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orion Autograph vs. copy:
DSS studies are still in their infancy. We should not try to re-invent
Yes, a well laid out document is more likely to be a copy. However,
professional scribes taking dictation stay within the *pre-drawn*
margins and writing limits. Many dictated texts are quite neat. We
can't base copy vs. autograph on just the neatness of a document
or a well executed format; there are some missing parameters.
There is one very important point that seems to have been overlooked.
Perhaps this is alterity at work. Modern authors are used to writing
things down for themselves; this was not the usual practice in
In the late centuries BCE and first centuries CE, the Romans differen-
tiated between the mental act of composition (scribere) and the physical
act of writing (caraxere).<1> The Romans were pretty good at borrowing
ideas and not very good at inventing things on their own. They borrowed
their terms for the act of writing from the Greeks. We can be pretty safe
in assuming that, if they separated the acts, the Greeks and Semitics did
before them. Indeed, we have evidence (Jeremiah's scribe), that this, in
fact, was the case. Our modern use of "scribe" for both acts is from
around the 8th century CE after the first wave of Classicalization hit
under Charlemagne and Alcuin. This conflation of the two roles of the
term leads to some pretty odd results when we try to discuss ancient
Further, even when an author could perfectly well have written the
material down himself, he generally dictated it to his secretary-
scribe(s). Luckily, it's very easy to distinguish dictated from
Dictated texts are absolutely full of writing by comprehension units rather
than semantic units. They are loaded with expanded, stressed, tongued, and
ligatured symbols forms. (If we look at Latin texts, dictated texts also
contain so many abbreviations that you need to keep a crib sheet of
abbreviations alongside while reading. A pertinent example: _The Moore
Bede_, ca. 735, is written in one broad column in a secular script. It
is full of abbreviations, expansions, stress notation, tongues, etc. <2>)
Copied texts are leveled out, expansions, stress indications, and tongues
are minimized. Ligatures are deleted. They tend towards semantic units.
The more official the document, the more leveling is observed.
(Example: _The Leningrad Bede_, ca. 750. Same text, but all abbreviations,
except the nomina sacra, are eliminated. Expansions, tongues, and stress
notation are reduced. Ligatures are eliminated. The work has been
canonicalized as authoritative and is now written in 2 columns. It is
still written in a secular script as opposed to a sacred one used for
official sacred authoritative documents.<3>)
Another problem, of course, is that authors frequently had the same
scribal training as their scribes. This means that the ductus will
be the same. They will use the same pen for a given script and use
the same appropriate hierarchy of formats, sizes, and scripts. We
will be unable to tell the hands apart unless there are identifying
To return to a previous example, Bede was known to have a number of scribes.
There have been proposals that the _Moore Bede_ is an autograph. However,
there are ideographs of at least two scribes. (You're not supposed to
be able to see the individual hands in a properly written book.) So, no,
it is not an autograph copy. It is, however, a dictated copy.
If we fill in the missing parameters, we can formulate the distinctions
between copied texts and "original" texts. If a document is carefully
formatted AND the writing had been levelled, it is a copy. If it is neat
and well formatted, but full of expanded and stressed forms, it is more
likely to be dictated than copied. When we see an *original* text full of
corrections, cross-outs, interlinear additions, and obvious expansions,
we are looking at a dictated text. An autograph necessarily is written
by the author himself. The one place we *may* find autographs are in
PS: We have quite a bit of evidence for people long before Mozart
who could dictate a work directly, for example, Julius Caesar, Bede,
1. For discussions of the distinction between the physical act of
writing and the mental act of writing (composition), see M.
Herren, "Insular Latin C(h)araxare (Craxare) and its derivatives,"
Peritia 1, 1982, 273-77; Michael Richter, _The Formation of the
Medieval West: Studies in the Oral cultures of the Barbarians_.
Dublin: Four Courts, 1994. 50 ff.; Michael Clanchy, _From Memory
to Written Record: England, 1066-1307_. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1979, 97 ff.)
2. Peter Hunter Blair and R. A. B. Mynors. _The Moore Bede: (an eighth
century ms of the Venerable Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica_.
Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger, 1959.
3. O. Arngart, _The Leningrad Bede_. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger,
Vol. 2, 1952.
4. See Mary Carruthers, _The Book of Memory: A Study in Medieval
Culture_. Cambridge: CUP, 1990, 1994. Chapters 1-3 deal with the
BCE and early CE period as well as ancient models.
Dr. R. I. S. Altman RISA@CONCENTRIC.NET
Voice/FAX: 602-834-6640 XNK@DELPHI.COM