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σημεῖα). A word used technically of signs and abbreviations, as


for secret writing, cipher;


for rapid writing, short-hand, stenography; and


for critical purposes in texts (σημεῖα κριτικά).

I. There is no mention of cryptography, properly so called, among the Greeks of the classical period, though they had various devices for concealing a written message and making it unintelligible except to the person for whose eyes it was intended. Among such devices was the σκυτάλη, mentioned by Plutarch as in use among the Spartans, and of which an account is given in the article Scytalé. At Rome towards the end of the Republican period we find mention of cipher writing, though it was of a simple sort and one that would not long baffle the scrutiny of an ingenious investigator. Thus, we are told of Caesar's private correspondence, that he had an agreement with the persons to whom he was writing by which the letters of the words were to be interchanged. Suetonius says that this system consisted in making D stand for A, E for B, and so on through the alphabet, and that Augustus used a similar system (Iul. 56; Aug. 88; Becker-Göll, Gallus, i. 62).

II. Whether the use of short-hand arose first

Specimen of Roman Notae. (From MS. in the Vatican Library.)

among the Greeks or among the Romans there is no definite information. A passage in Diogenes Laertius (ii. 48) seems to imply that Xenophon took down lectures by some stenographic process, but there is no direct mention of it earlier than the time of Cicero, who employed it frequently, as we learn from Plutarch (Cat. Min. 23) and others. Thus, at the trial of the Catilinarian conspirators, Cato 's speech was taken down by writers whom Cicero had instructed “to use certain signs which in small and brief characters comprehended the force of many letters. . . . For the Romans at that time were not accustomed to employ and did not possess what are known as short-hand writers, but it is said that it was on this occasion that they first conceived the idea.” Dio Cassius (lv. 7) ascribes the invention of the art to Maecenas, but this probably means that Maecenas made some improvements in the existing system. An explanation is given by Isidorus, who ascribes the invention of short-hand to one Ennius (not the poet), who is said to have used 1100 signs. He also says that Tiro , the confidential freedman and secretary of Cicero, was the first person to use these signs at Rome, but implies that this short-hand consisted of abbreviations or arbitrary signs only for particles of frequent occurrence, and that additional signs were added successively by Vipsa

Greek Notae.

nius, Philargyrus, and Aquila, the freedmen of Maecenas, until finally Seneca reduced the whole to a regular system and increased the number of signs to about 5000. It is probable, however, from what Cicero says (Ad Fam. xvi. 4), that the main structure of the system is due to Tiro , and in fact the traditional name for short-hand signs (notae Tironianae) seems to justify this belief (cf. Gell. vi.3.8). However this may be, from the time of Cicero and his immediate successors the use of stenography spread among the Romans. It was used both for taking down public speeches and for the use of students in the lecture-room, and many Romans kept slaves who were trained as short-hand writers (notarii). The emperor Titus was a skilful stenographer, and often instituted contests in rapid writing with his secretaries (Suet. Tit. 3). After the Christian era began, short-hand was much used among the Christians for taking down sermons and ecclesiastical speeches, and St. Augustine (Epist. 141) speaks of an episcopal assemblage held at Carthage at which eight stenographers were employed in relays of two. Such ancient manuscripts as are written in the Tironian shorthand remained undecipherable until 1747, when the French scholar Charpentier succeeded in reading them and published an account of them.

The ancient system consisted first of an alphabet more cursive than the ordinary Roman alphabet and especially modified so as to facilitate the juncture of letters. In the second place, it represented terminations by arbitrary characters used in conjunction with a point—thus, B. stood for bam and .B for bant. In the third place, all sorts of abbreviations (sigla) independently of the character used were employed. Finally, as in modern stenography, a number of arbitrary signs were employed for words in common use.

III. The Alexandrian grammarians appear to have originated the use of critical signs by which to indicate certain judgments in their recension and study of texts. Aristophanes of Byzantium (B.C. 257-180) published an edition of Homer with such signs, and these were developed by his successors, especially Aristarchus. The most important of these were the obelus, , used to denote a spurious passage; the diplé (διπλῆ), , used to call attention to something special; the dotted diplé (διπλῆ περιεστιγμένη), , to denote variant readings; the asterisk, *, to mark genuine verses if repeated; the antisigma, C, and the stigmé, , both used to denote repetitions of the same idea; the ceraunion (κεραύνιον), used when a large number of lines were to be rejected. Other signs and symbols of a different character, such as marks of punctuation, accents, breathings, etc., will be found treated under Palaeography; and Textual Criticism.

For ancient short-hand, see Kopp, Palaeographia Critica, vol. i. (Mannheim, 1817); and Anderson, History of Short-hand (London, 1882). On the notae criticae, see Reifferscheid's Suetonii Reliquiae, pp. 137-144 (Leipzig, 1890); Schrader, De Notatione Critica, etc. (Bonn, 1863); and Römer, Die Notation der alexandr. Philol. etc. in the Bayr. Acad. Cl. I., vol. xix. (1892).

hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 88
    • Suetonius, Divus Titus, 3
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 56
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 6.3.8
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