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Category Archives: Art and Artefacts

How to read an ancient manuscript: 11th century Vergil’s Aeneid (Part 2)

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Welcome back to the task of reading a real 11th century Latin manuscript of Vergil’s Aeneid. In Part 1, we launched straight into the task of deciphering this delightful Carolingian Minuscule manuscript, learning some of the most frequent scribal abbreviations. But there are still many more devices to go. Firstly, though, I realise I hadn’t properly explained what was in our manuscript before, so I drew up a neat chart for what sections of the Aeneid it covers, along with links to plain text versions of everything you can find in the manuscript. And secondly I’ve provided a short chart which summarizes all the devices we learned in Part 1, in case you wanted to quickly check them up. In the third segment, we resume learning scribal abbreviations until we’ve exhausted all of the ones which occur in this manuscript.

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How to read an ancient manuscript: 11th century Vergil’s Aeneid (Part 1)

How would you like to read a genuine medieval manuscript?

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In this two-part series we will do just that. I’ve selected a very handsomely written 11th century Carolingian manuscript of Vergil’s Aeneid. The writing is quite clear and it has a decent number of scribal abbreviations, but it is quite manageable for those trying to read Latin on parchment for the first time. At some point I might make similar posts for Ancient Greek and Middle English, so even if you don’t know Latin, I hope I can introduce you to the joys of reading medieval manuscripts.

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How to write Greek Uncial

Have you ever wondered how to write in one of earliest Ancient Greek calligraphic scripts? Wonder no more! I’m happy to present the first video I’ve made for Found in Antiquity, so that you can see first hand how to write the alphabet in Greek Uncial.

What exactly is Greek Uncial?

Greek Uncial hails from the first few centuries of the Common Era. Unlike Ancient Greek cursive, Uncial is surprisingly readable even if you’re mostly used to reading modern Greek letter forms. While most of the surviving examples were written on parchment, Greek Uncial started life on papyrus and was generally used for literary texts like Homer’s Iliad (below).

2nd century AD, Greek Uncial on papyrus. From Thomson, An introduction to Greek and Latin palaeography (1912), p142.

2nd century AD, Greek Uncial on papyrus. From Thomson, An introduction to Greek and Latin palaeography (1912), p142.

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Top ten Fayum Portraits

At the moment, I’m in full flurry of editing my Classics Honours thesis which is due on Monday. Enjoy these Fayum mummy portraits while I prep my thesis! What strikes me about these is the incredible individuality of each of these faces. It’s like the coloured, painted equivalent of looking at Roman statue busts where […]

Romans paint better perspective than Renaissance artists

Fresco from the Villa of Publius Fannius Synistor, second-style wall painting, preserved by ash in 79 AD

Fresco from the Villa of Publius Fannius Synistor, second-style wall painting, preserved by ash in 79 AD

Visitors who see this fresco at the Met museum are often amazed at what seems to be a pre-Renaissance understanding of perspective. One visitor wrote that this “looks like an entire city–perspectivally rendered! The Middle Ages lost those lessons on perspective for sure.”

The statement picks up on a very common triumphalist attitude towards perspective. Perspective is a lesson to be learned by all good art students, it is the golden standard of realism, and the Renaissance Masters either discovered it or rescued it, after the utter ignorance of the Middle Ages.

But what do we mean by “perspective”? Did the Romans use linear perspective? And is the linear model really the best anyone could come up with?

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Ancient scrolls: where are the wooden handles?

We all know what an ancient scroll should look like. Most of us haven’t actually seen a scroll from the first century AD, but we know what they look like in movies and stage productions. They should look something like a rolled up cylinder of paper with attractive wooden knobs poking out at either end.

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There, like that. These were the prop scrolls used in the movies “Alexander” and “Agora”. Nothing screams ancient and legitimate like wooden handle thingies. Nothing could be more genuinely scroll-like. It’s beautiful, it’s antiquated. You can just imagine Julius Caesar casually picking one of these up and reading it with a British accent.

But I’ve recently been surprised by the lack of wooden knobs in artistic evidence from the Roman Empire.

Where are all the handle thingies?

Could we have been overestimating the prevalence of cool-looking-rolling-pin-shaped-sticks this whole time?

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