Behind the scenes

There’s something about palimpsests that goes beyond palimpsests.

A text written under another text which hides the latter is more important than one thinks.

To preserve an old text, a new one needs to stay relevant so that the older one, though hidden, survives.

When palimpsests make the news, the superimposed texts don’t matter. But in the transmission of the palimpsests, it’s precisely the over-text that counts. For if it hasn’t been for it, the under-text wouldn’t be there at all. Most texts don’t survive. It’s sad, but it’s true. Most cultures get lost, as though walking through woods unattended. A fraction survive accidentally, a smaller one by design. Most of them disappear, that is why palimpsests matter.

Palimpsests are cliffhangers. You don’t know what lies beneath until you scour them, sometimes literally.

Parchment has a depth that defies imagination. A sheet of animal skin contains worlds. These worlds are ages apart, as palimpsests show.

To see the gold beneath, one needs to notice the dross above. It’s superficial, but essential.

Palimpsests are vehicles of cultural survival, the unsung heroes of literary transmission.

The paper will be cheaper and easier to make than vellum. But it will never carry a culture as far as the back (skin) of a baby cow.

Everybody likes a hidden text. But hidden texts are not readable, until they are no longer hidden.

5 thoughts on “Behind the scenes

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  1. Very good point. I often wonder what on the hidden text was so – at the time – irrelevant that it was worth writing over.
    Isn’t a baby cow called a calf? (Obviously, yes.)


      1. Thought so, really. I’ve heard people in all all sincerity call a calf a baby cow, a kitten a baby cat, etc. Have to bite my tongue some times to not correct them. Especially, being a horsewoman, a baby horse. *sigh*


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