Book 1 xxi. 10-12 ‘difficult to discern’

Cryphia domestica photo.

The term ‘cryphia’ comes from the Greek, kryphios ‘concealed’ and is related to our term for writings made obscure: cryptography.


The form for the ‘cryphia’ shown above from Brit.Lib. Harley 3099 closely resembles the form of the Hebrew letter ‘tet’.  Hardly surprising when the earliest Christian scholars’ textual study involved reading the Jewish religious works in their original languages.  However, the forms differ in medieval manuscripts,  as these examples show.


The anti-simma (with and without a dot) also has its counterpart in Hebrew script. 

In Burney 275, the antisimma is used to mark the uncertainty (in the maker’s mind) about the origins and benefits of using the ‘new’ merchants’ numerals over the old Latin or Greek. He is also unsure who should be credited with inventing this new variation on the older Arithmetic, whose founders were usually shown as wide-nostrilled Pythagoras or Byzantine Boethius.   “Doubtful about which should be preferred” seems to be rather understating the maker’s attitude to the new maths. Perhaps he associated it with financial trickery of some sort.

Three of the artes supported by their founders: (left to right} astronomy, music, grammar.


  • Herman Hugo’s only reference to ‘cryphia’ is just a reference to Isidore (p169) but if your  Latin’s up to it, his   De prima scribendi origine et universa rei literariae antiquitate (1617) – all of it – can be read through Google books.  Try replacing [X] in the following web-address with your country id.  (Why must G/gle be so parochial?)[X]/books?id=6WrtkELgjocC&dq=inauthor:%22Herman+Hugo%22&source=gbs_navlinks_s

  • English translation and Latin transcription – see sidebar.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.