Kristopher Reisz (kris_reisz) wrote,

CABINET CURIOSITIES | medieval scribes and belly-devils

I've been reading Richard Erdoes' A.D. 1000: Living on the Brink of Apocalypse. Primarily focused on the life of Pope Sylvester II, Erdoes takes leisurely asides to describe life in Europe during the turn of the (last) millennium. One passage I found fascinating described Medieval scribes, how seriously they took their work, and how they viewed even minor distractions as diabolical.

A monk-scribe was highly respected, his work sacred. As one of them wrote, "We use out fingers gloriously in place of our tongues to combat, with pen and ink, the ravings of the devil." Or, "As I dip my pen into my goat's horn filled with ink, for every word of holy scripture I write, a wound is given to the devil." Some thought that for every line written, a sin was forgiven them. . . .

The scribes firmly believed that devils, devilkins, imps, and hobgoblins were forever trying to hinder them in their holy work. One monk was convinced that the many fleas whose bites diverted him from copying, induced him to make many mistakes, and, by his scratching, caused him to spill ink over his manuscript, were in reality little devils masquerading as fleas. . . . One monk who was plagued by a sparrow that forever pecked at him and his pen recognized in the bird the devil in clever disguise and plucked it alive saying, "There, small fiend, creep away naked and begone!" Still another scribe was visited by a devilkin that took up its abode inside the poor man's belly making "rumbling noises like a toad which, for hours, distracted all who were working in the scriptorium."
Tags: cabinet of curiosities
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