'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

16 September 2010

The Written Word

Verbal tradition gave sustenance to all societies, but as knowledge grew so did the need to record in order to be able to pass on what had come before. A cave painting may have been a representation of thought because in this image or word the spiritual took form and possessed the truth and reality of that which was depicted. Today there is evidence that as Egypt united and organisation and trade developed a method of recording was necessary and the pre-dynastic King Scorpion 3250 BCE may have ordered the creation of writing. Pictographic recording also appeared in Mesopotamia soon after and Cuneiform writing about 2400 BCE. The hieroglyph or sacred word appears to be the earliest organised system of passing on ideas, history and wisdom.  A glance at history shows that just as in magic where the power of the word brings forth what is willed, so in Egypt, Ra by the word brought order from chaos, the God of Abraham brought forth creation by his word and for Christians the word was made flesh. The three great monotheistic religions of today are known as the people of the book. Ideas can unite and today can be shared with anyone on the planet who can find a bookshop, a library, have access to the internet, or can at least listen to a teacher.
Possibly the first words found appear inscribed on the tortoise shells from China which date back 8,600 years

click to take a closer look at cuneiform or heiroglyphs.


As long ago as 3340 years ago the Egyptian Duauf tried to encourage youth to read, for it is the source of wisdom and promotes freedom of both soul and body.  He said 'I have seen him that is beaten, you are to set your heart on books. I have beheld him that is set free from forced labour - behold, nothing surpasses books.'    Left is Thoth, god of Writing and knowledge.

The Egyptians, apart from religious and scientific texts, also had their own literature or fiction much of which was for moral entertainment. 
  One of the most popular was the 'Story of Sinuhe' which can be found on several sites.

           Papyrus and early writing materials.
Papyrus stalks were harvested from the banks of the Nile probably after April for the best quality. Apart from writing material it was also used for mats, ropes, baskets and light rafts. After removing the outer green skin the inner pith of the plant is cut into long thin strips which are pounded to break down the fibres and then soaked for three days in water until pliable. The strips are cut to length and laid on a piece of cotton fabric, which was also invented by the Egyptians. They are arranged in two layers, one horizontal and the other vertical with a small overlap. They are covered with another piece of cotton, placed between absorbent barriers, stacked and placed in a press where they are squeezed and left in the Sun. The absorbent layers are replaced every eight hours and after three to four days the papyri are dry and ready for use. Papyrus paper making was a state monopoly in Egypt and the method of its production was a closely guarded secret. Many efforts were made in various parts of the Mediterranean to find a suitable writing material  and came up with the much inferior clay and wax tablets, lead sheets and parchment. papyrus had completely vanished from Egypt due to lack of cultivation and heavy silting in the marshes, lakes and ponds and had to be re-introduced and the method of manufacture had to be worked out as no records existed. Papyrus began to be made again in the 1960’s.
This was the first easy system of portable writing and lasted until the Arabs introduced the cheaper process of pulp paper making in the tenth century which they had learned from the Chinese. Legend says that Cai Lun invented paper in 105 AD, however archaeological evidence shows paper being used two hundred years before that. Chinese papermaking used the pulp of bamboo fibre which produced a fine quality paper.
click these to enlarge photos

The early Chinese and Koreans had invented printing by wood blocks, which was a little awkward, but the first mass production of books for all began in Europe with the invention of the printing press by Gensfliesch zur Laden known as Johann Guttenberg who was born in Mainz in the 1390s. His father worked with the ecclesiastic mint so Guttenberg knew about metal casting and the trade of the Goldsmith. They moved to Strasburg in 1411. He first appeared in a breach of promise lawsuit in 1436. He had a partner Andreas Dritzehn who died and appeared in another lawsuit by his partners relatives in 1439, having borrowed a considerable amount of money for a development venture which the court documents refer to as including lead and other materials which would be suitable for printing. He developed his machine by adapting an olive press. At first they had produced items for pilgrims to Aix-la-Chapelle and some suggest these may have included printed indulgences. Broke he moved back to Mainz, borrowing yet again, from Johann Fust and in 1456 he produced his 300 copies of the Latin Bible and the world was forever changed. The first mass produced printed book was in Gothic type, 42 line double columned, and decorated with coloured wood cuts.  Fust with his son in law, Peter Schoffer eventually took over the Guttenberg's business and published his Latin Psalter in 1457 under their name although Guttenberg had worked on it for years. Within fifty years 20 million books had been printed. Guttenberg died in 1468.

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