I recently came across these excellent guides to palaeography from the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (St John’s University). As well as access to a number of helpful resources, they have virtual courses in Latin, Syriac, and Arabic scripts, as well as guides for manuscript transcription.
I don’t expect too much from a medieval scribe. I accept that he may not always know the correct spelling of a classical name or whether he needs a subjunctive and he might occasionally have to fudge it a bit. I accept that he contents himself with only writing about a quarter of the letters, leaving me to fill in the rest. I accept that his speed of writing may result in a certain loss of legibility.
I would, however, expect him to write from left to right in a reasonably straight line.
Two invaluable online resources that have been lifesavers for me as I’ve started to work with unedited manuscripts:
A. Cappelli’s Dizionario de Abbreviature – The indispensable and definitive guide to Latin abbreviations, this online version of the Italian edition is much more comprehensive than the later English edition.
Some academic libraries (including the Bodleian) also have subscriptions to Abbreviationes Online, which allows you to search a growing database for any medieval Latin abbreviation.
Enigma – In what I can only imagine was the result of an inspired friendship between a medievalist and a computer programmer, this brilliant tool allows you to enter as much of the word as you can make out, together with a host of wildcard options, and then provides you with a list of every possible option, courtesy of Whitaker’s Words. Particularly cleverly, it allows each minim (the identical vertical strokes found in ‘i’, ‘u’, ‘m’, and ‘n’) to be entered as a ‘!’, so for example, ‘!!!!!!!ere’ spits out only three possible options (innuere, munere, numere) which you can then narrow down based on context.
Take a foreign language, write it in an unfamiliar script, abbreviating every third word, and you have the compound puzzle that is the medieval Latin manuscript.
Preface to English translation of A. Cappelli’s The Elements of
Abbreviation in Medieval Latin Paleography (1982)
I have spent a concerning number of hours over the past month or two puzzling over pages that look like this: