Really, wait until you can look at these on a large screen.
First, on Medieval manuscripts: we’re all familiar with glorious, color-saturated pages like these. Often commissioned by a wealthy person, these prayer books were status items.
What I hadn’t fully appreciated until I started this research is that not all handwritten books were so decorative. Many were intended to be useful, with more text, less color, like this:
Look closely and you can see lines lightly drawn on the sides of the pages. The original text was inscribed only near the center, leaving very wide, lined margins - for notes. Some notes were written by the same original scribe (to explain obscure terminology, or a translation) and some were added by the readers. These notes were called glosses…..which is where we get the term glossary.
Until you wind up with pages like these:
And unlike all those raunchy examples that you saw last week, many of the marginalia in these books have a purpose. Like these fingers, (called manicules) pointing out the really important parts:
The fellow in the middle, (above) is pushing a ..finger cart? A digital plow, maybe, to dig into the best parts? Or, in a medical text, a different sort of pointer:
There are so many different manicules:
(Above) top center: such an elegant little manicule! Third row, right: the writer really wanted to make sure you didn’t miss this part (the NB, written as a ligature, means nota bene, Latin for note well). Think about these next time you roughly underline a passage…
Sometimes, as text was being copied, the scribe might miss a line. Parchment being so expensive, you couldn’t throw a page out and start over, so you added marginalia:
Now we get to John of Arderne and his Mirror of Phlebotomy & Practice of Surgery, an important 14th century medical text. John illustrated his text with detailed medical marginalia, like this owl:
“Arderne engages in some Latin wordplay with this drawing of an owl. “Bubo” is both the Latin word for owl, and the word to describe swelling from rectal cancer. This would help those with a knowledge of Latin find the relevant section.” (from https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/medieval-marginalia-books-doodles )
He also drew the plants he used, and showed how to prepare them as medicines (below).
Below: Arderne’s big claim to fame was his treatment of anal fistulas (basically, his patients lived). His text describes his treatment, with illustrations.
As I mentioned last week, some scribes and illustrators added self portraits:
These selfies help researchers of marginalia learn how manuscripts were made…and show that some of the scribes/illustrators were women. There was a wonderful piece (in the Science Times?) about a Medieval skeleton dug up near an old monestery who had traces of lapis lazui stuck in back of her front teeth. Apparently, this woman had licked her brush as she applied the precious material to manuscripts.
I think spending my life illustrating beautiful manuscripts would be a great job. But apparently, not all scribes were happy campers, as we can read from their complaints in the margins:
~ New parchment, bad ink; I say nothing more.
~ I am very cold.
~ That’s a hard page and a weary work to read it.
~ The parchment is hairy.
~ The ink is thin.
~ Thank God, it will soon be dark.
~ Oh, my hand.
~ Now I’ve written the whole thing: for Christ’s sake give me a drink.
~ Whoever translated these Gospels did a very por job
~ This is how I would have translated it.
As I was researching all this, I came across a poem. It’s called Marginalia, by my favorite poet, Billy Collins. I’d love to print it here, but that’s probably pushing copyright law too far. So I urge you to look it up on: https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/marginalia/
or you can hear it read aloud at: https://search.aol.com/aol/video;_ylt=A0PDsBwll2lcQ_EAffxpCWVH;_ylu=X3oDMTB0N2Noc21lBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNwaXZz?q=billy+collins+marginalia+poem&s_it=searchtabs&v_t=webmail-searchbox#id=1&vid=d93311c58c65d70de422cddcfd3cc879&action=view
More next week. Contact me at email@example.com