Monks like drawing penis trees

“The Scriptorium was in turmoil. Brother Paul, the precentor in charge, had detected a murmur from the back row and, furious that the rule of silence was being compromised, strode down the aisle just in time to see Brother Jacob tuck something under his robe. When he demanded to see it, Brother Jacob shamefacedly produced a codex, but not one that the antiquarii of this monastery had copied — or of any monastery, for this Psalter was printed. Shocked as much by the sight of the mechanical type as Brother Jacob’s transgression, Brother Paul so far forgot himself that he too broke the silence, thundering that if books could be produced by fast, cheap and mechanical means, their value as precious artifacts would be compromised. Moreover, if any Thomas, Richard or Harold could find his way into print, would not writing itself be compromised and become commonplace scribbling? And how would the spread of cheap printed materials affect the culture of the Word, bringing scribbling into every hut and hovel whose occupants had hitherto relied on priests to interpret writing for them? The questions hung in the air; none dared imagine what answers the passing of time would bring.”

-N. Katherine Hayles (2007)


Then brother Jacob went back to doodling a penis tree into the decorations.

Back on the subject of misremembering the past and challenging false assumptions about it, I direct you to the blog of Erik Kwakkel, a medieval archivist who runs a delightful blog about the “precious artefacts” books were until print came around and the fact that apparently the monks were also “any Thomas, Richard, or Harold” who rather enjoyed their common place scribblings and crude illustrations.

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There are artists doodling themselves drinking on the job from his blog medieval selflies

Some of the earliest recorded Spam messages

and even, as he calls it: Facebook before facebook: Tagging in Antiquity

Here is a rather wonderful breakdown of some of the things Erik looks at and how sometimes it’s not the actual text that tells us the most about those writing it.

Erik overall has a number of blogs, on both wordpress and tumblr, and is also on twitter. If you want to check out the little bits that remain that bring the past to life and give us a glance into the not always so serious world of medieval books, I highly recommend checking him out.



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