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Manuscript Scholars, to the MeFi Van!
April 24, 2014 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Identify mystery text, win $1000. "The collection of Homer editions in the Special Collections Research Center – the Bibliotheca Homerica Langiana(BHL) – includes a copy of the rare 1504 edition of Homer’s Odyssey that contains, in Book 11 (narrating Odysseus’s journey into Hades) handwritten annotations in a strange and as-yet unidentified script. This marginalia appears only in the pages of Book 11 of the Odyssey; nowhere else in the volume. Although the donor of the BHL is suspicious that this odd script is a form of 19th-century shorthand (likely French), he acknowledges that this hypothesis remains unsupported by any evidence offered to date." And he's willing to pay for that evidence.
posted by korej (31 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Joke #1 for the wider audience: "Drink your Ovaltine".

Joke #2 for the MeFi audience: It's probably just the Lord's Prayer again.
posted by Curious Artificer at 12:48 PM on April 24 [17 favorites]


They're going to have to do better than 50dpi images in a scrolling lightbox if they want someone to look at this. Seriously, the source images are 400x600 pixels.
posted by Nelson at 12:48 PM on April 24 [16 favorites]


It'll be a comment saying "I've found an elegant solution to the problem if the Voynich MS, but it's too long to fit in this margin."
posted by yoink at 12:52 PM on April 24 [15 favorites]


Pitman shorthand?
posted by The White Hat at 12:52 PM on April 24


It's all Greek to me.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:55 PM on April 24


The notes are clearly linked to text in a known language, so I can't see why this won't be fairly easy to crack. The more so if the history of the book is suggesting French as the language. Start with the assumption that the reader was translating difficult words or phrases into French, and go from there.
posted by Thing at 12:55 PM on April 24


I'd love to tell you about your mystery text, but I can't do it any more and I'm not satisfied.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:57 PM on April 24 [5 favorites]


Maybe a physician owned that book.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:03 PM on April 24 [2 favorites]


posted by Apocryphon at 1:03 PM on April 24 [+] [!]

Oh, very funny.
posted by Thing at 1:04 PM on April 24 [4 favorites]


I'm sure the content will be very prosaic, but I look forward to getting to know about some obscure script. That's bound to be fascinating.
posted by Kattullus at 1:08 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


About 1729 I discussed the origin of that poem with a professor of rhetoric named, I think, Giambattista; his arguments seemed to me irrefutable.
posted by thelonius at 1:13 PM on April 24


Bibliotheca Homerica Langiana

Admission: I read Homerica as "Homoerotica" and the link became suddenly less titilating after I clicked it and learned my mistake.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:14 PM on April 24


It'll be a comment saying "I've found an elegant solution to the problem if the Voynich MS, but it's too long to fit in this margin."

Well, the Voynich Manuscript was "Written in Central Europe at the end of the 15th or during the 16th century..."

I'd certainly be looking into any resemblances in the scripts.
posted by jamjam at 1:33 PM on April 24


The donor of the BHL is offering a prize of $1,000 to the first person who identifies the script, provides evidence to support the conclusion, and executes a translation of selected portions of the mysterious marginalia. In addition to the photographs in this post, the volume is available to consult in person in the Special Collections reading room. Please visit the Special Collections website for information about requesting items to get started. The contest is open to all, regardless of University of Chicago affiliation. Please direct submissions to the contest, or questions, to Alice Schreyer, Assistant University Librarian, Humanities and Social Sciences and Rare Books Curator, or Catherine Uecker, Rare Books Librarian.

Can chicago be even awesomer?

But getting back to things, can someone read Greek and point out which words/parts are singled out by the underlining? It would probably be easy to 'decipher' this if one knew what they were referring to. But I think using a mirror would help, maybe a prism.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:35 PM on April 24


Well, Naptha doesn't help.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 2:42 PM on April 24 [5 favorites]


I don't know anything about shorthand, but I Googled "French shorthand", and the unidentified script certainly resembles certain known shorthand systems.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 2:50 PM on April 24


One of the pages is starting at line 264 of book 11, see here. Perseus also links to English translation if knowing what the greek says would be helpful.
posted by nat at 3:02 PM on April 24


This is such an infuriating tease. It's such a cool mystery, yet they've utterly failed at providing the information that people will need to solve it. Why not provide high-res scans? Surely the University of freaking Chicago has a scanner lying around somewhere that can do better than 400x600. Why no details about the history of the book? Knowing who owned it, where, and when would greatly reduce the search space. Presumably there's a reason they suspect that it's French and 19th-century, but what is that reason? We can only guess. In short, why does UChicago not understand how the Internet works?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 3:17 PM on April 24 [4 favorites]


I had the best look I could get at it. I do have an idea, and sent that in, along with an article. Sorry, not saying. If they end up solving the mystery using my theory then I will let you know.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 3:52 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


"One thousand dollars!"

Seriously, they couldn't have put up five hundred for a good scan? People would do this for the bragging rights, but as it is....
posted by IndigoJones at 4:55 PM on April 24


HEY GUYS 32MB .TIF FILES YOU'RE WELCOME.
posted by The White Hat at 6:54 PM on April 24 [11 favorites]


Thanks White Hat!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:13 PM on April 24


Katjusa Roquette demonstrates the failing with this approach. If it was $1000 donation to a charity of the message board's choice, Reddit/Mefi/4chan etc would be working as a group to win bragging rights.
posted by bystander at 8:23 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Just so you know, Hightail is a really govni app. Also, you expect Mefites to agree on a worthy charity?
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:43 PM on April 24


resembles Austrian/German shorthand a lot, so I'd bet on some variation of shorthand that's related to it.

of course, a lot of people develop some personal variation of shorthand, if they use it only privately and not for professional use*, and the more shortened it is, the more you need to know the context to be able to read it.

*the Austrian National Assembly still employs 12 professional ... I don't know the English term, people who write shorthand (stenotypers?) to record the sessions in shorthand. It's really dying out, when I learned it in the late 1980s, we were one of the last years where it was taught.
posted by ari_ at 10:53 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


I don't know the English term, people who write shorthand (stenotypers?)

Close, it's stenographer.

posted by junco at 12:52 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


I respectfully rescind my earlier comment and thank White Hat.

resembles Austrian/German shorthand a lot, so I'd bet on some variation of shorthand that's related to it.

Question is, is it the same hand that wrote the French comments? Hard to tell from the pictures. Hard for me, that is to say. Anyone?
posted by IndigoJones at 4:11 PM on April 25


Just so you know, I sent my idea, and proof of it to one of the e-mail addresses. I have not received the least acknowledgement.
I find that a tad unimpressive.
Admittedly, all I did was give her my idea of what the script could be, and explain that I can't translate it. It's a language I do read, but a script which I can't read. I gave some ideas for getting a person who could help.
And ništa, nada, zip, zilč níl aon rud dada. . .
Do these people mean business?
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:41 PM on April 30


Oh, O.K. Mass notification. The contest closed 28th April, 2014.

Not having received any notification, I will share that I thought the script could have been a cursive form of Glagolithic.
I sent examples of Glagolithic.
I can't read it, but there are people out there who can.
I would have spent the money to go to Africa to monitor giraffes.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:47 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


Update: mystery solved.
posted by Tesseractive at 11:45 AM on May 5 [2 favorites]


So the answer is: eighteenth century French shorthand!
Daniele Metilli, an Italian computer engineer and software developer,[...] Working with Giula Accetta, a colleague who is proficient in contemporary Italian stenography and fluent in French, Mr. Metilli identified the mystery script correctly as the system of tachygraphy invented by Jean Coulon de Thévénot in the late 18th century.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:47 PM on May 10


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