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Mar 5, 2011

Thompson on Tachygraphy

Excerpt for Review: E.M. Thompson, Handbook Of Greek and Latin Palaeography, ( , 1893) p. 71-74

Page Index



Greek (p.71-4)

Although the subject of shorthand writing does not concern the study of palaeography very nearly, it calls for a brief notice, inasmuch as there is some connexion between its symbols and certain of those employed in the abbreviations and contractions of ordinary MSS., and as tachygraphic signs themselves are occasionally used by scribes and annotators ; and, furthermore, there are in existence a certain number of MSS., both Greek and Latin, written in shorthand systems.

First, as to shorthand systems among the Greeks, we are at once involved in difficulties. For the question whether they possessed a system of true tachygraphy, that is of a shorthand capable of keeping pace with human speech, still remains to be solved. There were, as we know from existing records, both as early as the fourth century B.C. and in the early centuries of the Christian era, as well as in the middle ages, systems whereby words could be expressed in shortened form by signs or groups of signs occupying less space than the ordinary long-hand. But these systems seem to have been rather in the nature of shortened writing, than of the tachygraphic script which we know as shorthand. It is true that a passage in Diogenes Laertius was formerly interpreted to imply that Xenophon wrote shorthand notes (υποσημειωσαμενος) of the lectures of Socrates ; but a similar expression elsewhere, which will not bear this meaning, has caused the idea to be abandoned. The first undoubted mention of a Greek writer of what may be shorthand occurs in a passage in Galen (περι των ιδιων βιβλιων γραφη), wherein he refers to a copy made by one who could write swiftly in signs, δια σημειων εις ταχος γραφειν; but whether in this instance a shortened form of writing, brachygraphy, or a true tachygraphy is implied, we have no means of ascertaining.

The surviving records of the Greek systems have been divided into three groups. At the head of the first group, which embraces all that has been found dating down to the third century A.D., stands the fragment of an inscription, discovered at Athens in 1884, which is ascribed to the fourth century B.C. The inscription describes a system whereby certain vowels ami consonants can be expressed by strokes placed in various positions. But in this instance, also, it has been maintained that a system of brachygraphy and not one of tachygraphy is referred to. 1 A few papyri of the second and third centuries also belong to the group ; but the most important member is a waxed book of several leaves, in the British Museum (Add. MS. 33270), of the third century, inscribed with characters which are inferred to be in Greek shorthand, the only words written in ordinary letters being in that language. This important MS. appears to be the exercise book of a shorthand scholar who has covered its pages with symbols, which in places are repeated again and again, as if for practice. Here we may at length have a system of true tachygraphy ; but as yet the symbols remain undeciphered. 2

The second group is confined to a few fragmentary papyri and tablets, from the fourth to the eighth century, chiefly among the Rainer collection in Vienna, to which Professor Wessely has given much attention. 3

The third group stands quite apart from the others, and is representative of the system of the tenth century. First is the Paris MS. of Hermogenes, containing some marginal notes in mixed ordinary and tachygraphical characters, of which Montfaucon 4 gives an account with a table of forms. Next, there is a series of MSS. which owe their origin to the monastery of Grotta Ferrata, viz. the Add. MS. 18231 of the British Museum, written in the year 972, and others of the same period (Pal. Soc. ii. 28, 85, 86), which are full of partially tachygraphic texts and scholia and also contain passages in shorthand symbols. And lastly there is the Vatican MS. 1809, a volume of which forty-seven pages are covered with tachygraphic writing of the eleventh century, which have been made the subject of special study by Dr. Gitlbauer for the Vienna Academy. 5 Here, again, it appears that the mediaeval system of the third group is not one of true tachygraphy, but a syllabic system, having little advantage over ordinary writing in respect of speed, but capable of ensuring the packing of a lai'ger amount of text into a given space. It is therefore not regarded as a developement of any ancient system, but rather as a petrified fragment, as it has been called, of an earlier and better system.

Other varieties or phases of Greek shorthand, of a later time, have been traced. Some shorthand passages which occur in a fourteenthcentury M.S.. and a passage from a fifteenth-century MS. in the Vatican, have recently been published. 6


According to Suetonius, 7 the first introduction of shorthand signs, notae, in Rome was due to Ennius ; but more generally the name of Cicero's freedman, Tiro, is associated with the invention, the symbols being commonly named notae Tironianae. Seneca is said to have collected the various notae known at his time, to the number of five thousand. Shorthand appears to have been taught in schools under the Empire ; and the Emperor Titus himself is said to have been expert in writing it. There seems to have been some connexion between Greek and Latin tachygraphy, certain symbols being the same in both.

The Tironian notes belonged to a system which was actually tachygraphic: each word was represented by an independent character, alphabetic in origin, but with an ideographic value. In the mediaeval forms in which they have descended to us, they have probably been amplified from simpler and more comprehensive shapes of ancient date, having received diacritical additions after the practice of the system had died out, and when the study of the notes had become a mere antiquarian pursuit.

There are no documents of very ancient date in Tironian notes. But the tradition of their employment survived in the Merovingian and Carolingian chanceries of the Prankish Empire, where a limited use of them was made in the royal diplomas, indicating briefly, e.g. the composition of the deed, the name of the person moving for it, that of the revising official, etc., perhaps as safeguards against forgery. Under the Carolingian line they were more largely employed, and official MSS. were written in these characters as, e.g.. the formulary of Louis the Pious. They are found worked into the subscriptions and other formal parts of royal deeds down to the end of the ninth century; and so customary had their employment become in those positions, that the scribes continued to imitate them after they had forgotten their meaning.

In literature the Tironian notes were adopted in the ninth and tenth centuries by the revisers and annutators of texts. For example, the scholia and glosses in a MS. of Virgil, at Berne, of the latter half of the ninth century (Pal. Soc. ii. 1:2) are partially written in these signs.

Of the same period also are several 31 SS. of the Psalter written in these characters, which it has been suggested were composed for practice ; and the survival of Tironian lexicons, or collections of the signs, copied at this time, seems to point to an effort to keep them in the recollection of men. A syllabic system, composed of Tironian notes and other independent signs, has been found in use in documents of North Italy of the tenth century ; and has been recognized as the system employed by Gerbert d'Aurillac, Abbot of Bobbio in 982 and afterwards Pope Silvester II. Traces of similar systems in France and Spain have also been discovered. But artificial revivals of systems which have lost their real vitality can only prove spasmodic and abortive. Even the pretentious vanity of the scribes could not protract the use of the notes, and they disappeared entirely in the eleventh century. 8

1. Gomperz, Ueber ein bisher unbekanntes griech. Schriftsystem aus tier Mitte des vierten vorchristlichen Jahrunderts (Vienna Academy), 1884, anil Neue Bemerkungen 1895. See also P. Mitzschke, Eine griech.Kurzschrift aus dem vierten Jahrhundert, in the Archie fur Stenographie, no. 434.

2. See F. W. G. Foat, On old Greek Tachygraphy (Journ. Hi-Hen. Studies, xxi), giving a full bibliography, 1901.

3. Ein System altgriech. Tachygraphie (Vienna Acad.), 1896.

4. Palaeoyr. Graec. 351.

5. Die drei Systems der griech. Tachygraphie (Vienna Acad.), 1896.

6. T. W. Allen, Fourteenth Century Tachygraphy, the Journal of Hellenic Studies, xi. 286 ; Desrousseaux, Sur quelques Manuscrits d'Italie, Melanges of the Ecole Francaise de Rome. 1886. p. 544.

7. 'Vulgares notas Ennius primus mille et centum invenit.'

8. E. Chatelain, Introduction a la lecture des Notes Tironiennes (with 18 plates , 1900, gives a full bibliography of the subject.

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