There is really only one method behind paleographical study. If you want to read a medieval text you stare at each little scribble, or graph as the scholars like to call them, and you try and figure out what letter it refers to. Once you think you have it figured you move to the next scribble. When you hit a gap in the text, and you think it’s probably a word division, you look at the list of letters you wrote down and see if it makes a word. That really is all there is to it, at least from the perspective of the transcriber.
Today, after months, years really, of staring at one particular list of scribbles, I got a string of letters that turned out to be actual words. These were the last two words in the first line of a text that has refused to resolve itself into readable Latin since I first clapped eyes on it in December, 2009.
… fulta priorum
The underlined letters were packed into a brevigraph in the shape of a two-prong pitchfork leading off the final r.
Because most Latin texts are recorded in the literature by their first few words, called the incipit, it’s just about impossible to identify a text if you can’t read the first line. You may be lucky, and have a text that appears in an edition, so searching elsewhere in the text could get results. I could make out parts of the second and third lines but that got me nowhere, suggesting that I was misreading them, or the text had not appeared in an edition.
Google “fulta priorum” and you will get the preceding three words in my text that I could never make out. The version I have is not listed elsewhere, and has missed the keen eyes of previous readers. Or those readers lacked the free time I have.
This is a very small victory, but I earned it.