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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.

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.

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