It’s Monday! So it’s time for another SUPERFUNBLOGPOST! Today’s agenda? Explaining cuneiform and introducing Trithemius. Hold onto your hats, it’s gonna be a wild ride!


So to learn about cuneiform, I’m going to dip back into our good old Cambridge Companion. I threw the word out there last week while discussing boustrophedons. (Sidenote: I described boustrophedons by saying the Indus script was not like cuneiform. By doing this, I was demonstrating indeterminacy. I wish I could say that I had done that on purpose.) I did not, however, actually say anything about it. I’m sure my many, many readers were outraged. So here’s an extract from David Greetham’s essay, “A history of textual scholarship”, found in The Cambridge Companion to Textual Scholarship:

Text as history

The history of textual scholarship is the history of history. At the very moment in each culture that documents begin to preserve the records of that culture, the issues familiar to textual scholars will appear: inscription, graphic representation, transmission, error/variant, authenticity, reception. All of these important matters are raised once the first text-producers, in whatever medium, begin to put chisel to stone, wedge to clay, stylus to papyrus, pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. To cover textuality as an historical phenomenon, this account should thus properly include the identification and “editing” of potsherds (ostraka), cuneiform tablets (clay incised with “wedges”), graffiti (or “scratches,” typically on walls), inscriptions, monumental or quotidien (epigraphy), coinage (numismatics), runes (an angular Nordic alphabet, part based on Latin, part with special symbols), pictographs (pictorial symbols representing words or phrases), and many other media containing historical evidence, possibly even the bark of certain trees (notably beech, from which the word book may descend, although the etymology is now questioned)…

  Cuneiform is a system of writing first developed in Sumeria around the year 4000 BCE. It’s considered to be one of the most important cultural contributions of this area. The style of writing is wedge-shaped, resulting in the system being named after the latin word for wedge, “cuneus”. Cuneiform was written in soft clay with a stylus. Originally, these wedge-shapes represented word signs, but phonograms were later introduced.

Onwards and upwards! Today in class, we looked at a couple of quotes from Trithemius, a figure whose character piqued my interest.* Trithemius was born in Germany in 1462, and grew up in the house of his step-father, who neglected him and refused him an education. Desperate to learn, however, Trithemius began sneaking to the house of a neighbour by night to learn to read and write. At 20, he resolved to join the novitiate, and at 21, he was not only the youngest member of the community but also its abbot. He struggled as abbot, meeting misbehaviour from his monks and competition from his priors. By the time he lost his role as abbot, however, he had managed to build a vast library which attracted visitors from all over Germany, adding to the collection of just 48 volumes until he had accumulated over 2,000. While his learning did not earn him respect in the religious community, it did allow him to form a friendship with the young prince Joachim of Brandenburg and enjoy an “almost legendary reputation for learning and wisdom”.

The reason I wish to include Trithemius in my blog, however, is the reputation he earned as a man of magic, and a necromancer. While he desperately denied these claims and renounced all belief in these practices, he was unable to avoid the fact that “many wild rumours circulated about him. It was said that he had invoked before Maximilian the spirit of his dead wife Mary of Burgundy, and again that finding himself at an inn where supplies had run short, he had tapped on the window and called out in Latin: ‘Adfer,’ whereupon some spirit hand passed in to him a broiled pike and a bottle of wine.” (Seton-Watson 83) (See appendix E)


*video to be released*

*I pause here to open my “Lunchables”, for buying lunch items I wasn’t allowed as a child will remain my greatest act of rebellion. (See appendix F)

I will note, for anyone who might have been following this blog as I write it, that the video for George’s post has now been added. Check it out, I’m very proud.



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