Definition of palimpsest in English:



  • 1A manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing.

    • ‘Some people used old books as the basis of their scrapbook, leading to a palimpsest of original text and jumbled scraps, with columns overlapping columns and sentences running together.’
    • ‘In 1906 the Danish philologist Johan Ludvig Heiberg discovered the palimpsest in a monastery in Istanbul and correctly identified the prayer-enshrouded text as the lost Method of Archimedes.’
    • ‘Are there palimpsests by Richard Burton buried under a heap of raddi somewhere, waiting to be discovered and auctioned?’
    • ‘An anonymous private collector who bought the palimpsest for $2 million at auction in 1998 has loaned the manuscript to the Walters Art Museum and is funding the studies.’
    • ‘By going back to journal entries in which I initially recorded some of the events that surfaced in the ‘written’ writing, I was able to locate an initial palimpsest, or precipitate, of the writing.’
    • ‘These palimpsests are what I should like to examine, the fused layers the two authors traded.’
    • ‘It produced excellent results on palimpsests, cancellations, and erasures due to damnatio memoriae, and on disintegrating surfaces where the ink has settled deep into the fibres.’
    • ‘The buyer allowed the palimpsest (a scraped and overwritten parchment) to be conserved, photographed, and displayed at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore.’
    1. 1.1 Something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.
      ‘Sutton Place is a palimpsest of the taste of successive owners’
      • ‘Thus, all but the youngest landscapes are palimpsests, written over by a variety of successive or alternating sets of climate-related processes.’
      • ‘Following poems develop a manner of writing which relies heavily on language as a palimpsest of attitudes and learned response so as to undermine these.’
      • ‘In subterranean passages, where sedimentation rates are extremely low, endogenous processes are the primary sediment source, and archaeologists must identify artifact palimpsests on ancient surfaces.’
      • ‘It was in effect a palimpsest of the best of previous translations, corrected and winnowed through almost a hundred years of development.’
      • ‘The resulting silver, black, white and sepia images are multilayered palimpsests whose billowing blobs of form hover, sometimes uncomfortably, within the pictorial arena.’
      • ‘The congealed acrylic surfaces with their oxymoronic textures and their occasionally violent collisions of color were yielding to a graphic attenuation, thick palimpsests replaced by bleeding overlays.’
      • ‘And while this conflated, multilayered time originates from a racially specific experience, Ellison hints that the continuity implied by the palimpsest may ultimately transcend racial boundaries.’
      • ‘At least twenty of these are palimpsests, painted over other inscriptions in Montaigne's time, for a total of seventy-four inscriptions.’
      • ‘In terms of process, I see my canvases as palimpsests, surfaces that reveal their past and present layers.’
      • ‘Structure, services, surveyor's marks, and post-construction graffiti are overlaid as the most recent inscriptions on the palimpsest of the building.’
      • ‘Deep cave environments and their slow sedimentation rates offer their own unique challenges, particularly the isolation of artifact palimpsests and their association with ancient surfaces.’
      • ‘It also reflects the widespread discovery that nothing is so boring and oppressive as the monothematic Modernist masterplan, and that most real landscapes are palimpsests recording layers of history and changes of mind.’
      • ‘Every city is an urban palimpsest, a used parchment covered with the fragmentary scrawls of its own past.’
      • ‘The effect is like a surrealist making a palimpsest out of a mannerist piece of art.’
      • ‘London is a palimpsest: a parchment that has been over-written, time and again, by successive events in its chequered history.’
      • ‘In particular, the research team is interested in the temporal span of mining activity in the cave and identification of chert testing locations and artifact palimpsests.’
      • ‘The paintings have the appearance of palimpsests, with rubbed-out passages, and residues of paint and turpentine streaming down the canvas.’
      • ‘What the project has found is that there never was a unitary pagan past; instead there is a palimpsest of myths and legends, places and landscapes, changing and continuing.’
      • ‘In each period, too, the arguments advanced by park advocates reflected changing perceptions of society's major problems so that park landscapes became cultural palimpsests as new features were added.’
      • ‘The point is that ‘reading’ and design are but two sides of the same coin, involving the identification of layers in the palimpsest before overwriting can take place.’


Mid 17th century: via Latin from Greek palimpsēstos, from palin ‘again’ + psēstos ‘rubbed smooth’.