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T W hat constitutes sameness and difference has troubled thinkers from Plato to Aquinas to Benjamin, from Hegel to Heidegger to Derrida. Philosophers have challenged the relationship between Idea and Being, argued over how objects exist and how they are perceived, and interrogated the nature of the connections between “an” original and “a” copy.1 Asking such questions not of archetypes but of specific historical artifacts requires the clear articulation of the constituent terms of the discussion. Before we can ask “What is copying?” it is important to expose the legacy of significant and longstanding opinions about the nature of what is being copied: that is, what are medieval manuscripts? There are culturally prevalent assumptions that have shaped the answer to that question. Many people, if asked to imagine a manuscript, might call to mind a book that recalls the Book of Kells, or the Très Riches Heures of the Duc de Berry, or some other richly illuminated manuscript.2 Such books, however, do not represent every medieval manuscript any more than art books on a coffee table say anything about the cheap paperbacks stacked on a bedside table. Neither does the 1. See Marcus Boon, In Praise of Copying (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010). 2. Neatly illustrating the slippage, the first result of a Google search (August 2011) for “medieval manuscript” is the Wikipedia entry for “illuminated manuscript.” Similarly, a Google image search for “medieval manuscript” returns pages of results that are almost without exception illuminated leaves or details of illuminations and drawings. 14 The Medieval Scribe O ne The Medieval Scribe • 15 New York Times web site meaningfully represent all of the web pages of every site on the Internet. What, then, is a medieval manuscript? The categorical understanding, that all manuscripts are books written by hand, is true, but not in itself particularly interesting in the medieval world, inasmuch as everything was made by hand. More urgently, manuscripts are sui generis, historically specific objects made from the skin of sheep or cows, written by particular men and women in specific months of specific years.3 These contexts have consequences. Copying, too, is not a de-historicized or idealized process, and the transformation by which an original becomes a copy is not generic. Copying takes place within specific historical moments, and as such is shaped by and shapes the particularities of those circumstances. Copying is a motivated act, an act creating a new text that duplicates, replicates, resembles, or recalls an existing text. Scribes have agency, and copying, like all forms of writing, confronts the problematic array of intentionality. Such basic observations—that not all medieval manuscripts are the same and that copying designates a spectrum of scribally enacted textual transformations —are the starting point of this book. Many medieval scribes did copy their texts, and many medieval manuscripts were illuminated, but the composition and copying of insular history writing do not fit neatly with many broad assumptions about the nature of medieval textual culture. This chapter argues that the work of modern editors has divided the physical writing of scribes and the compositional writing of authors. Such a division sidesteps the challenge of those textual transformations that were intended or motivated (revision, redaction, rewriting, supplementing) rather than those that were unintended or unmotivated (word or line omission, repetition, and other mechanical errors). This division is particularly problematic for texts such as the Anglo-Norman and Middle English prose Bruts and other works of vernacular history writing. The chapter will then turn to medieval descriptions of scribes and copying, and argue that the strenuously erected division between scribes and authors has its origins as a medieval phenomenon, a response to different models of textuality. As portrayed in medieval poems that touch on writing and copying, the threat to medieval authorship was not only the inescapable issue of scribal textual corruption, but the danger of reasoned interventions—scribal invention and scribal authorship. Finally, the chapter will consider the quirks of one medieval scribe who played with 3. In this context, it is interesting to consider recent work on the DNA of the animals used to make parchment in medieval England. See Timothy Stinson, “Knowledge of the Flesh: Using DNA Analysis to Unlock Bibliographical Secrets of Medieval Parchment,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 103 (2009): 435–53. Stinson usefully notes: “Little is known about the medieval parchment trade” (449). 16 • Chapter One different types of copying within a single manuscript. This admittedly marginal instance of scribal...


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