Bk 1 xxi. 23-28 Marks of the extreme

(from) BSB Clm 6250 ff.14v- 15r. early ninth century. [ for link – see sidebar ]

The anchor (ancora) is one of the oldest critical signs among those used in medieval Europe.  It has been found used in the same sense in pre-Christian and early Christian papyri, on scrolls found in the desert of Judea (the ‘Dead Sea scrolls’) and in early Christian documents.

The Hellenistic Seleucids’ anchor is that which had the hooks up-turned and this is the form which later scribes identified with matter that was great and good.

They used to indicate base matter, the down-turned anchor – the same that had been adopted by some Roman emperors (chiefly Domitian and Titus).

However when Aldus Manutius chose a logo for his press, he chose that downturned anchor.  The older Romans had envisaged it as expressing the sense of the Greek adage, σπεῦδε βραδέως (speûde bradéōs) –  rendered by the Latin  feste lente, and in English by  ‘hasten slowly’. Aldus evidently wished the sign to be taken in that sense – though he cannot have been unaware what significance it bore in the scribal tradition.

  • T.W. Allen, Notes on Abbreviations in Greek Manuscripts
  • Nigel Wilson, Greek Palaeography   (The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies) edited by Robin Cormack, John F. Haldon, and Elizabeth Jeffreys.
  • Emanuel Tov, ‘Correction procedures in the texts from the Judean Desert’, Chapter in The Provo International Conference on the Dead Sea ScrollsTechnological Innovations, New Texts, and Reformulated Issues, Volume 30 (Brill, 1999) pp. 232-267.
  • ___________, Scribal Practices and Approaches Reflected in the Texts found in the Judean Desert, (Brill 2004). Now available as a free download (pdf).
  • A short tutorial on Greek palaeography‘ – now a separate page at Alex Poulos’ blog (June 13th., 2012).
  • A course in reading medieval Judeo-Arabic medical texts is offered online Penn State and the Centre for Advanced Judaic studies  [HERE]. Prior knowledge of the language is not pre-requisite, but the content of the course is about the manuscripts, their marginal notes and so forth so a fair knowledge of the language is assumed.

Signes de renvoi

  • Benjamin Neudorf and Yin Liu, ‘Signes de renvoi’ post to Archbook:architectures of the book. (December 21, 2016). Includes a fine example in a detail from Brit. Lib.MS Royal 6.A.vi, fol. 78r. [HERE]
  • Marginal marks and signes de renvoi in Arabic texts: see Adam Gacek, Arabic Manuscripts: A Vademecum for Readers ( Brill, 2009).


ornaments in this post:

  • in Fig. 1 –   The Seleucid anchor from a coin of the 3rdC BC;  initial ‘A’  from the Bohun Psalter. Brit.Lib. MS Egerton 3277.
  • at end    the composite image shows (left) obverse from a coin of Domitian and (right) logo of the Aldine Press c.1500.
  • watercolour of dolphin and anchor   from an Italian manuscript of c.1507. Brit.Lib.MS Royal C III f.9r


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