Incipit  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The incipit of a text, such as a poem, song, or book, is its first few words of the opening line. In music it can also refer to the opening notes of a composition. Before the development of titles, texts were often referred to by their incipits. Incipit comes from the Latin for "it begins". In the medieval period, incipits were often written in a different script or color from the rest of the work of which they were a part. Though 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, they remain popular and commonplace.

Historical examples

Sumerian

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 Lerner:

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

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Incipit" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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