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Lacuna (manuscripts)

Lacuna (manuscripts)

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A lacunaPlural lacunae. From Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 lacūna (ditch, gap), diminutive form of lacus (lake).
is a gap in a manuscript
Manuscript
A manuscript or handwrite is written information that has been manually created by someone or some people, such as a hand-written letter, as opposed to being printed or reproduced some other way...

, inscription, text, painting, or a musical work. A manuscript, text, or section suffering from gaps is said to be lacun(ul)ose.

Weathering, decay, and other damage to old manuscripts or inscriptions are often responsible for lacunae—words, sentences, or whole passages that are missing or illegible. Palimpsests are particularly vulnerable. To reconstruct the original text, the context must be considered. In papyrology
Papyrology
Papyrology is the study of ancient literature, correspondence, legal archives, etc., as preserved in manuscripts written on papyrus, the most common form of writing material in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome...

 and textual criticism
Textual criticism
Textual criticism is a branch of literary criticism that is concerned with the identification and removal of transcription errors in the texts of manuscripts...

 this may lead to competing reconstructions and interpretations. Published texts that contain lacunae often mark the section where text is missing with a bracketed ellipsis. For example, "This sentence contains 20 words, and […] nouns," or, "Finally, the army arrived at […] and made camp."

Famous examples

  • A famous Old English example of a lacuna is in the manuscript British Library MS Cotton Vitellius A. xv, the poem Beowulf
    Beowulf
    Beowulf , but modern scholars agree in naming it after the hero whose life is its subject." of an Old English heroic epic poem consisting of 3182 alliterative long lines, set in Scandinavia, commonly cited as one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature.It survives in a single...

    :
hyrde ich thæt [... ...On]elan cwen. (Fitt 1, line 62)
This particular lacuna is always reproduced in editions of the text, but many people have attempted to fill it, notably editors Wyatt-Chambers and Dobbie, among others, who accept the verb "waes" (was). Malone (1929) proposed the name Yrse for the unnamed queen, as that would alliterate with Onela
Onela
Onela was according to Beowulf a Swedish king, the son of Ongentheow and the brother of Ohthere. He usurped the Swedish throne, but was killed by his nephew Eadgils, who won by hiring foreign assistance....

. This is still hotly debated amongst editors, though.

  • Another notable lacuna is the eight-leaves-long Great Lacuna
    Great Lacuna
    The Great Lacuna is a lacuna of eight leaves where there was heroic Old Norse poetry in the Codex Regius. The gap would have contained the last part of Sigrdrífumál and most of Sigurðarkviða...

     in the Codex Regius
    Codex Regius
    Cōdex Rēgius is an Icelandic manuscript in which the Poetic Edda is preserved. It is made up of 45 vellum leaves, thought to have been written in the 1270s. It originally contained a further 8 leaves, which are now missing...

    , the most prominent source for Norse mythology
    Norse mythology
    Norse mythology, a subset of Germanic mythology, is the overall term for the myths, legends and beliefs about supernatural beings of Norse pagans. It flourished prior to the Christianization of Scandinavia, during the Early Middle Ages, and passed into Nordic folklore, with some aspects surviving...

     and early Germanic heroic legends. Luckily parts of it survived in independent manuscripts and in prose form in the Völsunga saga
    Volsunga saga
    The Völsungasaga is a legendary saga, a late 13th century Icelandic prose rendition of the origin and decline of the Völsung clan . It is largely based on epic poetry...

    .

  • In Codex Leicester
    Minuscule 69
    Minuscule 69 , δ 505 , known as Codex Leicester, or Codex Leicestrensis, is a Greek minuscule manuscript of the New Testament on paper and parchment leaves. The manuscript palaeographically has been assigned to the 15th century. Some leaves of the codex were lost. The text-type is eclectic...

     the text skips from Acts
    Acts of the Apostles
    The Acts of the Apostles , usually referred to simply as Acts, is the fifth book of the New Testament; Acts outlines the history of the Apostolic Age...

    10:45 to 14:17 without a break; possibly a scribe rewrote it from a defective manuscript.