Greek Literary Bookhands

Dear all (users, newcomers and bystanders),

When I started working on this project one month ago, I immediately realized that many of you had already successfully identified a large number of papyri from the collection. I am still going through all of your identifications and have approved many of them. Once again, the Ancient Lives Science Team would like to thank you all for your massive support in terms of transcriptions and classifications. As you could see from Chris’ last post, we recently hit 5 million clicks, which is an amazing result.

As anticipated in Literary VS Documentary Papyri, today’s post is dedicated to a classification of the most peculiar literary scripts. The following categories do not, by any means, exhaust every possible form of writing between the III century BC and the VII century AD, but can help you categorize and approximately date the papyrus you are working on.

  • Ptolemaic book-hands (IV – I century BC) resemble epigraphical scripts. Mostly bilinear (for the notion of ‘bilinearity’ see my last post “Literary VS Documentary Papyri”), these hands are lacking in serifs, shading and other forms of ornamentation. Examples: P. Berol. 9875 (Timotheos, Persians, second half of the fourth century BC); P.Oxy. LIII 3716 (Euripides, Orestes, II-I century BC: see below).
    P.Oxy. 3176
  • Roman majuscule (or Roman uncial, I-II century AD): a round, regular, bilinear hand (only phi and in some cases psi project). Its main characteristic is its uniformity: letters, with the exception of iota and sometimes rho, tend to be compressed into squares; epsilon, theta, omicron and sigma are broad circles of same diameter and size. It may contain serifs and finials. Examples: P.Hawara (mid II century AD); P.Oxy. LXIV 4410 (Comedy?, II century AD: below).
  • Biblical majuscule (or Biblical uncial, from the end of the II century onwards): a round, slowly written calligraphic hand, exhibiting a fine contrast in thickness between vertical and horizontal / ascendent lines. It derives its name from the great Biblical uncial codices of the IV and V century, the Sinaiticus, the Vaticanus, the Alexandrinus and the Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus. Unlike in the Roman majuscule, rho and hupsilon often protrude below the baseline. Forms of embellishment such as finials and serifs do not generally appear. Examples: P.Oxy. LXXV 5027 (Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, III century; P.Oxy. LXII 4327 (Demosthenes, De Chersoneso, III century, below).
    P.Oxy. 4327
  • Severe style (II-III century AD): a kind of writing alternating right angles with curves, and combining letters of different sizes. Narrow letters like epsilon, theta, omicron, sigma, as well as the loop of rho, are contrasted with horizontally extended forms of my, ny, eta and tau. Letters are often sloping to the right. The general impression is of semplicity and neatness. Examples: P.Oxy. LX 4050 (Aeschines, In Ctesiphontem, II-III century, see below); P.Oxy. XXXIV 2700 (Apollonius Rhodius, III century).
    P.Oxy. 4050
  • Coptic uncial (V-VII century AD): a rounded, upright, large size script, written with a thick pen. Letters are broad and their extremities may be decorated with round dots and loops. The writing is strictly bilinear, though xi and phi may constitute exceptions. Examples: P.Oxy. XX 2258 (Callimachus, Hymns, Aitia, Miscellanea, VI-VII century, see here below); P. Rain. III 45 (Mythology, VI-VII century).
    P.Oxy. 2258

    Keep up the good work! And have a great week.


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