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In Principio : Incipit Index of Latin Texts

Je teste cette ressource électronique

Éditeur : Brepols Publishers

Support : Internet

Catégories :

Lettres, sciences humaines et sociales

Références bibliographiques et commerciales

Langue : Multilingue

Type de ressource : Bibliographique

Nombre de données : Plus d

Sujet(s) : Incipits couvrant la littérature latine depuis ses origines à la Renaissance


An invaluable research tool for all those scholars and libraries interested in the writers, texts and manuscripts of Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

  • 1,000,000 records from 3 major institutions and a number of individual collections
  • approximately 25,000 new entries on-stream from 2004 onwards
  • updates twice a year, in March and September
  • a search screen that is identical for the online and the CD-ROM publication
  • a search screen providing guidance for searching by offering 10 search fields that enable precise searching
  • multilingual search interface (English - French - German)

The utility of collections of incipits

Those who are interested in the writers, texts and manuscripts of Antiquity and the Middle Ages know how difficult it is to identify a particular work encountered by chance in a manuscript, or, when studying or publishing a particular text, to make an inventory of all the manuscripts in which it appears. These difficulties arise primarily from the manner in which literary works circulated prior to the invention of printing. Before Gutenberg, the text had a life of its own, independent of its author, and was modified from copy to copy. It is not only the text that changed; titles might vary and authorial attributions could shift. There was a tendency to 'lend only to the rich', and Ovid, St Augustine and St Bernard found themselves credited with a host of apocrypha. The incipit or first words of a work thus remain the surest means of designating it unambiguously. In a sense, the incipit, by virtue of its invariability, is the identity card of the text. Standing apart from the diversity of attributions and titles, the incipit guarantees the presence of a particular text.

Kinds of research

The incipit serves as a link between the text and the manuscript. The search software answers two main questions about the incipit:

  • who is the author and what is the title of the text?
  • which manuscripts contain the text?

In response to the first question, a variable number of identifications may be offered to the researcher. According to the state of scholarship, the text may be attributed to one or several authors or to no-one at all. It may be known under one or several titles or have no title. It may be published or cited under one title and have circulated under another, and so on.
In response to the second question, the user receives a list of manuscripts containing those extant witnesses to the text that have been recorded. The length of the list depends upon the diffusion of the work in question, the disappearence of manuscripts in all genres, the advancement of the cataloguing of collections, and the progress of research.
In fact, the incipitis a much more stable element of the text than the title or the name of the author, yet it too may be subject to variations. Strictly speaking, these variations are infinite in number, and in fact, some changes are so completely random and unpredictable that one must never be content with a single search. Fortunately, in practice, most of the variations in the incipit can be reduced to two main types: inversion of word order and spelling variants.
Manual and printed collections of incipits permit only one type of inquiry: by the first word. An electronic version, on the other hand, allows for searches to be made on the basis of any word in the incipit, regardless of its location. The response may be delimited by searching not only with one but with two or more words of the incipit.

Spelling variants The search program also resolves most of the difficulties arising from different spelling of the same word. From one manuscript to another, for example, the word 'hymnus' may be presented in different forms, depending upon whether or not the scribe maintained the 'h', substituted 'i' for 'y', inserted a 'p' in the 'mn' group. These three spelling variations can generate eight possible forms. To handle this difficulty, these three types of spelling variation, as well as many others, have been embedded into the search program so that it can, by itself, establish links between different spellings of the same word. In our example, by searching using the word 'hymnus', the user will obtain all the incipits containing the forms 'hymnus', 'himnus', 'ymnus', 'immus', 'hympnus', 'himpnus', 'ympnus', and 'impnus'. Moreover, the same result is obtained not only when one searches with the normalized form of 'hymnus', but also with each of the other seven possible forms.

The following is a list of the spelling variants embedded in the search program of In principio:

  • Vowels: j/i, v/u, ae/e, oe/e, y/i
  • Consonants: k/c, ph/f, h/(nothing), w/u, bp/pp, cq/dq, cx/x, dc/cc, df/ff, dg/gg, dl/ll, dn/nn, dp/pp, ds/ss, dt/tt, md/nd, mf/nf, mpn/mn, dt/tt, md/nd, mf/nf, mpn/mn, mps/ms, mpt/mt, nb/mb, nm/mm, np/mp, ssp/sp, xf/ff, xs/x
  • Groups of characters/Words : tia/cia, tie/cie, tii/cii, tio/cio, tiu/ciu, mihi/michi, nihil/nichil

The policy adopted has been to transmit as accurately as possible the information given by the manuscript, the catalogue, the edition, and so forth. Entries generated from direct analysis or a catalogue normally give the author's name and the title form chosen by the editor or the scholar. Thus, instead of a normalized system whose perfection is illusory, users have a faithful reflection of the state of research at the time they make their search-query.

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