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Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
▪ Instead of adding a new layer to the palimpsest of the Great Plains, strip-mining destroys the palimpsest itself.
▪ The whole discordant palimpsest of photographic realities with which we are daily bombarded is communicated in the microcosm of a single canvas.
The Collaborative International Dictionary

palimpsest \pal"imp*sest\ (p[a^]l"[i^]mp*s[e^]st), n. [L. palimpsestus, Gr. pali`mpshstos scratched or scraped again, pali`mpshston a palimpsest; pa`lin again + psh^n to rub, rub away: cf. F. palimpseste.] A parchment which has been written upon twice, the first writing having been erased to make place for the second. The erasures of ancient writings were usually carried on in monasteries, to allow the production of ecclesiastical texts, such as copies of church services and lives of the saints. The difficulty of recovering the original text varied with the process used to prepare the parchment for a fresh writing; the original texts on parchments which had been washed with lime-water and dried were easily recovered by a chemical process, but those erased by scraping the parchment and bleaching are difficult to interpret. Most of the manuscripts underlying the palimpsests that have been revived are fragmentary, but some are of great historical value. One Syriac version of the Four Gospels was discovered in 1895 in St. Catherine's Monastery at Mount Sinai by Mrs. Agnes Smith Lewis. See also the notes below.

Note: Palimpsest is the name given to ancient parchments which have been used more than once for writing purposes. The conquest of Egypt by the Saracens in the 7th century cut off from Europe the papyrus which was used to write on, and parchment could be had only in limited quantities. So through the dark ages, old manuscripts were used, after removing the first writing upon them. Sometimes the writing was washed off with a sponge, and the parchment smoothed with pumice stone; at other times the letters were scraped away with a sharp blade. Nearly all ancient manuscripts, however, were written with an ink which could not be entirely removed, and traces of a former writing could be seen beneath the new copy. In modern times there have been various efforts to restore these ancient writings by some chemical treatment. In this way have been found copies of the Republic of Cicero, the Institutes of Gaius, a part of the Epistle to the Romans, and other parts of the Old and New Testaments. The Republic of Cicero was covered by a commentary on the Psalms, written by St. Augustine.
--Student's Cyclopedia, 1897.

Note: In an auction on November 6, 1998, a 12th-century palimpsest of one of Archimedes' works was sold for 2 million dollars. The 174-page book, the oldest known copy of Archimedes' work, had been owned by a French family since the 1920s, and was sold by Christie's auction house in New York to an unidentified private American collector. The palimpsest volume includes notes and calculations for two of the Greek mathematician's most famous theories, On Floating Bodies and Method of Mechanical Theorems. A Christie's spokesperson said the buyer, who was not identified, indicated that the work would be made available to scholars. Also bidding was the Greek government, which claimed the work was stolen from a library in the former Constantinople, now Istanbul, and belonged to Greece. According to the Athens News Agency, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem took Christie's to court claiming that the manuscript was part of its library, which had been transferred to Istanbul and later to Athens for safekeeping. The court, however, ruled that Christie's had the right to auction the manuscript for a French family, which claimed to own it for the last 75 years since one of the family's ancestors bought it from Orthodox monks in Istanbul. According to the court's ruling, French law applied in the case, under which a person who holds any object for more than 30 years becomes its rightful owner.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

"parchment from which earlier writing has been removed to clear it for new writing," 1660s, from Latin palimpsestus, from Greek palimpsestos "scraped again," from palin "again" (see palindrome) + verbal adjective of psen "to rub smooth" (of uncertain origin).


n. 1 A manuscript or document that has been erased or scraped clean, for reuse of the paper, parchment, vellum, or other medium on which it was written. Many historical texts have been recovered using ultraviolet light and other technologies to read the erased writing. 2 (context archaic English) Monumental brasses that have been reused by engrave of the blank back side. 3 (context astronomy English) Circular features believed to be lunar craters that have been obliterated by later volcano activity. 4 (context geology English) geological features thought to be related to features or effects below the surface. 5 (context computing English) Memory that has been erased and re-written. 6 (context cultural studies English) The partial erasure of or superimposition on an older society or culture by a newer one. 7 Something bearing the traces of an earlier, erased form. vb. 1 To scrape clean, as in parchment, for reuse. 2 On paper: to reuse, often by erasure or change of pen direction or color. Especially fueled by http://en.wikipedi

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n. a manuscript (usually written on papyrus or parchment) on which more than one text has been written with the earlier writing incompletely erased and still visible


A palimpsest is a manuscript page, either from a scroll or a book, from which the text has been scraped or washed off so that the page can be reused for another document. Parchment and other materials for writing or engraving upon were expensive to produce, and in the interest of economy were re-used wherever possible. In colloquial usage, the term palimpsest is also used in architecture, archaeology, and geomorphology, to denote an object made or worked upon for one purpose and later reused for another, for example a monumental brass the reverse blank side of which has been re-engraved.

Palimpsest (novel)

Palimpsest is a novel by Catherynne M. Valente, published in March 2009. It follows four separate characters as they discover and explore a mysterious city accessed only at night.

In an interview with Terri Windling at Fantasy Book Critic, Valente describes the book: "Palimpsest is an urban fantasy about a city that lives on human skin, a viral city whose citizens consist of those who bear parts of the city on their flesh, and visit it in their dreams. The story follows four such people as they search for others like themselves and a way to enter the city permanently."

Palimpsest (disambiguation)

Palimpsest is a manuscript page from a scroll or book that has been scraped off and used again.

Palimpsest may also refer to:

  • Palimpsest (novel), fantasy novel by Catherynne M. Valente
  • Palimpsest (novella), Hugo-Award-winning science fiction novella by Charles Stross
  • Disks (software), a Linux disk utility, was previously named Palimpsest.
  • The Palimpsest, the previous name of Iowa Heritage Illustrated, the history journal of the State Historical Society of Iowa
  • Palimpsest (geology), a geographical feature composed of superimposed structures created at different times
  • Palimpsest (planetary astronomy), a crater on an icy moon of the outer solar system whose surface relief has largely disappeared
  • Palimpsest (memoir), by Gore Vidal
  • Palimpsest, a composition by Greek composer Iannis Xenakis
  • Palimpsests, an orchestral composition by British composer George Benjamin
Palimpsest (novella)

Palimpsest is a 2009 science fiction novella by Charles Stross, exploring the conjunction of time travel and deep time. Originally published in Stross's 2009 collection Wireless, it won the 2010 Hugo Award for best novella.

Subterranean Press has announced that they will be reprinting the novella separately in 2011.

Palimpsest (planetary astronomy)

A palimpsest, in planetary astronomy, is an ancient crater on an icy moon of the outer Solar System whose relief has disappeared due to creep of the icy surface ("viscous relaxation") or subsequent cryovolcanic outpourings, leaving a circular albedo feature, perhaps with a "ghost" of a rim. Icy surfaces of natural satellites like Callisto and Ganymede preserve hints of their history in these rings. A typical example is Memphis Facula on Ganymede, a 340 km wide palimpsest.

Palimpsest (geology)

In geology, a palimpsest is a geographical feature composed of superimposed structures created at different times. Palimpsest is beginning to be used by glaciologists to describe contradicting glacial flow indicators, usually consisting of smaller indicators (i.e., striae) overprinted upon larger features (i.e., stoss and lee topography, drumlins, etc.).

Palimpsest (journal)

Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International is a biannual peer reviewed academic journal covering work by and about women of the African diaspora and their communities in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds. It was established in 2012 and is published by State University of New York Press. The editors-in-chief are Tracy Denean Sharpley-Whiting and Tiffany Ruby Patterson-Myers ( Vanderbilt University).

Palimpsest is listed in the Modern Language Association's International Bibliography.

Usage examples of "palimpsest".

Comparing what I saw about me with the blotched palimpsest of my memory, I gained some vague awareness of my location within London, and judged that Limehouse must be near ahead.

Cerryl cleaned the nib gently, afraid that the ink might have congealed or built up, then redipped the pen and tried a line on the practice palimpsest.

Bookcases filled with grimoires, daybooks, hornbooks, arcane thesauri, enchiridia, illuminated manuscripts, diaries, palimpsests, incunabula, claviculae, parerga, ana and epilegomena.

The heavy black lines of the chip schematics traced on the other side bled through the pale-green plast a little, giving the effect of a palimpsest, like an allegory of tragedy.

Quick-handed little girls played jacks on the wide top step of the stoops, or skipped and dipped over chalked hopscotch patterns that blossomed on the sidewalks each morning only to become foot-smudged palimpsests by nightfall.

A palimpsest is a parchment from which one layer of writing is overwritten by other layers.

Cerryl cleaned the nib gently, afraid that the ink might have congealed or built up, then redipped the pen and tried a line on the practice palimpsest.

And, come to think of it, to find an overhead project that worked and to persuade someone to clean that palimpsest of a white board The only chemical that would shift the layers of board marker was rumoured to be carcinogenic, and since even the most cavalier of the caretaking team would always insist on donning a mask and heavy-duty gloves to use it, that was one job I wouldn't volunteer for.

Conflicting recollections tumbled onto one another, overlapping like palimpsests: Brinner Finok, and the brief fling they had shared aboard the Destiny.

Manni is too young, too inexperienced to know that Aineko's proportions are those of a domestic cat, Felis catus, a naturally evolved animal rather than the toys and palimpsests and companionables he's used to.

  Smaller stones fell every day, so that oldest surfaces on Mars are saturated with cratering, the landscape a palimpsest of newer rings obscuring older ones, with no patch of land untouched.

Smaller stones fell every day, so that oldest surfaces on Mars are saturated with cratering, the landscape a palimpsest of newer rings obscuring older ones, with no patch of land untouched.

I had heard stories of palimpsests, those ancient documents that had been discovered in monastic libraries and suchlike: old texts effaced from parchments on to which new ones had been inscribed.

Mai and his followers to trace the imperfectly erased characters of the ancient writers on these Palimpsests, Gibbon at this period of his labors would have hailed with delight the recovery of the Institutes of Gaius, and the fragments of the Theodosian Code, published by M Keyron of Turin.

Flying around studying each great palimpsest of facets, he scried two very strong impulses in himself, distinct and mutually exclusive, yet infolded, like the green and the white.