Friday, 16 July 2010

Scribal Curses

Professor Richard Gameson of Durham University gave a fascinating talk about the work of medieval scribes. Did you know that there were professional husband and wife lettering and book illustration businesses? Or that a number of mistakes scribes made in their copying were put in deliberately to let illustrations be added? This happened particularly in the Book of Kells and he had several examples of lines that had been purposely finished too soon to allow little paintings to be inserted. How scribes handled their accidental errors was also a test of scribal skill with interesting little devices such as birds flying in with an omitted word in their beaks or a man climbing a ladder with a word in his arms to put it in the correct place.

Some scribes put a colophon with their name and some thoughts about their task at the end of their work, for example 'The book is finished. Praises are rendered to God above all, [also] to the author, but never to the scribe'!

And the scribal curses? Some scribes inserted small curses into the text about incorrect copying.

In the afternoon we had an opportunity to make up some scribal curses of our own as in Susan's workshop we tried our hands at the monastic script of the Bible of Hugh Le Puiset.

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