Increasing complexity

A strange connection between calligraphy and programming languages

Tags: complexity, programming, calligraphy

This post is going to be short since it's just a quote from a book I'm currently reading about medieval calligraphy. It tells the history of how a beautiful script, Roman Square Capital, was substituted by another more practical one, Roman Rustic, until it found the same fate of its predecessor. As a programmer I find it amusing: substitute “script” with “programming language”. And now the excerpt from the book:

Many of the medieval scripts rose and fell within the same inexorable pattern. It was a pattern that gave scripts a period of glory and, in their fall, forced the emergence of new scripts to repeat the same pattern. We can now see this pattern emerge in a broad context; particularly if we generalize for a moment.

Roman Square Capital was a script of unparalleled calligraphic excellence.

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Roman Square Capital was painstaking and time-consuming to form and, because of the demand for books, necessitated a more functional script.

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What then happened to the simpler replacement was to happen again and again. Roman Rustic became popular and talented scribes added calligraphic touches to it. As these became popular and the script reached a higher calligraphic plateau, any use of it in simpler form became less acceptable to the discerning eye. The script, in effect, had nowhere to go but up. It could not stand still because the scribes' creative instinct could not be kept still. As one scholar put it: “The striving after beauty in handwriting is as natural to the accomplished penman as the striving after beauty in designing is to the artist.”.

Inevitably Roman Rustic became more time-consuming to write rapidly. Since writing had to be done rapidly, and there was no willing de-calligraphying of a script, another script had to take its place. This left Roman Rustic to fall into disuse as an extravagant art form.

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As we follow the history of scripts, we find that most came into prominence to fill a need for functionality, flourished, became ever more calligraphic, and died of a surfeit of scribal exuberance.

Medieval Calligraphy. It's History and Technique.

The Theory of the Rise and Fall of Scripts (pages 32-34).

Marc Drogin.

The book, by the way, is incredibly interesting. As a matter of fact my calligraphy is terrible as I spend most of my time using a keyboard but the first part of the book is an historical account of the evolution of calligraphy from the Roman Empire until the invention of that instrument of the Devil, the printing press.