Medieval Writing
Paleography Exercises
Dante's Inferno, 14th century (British Library, add. ms. 19587, f.58a). All images by permission of the British Library.
This shows the bottom half of a page of a 14th century illustrated copy of The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. The large capital letter represents the beginning of Canto 34 of the Inferno where Dante and Virgil have finally reached the deepest part of hell and come face to face with Lucifer. The souls of the eternally damned lie at their feet. Dante is hiding behind Virgil because he doesn't actually feel very happy at this point.
The language of the text is Italian. This was a pioneering work in the vernacular in Italy. The script is rotunda, a formal and rounded modified form of Gothic (or perhaps the Italians thought that French Gothic was a squashed and angular modified form of proper Italian book hand). Although the work is in the vernacular, the script is formal and the illustrations lavish, as though it was a significant liturgical work in Latin.
There are many editions of Dante in print, but I have consulted Durling, R.M. (ed. and trans.) 1996 The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, Volume 1, Inferno Oxford University Press; New York and London. This is not the most elegant translation of Dante, but it is a parallel Italian/English version and has extensive notes on the text. An excellent web resource is Columbia University's Digital Dante.

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Click on each of the above to walk your way through a section of the text. The transcript will appear in a separate window so that you can use it for reference at any time. These exercises are designed to guide you through the text, not test you, so you can cheat as much as you like.
Script sample for this example
Index of Exercises
Index of Scripts

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This site is created and maintained by Dr Dianne Tillotson, freelance researcher and compulsive multimedia and web author. Comments are welcome. Material on this web site is copyright, but some parts more so than others. Please check here for copyright status and usage before you start making free with it. This page last modified 8/5/2005.