Lacuna (manuscripts)

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A lacuna (plural lacunae) is a gap in a manuscript, inscription, text, painting, or a musical work.

The state of old manuscripts or inscriptions which have weathered or been damaged sometimes gives rise to lacunae — passages consisting of a word or words that are missing or illegible. Palimpsests are particularly subject to lacunae. In order to reconstruct the original text, the context is to be considered. In archaeology and literary criticism this may sometimes lead to competing reconstructions and consequent interpretations. Published texts containing lacunae often mark the section where the missing text is with a […]. For example, "This sentence contains 20 words, and […] nouns." Another example is "one kilogram equals one […] grams" where the word 'thousand' is lost in a lacuna in the manuscript.

Famous examples

hyrde ich thaet [... ...On]elan cwen. (Fitt 1, line 62)
This particular lacuna is always reproduced in editions of the text, but many people have attempted to fill it, notably editors Wyatt-Chambers and Dobbie, among others, who accept the verb "waes" (was). Malone (1929) proposed the name Yrse for the unnamed queen, as it would then alliterate with Onela. This is still hotly debated amongst editors though.[1]
  • In Codex Leicester the text skips from Acts 10:45 to 14:17 without a break; possibly a scribe rewrote it from a defective manuscript.


1. G. Jack, "Beowulf — A Student Edition", OUP, Oxford:1994. Pp.31-32, footnote 62.

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