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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Lindisfarne Gospels 5

Since the ampersand is a significant symbol in the Lindisfarne Gospels, both in its Latin form and in its Celtic form, it is worth illustrating some of the various shapes this symbol can take.

These shapes are all the Latin ampersand represented in a variety of contemporary fonts. This character originally developed from the 'et' ligature, in which 'e' and 't' were written together as one These different glyphs are all attributed to the codepoint for the ampersand. Notice how the ampersand merges eventually into the cross shape.

The cross shape, as a plus sign, is now firmly associated with the ampersand in the popular consciousness. It appears alongside initials carved in a tree to represent love and romance.

In this poster the cross sign does double duty representing both death and sacrifice and romantic union, all at once. The wording reads, 'hope and despair', 'tragedy and love', 'Romeo and Juliet'.

The ampersand represents parataxis and not hypotaxis; romantic union is the antithesis of subordination. There is no hierarchy in the ampersand. Two are joined beside each other as equals.

These two symbols, the cross and the ampersand feature as important elements in the manuscript of the Lindisfarne Gospels. The ampersand, appearing in the Latin text, is the abbreviation for 'et' and in the Old English text it is the Tironian et sign.

Here are three distinctive shapes of the Tironian et sign. This sign is part of a shorthand system supposedly developed by Tiro, a slave and clerk of Cicero, called Tironian Notes. It found its way into the repertoire of scribes throughout Europe. (Incidentally my German hasn't improved all that much since I wrote that post but it is still true that you can only read in depth about ancient shorthand in German. English is not the repository of all knowledge - yet!)

And finally here are the two ampersands and the cross as they appear in the Lindisfarne Gospels. In my next post I will illustrate how the Latin ampersand is featured in the manuscript.

PS Manuscript copiers must have had at their disposal a certain amount of red ink. Red ink is a common feature in manuscripts from at least the 7th century to the 15th century. Not that I like a red letter Bible - I don't - but sometimes it is worth knowing when an element can be attributed to medieval practise as well as modernity.



At Sun Mar 04, 10:38:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I would read the film poster as "Romeo+Juliet" with a plus sign. But is the plus sign "+" a derivative of the ampersand, or is this a case of convergent evolution of two different signs with rather similar meanings?

At Sun Mar 04, 12:01:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I don't actually think that the plus sign is derivative of the ampersand, but rather that the two have merged in popular consciousness at some point.

But I don't know enough about the history of the plus sign. What is its date?

At Sun Mar 04, 12:32:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I spoke to soon. Apparently the plus sign is actually considered to be derivative of the Latin et.

Plus (+) and minus (-). Nicole d' Oresme (1323-1382) may have used a figure which looks like a plus symbol as an abbreviation for the Latin et (meaning "and") in Algorismus proportionum, believed to have been written between 1356 and 1361. The symbol appears in a manuscript of this work believed to have been written in the fourteenth century, but perhaps by a copyist and not Oresme himself. The symbol appears, for example, in the sentence: "Primi numeri sesquiterti sunt .4. et .3., et primi numeri sev termini sesquialtere sunt .3. et .2." [Dic Sonneveld].

The plus symbol as an abbreviation for the Latin et, though appearing with the downward stroke not quite vertical, was found in a manuscript dated 1417 (Cajori).

The + and - symbols first appeared in print in Mercantile Arithmetic or Behende und hüpsche Rechenung auff allen Kauffmanschafft, by Johannes Widmann (born c. 1460), published in Leipzig in 1489. However, they referred not to addition or subtraction or to positive or negative numbers, but to surpluses and deficits in business problems (Cajori vol. 1, page 128).

According to this site.

What is interesting is to see how the tironian et and cross have a similar function in the Lindisfarne manuscript, both framing the gospel writers and introducing paragraphs.

At Sun Mar 04, 01:05:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Notice how the ampersand merges eventually into the cross shape.

When I originally wrote this, I did not intend it to outline an historic evolution, but merely a linear organization of contemproaray glyphs. However, it appears that it is indeed considered to be an historic evolution according to some.

The + itself however, is so basic, probably one of the first written signs, that one cannot claim a unique meaning for it outside of its context.

And probably before print + and x could not be firmly distinguished. So the t had to have other distinctive features such as the longer tail and curve.

At Sun Mar 04, 02:00:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

PS I am getting a little lost in the detail here, but I read the '+' in Romeo + Juliet both as an ampersand *and* as a cross, the symbol of suffering and death - blood red. The cross and the ampersand merge - tragedy and love.

As to reading it as a 'plus' sign. Not really. Surely it is more a matter of chemistry than math.

At Sun Mar 04, 02:38:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I agree that Romeo+Juliet is not maths, but the plus sign (as distinct from the ampersand) is in fact in quite common current use e.g. in trade names to join words like this. But I can't think of an example at the moment. As for it looking like a cross, I agree, and I am sure that is deliberate because of the bloody colour.

At Sun Mar 04, 02:55:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

To make it clear, you think that the plus sign is distinct from the ampersand, and I think that one is a form of the other, although they are separate codepoints in unicode.

But making it look like a cross is just an added flourish in this poster.

At Mon Mar 05, 02:20:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

No, I agree that the plus sign and the ampersand are originally the same sign. They clearly have distinct semantics in computer languages and in Hebrew transliteration. Arguably they don't have distinct semantics in general use, it is just that "+" is the glyph variant used in mathematics and "&" is the variant generally used in text. But of course their separate existence in ASCII code has ensured that they must now be considered semantically distinct signs.


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