15 Funny Comments Medieval Scribes left in the Margins

manuscriptAs you are probably aware, much of our civilization owes its existence to scribes. In the years before the printing press every book needed to be copied by hand. This process was hard, long and expensive. Simply having a copy of the Bible would often involve a year of hard work, the slaughter of an entire herd of sheep (their skin was used to the pages of books), and would cost as much as a house to produce. Books were treasures, and this wealth was produced primarily by monks who would dedicate their lives to copying down books line for line and word for work. Often we know nothing of the hands that preserved the great works of antiquity, and who maintained the written record of shared store of human knowledge…. However, every once in a while you can hear their voices while looking in the margins, where comments can sometimes be seen. These little notes and comments are often about the text, and it’s usage in the community, but sometimes they are just funny comments about the lives and circumstances of the monks themselves. This is the content highlighted in the Spring 2012 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, and I recently came upon it and wanted to share it with you all. Here are some of their own compiled marginal comments.

  1. New parchment, bad ink; I say nothing more.
  2. I am very cold.
  3. That’s a hard page and a weary work to read it.
  4. Let the reader’s voice honor the writers pen.
  5. This page has not been written very slowly.
  6. The parchment is hairy.
  7. The ink is thin.
  8. Thank God, it will soon be dark.
  9. Oh, my hand.
  10. Now I’ve written the whole thing: for Christ’s sake give me a drink.
  11. Writing is excessive drudgery. It crooks your back, it dims your sight, it twists your stomach and your sides.
  12. St. Patrick of Armagh, deliver me from writing.
  13. While I wrote I froze, and what I could not write by the beams of the sun I finished by candlelight.
  14. As the harbor is welcome to the sailor, so is the last line to the scribe.
  15. This is sad! O little book! A day will come in truth when someone over your page will say, “The hand that wrote it is no more.”
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