Back to a “Virtual” Roll

It is well-known that the format of our book derives directly from the ancient codices. After a coexistence of about three centuries (roughly from the 2nd century AD to the 4th century AD) of both of the formats (rolls and codices), the codex won over the roll. And some modern scholars claim even that it has not changed its format since then for over a millennium (see Roberts C.H./Skaet T.C., The Birth of the Codex, London /New York 1983, 76).

Nevertheless with the better understanding and growing usage of the new electronic devises to create texts the domination of the codex is somewhat challenged. It will certainly not be completely ruled out, as the advantages of its format are far to many. One could mention for instance the compactness which allows to take along a book while travelling. This has been suggested as one of the reasons for the preference for codices in ancient times, especially in a Christian tradition (see McCormick M., “The Birth of the Codex and the Apostolic Life-style”, Scriptorium 39, 1985, 150-158). In our times, even if travel is again an important part of our lifes, the weight of some of the book is now seen rather as an inconvenient.

It has also be suggested several times that the use of internet changes the way of reading and writing, especially as the notion of “page” tent to disappear (as well as paginations, which is more inconvenient for modern readers).

The comment I would like to add to this debate occurred to me while reading an article by T.C. Skeat, where the scholar investigates the reasons why the codex replaced finally the roll and why this process took so long (see T.C. Skaet, “Roll versus Codex- A New Approach?”, ZPE 84, 1990, 297-298). He mentions one advantage of rolls, which could also be of interest for a discussion on web-based publications.

He mentions the fact that when illustrations are involved in a text, the roll, with its continuous process of reading unbroken by page-turning, allows to see an illustration and the discussion about it simultaneously. In a codex, on the other hand, in a great number of cases, the illustrations and the comments on them are not visible together. The illustrations are either given before or after the discussion, sometimes even at the end of the book, or their presence interrupts the discussion, because they are, for instance, on the right-hand page, which has to be turned over in order to read the end of the argumentation.

The possibility to display visual data along with texts without page-turning is also an advantage of web-based publications.

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