Posts Tagged ‘dead languages’

Have you ever had that irksome problem where you found a Latin place name and cannot figure out what its modern name is? Or perhaps the opposite – you know your manuscript was written in what is now Friuli, but can’t figure out what the Latin name is (it’s Forojuliensis, as everyone knows)? Well, be irked no more! The Orbis Latinus will solve all these problems! It also has a handy list of German and Latin abbreviations (or Abk├╝rzungen) followed by their English translation! Other handy similar links include the Cathedral Library Catalogue Names of Printing Towns, since many of those towns were listed in an obsolete Latin in their printed works.

All of these useful links and more were found at the RBMS (Rare Books and Manuscripts Section) of the ALA, which I can’t believe I never saw until today. Includes everything from plain ol’ dictionaries and calendars (including one to easily convert Roman dates into modern ones), to a complete list of popes, to histories of books and printing, to every reference you might need when dealing with or cataloging or even just reading rare books and manuscripts (including all of ABC for Book collectors by John Carter and Nicholas Barker as a pdf!) . I think I’m in love.


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While I’m trying to figure out how to catalogue a book of pasted-in miscellany, I thought I’d share it with you, my faithful readers. Since I don’t know how to use the scanner, you’ll all have to use your imaginations.

So far, this appears to be a collection of the 72 magical alphabets that make up the Virga Aurea, an engraving done by James Bonaventure Hepburn. It seems to have something to do with the Kabbalah and the 72 names of God, but what exactly I’m not yet sure of. I’m trying to find a good book on this stuff that we have, but no luck yet.

There are drawings of Etruscan coins, charms with runes (possibly Danish?? The paper is disintigrating and the ink bled heavily, so it’s tough to tell), tables and tables of various alphabets with names like Hunno-Scythicum. Here’s an example (linked to the page I got the picture from, which has some other nice images and information on the Virga Aurea):

Virga Aurea


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Despite having my Big Book o’ Latin Abbreviations (Cappelli’s Lexicon Abbreviaturarum) at hand, 8 times out of 10 I find myself hitting my head on my desk as I attempt to puzzle a real word out of an abbreviation. The 9th and 10th time I either find it in the Book o’ Abbreviations, or assume that the author either invented a “Latin” word or simply misspelled one (this happens a lot). Finishing up Egidio Foscarari’s Ordo Judicarius today once again led me to the terrible place of the other 8 times.

With the help of an early 19th century transcription of a portion of the introduction to my work (a lot of misspellings in the Latin, a lot of mixed up words, I have no idea which version they were using but it certainly wasn’t right). It is a lot easier to figure the abbreviations out when they are typed, and the issue of handwriting is taken away, so just imagine that every letter looks just about the same.

Abbreviations I need to figure out/have figured out from this paragraph:

  • spualib{ (spiritualibus?? the bracket on the end is supposed to be a weird squiggle that looks vaguely like a skinny 3)
  • Aenoic
  • itendo
  • ul’

Most of the worst ones I can’t even begin to transcribe, as they turn into arcane-looking symbols – terrifying mutations of what once were real letters. Here are a couple of examples, taken from the Lexicon:


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First of all, apologies for the delay in updating. As of now, I don’t have internet at home, and at work I’m working, so I won’t have regular internet until I manage to secure an apartment for myself. But I’ll try to make up for lost time.

Worked up a small sweat the night before the Big Job doubting my knowledge of Latin (I never thought I’d actually use my Latin and get paid for it!) and furiously trying to remember all the complex grammar I’d forgotten in the past two years – the passive periphrastic, for one.

Today I created my first bibliographic record using MARC (MAchine-Readable-Cataloging) standards. I admit, I felt a little bit like God while doing this – linking subject headings (and making some that never before existed), uploading my record to OCLC (Online Computer Library Center, which more than 60,000 libraries use in over 112 countries) and Franklin (the pet-name for the Voyager catalog where I work).

The book I first worked on was a printed charter of a new chapter of the Society of Saint Anne in Malogoszcz (don’t ask me how to pronounce that), signed and sealed from the Archbishop of Lviv Jan Dymitr Solikowski, and Primate of Poland (that is an official title, and probably the best one I’ve heard) Jan Wezyk.

More than getting a bit of the celebrity-factor into my catalog, I loved leafing through the catalog of members in the back of the book (stretching about 300 years into 1833). Their personal notes, flourishes, choice of anecdotes or prayers to include, it was this kind of minutiae that really made the work interesting, allowing you to look into their lives, even if just a small portion of their lives.

I don’t know if anyone will ever look at this book except to catalog it, or if it will just sit on the shelf for years collecting dust (under it’s case which its getting custom-made for it, as every new book we catalog does – they’re color-coded, too!), but still, it feels exciting to make sure that, if someone ever might need this kind of book, they could find it thanks to me.

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