Sunday, February 07, 2010

Here we have bronze coin of Pyrrhos of Epiros depicting a Macedonian shield with Phyrrhos' monogram. (This coin is not in my collections).

On the right is the description of the coin from Barclay Head's Historia Numorum, p. 230. The description shows the Greek inscription ΠΥΡ (Pyr) with a line over it.

What does this line mean, and how should it be encoded for web pages?

When I converted the Historia Numorum to HTML I rendered the line using inline CSS with an 'overline' text decoration:
<span style="text-decoration: overline;">
It is also possible to render such text using the Unicode 'combining overline', U+0305. Here are two examples:
  • ΠΥΡ (CSS)
  • Π̅Υ̅Ρ̅ (combining overlines).
The first format, using a CSS style, looks great in browsers but when the text is selected and copied to Notepad it loses the overline. The second format, using a Unicode combining character, looks terrible on Firefox/WinXP, but can be copied to Windows Notepad with the overline intact.

Until recently I thought the overline indicated a monogram, but Bradley Hudson McLean (An Introduction to Greek Epigraphy, p. 56) explains that the line is an 'abbreviation mark' or 'abbreviation sign' indicating that not all letters are present. This convention was used by engravers and also medieval copyists.

McLean also has a short description of ligatures on page 55, and his examples are the same as some two-letter symbols for magistrates that I have been calling 'monograms'. Usually when we think of ligatures today we think of printers combining ff or ffi for legibility but McLean also mentions the Roman practice of putting one letter on the other, called 'compendia'.

An example of a compendia on a coin is the OV-ligature on this coin of Nikopolis ad Istrum, right before the 12 o'clock position. I don't know of a good way to render compendia in HTML.

1 comment:

Bob said...

You're asking how you should encode in HTML/CSS what's in Head, yes? (As opposed to asking how your should encode in HTML/CSS what's on the coin.)

I don't think I'd read Head's overline as a technical mark of abbreviation, as in the Greek epigraphy text. I think I'd just read it as his indication that the PYR is combined on the coin into a monogram; if he had omitted the overline you'd assume that the coin actually read PYR (separate letters).

Is it possible he has a note in his preface on what his typographic symbols mean?

I've seen the overline used to indicate abbreviation in Early Modern manuscripts. Where we use a period now to indicate a truncated word, an overline was often used in the past before the period became standard. My intuition is that Head isn't trying to copy that practice, but rather trying to avoid the printing expense of having to custom-cut dozens or hundreds of monogram symbols. The overline just means "This is actually a monogram, not three letters."

As to encoding it in HTML, one thing I'd do is make it a semantic class /span class="monogram"/ so that you can set it and/or change it for all of them, however you in the end choose to do it.

Instead of text-decoration, you could probably also try:

border-top: solid black 1px