Concept

Incipit

Summary
The incipit (ˈɪnsɪpɪt ) of a text is the first few words of the text, employed as an identifying label. In a musical composition, an incipit is an initial sequence of notes, having the same purpose. The word incipit comes from Latin and means "it begins". Its counterpart taken from the ending of the text is the explicit. Before the development of titles, texts were often referred to by their incipits, as with for example Agnus Dei. During the medieval period in Europe, incipits were often written in a different script or colour from the rest of the work of which they were a part, and "incipit pages" might be heavily decorated with illumination. Though the word incipit is Latin, the practice of the incipit predates classical antiquity by several millennia and can be found in various parts of the world. Although not always called by the name of incipit today, the practice of referring to texts by their initial words remains commonplace. In the clay tablet archives of Sumer, catalogs of documents were kept by making special catalog tablets containing the incipits of a given collection of tablets. The catalog was meant to be used by the very limited number of official scribes who had access to the archives, and the width of a clay tablet and its resolution did not permit long entries. This is a Sumerian example from Frederick Andrew Lerner(1998): Honored and noble warrior Where are the sheep Where are the wild oxen And with you I did not In our city In former days Many books in the Hebrew Bible are named in Hebrew using incipits. For instance, the first book (Genesis) is called Bereshit ("In the beginning ...") and Lamentations, which begins "How lonely sits the city...", is called Eykha ("How"). A readily recognized one is the "Shema" or Shema Yisrael in the Torah: "Hear O Israel..." – the first words of the proclamation encapsulating Judaism's monotheism (see beginning Deuteronomy 6:4 and elsewhere). All the names of Parashot are incipits, the title coming from a word, occasionally two words, in its first two verses.
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