Nathan Has A Font

Earlier today I received a message from a friend of mine telling me that I had a font.  Since no one had informed me of this before, I was a bit concerned.  My handwriting tends not to be very good [1], and it has been a problem for me all my life, especially after I broke my left wrist as a child and not long after that became afflicted with more than a bit of writer’s cramp that makes handwriting painful sometimes.  At any rate, as someone who had teachers in high school that refused to accept my handwritten work because they could not read it, I was definitely concerned that any font that I had would be a terribly cramped font that was difficult to read.  With this context, I did not think that any font that I had would be something I would appreciate reading or that anyone else would care to immortalize as a font for typing.  I have used some lefty fonts that are close to my writing, but that is mainly as a joke to demonstrate that using the computer need not make text easier to read, a lesson some people would do well to heed.

A bit of research uncovered that it was not me who had a font at all, but rather that there was an entire family of fonts based on the movie Nathan The Wise.  Peter Wigel says it best:  “1922: Manfred Noa turns the silent film “Nathan the Wise”. Intertitles explain the plot. At that time, these intertitles were still written by hand with pen and ink. Unfortunately, some of these intertitles are lost and need to be replaced now. For this I have made ​​this font.  The silent film was universally understandable as he did without language and made ​​it clear through actions of the form-fitting actor. The intertitles were with little effort to translate into other languages​​. As often fragments of silent films from all over the world, the titles must reach the editor also usually be recreated – in German – and also because the original intertitles are no longer available. It should be very close to the originals in the new design, the font and the text panels. Today, in modern even experimental film, is again working with black and white elements and often also without sound. Here, too, the art of the title comes back to advantage. And why should not even shoot a silent film you own – but you write funny intertitles texts – with “Nathan” looks quite original and certainly the “Original”.”

What does this mean in English other than Google translate?  Let me at least attempt to explain.  In 1922 the filmmaker Manfred Noa created a silent film based on “Nathan The Wise,” which was based on an 18th century book that pleaded for religious tolerance and featured the eponymous hero, a wise Jewish merchant, who is able to engage in a profitable and mutually tolerant interfaith friendship with a templar and the Ottoman sultan, showing how Christianity, Judaism, and Islam could live in harmony.  In the context of Weimer era Germany, where the film was made, this was a particularly brave task.  Just over a decade after this film was made, Hitler would come to power in Germany and the fate of German Jews and other European Jews would become far darker and more menacing, but even during the Weimer era there was considerable anti-Semitism.  The experimental film used a daring and attractive font, and efforts to restore the film led someone to turn the font of the movie’s subtitles into a computer font family named after the hero of the movie, someone who is named Nathan and someone who is wise but someone, alas, who is not me.

So, while there is a Nathan who has a font, that Nathan is a fictional character told in a tale about the need for tolerance of people of other religious faiths.  My own viewpoint of religious toleration is somewhat more complicated than that of many who urge it in our own society, as I have noted before [2].  Even so, I do believe that peaceful people should be allowed to worship peacefully, and that even where I have a great deal of disagreement about the religious beliefs of others that even in those differences and disagreements I tend to see a common humanity and a desire to answer certain timeless questions.  The fact that I believe some answers are better than others, and that some are right and others are wrong is something I make no apologies for nor demand any apologies for from others.  In light, though, of the context in which there is a Nathan family of fonts, I consider it entirely appropriate that a fictional character created in enlightenment Germany in order to advance the cause of religious toleration and portrayed in a new medium in an age where such toleration was under grievous attack.  The use of an elegant font as a way of communication is certainly a fitting tribute to a fictional character created in an effort to encourage respectful and profitable communication between different peoples, something we can always use more of in a world where lots of people are fond of talking and writing but few appear to have any interest in listening to voices different or reading fonts different than their own.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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