The Rchive no. 1

Inscription of Epaphroditus (Museo Nazionale di Roma), 1st c.

This R is taken from the inscription to Epaphroditus, a freedman who served Emperor Nero, in the courtyard of the Museo Nazionale in Rome. It is the first in a planned series of showings of the letter R. The R is the most complex capital letter. In its classical, inscriptional form it consists of a vertical stroke (the stem), a short horizontal stroke (the link between the stem, the leg and the curve of the bowl), a curve (the major part of the bowl), and a diagonal (the leg). Harmonizing these diverse strokes is a design challenge, as is balancing the bowl.

In a classical R the leg meets the bowl where the curve meets the horizontal stroke rather than at the stem. This gives the letter more stability. If the leg meets the bowl at the stem the letter looks pinched (like the waist on a wasp). To make the R stable the leg juts out beyond the bowl rather than matching its width. (To determine the proper angle of the leg draw a line from the upper left corner where the stem and the beginning of the bowl begin to the point where the curve of the bowl meets the horizontal stroke.) Unfortunately, this causes spacing problems and thus the leg of the R has been endlessly tinkered with to make it work better in text settings other than monumental inscriptions. Non-classical Rs will be the subject of subsequent posts.