Being so accustomed to the uniformity of printed text, modern readers may find the older scripts difficult to read, but to as late as about the eighteenth century, the better-educated scholars were referring constantly to manuscripts made throughout the earlier centuries; they could recognise a wide variety of scripts and styles of writing even rec0gnising scripts for languages they did not have.
Which makes it particularly interesting that Georg Baresch should have asked Kircher to identify the script, rather than asking for a translation, or a decoding. He described the text simply as:
… obscurissimarum scripturarum …
… a piece of writing in unknown characters …
I can accept that Panofsky is justified in attributing characteristics of our manuscript to Jewish influence, though I do not see that influence as incompatible with the influence from Greek, especially when we see plainly Hellenistic Greek imagery in the manuscript, but more of that later.
Panofsky’s initial dating should, I think, stand. Before the fourteenth century, forms for Sephardic script had been more severe. More on that, here.
Greek had been the common language of Mediterranean Jewish communities through the late classical period and in part of the medieval period, though Judeo-Greek, or Romaniote, (‘Yevanic’) script shows no obvious influence from written Greek, as far as we can tell from the very few examples remaining. Examples are so few that the best illustration I can offer online is to an undated manuscript, shown in a post written nine years ago by Mavi Boncuk: “Yevanic” (blogpost), “Cornucopia of Ottomania and Turcomania” (blogger), 15th May 2006.
but see also Leila Avrin, Scribes, Script, and Books: The Book Arts from Antiquity to the Renaissance, American Library Association, 2010. (p.264ff.)
1. description of the manuscript by Georg Baresch in a letter to Athenasius Kircher (1639) trans. Philip Neal.
- For those interested in pursuing the matter of Latin hands, a useful first treatment is Leonard E. Boyle, Medieval Latin Palaeography: A Bibliographical Introduction, University of Toronto Press, 1984.
- Historically there were three dialects used by Sephardic Jews to 1492:
Judeo-Spanish, also known as ‘Ladino’
Haketia, also called “Western Ladino” chiefly spoken in North Africa
Early modern Spanish/Portuguese.
- I can’t offer true comparative dimensions with regard to these Jewish manuscripts. As Sirat wrote,
“since we have no Hebrew manuscript in its original binding from before the end of the fifteenth century, it is not surprising that we do not have any book that has kept its original dimensions”,
Colette Sirat, Hebrew Manuscripts of the Middle Ages, C.U.P. (2002) p.115.