Medieval Writing
Paleography Exercises
Virgil's Georgica (Rome, Biblioteca Vaticana, 3256, f.1). (From Steffens 1929, Plate 12b)

This is a segment from what is believed to be a 4th century copy of Virgil's Georgica, of which only seven leaves were known at the time that Dr Steffens' work was published, four of them in the Vatican Library in Rome. It is of interest as it shows the use of the majuscule square capitals script for the main body of a text, rather than only for headings. This script was developed for use in carved inscriptions in stone, and for use in manuscript is painstaking to write and difficult to read.

The difficulty lies not in the letter forms, which are capitals of familiar shape to us, but in the use of continuous text without punctuation or word spacing, which forces the reader to track slowly along the lines in sequence rather than mentally processing blocks of text. Majuscule scripts such as square capitals and rustic capitals had only a brief life in body text, although uncial survived for rather longer for prestigious volumes of high value works. These scripts were revived in the Carolingian era to produced hierarchies of headings, but by that time they had acquired the luxury of word spacing.

Of course, far more manuscripts have been lost than have survived from this era, but it is intriguing that, amongst the survivors, the works of Virgil have been accorded the dignity of this laborious script of high social value. The position of Virgil as almost a gatekeeper between the pagan and Christian eras still resonates by the time of Dante. Georgica, or The Georgics is not Virgil's most famed work. It is a poem celebrating nature and agriculture. The segment here shows lines 61 to 74.

The Latin text, as well as being available in various editions of the Latin Classics, can be found on the web at Sacred Texts, while an English translation can be found on The Internet Classics Archive, from which the section here has been abstracted,

| overview | text | alphabet | abbreviations | exercises | transcript | translation |

Click on each of the above to walk your way through a segment of the text. The transcript will appear in a separate window so that you can use it for reference at any time. These exercises are designed to guide you through the text, not test you, so you can cheat as much as you like.
Script sample for this example
Index of Exercises
Index of Scripts

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This site is created and maintained by Dr Dianne Tillotson, freelance researcher and compulsive multimedia and web author. Comments are welcome. Material on this web site is copyright, but some parts more so than others. Please check here for copyright status and usage before you start making free with it. This page last modified 18/10/2006.