Grumpy Scribes Left Their Mark

Do you imagine ancient scribes cheerfully copying texts? Think again. IO9 highlighted some of the more amusing comments from some medieval manuscripts, including more profound ones such as “As the harbor is welcome to the sailor, so is the last line to the scribe” and more succinct ones such as “Oh, my hand!”

How impoverished is the perspective of those of us who work with printed critical editions, which don’t as a rule indicate the marginal comments of scribes unless they are relevant to the matter of the text itself. And they never include the doodles.

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  • I love this entirely too much. I will now think of them whenever I’m in a boring lecture thinking something very similar to some of them… though I’d never write with hairy paper. (Sometimes I’m very thankful for wood pulp.)

  • Jon Hendry

    The Got Medieval blog has covered a lot of interesting marginalia. Mostly art, not writing. Monkeys getting up to surprising things, etc.

  • Jona Lendering

    I love this one: a Latin line translated into Dutch (“All birds have started to make nests, except you and me, what are we waiting for?”). The translation is the first recognizable Dutch, written by a monk who had fallen in love. Abent omnes uolucres nidos inceptos nisi ego et tu quid expectamus nunc || Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic enda thu wat unbidan we nu.

  • I like the heartfelt scribal note at the end of one copy of Aquinas’ massive *Summa Theologica* that reads “I’ve finished copying this work.  And I pray to God I never have to do so again.”  Considering the *Summa* runs to many volumes even in its modern printed form, his sentiment makes perfect sense.

  • What a good laugh. It is fun to see the human side of such people throughout history.

  • I’ve seen similar sentiments in the comments of computer programs (the part no user will ever see) 🙂

    • christopher_young

       Jamoche, in the far off days when large organisations wrote their own applications, programmers used to amuse themselves with user error messages as well (System prompt: Enter Date; user enters nonsense; system message: “It’s a date, Jim, but not as we know it.”)

  • ohiolibrarian

    Does anyone remember when teachers used to assign lines (like on the Simpsons) as a school punishment?