Medieval Writing
Paleography Exercises
Vespasian Psalter, 8th century (British Library, Cotton Vespasian A1 f.6r). All photographs by permission of the British Library. Reproduction of these images is permitted under Creative Commons licence.
This particular page represents material from the prefaces to the psalter proper. While the main psalter text is written in uncial script, with an Old English gloss in insular minuscule, this section of the text is written, unusually, in rustic capitals. This script was usually employed as a display script for headings, although there are a few prestige volumes of significant works produced entirely in this laborious style of handwriting. While some pages of the preface contain continuous text, this particular page has certain display qualities.
The text consists of a series of explanations of the term alleluia, and the whole page layout has certain qualities of a puzzle. The headings and the left hand columns are written in rubric and the scribe has played with the word alleluia to make patterns on the page. I have not included a translation because, quite frankly, however you translate the words, it doesn't make an awful lot of sense to me. Each section refers to the term alleluia as interpreted by different groups: the Hebrews, Chaldeans, Syrians and inhabitants of the area of Rome. Possibly somebody has written a whole PhD on this text somewhere. Perhaps it is a text for contemplation rather than explication, with the rhythm and pattern being as important as the sense.
The letter forms of rustic capitals are clear enough, but continuous majuscule script is rather hard on the eyes, particularly when words tend to run together.
A printed edition of the complete Vespasian Psalter, including the prefatory material, is Sherman M. Kuhn (ed.) 1965 The Vespasian Psalter Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

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Click on each of the above to walk your way through the text. The transcript will appear in a separate window so that you can use it for reference at any time. These exercises are designed to guide you through the text, not test you, so you can cheat as much as you like.
Script sample page for this example
Index of Exercises
Index of Scripts

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