Book of Kells: Some Irish Latin

Hello Latinists…we are going a bit off the beaten path today.  Where?  Ireland.  Latin spread all over the Western world, and monks brought Latin to Ireland around the 6th century CE.  Since Ireland is sort of isolated, the scribes there developed their own unique, beautiful style of writing.  It’s called “Insular”.  Insula in Latin means island, so you can call this island Latin.  We are going to take a close look at one of Ireland’s national treasures, a manuscript written by monks in the Abbey of Kells.  It’s called the Book of Kells.  At one point, it was almost lost because vikings plundered the abbey and they had little appreciation for it.  Thankfully, it was found under some dirt a few hundred years later…and people were so amazed that they thought it had been written by angels (really).

Today we will be looking at three folios (general term for a leaf or sheet in the manuscript). The folios are comprised of vellum (mammal skin prepared for writing or printing). Before we can even begin to understand the Latin written on the folios, we must be able to read the letters on the page! In order to help us learn this insular Latin script, we will be using a Latin paleography guide (pages 31-35). Deciphering Insular Latin is not easy…it takes patience and perseverance!



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