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Palimpsest

(from πάλιν+ψέω). The name given to a manuscript from which the original writing has been rubbed off, in order that the leaves may be used again for fresh writing. This process is occasionally repeated, so that the leaves receive a third text. The MS. is then called a double palimpsest. The word palimpsestus is found in Catullus (22.5) and Cicero (Ad Fam.

Palimpsest with St. Augustine's Commentary on the Psalms, written over Cicero's Treatise
De Republica.
(Codex in the Vatican.)

vii. 18, 2), and the Greek form παλίμψηστος in Plutarch (Cum Princip. Philosoph. ad fin.). From vellum and strong substances the writing was removed by scraping or rubbing, but from the delicate papyrus leaves by washing, usually with a sponge (Mart.iv. 10; Suet. Aug. 85). These erasures were often so carelessly done that the original text can usually be restored and read, at least in part, especially when chemicals are used to intensify the traces that remain. Of these chemicals, the one oftenest employed is the hydrosulphuret of ammonia. Many important texts, both classical and biblical, have been recovered from palimpsests when they have been erased for the purpose of writing less valuable matter. Among these are portions of the De Republica of Cicero of the fourth century, hidden under a work of St. Augustine on the Psalms (Vatican); the Commentarii of the jurist Gaius under St. Jerome (Verona); fragments of Plautus, written in rustic capitals in the fourth (?) century (Milan); and part of the first decade of Livy (from bks. iii.-vi.), under the Moralia of Gregory the Great (Verona). No work as a whole, however, has ever been recovered from a palimpsest. Many fac-similes of these palimpsest MSS. are given by Zangemeister in his Exempla Codicum Latinorum (Heidelberg, 1876, 1879 foll.) and by Wattenbach. See also Thompson, Handbook of Greek and Latin Palaeography, pp. 75-77 (1893); and the article Palaeography.

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