Calling all historians of cryptography and stenography, Sherlockians (see “The Dancing Men”), and other amateur detectives! The collection of Homer editions in the Special Collections Research Center – the Bibliotheca Homerica Langiana(BHL) – includes a copy of the rare 1504 edition of Homer’s Odyssey that contains, in Book 11 (narrating Odysseus’s journey into Hades) handwritten annotations in a strange and as-yet unidentified script. This marginalia appearsonly in the pages of Book 11 of the Odyssey; nowhere else in the volume. Although the donor of the BHL is suspicious that this odd script is a form of 19th-century shorthand (likely French), he acknowledges that this hypothesis remains unsupported by any evidence offered to date.
The donor of the BHL is offering a prize of $1,000 to the first person who identifies the script, provides evidence to support the conclusion, and executes a translation of selected portions of the mysterious marginalia. In addition to the photographs in this post, the volume is available to consult in person in the Special Collections reading room. Please visit the Special Collections website for information about requesting items to get started. The contest is open to all, regardless of University of Chicago affiliation. Please direct submissions to the contest, or questions, to Alice Schreyer, Assistant University Librarian, Humanities and Social Sciences and Rare Books Curator, orCatherine Uecker, Rare Books Librarian.