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Confusion of Contractions

Few contractions in capital and uncial MSS

In the capital and uncial MSS. preserved to us a very sparing use is made of contractions. In the Ambrosian Palimpsest, for example, we find only B. for -bus, e.g. OMNIB. “omnibus,” Q. for que, e.g. Pseud. 613 ATQ.AMANTatque amant (atqamant of B curiously reproduces this), Pers. 194 Q.ANTVRqueantur; while a wavy line over the letter u indicates an m,1 over the letter n indicates the word non. It was scribes accustomed to these contractions who made mistakes like Lucr. v. 1071 desertibus aubantur for deserti baubantur; Virg. A. xi. 572 nutribus at for nutribat; Pseud. 328 queam for quam.

On inscriptions we find a large number of terms in common use expressed by contractions, sometimes by the initial letter only, e.g. S.C. for senatus consultum, R.P. for res publica, sometimes by the initial letters of syllables, e.g. PF for praefectus, sometimes with the addition of the final letter, e.g. SCDS for secundus, DS for deus.2 A great many of these appear, sometimes with majuscule, sometimes with minuscule characters, even in mediaeval MSS., and have occasionally been misunderstood by copyists, as well as by modern editors. Thus s(enatus) c(onsultum) in Cicero Att. iii. 15. 5 has become sic, in Cicero Phil. x. 6. 13 se; c(larissimo) vi(ro) in Cicero Phil. ix. 1. 3 has become cui; M. Varro in Gellius ii. 25. 9 has become Mauro; nam Ael(ius) Lam(ia) in Velleius ii. 116 has become nam etiam; h(ora) i (i.e. prima) s(emis) in Cicero Att. xv. 24 appears as his; and nothing is commoner than to find the conjunction que for the name Q(uintus).

Along with this system of contractions by means of single letters there was in ancient Rome a fully-developed system of shorthand writing, the signs for which were known as the Notae Tironis, so called from Tiro, the freedman of Cicero. Certain of these shorthand signs to express syllables were adopted for convenience of writing by mediaeval scribes. Thus a curved stroke like an apostrophe indicated the syllable us, e.g. t' “tus”3; other strokes represented the syllables er, ur, en, is etc. If these shorthand strokes were accidentally omitted, or made with a dry pen by the scribe of an original, or overlooked by the scribe of a copy, a corrupt reading was the result. Thus periratus has become piratus in Truc. 656.

Great number of contractions in sixth and seventh centuries

In the sixth and seventh centuries a host of contractions were in use in various scripts, and in many cases the same sign was capable of signifying quite different words. Thus the letter s, with its contracted use indicated by a horizontal stroke above or some other mark, stood for si, sed, secundum, sunt, and on occasion also sanctus, scriptum, supra, senatus, and so on; the letter n, with accompanying mark of contraction, stood for nam, non, nunc, and also nos, nobis, noster, nomen etc. So confusing a state of matters could not be allowed to last; and accordingly we find the number gradually lessened by Carolingian and other scribes, and differentiating marks introduced to distinguish, e.g., sed from si, non from nunc.

But, as may be imagined, this change in the use of contractions was a fertile source of errors in MSS. When a scribe accustomed to one set of contractions had to copy a MS. in which a different set of contractions was used, he would inevitably make many mistakes; and even in transcribing contractions with which he was familiar he might, if the same sign were used in more than one sense, expand it now and then in a wrong way. We have many instances in our minuscule MSS. of Plautus. The identity of the signs ē for em and ē for est (also for et) has caused quid est in Pseud. 1066, written quidē in the original of CD, to be wrongly copied by the scribe of C as quidem. The identity of the signs [nmacr ] for non and [nmacr ] for nam has led to nam being substituted for non in Pseud. 521, non for nam in Pseud. 642. Especially the contractions of the relative pronouns and adverbs varied in use from time to time. We find quoniam, quom (cum, qum) and quando confused over and over again in Plautus MSS., and similarly qui, quid, quia etc. etc.4

A contraction was often indicated by a suprascript letter. Thus mi stood for mihi, mo for modo, pi for the syllable pri, pa for the syllable pra, and so on. And the u of the relative and other words was often suprascript in a more or less conventional form (cf. ch. ii. § 7).

Contractions give clues to history of text

A knowledge of the contractions used in Latin MSS. is of immense importance to every one who concerns himself with the emendation of Latin texts. For a fuller account of them than can be given here the student may consult Chassant Dictionnaire des Abréviations, or the larger and more important work Walther Lexicon Diplomaticum. Neither of these books, however, provides us with a satisfactory account of the limitations of particular contractions to particular centuries or particular scripts. When our knowledge of these limitations is more complete, it will be possible to trace with more certainty the history of a text than can be done at present. For the confusion of contractions is at least as important a clue to the date and country of an archetype as the confusion of letters. A feature, for example, of Visigothic MSS. is their use of a contraction for per (Thompson Greek and Latin Palaeography p. 224), which in the minuscule of other countries would represent pro. Irish scribes, to whose labours both in monasteries in Ireland and on the continent we owe the preservation of many texts of ancient authors, used a peculiar set of contractions. One of these was h' for autem, a sign resembling a sign used elsewhere for hoc; and it is fairly safe evidence of an Irish or Anglo-Saxon original if we find in a copy hoc substituted for autem, as in the Namur MS. of Bede (see Plummer's edition, Introd. p. lxxxvii). (In two British Museum fourteenth-century MSS. of Cicero Orator we find enim substituted for autem. See Sandys Introd.

The difficulty found by continental monks in reading and transcribing the numerous MSS. in Irish writing, or in that variety of Irish writing known as Anglo-Saxon, is illustrated by a ninth-century MS. of St. Ambrose now at Florence (Laur. Ashb. 60 c. 55). This MS. is written in the Irish hand, but a subsequent hand has added over each peculiarly Irish contraction its interpretation in the usual Caroline script; e.g. above h' is written aūt or to represent autem, and so on. (A photograph of a page of this MS. is given in the Collezione Fiorentina No. 40.)

Errors arising from contractions

Besides the other possibilities of error arising from the use of contractions, the contraction-stroke may on occasion have been mistaken for a stroke of deletion. At any rate this is Keller's explanation of corruptions in MSS. of Horace like cesserat for concesserat, written ccesserat, with line above the first c (C. i. 28. 13); genio for ingenio (īgenio) (C. i. 27. 16); visus for invisus (īuisus) (C. iii. 27. 71). And the “apex,” the accent-stroke placed above a vowel to indicate length, especially in monosyllables such as o (e.g. Asin. 540 B), prae, se, te, nos etc., but also in the adverbs illo (e.g. Amph. 197, 203, Capt. 359, Curc. 340 B), illa etc., was occasionally mistaken for the contraction-sign: e.g. furtis est for furti se in Poen. 737; mendato for me dato in Poen. 159; unam for una adv. in Amph. 600.

List of Contractions

Here is a list of the commoner contractions found in minuscule MSS. of the eighth to the twelfth centuries. In each case, unless otherwise stated, a horizontal stroke would be written above the letter in MSS. Some examples of mistakes arising from the contractions are added: —

a (1) “aut,” (2) “autem,” later usually au or aut, (3) “an.” Cf. Amph. 271 acerto (D) for aut certo.

aia “anima.

an “ante.

ap “apud.

c “con.” Cf. Trin. 1148 qui nunc laudo (CD) for quin conlaudo (written with this contraction in B).

d (1) “deest,” (2) “dicit” or “dixit,” later dt, dit, dxt, etc. So dr “dicitur,” dur “dicuntur.” (3) “de.

ds “deus,” often confused with dns “dominus.

e “est.” Also “em,” “et” (see below, and occasionally “esse”). Cf. Pseud. 87 est si for etsi; Pseud. 285 jampridet for jampridem.

ee “esse,eetesset.

eccla “ecclesia.

epla “epistola.

eg “ergo,” later usually g,o as gi was “igitur.

Confusion of ego and ergo is very common in MSS. (See Appendix A.) In Men. 806 investigo has become invenisti ergo (written with g and suprascript o) in one MS.

eps “episcopus.

fr “frater,” often confused with sr “super.

gla “gloria.

gra “gratia.” In Truc. 464 aegram (egrā B) has become egratia in C.

h “haec,” and occasionally “hoc.

h with suprascript i, “hic.

h with dot over shoulder of letter, “hoc.

hc “hunc.

ho “homo.

ht “habet,hrehabere.

In Men. 452 habere, written hare in the archetype, has become hac re.

i with dot on both sides, “id est.

id (1) “idem”; (2) “id est.

it “item.

l “vel.” Also ul (see below).

lib “liber.

m with suprascript i, “mihi.

m with suprascript o, “modo.

mr (1) “mater”; (2) “martyr.

ms “meus.

n with dot on cach side, “enim.” A variation of this sign, peculiar to Irish and Anglo-Saxon script, has often been misunderstood by copyists.

n with suprascript c, “nec.

n with suprascript i, “nisi.

n (1) “non,” (2) “nam,” and occasionally (3) “nunc,” (4) “nomen.” Cf. Mil. 1197 nam B, non CD.

In Aul. 711 nam ego, etc., nam had the variant non in the original of BDEJ; hence nam ego non BDEJ.

The omission of non, so important a word to the sense of a sentence, was from a scribe's point of view the mere omission of a single letter. Truc. 616 is a clear example of the omission of a negative: “si aequóm facias advéntores meos <non> inenses, quórum
mihi dóna accepta et gráta habeo.

nc “nunc.” Cf. Trin. 1148 qui nunc laudo (CD) for quin conlaudo (quin claudo with line above c B).

nmn or nn, occasionally no “nomen.” So noe “nomine.

nr “noster.” So nri “nostri,” etc.

oia “omnia.” So oms “omnes,” ois or omis “omnis,” etc.

omps “omnipotens.

p “prae.

p with horizontal stroke through lower part of straight line, “per,” and occasionally “par.

p with loop through ditto, “pro.

p with suprascript o or t, or with shorthand sign for us, “post” (see above).

pbr “presbyter.

pp (1) “propter”; (2) “papa.

pr “pater.

In Asin. 842 pater was in the original of EJ written par, which has been corrected in J to parens.

pt “praeter.

q “quae.

q with stroke traversing the vertical line, (1) “quam”; (2) “qui.” Sometimes an i is further written above to indicate “quid,” for which word we find also the shaft of q prolonged upwards so as to make a monogram of q and d.

q followed by a comma, a point, a colon, or a semi-colon, “que.

q with suprascript a, “qua.

q with suprascript o, “quo.

q with suprascript i, “quí.”

q followed by a sign like our numeral 2, “quia.”< p>Of the confusion of qui, quid, quia, qua, quam examples are Truc. 370; Pseud. 779, 1063.

qd “quod.” Often confused with “quid” written qid.

qm “quoniam.” Also qn, qum, quo. Of the confusion of the words quoniam, quando, quom examples are Aul. 9, Capt. 490, Men. 1151, Cas. 583, Mil. 1287, 1419, Bacch. 292 (cf. 304). (In Mil. 839, where the line begins with quoniam, all the minuscule MSS. have the contraction qm with a stroke above; cf. Bacch. 290.)

qn “quando.” Also qdo. (On the confusion of quando and quoniam see above.)

s (1) “sunt,” also st; (2) “sive,” also siu, and occasionally su (like the contraction of “sum”); (3) “sanctus”; (4) “si”; (5) “sed.

In Aul. 354 has sunt facturi has become has facturi. Cf. Men. 340 sed qua for siqua.

s followed by semi-colon, “sed.

s with suprascript i, (1) “sibi”; (2) occasionally “sicut.

seds “secundus,” sedm “secundum.

ses “sanctus,” sem “sanctum.

sic “sicut.

sps “spiritus,” spm “spiritum.

sr “super,” often confused with fr “frater.

ss (1) “suprascriptus,” (2) “sancti” plur.

t “ter,” in early MSS. also “tamen.” Cf. Hor. C. i. 7. 22 ter for tamen.

t with suprascript a, “tra.

t with suprascript i, “tibi.

tm “tantum.” Earlier also “tamen.

In Nonius 172 M. 12 Termestinorum, written in the archetype termextrinorum with contraction of ter (see above), has become in the Leyden codex tmextrinorum, corrected to tamen externorum.

tn “tamen.

ts “tuus.

u (1) “ut,” and occasionally (2) “vero,” (3) “vel.

u with suprascript o, “vero.

u with suprascript i, “ubi.

ul “vel.” Also l. The first sign is often miscopied “ut,” the second (according to Wattenbach Anleitung zur lateinischen Palaeographie, 4th edition, p. 74) “et.” Cf. Truc. 246 vi ut for velut.

ur “vester.

Of shorthand syllabic signs may be noticed:—

Apostrophe-sign, “us.” Hence cui for cujus in Hor. C. ii. 4. 14.

Reverted c-sign, “con.” Also c with horizontal stroke above.

Sign like numeral 2, “ur.

&, “et.” Also ē (see above).

÷, “est.” Also ē (see above).

=, “esse.” Also ēē (see above).

Horizontal stroke, “er” (see above on per, ter). Thus ū is “ver.

The sign for m has been already mentioned (p. 90). In early minuscule it often has an upright form that makes it like a suprascript i.

And of contractions of final syllables:—

r (or rt) with horizontal stroke above, “-runt.

r with sloping stroke intersecting the last part of the letter, “-rum.” (An n with a similar stroke represents “-nus.”)

b with horizontal stroke intersecting the shaft of the letter, “-bis.” (A d with a similar stroke represents “-dit”; and in general this verbal ending “-it” is often represented by a mere contraction-stroke; e.g. u with a horizontal stroke above it means “-vit,” as well as “ut,” “vero,” “vel,” “ver,” etc., as mentioned above.)

b followed by colon, “-bus.

Signs for Numerals

The signs for Numerals5 have been productive of many mistakes in MSS. Thus DC “six hundred” has been miscopied de in Livy xxvii. 28. 11, and ad DC has occasionally become ad haec; ad IIII has become adivi in Cicero Att. xv. 11; VII ante has become uti ante in Velleius ii. 10. 2. Conversely, vi has been misinterpreted as sex in Cicero Fam. xv. 4. 9, and ii as duo in Cicero Phil. x. 7. 15.

For these and a number of other examples the student may consult Heraeus Quaestiones de vett. codd. Livianis p. 52.

A stroke was drawn above a numeral sign to indicate that it was a numeral sign. Thus vi without this stroke will mean “by violence,” but with it “six.” This stroke is often mistaken for the stroke drawn above to indicate thousands, so that in Cicero Legg. ii. 23. 58 we find in duodecim milia instead of in duodecim (sc. tabulis), and in Livy xxii. 60. 19 sescentis written in the original DC with a stroke above has been wrongly expanded to sescenta milia.

Bede complains of scribes' mistakes about numeral signs: “numeri . . negligenter describuntur et negligentius emendantur” (Opp. i. 149); and the author of the Flores Temporum (in Pertz xxiv. 231) appeals to the copyists of his work to be careful in this respect: “obsecro . . scriptores ut circa numeros annorum correcte scribendos adhibeant diligentiam propter Deum; alioquin ego in quantum ad homines in vacuum laboravi, et ignaviae meae imputabitur error librarii dormitantis.” The custom of writing the last unit of a number with a taller I than the others, e.g. xxviI, may have had something to do with the frequent omission of the last unit in MSS. Thus the sign for “twenty-seven” is often miscopied as the sign for “twenty-six.” The Merovingian practice of writing vi “six” in ligature, so that it was capable of being mistaken for v, may have led to the same mistake in subsequent copies. But the addition of an extra unit is also a common error in MSS. The Laurentian MS. of Nonius has miscopied the xviii of the Leyden MS. as xviiii (Non. 113 M. 7).

(For a list of the more noteworthy contractions which seem to have stood in the archetype of our minuscule MSS. of Plautus, see Appendix A.

The following passages seem to me capable of being emended on the supposition that contractions stood in the archetype for:

lenis: Truc. 776sim lenis tranquillusque homo(similes t. h. BCD, sim mitis t. h., edd.)

(I prefer lenis to mitis because lenis is the word which Plautus elsewhere uses in combination with tranquillus: Epid. 562animum lenem et tranquillum.”)

omnis: Aul. 282ut dispertirem hos omnis(u. d. obsonium MSS.)

non: Capt. 104Non úlla est spes juventútis: ses eomnís amant(Nulla est MSS.)

(For non ulla cf. Merc. 626.)

pro. Capital P with loop for ro has, I think, been mistaken for capital D in

prompsít nam nardini ámphoram cellárius.

The archetype had Promisit, a common corruption of Promsit (cf. v. 829 promisi D1 for prom(p)si, v. 841 promisit BC for prom(p)sit, v. 831 expromisi C, which has become in our MSS. Domi sit. The suppromu's of the following line: “eho , sceleste, quí illi suppromú's; eho,
” argues for prompsit.

The preposition per seems to have been mistaken for the contraction of pater in the minuscule MSS. in

grátiam per petemus, spéro ab eo impetrássere,

where for gratiam per of A the minuscule MSS. have gratiam a patre, which is difficult to scan.

In Truc. 50 the puzzling iteca of B (changed to ita et in the original of CD) was, I take it, a contraction of intercepta in the archetype: “(res perit) intercepta in aedibus lenonis (lenoniis)
”, just as in v. 583 accepta was represented in the archetype by the contraction aca (so B) or acca.

1 This line (over any vowel) for m is in early MSS. properly written with an up-turned hook at one end and a down-turned hook at the other, while the line indicating the contraction of a word is a straight line. But this distinction came to be dropped. The extension of one or other (or both) of these signs to indicate an n varied in usage at different times. Often the contraction for n is limited to the end of a line, while the contraction for m is used freely at any part of the line. But there was always a possibility of a minuscule scribe being left uncertain whether to interpret a horizontal stroke over a vowel in a majuscule original as an m or as an n.

2 A collection of these contractions, or, to use the Latin term, notae,quae in monumentis pluribus et in historiarum libris sacrisque publicis reperiuntur”, was made by the grammarian Valerius Probus in the time of Nero. The surviving extracts from this work have been published by Mommsen in vol. iv of the Grammatici Latini, ed. Keil. Gitlbauer tries to explain some corruptions in MSS. of Livy by supposing them to be due to the use of these notae in ancient texts.

3 The same sign with p represented the word post. Hence it is that B reads pus in Men. 1117, while CD have rightly post.

4 These relative forms were confused even when not written in contraction. (For examples in A see Studemund's Index.)

5 That is, the Roman numeral signs. The Arabic ciphers are unknown in all except the later MSS.

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hide References (55 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (54):
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 15.4.9
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 15.11
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 15.24
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 3.15.5
    • Cicero, Philippics, 10.6
    • Cicero, Philippics, 10.7
    • Cicero, Philippics, 9.1.3
    • Plautus, Curculio, 2.3
    • Plautus, Persa, 2.2
    • Plautus, Poenulus, 1.1
    • Plautus, Poenulus, 3.4
    • Plautus, Pseudolus, 1.1
    • Plautus, Pseudolus, 1.3
    • Plautus, Pseudolus, 1.5
    • Plautus, Pseudolus, 2.2
    • Plautus, Pseudolus, 3.1
    • Plautus, Pseudolus, 4.6
    • Plautus, Stichus, 1.2
    • Plautus, Trinummus, 5.2
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 11.572
    • Plautus, Amphitruo, 1.1
    • Plautus, Amphitruo, 2.1
    • Plautus, Asinaria, 3.1
    • Plautus, Asinaria, 5.1
    • Plautus, Aulularia, 2.4
    • Plautus, Aulularia, 2.6
    • Plautus, Aulularia, 4.8
    • Plautus, Aulularia, prologue.0
    • Plautus, Bacchides, 2.3
    • Plautus, Captivi, 1.1
    • Plautus, Captivi, 2.2
    • Plautus, Captivi, 3.1
    • Plautus, Casina, 3.3
    • Plautus, Epidicus, 4.1
    • Plautus, Menaechmi, 2.2
    • Plautus, Menaechmi, 3.1
    • Plautus, Menaechmi, 5.2
    • Plautus, Menaechmi, 5.9
    • Plautus, Mercator, 3.4
    • Plautus, Miles Gloriosus, 3.2
    • Plautus, Miles Gloriosus, 4.4
    • Plautus, Miles Gloriosus, 4.7
    • Plautus, Miles Gloriosus, 5.1
    • Plautus, Truculentus, 1.1
    • Plautus, Truculentus, 2.1
    • Plautus, Truculentus, 2.4
    • Plautus, Truculentus, 2.5
    • Plautus, Truculentus, 2.7
    • Plautus, Truculentus, 3.1
    • Plautus, Truculentus, 4.3
    • Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, 5.1071
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 22, 60
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 27, 18.11
    • Cicero, De Legibus, 2.23
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Plautus, Menaechmi, 5.9
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