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This Greek word was applied in antiquity to a pair of writing tablets fastened together by rings, so that the inner sides, covered with wax, lay one upon the other. They were fastened sometimes by a strap, on the side opposite to the rings: sometimes by a string passed through two holes in the middle, and secured, if necessary, by seals at the back. (See the engravings under WRITING MATERIALS.) Two or more of the tablets (Triptycha, Polyptycha) were sometimes joined in the same way. They were used for notes, letters, and documents. Under the Empire much fancy and expense were lavished on them, the outer side being sometimes made of gold, silver, or magnificently carved ivory. This was especially the case after it became the fashion for consuls, and other high officials, to give presents of diptycha when entering upon office. For the diplomas made out on bronze diptycha for soldiers who had served their time, see MISSIO.
LETTERS 74.86%
Letters were written on tablets (see DIPTYCHON) Or small rolls of papyrus, the address being put on the outside. They were tied up with a thread, and the knot was sealed with wax. In wealthy Roman families special slaves or freedmen (ab epistulis) were kept for writing the correspondence, and carrying the letters: the latter were called tabellarii.
From an early date the Greeks employed in the production of books a paper prepared from the Egyptian papyrus plant. This was probably manufactured as follows: as many strips as possible of equal size were cut out of the cellular tissue of the stalk; these were laid side by side, and crossed by a second layer. The layers were firmly fastened together by being damped with size and pressed. The breadth of the scroll depended on the height of the stalk, while its length could be extended at pleasure. After the time of Augustus, the preparation of the papyrus by a process of bleaching was brought to such perfection that the best Egyptian kind took only the third place. Under the Empire eight different kinds were distinguished, the two best of which were called the charta Augusta (only used for letters), and the charta Livia; these were 10 ½ inches broad. The worst kind was only used for packing. As a rule the papyrus-rolls of moderate length were written only on one side, and the writing was divided into columns. [Pliny, N. H. xiii 68-83]. For the binding of the papyrus-rolls, see BOOKS. The use of skins for the purposes of writing was at least as old as that of papyrus. The finer method of preparing them was, however, first discovered during the first half of the 2nd century B.C. at Pergamum, whence the name charta Pergamena, "parchment." But as late as the 1st century A.D. papyrus was more generally employed, probably on account of its greater cheapness; and it was not till the 4th century that parchment came into more general use, as being more durable, and admitting of being written upon on both sides. The pen was a split reed (calamus), the best being supplied by Egypt and Cnidus in Caria. The ink (atramentum) employed was a preparation resembling Indian ink, made of soot and gum, or of the juice of the cuttle-fish. Both of these could be erased with a sponge, whereas ink made of oxide of iron and gallnuts, which appears to have been introduced later, and to have been the only kind capable of being used for parchment, left more or less clear traces behind, even if rubbed out with pumice-stone. In ordinary life people used for letters, notices, and despatches, as also in schools, wooden tablets (tabelloe) with a raised rim, within which was spread a thin layer of wax. On this the characters were scratched with the point of a metal or ivory instrument called a stilus; they could be effaced with the other end of the instrument, which was bent or flattened out like a paper-folder. Two or more such tablets could be fastened together in the form of a book. (See DIPTYCHON.) The writing materials most commonly employed among the Greeks and Romans are shown in our cuts. <picture> <name> INK-STAND WITH REED PEN, ROLL WITH CORNUA AND PARCHMENT LABEL, STILUS, WAX TABLET, AND ACCOUNT BOOK. (Mural Painting from Pompeii; Museo Borbonico i 12, 2.) </name> </picture> <picture> <name> BUNDLE OF REED-PENS, WAX TABLET, AMD STILUS. (Sepnlchral relief from Perret, Catacombes de Rome, lxxiii 6. Xanthus. A Greek historian. (See LOGOGRAPHI.)
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