexities.

The text of Hesychius, as it is found, and is found uniquely, in Marciana MS gr. 622, is an abridged version of what its author actually wrote. And, as the author himself reports in his prefatory note addressed to Eulogius, the lexicon is an enlargement upon what Diogenian of Heraclea had previously assembled. The enlargement, as Hartmut Erbse (1915-2004) was able to show in his review of the first volume of what Kurt Latte (1891-1964) had published in Hesychii Alexandrini lexikon (Copenhagen: 1953), owes much to the work of Apollonius Sophista and, as seems probable, to that also of Eustathius.5 The accomplishment of Diogenian, however, was that also of epitomizing the lexicon of Pamphilus of Alexandria. So, even after discounting the glossae sacrae attributed to Cyril of Alexandria, which Latte knew to have been subsequent interpolations, from the text in Marciana MS gr. 622, the lexicon of Hesychius itself has the features of an eclectic product for which there was a variety of sources.

In the third chapter of To the Origins of Greek Stenography, Tovar and Worp furnish their edition of the word-list in the Montserrat codex. Their apparatus criticus, which provides “the ‘correct’ modern lexicon lemma of any given word by assuming a maximum of correspondence with GSHM” (p. 47), is informative about scribal corrections. The edition, like the text in papyrus, is an accumulation of words, grouped according to each batch of 100 signs in GSHM, alphabetized only by the initial letter of each word, and arranged on every page in three columns from top to bottom. Each distinct page of the text in print corresponds to a written page in the Montserrat codex.

The fourth chapter is the concordance in which Tovar and Worp have listed “in three columns (1) the variant readings in the Montserrat word list …, (2) Milne’s edition of the Greek Shorthand Manuals ( GSHM) …, and (3) the published fragments of the stenographical papyri” (p. 75). The intent of the concordance is to minimise the apparatus criticus by providing a separate list of all the variant readings in the Montserrat codex and in the published fragments. The concordance, which is quite large and which also has the qualities of an apparatus parallelorum, is extremely useful for the purpose of drawing comparisons. It is in this chapter that the utility of the Montserrat word-list and the numerous “published fragments of the stenographical papyri” toward establishing a better and fuller text of the Commentary in GSHM is most plainly evident.

It is the thesis of Tovar and Worp that the Commentary in GSHM is a “kind of Vorlage” (p. 33) for the word-list in the Montserrat codex. Accordingly, in chapter five, there is a sequel to the edition of Milne in the form of “a reconstruction of the original text of the Commentary” that is accompanied by an English translation. Since, however, the Montserrat word-list corresponds only to tetrads 1-600 of the Commentary, the ‘reconstruction’ is neither complete nor such as to replace what Milne had edited and published.

As in Milne, Tovar and Worp have displayed the Commentary in tetrads, with exception granted to a very few pentads.

It is abundantly clear, from the fifth chapter, that the present editors understand their efforts to be a continuation not only of the work of Roca-Puig but also of the project that Milne had begun. And, to any scholar of stenographic Greek who wishes to make use of GSHM, their emendation of the Commentary is genuinely indispensable. Their redetermination of the Commentary in tetrads 1-600 is supported by an apparatus of variae lectiones that draws on the same materials as those cited in the critical notes of the previous chapter and by another that fastens their text to the instrumental works of modern scholarship.

Tovar and Worp, beyond what Milne had achieved, have established as much of the text of the Commentary in GSHM as can be proved on the basis of the Montserrat word-list. Their approach to the Commentary is altogether methodical, being as conservative as it is thorough; and the state of the text, to the extent that they now have fixed it in reference to Milne, is such that, without some discovery of fragments or of testimony not already known to be extant in any manuscripts, it is unlikely to be surpassed.

In To the Origins of Greek Stenography, the sixth chapter offers a topical catalogue of most of the tetrads with which Tovar and Worp are concerned for their edition of the Commentary. It also provides a very useful collection of notes by which to expound the scholarly details of at least 269 of the 600 tetrads in the Commentary that can be matched to readings in the Montserrat word-list. Thus, for example, in their treatment of the first tetrad, the editors find some reason to believe that the author of the Commentary in GSHM was a resident of Alexandria.

Of particular interest to historians of lexicography must be chapter seven in which Tovar and Worp have fully alphabetized the words listed in the Montserrat codex with their original spellings, but giving the modern lexical equivalent of each and, in most cases, denoting the corresponding entries that can be found in Hesychius.

There is, at the end of the volume, a bibliography, a list of addenda et corrigenda that shows attention to detail, and — best of all — photographic plates, in full colour, of inv. nos. 166r-178v, 149 (showing a colophon), 154 (an illustration of one of the labours of Hercules), and 165 (showing another colophon). Tovar and Worp, therefore, display all of the materials that anyone could wish in order to review their scholarship.

Every investigator of stenographic Greek will find that To the Origins of Greek Stenography is a necessary supplement to the foundational task of Milne in Greek Shorthand Manuals. What Tovar and Worp have accomplished is, in sum and in substance, an admirable piece of work that furnishes a worthy tribute to the long career of Ramón Roca-Puig.


1. For summary accounts of the career of Ramón Roca-Puig, see Ferran Blasi, “Ramón Roca-Puig (1906-2001),” Anuario de Historia de la Iglesia 11 (2002), pp. 460-61; Josep Montserrat Torrents, “Ramon Roca-Puig: 23 marzo 1906 – 29 junio 2001,” Aegyptus: Rivista italiana di egittologia e di papirologia 81 (January-December 2001), pp. 337-340; and Pius-Ramón Tragan, “Memòria del Dr. Ramón Roca-Puig,” Butlletí de l’Associació Bíblica de Catalunya 75 (March 2002), pp. 45-49. Tragan mentions Aristide Calderini as ” el gran mestre.”

2. H. J. M. Milne, Greek Shorthand Manuals: Syllabary and Commentary (London: 1934), pp. 3-4. For the difference that the “Tironian system” made to Roman history, see Anthony di Renzo, “His Master’s Voice: Tiro and the Rise of the Roman Secretarial Class,” Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 30.2 (2000), pp. 155-168.

3. See the review of Greek Shorthand Manuals that Roberts published in The Classical Review 50.1 (February 1936), pp. 24-25. As some will recall, it was Roberts and his colleague and collaborator, Theodore Cressy Skeat (1907-2003), who quit the British Academy for its desultory response to the scandalum of Anthony Blunt. Their resignations from the British Academy were publicised in The Times of London on 4 August 1980. Roberts and Skeat, at that time, were employed on The Birth of the Codex (Oxford: 1983).

4. Timothy Bright (1549-1615), in 1588, published Characterie, an Arte of Shorte, Swift, and Secrete Writing by Character, the first manual of stenography for persons literate in English. On 26 July 1588, while the Armada lay anchored at Calais, Elizabeth I granted Bright a patent for his method of stenography the “characters” of which were written, always from top to bottom, in columns. It was in 1596 that Edmund Coote published a small dictionary of “hard English words” in The English Schoole-Maister. Coote, who was master of the Free School of King Edward VI at Bury St. Edmunds, died in 1609. The great stenographers, in the history of English letters, were Pepys, Johnson, and Dickens.

5. H. Erbse, “K. Latte, Hesychii Alexandrini lexicon, vol. I,” Byzantinische Zeitschrift 48 (1955), pp. 130-139.