English and the Latin Question

“We are all—more or less deliberately—students of English; we all recognize the value of accurately expressing our ideas and of exactly understanding the ideas of other. Now, though the notion has never dawned upon the large, good-humored, unenlightened public opinion which indirectly shapes our educational policies, to the serious student of English some acquaintance with Latin is not merely convenient, not merely valuable, but quite literally indispensable. At every onward step towards the mastery of his own language and literature he must use his Latin lamp if he has one, or stumble and go astray in the darkness if he has not. In this position the value of Latin is unique.”

—The Classical Weekly, Vol. V, No. 26. May 1912. Full column HERE (highly recommended!)

classical-weekly

Illuminated Manuscripts

This brings us to the true function of decoration in a twelfth-century book. It was clearly not just because it was pretty. The twelfth century was an age which delighted in classification and ordering of knowledge. Its most admired writers, men like Peter Lombard and Gratian, arranged and shuffled information into order that was accessible and easy to use. Twelfth-century readers loved encyclopedias…Les us then consider book illumination in these terms. It suddenly becomes easy to understand. Initials mark the beginning of books or chapters (PL.85). They make a manuscript easy to use. It helps classify the priorities of the text…A newspaper does this today with headlines of different sizes…any reader of a modern newspaper will fiercely defend his choice of paper by praising the text, not the layout or illustrations. It is not surprising that the twelfth-century chroniclers from St. Albans, Lincoln, and Canterbury complimented the accuracy of manuscripts when what they meant was that they liked using them.

Christopher De Hamel, A History of Illuminated Manuscripts 99.