By David N. Carvalho.
THE MATERIALS AND METHODS EMPLOYED IN PREPARING THE INK MSS. OF
ANTIQUITY—THE INTRODUCTION OF PARCHMENT AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR PAPYRUS—MODE OF
WRITING ON PARCHMENT—HOW SEPARATE PIECES WERE FIRST JOINED INTO BOOK
FORM—EVIDENCE OF THE CHARACTER OF WRITING UTENSILS TO BE FOUND IN ANCIENT
PICTURES—SOME FORMULAS BY THE YOUNGER PLINY AND HIS CONTEMPORARY DIOSCORIDES—HOW
THE GREEKS AND ROMANS KEPT THEIR PAPYRI FROM BREAKING—WHEN BLACK INK BEGAN TO
FALL INTO DISUSE AND ITS CAUSE—THE ADOPTION OF THE STYLUS AND ITS ACCOMPANYING
SHEETS OF LEAD, IVORY, METAL AND WOOD COATED WITH WAX—THE EFFORTS MADE TO RESUME
THE USE OF SOME INK WHICH WOULD BIND TO PARCHMENT—WHY THERE ARE NO ORIGINAL
MSS. EXTANT BELONGING TO THE TIME OF CHRIST—THE INVENTION OF THE VITRIOLIC
INKS—HUMPHREY’S BLUNDER IN LOCATING DATES OF EARLY GREEK MSS.—THE DESTRUCTION OF
THE CITIES OF HERCULANEUM AND POMPEII—AWAKENING OF INTEREST AGAIN ABOUT THE
EMPLOYMENT OF INKS—REDISCOVERIES OF SOME OF THE MORE REMOTE ANCIENT RECIPES—THE
WRITERS IN GOLD AND SILVER—RECORDED INSTANCES OF ILLUMINATED MSS.—PASSAGE FROM
THE BOOK OF JOB WRITTEN BY ST. JEROME—DENIAL OF THE EMPLOYMENT OF TANNO-GALLATE
OF IRON INK IN THE FOURTH CENTURY— DESTRUCTION OF THE INSPIRED WRITINGS BY ORDER
OF THE ROMAN SENATE—THE ECLIPSE OF CLASSICAL LITERATURE AND DISMEMBERMENT OF THE
ROMAN EMPIRE—POEM ON THE THOUSAND YEARS KNOWN AS THE DARK AGES WHICH FOLLOWED.
Theophrastus says that the papyrus books of the ancients were no other than rolls prepared in the following manner: Two leaves of the rush were plastered together, usually with the mud of the Nile, in such a fashion that the fibres of one leaf should cross the fibres of the other at right angles; the ends of each being then cut off, a square leaf was obtained, equally capable of resisting fracture when pulled or taken hold of in any direction. In this form the papyri were exported in great quantities. In order to form these single leaves into the “scapi,” or rolls of the ancients, about twenty were glued together end to end. The writing was then executed in parallel columns a few inches wide, running transversely to the length of the scroll. To each end of the scrolls were attached round staves similar to those we use for maps. To these staves, strings, known as “umbilici,” were attached, to the ends of which bullae or weights were fixed. The books when rolled up, were bound up with these umbilici, and were generally kept in cylindrical boxes or capsae, a term from which the Mediaeval “capsula,” or book-cover was derived. “The mode in which the students held the rolls in order to read from them is well shown in a painting in the house of a surgeon at Pompeii. One of the staves, with the papyrus rolled round it, was held in each hand, at a distance apart equal to the width of one or more of the transverse columns of writing. As soon as the eye was carried down to the bottom of a column, one hand rolled up and the other unrolled sufficient of the papyrus to bring a fresh column opposite to the reader’s eye, and so on until the whole was wound round one of the staves, when, of course, the student had arrived at the end of his book.”
Eumenes, king of Pergamus, being unable to procure the Egyptian papyrus, through the jealousy of one of the Ptolemies, who occupied himself in forming a rival library to the one which subsequently became so celebrated at Pergamus, introduced the use of Parchment properly “dressed” for taking ink and pigments and hence the derivation of the word “pergamena” as applied to parchment or vellum, the former substance being the prepared skin of sheep, and the latter of calves.
The sheets of parchment were joined end to end, as the sheets of papyrus had been, and when written upon, on one side only, and in narrow columns across the breadth of the scroll, were rolled up around staves and bound with strings, to which seals of wax were occasionally attached, in place of the more common leaden bullae.
The custom of dividing wax, ivory, wood and metal MSS. into pages and in this way into book form is said by Suetonius to have been introduced by Julius Caesar, whose letters to the Senate were so made up, and after whose time the practice became usual for all documents either addressed to, or issuing from that body, or to or from the Emperors. As that form subsequently crept into general use, the books were known as “codices;” and hence the ordinary term as applied to manuscript volumes.
All classes of “books,” the reeds for writing in them, the inkstands, and the “capsae” or “scrinia,” the boxes in which the “scapi” or rolls were kept, are minutely portrayed in ancient wall-paintings and ivory diptychs (double tablets), and which may belong to a period near the beginning of the Christian era.
Pliny and Dioscorides have given the formulas for the writing inks used by the Greek and Roman scribes immediately before and during their time. Pliny declares that the ink of the bookmakers was made of soot, charcoal and gum, although he does not state what fluid was employed to commingle them. He does, however, mention to an occasional use of some acid (vinegar) to give the ink a binding property on the papyrus.
Dioscorides, however, specifies the proportions of this “soot” ink. Another formula alluded to by the same author calls for a half ounce each of copperas (blue) and ox-glue, with half pound of smoke black made from burned resin. He adds, “is a good application in cases of gangrene and is useful in scalds, if a little thickened and employed as a salve.” De Vinne speaks of this as a “crude” receipt which will enable one to form a correct opinion of the quality of scientific knowledge then applied to medicine and the mechanical arts; also that these mixtures which are more like shoe blacking than writing fluid were used with immaterial modifications by the scribes of the dark ages.
The old Greeks and Romans had no substitute for the papyrus, which was so brittle that it could not be folded or creased. It could not be bound up in books, nor could it be rolled up unsupported. It was secure only when it had been wound around a wooden or metal roller.
After the wholesale destruction of the libraries of ink-written MSS., the black inks began to fall into disuse; their value in respect to quality gradually deteriorated, caused by the displacement of gummy vehicles, and a consequent absence of any chance of union between the parchment or papyrus and the dry black particles, which could be “blown” or washed off. To employ any other kind of ink except one of natural origin like the juice of berries which soon disappeared, was forbidden by prevailing religious customs. Such conditions naturally merged into others, in the shape of “ink” substitutes for writing; the stylus, with its accompanying sheets or tablets of ivory, wood, metal and wax came into popular vogue and so continued for many centuries, even after the employment of ink for writing purposes had been resumed.
Ovid, in his story of Caunus and Byblis, illustrates the use of the tables (tablets), and he lived at the time of the birth of Christ, thus translated:
“Then fits her trembling hands to Write:
One holds the Wax, the Style the other guides,
Begins, doubts, writes, and at the Table chides;
Notes, razes, changes oft, dislikes, approves,
Throws all aside, resumes what she removes.
“The Wax thus filled with her successless wit,
She Verses in the utmost margin writ.”
He also makes reference to inks, in the passage taken from his first elegy, “Ad Librum:”
“Nec te purpureo velent vaccinia succo;
Non est conveniens luctibus ille color.
Nec titulus minio, nec cedro charta notetur.
Candida nec nigra cornua fronte geras.”
which Davids translates as follows:
“TO HIS BOOK.
“Nor shall huckleberries stain (literally veil) thee with purple juice:
That color is not becoming to lamentations.
Nor shall title (or head-letter) be marked with vermillion, or paper with cedar,
Thou shalt carry neither white nor black horns on thy forehead (or front, or frontispiece).”
The traditions handed down as of this era relating to the efforts to find some substitute for “Indian” ink which would not only “bind” to parchment and vellum but also would be satisfactory to the priests, are more or less confirmed by the younger Pliny, and makes it safe to assume that several were invented and employed in writing, though possessing but little lasting qualities. Their use and natural disappearance is perhaps the real cause of the fact that there are no original MSS. extant dating as of or belonging to the time immediately preceding or following the birth of Christ, or indeed until long after his death.
There is some authority though for the statement that at this time two vitriolic substances were used in the preparation of black ink,--a slime or sediment (Salsugo) and a yellow vitriolic earth (Misy). This last-named mineral, is unquestionably the same natural chemical mentioned by writers, which about the end of the first century was designated “kalkanthum” or “chalkanthum” and possessed not only the appearance of, but the virtues of what we know as blue copperas or sulphate of copper. It continued in use as long as men were unacquainted with the art of lixiviating salt, or, in other words, as long as they had no vitriol manufactories. Commingled with lampblack, bitumen or like black substances in gummy water, it was acceptable to the priests for ritualistic writings and was in general vogue for several centuries thereafter under the name of (blue) “vitriolic” ink, notwithstanding the fact that there could not be any lasting chemical union between such materials.
It was the so-called “vitriolic” ink, which is said to have “corroded the delicate leaves of the papyrus and to have eaten through both parchment and vellum.”
These deductions, however, do not agree with some of the historians and scholars like Noel Humphreys, author of the “Origin and Progress of the Art of Writing,” London, 1855, a recognized authority on the subject of ancient MSS., who but repeats in part the text of earlier writers, when he says, p. 101:
“Examples of early Greek MSS. of the last century previous to the Christian era are not confined to Egyptian sources; the buried city of Herculaneum, in Italy, partially destroyed about seventy-nine years before the Christian era, and injured by subsequeut eruptions, till totally destroyed by the most violent eruption of Vesuvius on record, that of the year 471 A. D. having yielded several specimens.”
The MSS. examples mentioned in the citation, must of necessity refer to specimens of writing made with “vitriolic” and even more ancient inks. They are to be considered in conjunction with the historical fact that these cities were buried for more than sixteen hundred years, counting from the first eruption, before they were brought to light (Herculaneum was discovered A. D. 1713 and Pompeii, forty years later); also that they must have been subjected to intense heat and a long period of decay which could only operate to rob them of all traces of natural ink phenomena. Furthermore, the information Mr. Humphreys seeks to convey, dates contemporaneously with the first eruption of Vesuvius, which occurred seventy-nine years AFTER the Christian era and not seventy-nine years BEFORE it.
This stupendous blunder involves a period of one hundred and fifty-eight years; if it is rectified, the “early Greek MSS.” are shown to emanate from the second half of the first century following the birth of Christ and confirming to some extent the deductions hereinbefore made, although the probabilities are that they belong to later periods, included in the third and fourth centuries.
It is affirmed that the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius A. D. 79, did not entirely destroy the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii, and that they emerged from their ruins in the reign of the Emperor Titus. They are also mentioned as inhabited cities in the chart of Peutinger, which is of the date of Constantine.
The next eruption, A. D. 471, was probably the most frightful on record if we exclude the volcanic eruption of Mt. Pelee, which occurred in Martinique, West Indies, in 1902, destroying thirty thousand human beings in fifteen minutes and devastating nearly the entire island. From Marcellinus we learn that the ashes of the Vesuvius volcano were vomited over a great portion of Europe, reaching to Constantinople, where a festival was instituted in commemoration of the strange phenomenon. After this, we hear no more of these cities, but the portion of the inhabitants who escaped built or occupied suburbs at Nola in Campania and at Naples. In the latter city, the Regio Herculanensium, or Quarter of the Herculaneans, an inscription marked on several lapidary monuments, indicates the part devoted to the population driven from the doomed city.
The ancient inkstand found at Herculaneum, said to contain a substance resembling a thick oil or paint characteristic of a material which it is alleged, “some of the manuscripts have been written in a sort of relievo, visible in the letters when a ‘leaf’ is held to the light in a horizontal direction,” it is not impossible, indeed it is quite probable, belonged to an era centuries later than the period to which it has been assigned.
“No perfect papyri, but only fragments, have been found at Pompeii. At Herculaneum, up to the year 1825, 1,756 had been obtained, besides many others destroyed by the workmen, who imagined them to be mere sticks of charcoal. Most of them were found in a suburban villa, in a room of small dimensions, ranged in presses round the sides of the room, in the center of which stood a sort of rectangular bookcase.
“Sir Humphry Davy, after investigating their chemical nature, arrived at the conclusion that they had not been carbonized by heat, but changed by the long action of air and moisture; and he visited Naples in hopes of rendering the resources of chemistry available towards deciphering these long-lost literary treasures. His expectations, however, were not fully crowned with success, although the partial efficacy of his methods was established; and he relinquished the pursuit at the end of six months, partly from disappointment, partly from a belief that vexatious obstacles were thrown in his way by the jealousy of the persons to whom the task of unrolling had been intrusted. About five hundred volumes have been well and neatly unrolled. It is rather remarkable that, as far as can be learned, no manuscript of any known standard work has been found, nor, indeed, any production of any of the great luminaries of the ancient world. The most celebrated person of whom any work has been found is Epicurus, whose treatise, De Natura, has been successfully unrolled. This and a few other treatises have been published. The library in which this was found appears to have been rich in treatises on the Epicurean philosophy. The only Latin work which it contained was a poem, attributed to Rabirius, on the war of Caesar and Antony.”
Beginning with A. D. 200, the employment of inks became more and more constant and popular. Rediscoveries of ancient formulas belonging to a more remote antiquity multiplied in number. Silver ink was again quite common in most countries. Red ink made of vermilion (a composition of mercury, sulphur and potash) and cinnabar (native mercuric sulphide) were employed in the writing of the titles as was blue ink made of indigo, cobalt or oxide of copper. Tyrian purple was used for coloring the parchment or vellum. The “Indian” inks made by the Chinese were imported and used in preference to those of similar character manufactured at home. The stylus and waxed tablets though still used, in a measure gave way to the reawakened interest in ink and ink writings.
A greater facility in writing, due to the gradual reduction in size of the uncial (inch) letters was thereby attained.
There were “writers in gold” and “writers in silver” who travelled from the East into Greece and who bad found their way before the third century into the very heart of Rome. Their business was to embellish the manuscript writings of those times. It was considered en regale for authors to “illuminate” their MSS. and those who failed to do so suffered in popularity.
These authors frequently allude to their use of red, black and secret inks.
Martial in his first epistle points out the bookseller’s shop opposite the Julian Forum where his works may be obtained “smoothed with pumice stone and decorated with purple.” Seneca mentions books ornamented “cum imaginabus.” Varro is related by the younger Pliny to have illustrated his works by pictures of more than seven hundred illustrious persons. Martial dwells on the edition of Virgil, with his portrait as a frontispiece.
The earliest recorded instance of the richer adornments of golden lettering on purple or rose-stained vellum is given by Julius Capitolinus in his life of the Emperor Maximinus the younger. He therein mentions that the mother of the emperor presented to him on his return to his tutor (early in the third century), a copy of the works of Homer, written in gold upon purple vellum.
The fugitive character, as before stated, of a great many of the colored inks, and indeed most of the black ones which were undoubtedly employed, is the principal reason why so few specimens of them remain to us. Those which have proved themselves so lasting in character as to be still extant, bear evidence of extreme care in the preparation of both the inks and the materials on which the writings appear. Perhaps one of the finest illustrations of this practice is to be found in a book of the Four Gospels of Italian origin, discovered in the tenth century (a work of the fourth century) and deposited in the Harlein Library. This book is written in “Indian” ink and possesses magnificently embellished and illuminated letters at the beginning of each Gospel, which are on vellum stained in different colors.
St. Jerome calls attention to this class of books in a well-known passage of his preface to the Book of Job, also written in the fourth century, where he explains as translated:
“Let those who will have old books written in gold and silver on purple parchment, or, as they are commonly called, in uncial-letters,--rather ponderous loads than books,--so long as they permit me and mine to have copies, and rather correct than beautiful books.”
It has been said that the Tanno-gallate of Iron Inks (iron salts, nut-galls and gum) were first used in the fourth century. There is positively no credible authority for such a statement, nor is there a single monument in the shape of a documentary specimen of ink writing of that one or an earlier century made with such an ink in any public or private library and as far as known in existence.
About A. D. 390 the inspired writings (often termed pagan) of the classical countries, or at least the copies or extracts of them, upon a special search made by order of the Roman Senate, including those already mentioned as of the time of Tarquin (some nine hundred years earlier), were gathered up in Greece, Italy and other parts and destroyed, because, as we are informed, this Roman Senate had embraced the Christian faith and furthermore “such vanities began to grow out of fashion; till at last Stilicho burnt them all under Honorius (a son of Theodosius the Great), for which he is so severely censured by the noble poet Rutilius, in his ingenious itinerary.”
Not only Roman Arms the Wretch betrayed
To barbarous Foes; before that cursed Deed,
He burnt the Writings of the sacred Maid,
We hate Althaea for the fatal Brand;
When Nisius fell, the weeping Birds complained:
More cruel he than the revengeful Fair;
More cruel heth at Nisius’ Murderer.
Whose impious Hands into the Flames have thrown
The Heavenly Pledges of the Roman Crown,
Unrav’lling all the Doom that careful Fate had spun.”
The destruction of Rome by Alaric, King of the Western Goths, A. D. 410, and the subsequent dismemberment of the entire Roman Empire by the barbarians of the North who followed in his wake, announced that ancient history had come to an end.
It may be truly said as well that the ending of the ancient history of the black and colored writing inks which began in the obscurity of tradition between 2000 and 1800 B. C., a period of some 2200 years, was also contemporaneous with these events.
The eclipse of ink-written literature for at least 500 of the 1000 years which followed, and known as the Middle or “Dark” Ages, except in the Church alone, who seem to have kept up the production of manuscript books principally for ecclesiastical and medical purposes was complete. Hence, any information pertaining to those epochs about ink, writing materials and ink writings, must be sought for in the undestroyed records and the ink writings themselves left by the fathers of the Church. All else is tainted and of doubtful authority.
“When waned the star of Greece was there no cry,
To rouse her people from their lethargy?
Was there no sentry on the Parthenon—
No watch-fire on the field of Marathon,
When science left the Athenian city’s gate,
To seek protection from a nameless fate?
The sluggish sentry slept—no cry was heard
No hands the glimm’ring watch-fire’s embers stirr’d.
Fair science unmolested left the land,
That she had nurtured with maternal hand;
And wandered forth some genial spot to find,
Where she might rear her altar to the mind.
“Long thro’ the darken’d ages of a world,
Back to primeval chaos rudely hurled,
She journey’d on amid the gath’ring gloom,
A spectre form emerging from the tomb.
Earth had no resting place—no worshipper—
No dove returned with olive branch to her:
Her lamp burned dimly, yet its flick’ring light,
Guided the wanderer thro’ the lengthen’d night.
Oft in her weary search, she paused the while,
To catch one gleam of hope—one favour’d smile;
But the dim mists of ignorance still threw,
Their blighting influence o’er the famish’d few,
Who deigned to look upon that lustrous eye,
Which pierced the ages of futurity.
“For ten long centuries she groped her way,
Through gloom, and darkness, ruin and decay;
Yet came at last the morning’s rosy light,
A thousand echoes hail’d the glorious sight—
Joy thrill’d the universe—one mingled cry
Of exultation, pealed along the sky!
Science came forth in richer robes arrayed
She trod a pathway ne’er before essayed;
Up the steep mount of fame she fleetly pressed,
And hung her trophies on its gilded crest.”
Copyright © D. J.McAdam· All Rights Reserved