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It is little wonder that ancient readers always read aloud. The act of articulation would have helped them recognize the divisions (words, clauses, and sentences) that had to be made before a text could be understood.
The upper limit of what could be put on one roll was about 18,000 words (40 or so pages like this one); a longer roll would have been too cumbersome to use. Most works of Roman literature were, of course, much longer and so had to be accommodated on two or more rolls. This led to longer poems and prose works being composed in (that is, split up
*Sometimes, as in the Gallus fragment mentioned below, word division was indicated by a centerline dot. This practice also occurs in inscriptions.
into) sections, each of which was contained within one roll. The Latin term that we translate by book (liber) refers to a single papyrus roll. A longer literary work contained as many books as the rolls necessary to record it; Vergil's Aeneid was in 12 books and so required 12 rolls. Shorter works could have been combined on a single roll (for example, Horace's Ars poética, which ran to 476 lines), but no one roll comprised what we today would consider a book of normal length (say, 200 to 300 pages).
There is not a single classical Latin work for which we have the original author's copy, but fragments of papyrus rolls have survived from Hercu-laneum and elsewhere. One of the most interesting contains lines from a poem by Cornelius Gallus, a contemporary of Vergil, and may have been written during the poet's lifetime (see also page 190).
The papyrus roll was not a user-friendly production. It was awkward to read and cumbersome to consult. Whereas today we simply flip through a book's pages for a reference or to check the accuracy of a quotation, an ancient scholar was obliged to work through a roll until the necessary passage appeared; there was no equivalent to pagination. The limited amount of material that a roll could contain was also a serious disadvantage.
In the first century of the Christian era, a new type of book was beginning to appear, the codex. An earlier form had already existed for several centuries and consisted of a small number of thin wooden boards (tabellae*) smeared on each side with wax and held together by a leather thong that was threaded through holes along one edge of each board, similar to modern spiral binding. This allowed the user to turn the boards over and inscribe a message into the wax on either side with a sharp-pointed stylus. Tabellae were not intended for anything approaching the amount of text that even a papyrus roll could hold. They were for letters, messages, note taking, and the like, and could be reused simply by applying a new coating of wax to the boards, j-
When papyrus was substituted for wood in making tabellae, recycling became more difficult, but the modern form of the book was born. Sheets of papyrus were folded in two and a number of such foldings were held together by stitching along the spine, just as in better-quality books today. The front, back, and spine were protected by what we now call the binding. With this new form of book, readers had something that was consid-
*The singular tabella is the term for one board; the plural tabellae is the term for a joined set of boards and can be used for one notebook of this sort or many, fin 1973, archaeological excavations at Vindolanda, a Roman fort near Hadrians Wall in northern England, produced a number of original tabellae from around a.d. 100. These contain letters and military documents, many of which display features not previously known.
erably easier to use, more convenient to consult when a particular reference or passage was required, and capable of holding the contents of many rolls. By the end of the first century a.d., the codex had begun to be used for literary works, but the transition from roll to codex lasted several hundred years. It was assisted by the substitution of parchment for papyrus. Parchment (also called vellum) was made from animal skins and was not only thin and white but also extremely strong and durable. It was ideal for the codex—and for preserving works of literature.
Martial was the first classical writer to speak of the transition from rolls to books with pages. He was obviously impressed with the compactness of the new book form:
Quam brevis inmensum cepit membrana Maronem!
How small a parchment has packaged the vast Maro (i.e., Vergil)/
He also described a paginated copy of Ovid's Metamorphoses:
Haec tibi multiplici quae structa est massa tabella, carmina Nasonis quinque decemque gerit.
This large object, which has been put together for you from many pages, contains the 15 books ofNaso. Epigrammata 14.192
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