The Ethics of Reading in Manuscript Culture

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This was a definite and deliberate attempt to give the animal in question a certain moral or allegorical meaning beyond the physical appearance. In the 13th century, Paris was the first city to have a large commercial trade of manuscripts, with manuscript-book producers being commissioned to make specific books for specific people. Paris had a large enough population of wealthy literate persons to support the livelihood of people producing manuscripts. This medieval era marks the shift in manuscript production from monks in monasteries to booksellers and scribes making a living from their work in the cities.

Individuals did scribal work, but collaboration has been suggested. Commercial workshops or ateliers operated out of Paris during this time, often collaborating on jobs. Most medieval scribes gathered together as they copied, but some separated books into sections to copy them in parts. Previously in the monasteries, work was broken up between scribes and illuminators ; examples exist where the scribe would leave space for and write out a small cursive letter at the beginning of a new paragraph, which was then painted in at a later time by the illuminator.

The pecia system was developed in Italian university cities by the beginning of the thirteenth century and became a regulated procedure at the University of Paris in the second half of the century. Individuals — such as students — would rent them, section by section, to copy. The peciae were generally four folios long which allowed for a fast turn-over rate for each pecia for students to exchange. The original collection of peciae for a book from which all future copies will be based is called the exemplar. Only then were peciae available for rental and copy.

In reality, it came down to the stationer — part of whose job was renting out peciae — finding and offering for rental the works which he thought would be demanded. This pressure on the stationers prompted them to acquire exemplars in as good a state and in as short a time as possible. The emphasis was on speed of acquisition instead of the quality of the product. At times, the stationer sought the text; at other times, it was the author who offered his newly completed work to the stationer, but it was never the university as a formal body which made requests or developed what was to be offered.

King Philip the Fair of France , —, instituted a. This exemption privileged the French universities over the booksellers because if they did not swear the oath they would not be exempt from the tax. Librarius is a general term while stationarius refers to one specific kind of librarius. Librarius can mean anything from scribe to bookseller to librarian. Stationarius or stationer refers to those types of librarius who rented out peciae. Both types, however, were involved in the secondhand trade, produced new books, and were regulated by the university.

The sole distinction between them was the stationer's added service of renting out pecia.

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The oaths that the librarii or booksellers had to swear to the universities to obey their regulations and requirements for the tax exemption were extremely restrictive in regard to the resale of secondhand books. They were supposed to act more like intermediaries between the seller and the buyer while their profit was limited to essentially four pence per pound. They were further required to display the secondhand books prominently in their shops, give a professional assessment of the likely price of the books submitted to them, and put would-be buyers in direct contact with the seller.

The bookseller had to swear not to underpay when buying and not to overcharge when selling. The stationers rented out copies of useful texts, one quire at a time, so students and masters could make their own copies. Both fees were regulated by the university. It was not just the booksellers which the universities regulated. Additionally, university regulations forbade parchmenters from hiding the good parchment from university members wanting to buy. There were plenty of other demands for parchment outside the university such as: the record-keeping for the royal government, every similar entity of a commercial or mercantile guild , every religious house that issued a charter or kept a rent roll, every public letter-writer, everyone from major international trader to local shop-keeper who kept accounts.

They all demanded parchment in greater numbers and were willing to pay higher than the regulated price which the university members paid. And so, the universities feeling such pressures often chose to regulate parchment as well. While there were many restrictions on the bookseller, the job did have its benefits. The bookseller was free to produce and sell books, illuminate, or write for anyone they pleased like the Court, cathedral, or the wealthy laymen of the capital and provinces so long as they met their obligations to the university to which they had sworn oaths.

In fact, most of their trade fell outside of the university regulation. There is an important distinction between the regulation of how books were traded within the university and how the booksellers were able to charge whatever the open market would bear. To the non-student or masters, there were no such restrictions on the booksellers.

Aside from cheap books, it was only the libraire who was allowed to sell books in Paris. The university essentially guaranteed a monopoly on the sale of books for booksellers.


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The period of "Late Manuscript Culture" dates from roughly the mid-fourteenth century to the fifteenth century, preceding and existing alongside the printing press. While embodying all of the ideals and adhering to the regulations observable in the Devotio Moderna , there are many clear characteristics of Late Manuscript Culture. For instance, careful attention was paid to the punctuation and layout of texts, with readability and specifically reading aloud taking preeminence.

Meaning had to be clear in every sentence, with as little room left to interpretation as possible compared to the lack of spaces in text and any markings for the purpose of aiding in enunciation , due to preachings' rise in popularity after the Fourth Lateran Council. Correct orthography was attempted whenever the necessary exemplars made it possible to emend earlier texts, especially Bibles, and this correction made many texts uniform. In this period of Manuscript Culture, the emendatiora, manuscripts which combined surviving texts of the oldest available exemplars with the manuscripts that had been currently acceptable and prominent, were created.

Aids to find one's way about the text are prominent features in these manuscripts. While none were invented solely in fifteenth century, they were used with increasing frequency and became more complex. These include:. Other changes included the enlargement of the rubric from one to two lines in the university manuscript to eight or ten, and the distinction of it by separate letter-form.

The rubric also changed in regard to the categories of information included in it. An earlier rubric might have contained a title of the particular section or article, and a description of the ending of the preceding one. A fifteenth century rubric would add information about the translator or translators, and the original writer if they were not particularly well known.

A brief description of their content, or even detailed information considering the date or conditions of the works creation is also occasionally seen, though not as frequently. These changes exemplify the desire for uniformity, ease of access, and strict regulation of a given work and its subsequent correction. These are many of the same goals attributed to the uniformity exemplified by the printing press.

The emergence of new standards in manuscript production, beginning in the Low Countries at the end of the fourteenth century, clearly marked the beginning of a new epoch in manuscript culture. Uniformity would result from the desire for clarity, both in terms of bibliographic accuracy and the reproduction and correction of the text itself. It necessitated greater organization, specifically within the monastic scriptoria. These had lost pre-eminence in medieval manuscript culture, characterized by the university, but had begun to undergo a rebirth in the fourteenth century.

Historians have characterized this period as chaotic, with very poor quality paper manuscripts being held as a standard. However, the varying quality of materials did not affect the quality of the text contained on it, as the transition was made from parchment to rag paper. For instance, there was the formation of a new script, called hybrida, that sought to combine the traditional cursiva script with the script used in printed books. There was little loss of legibility, due to the use of sharp angles instead of loops.

Additionally, in the first half of the fifteenth century, the practice of using a hierarchy of scripts to demarcate different sections of a text was re-instituted.

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Rubrics and colophons were clearly set off from the remainder of a text, employing their own unique script. All of these changes resulted from a desire for improved accuracy, and led to the creation of complex codification rules. Many manuscripts were produced that had differences in terms of size, layout, script, and illumination. They were based on the same text while being created by many different scribes. Yet, they were meticulously corrected, to the point that very few differences in terms of the text itself can be observed among them.

This implied not only the presence of a direct authority that maintained some sort of direction over the scribes, but also a newfound pursuit of scholarly accuracy that had not been present with the university book sellers. It was emphasized by the new religious orders that had been created in the fourteenth century. Correction and emendation would be held in the same esteem as copying itself. One dealt primarily with orthography and accent, where Oswald stated that his motive in creating these codification rules was to dispel the anxiety of his fellow Carthusians.

Many members of the order were worried about the omission of single letters, not just phrases, words or syllables within copies of a given text demonstrating the new concern for uniformity taken to an extreme. He seeks to reinforce the importance of older statutes regarding manuscript production, such as the Carthusian statutes, and the way in which he seeks to correct them.

Oswald specifically wanted to reform the Statuta Nova of It stated no one could emend copies of the Old and New Testament, unless they were doing so against exemplars that had been prescribed by their order. Anyone who corrected texts in a manner inconsistent with those exemplars was publicly acknowledged to have corrupted the text, and subsequently punished. Oswald answered this with his Work of Peace, and stated that correctors should not engage in pointless labor by over-correcting. In it, he described correction not as a command, but an indulgence.

It was practiced for the improvement and glorification of a text, and though it followed a set of rules, they were not so strict as to stifle emendation. This was a transition from older works with large numbers of lists and regulations that mandated every action a scribe could take in correction, and had been widely ignored in medieval print culture. Oswald rejected a system in which one must simply pick a single exemplar and correct according to it, or reproduce portions of texts which the scribe knew to be in error due to a proper exemplar not being attainable.

Before Oswald, many believed these were the only available options under the older, strict rules. Oswald specifically made sure to outline the proper way of correcting various readings of the same text, as observed in varying exemplars. He stated that scribes shouldn't instantly correct according to one or the other, but deliberate, and use proper judgment. Oswald also said that in the case of bibles, scribes should not immediately modernize archaic spellings, because this had produced further variation within texts.

Oswald also detailed a uniform set of abbreviations. However, he stated that scribes should recognize national differences, particularly in light of the Great Schism. Scribes were right to correct texts with different dialects of Latin , especially if they were using archaic forms of Latin verbs, however. In his prologue to the Opus Pacis, Oswald contrasts his work with the Valde Bonum, [38] an earlier handbook compiled during the Great Schism. It had attempted to set forth universal spellings for the Bible , and stated that the corrector need not emend to conform to an exemplar from a given region based on its perceived superiority, but could rather take local regional practice as a standard.

It acknowledged that centuries of use, and transmission from nation to nation, had an effect on various spellings. He incorporated many of these elements into his Opus Pacis, which was copied and put to practical use, and had spread from Germany as far north as Ireland.


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By the s, it had become a standard, specifically for the Devotio Moderna and the Reformed Benedictines. Opus Pacis became a generic term for any work of its kind. The last surviving copy was written in , indicating that manuscript correction remained an important subject sixty years into the printed era. It was in Late Manuscript Culture that the written page took on a renewed meaning to religious communities.

Scriptorias of Benedictine, Cisterican and Augustinaian houses had resumed after being suppressed by the production of university and mendicant books. Particularly, these scriptoria exemplified the idea that one shall live by the fruit of one's labors. Writing sacred books was the most fitting, suitable and pious task that one could undertake to do so.

THE ETHICS OF READING IN MANUSCRIPT CULTURE, GLOSSING THE LIBRO DE BUEN AMOR | John Dagenais

Also, copying these books was equivalent to preaching with ones hands. Sermons were only of moderate importance in the 13th century. By the 15th century, after the emphasis placed on preaching in the Fourth Lateran Council, they were of the utmost importance.

The formation and expansion of preaching orders led to the proliferation of pastoral theology in schools, and preaching was now an indispensable part of the sacraments. Uniform manuscripts with many tools made for ease of reference, reading, and enunciation became necessary. The Devotio Moderna and the reformed Benedictines relied on reading devotional texts for instruction, and the written word was raised to a high level of importance not afforded by earlier religious movements. The writing was just as important as the word.

In fact, monasteries bought many printed books, becoming the main market for the early printing press, precisely because of this devotion to preaching. Without the Devotio Moderna and orders that followed their example, the need for texts and printers would not have been present. They were also the home to the beginnings of Late Manuscript Culture, because of the common desire for uniformity.

Trimethius protested the invasion of the library by the printed book because of the missing aspect of devotion that had been present in preaching with ones' hands. With the preaching possible as a scribe, manuscripts had a function that was lacking in a printed book, though both possessed a greater degree of uniformity than earlier manuscripts. By roughly , the transition from handwritten books to printed ones had begun.

The ethics of reading in manuscript culture

The book trade, in particular, underwent drastic changes. By this point German printing presses had reached the northernmost regions of Europe , specifically Paris. By , print had stopped imitating manuscripts and manuscripts were imitating print. In the reign of Francis I — for instance, the king's handwritten manuscripts were based on Roman type. While quality rag paper had appeared before the arrival of the printing press, it was at this time that parchmenters lost most of their business.

Paper was not only acceptable, it was preferable, and printers and scribes had both ceased to use parchment altogether. An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while. No cover image. Read preview. Synopsis Reexamining the roles played by author, reader, scribe, and text in medieval literary practice, John Dagenais argues that the entire physical manuscript must be the basis of any discussion of how meaning was made. Medievalists, he maintains, have relied too heavily on critical editions that seek to create a single, definitive text reflecting an author's intentions.

In reality, manuscripts bear not only authorial texts but also a variety of elements added by scribes and readers: glosses, marginal notes, pointing hands, illuminations, and fragments of other, seemingly unrelated works. Using the surviving manuscripts of the fourteenth-century Libro de buen amor, a work that has been read both as didactic treatise on spiritual love and as a celebration of sensual pleasures, Dagenais shows how consideration of the physical manuscripts and their cultural context can shed new light on interpretive issues that have puzzled modern readers. Dagenais also addresses the theory and practice of reading in the Middle Ages, showing that for medieval readers the text on the manuscript leaf, including the text of the Libro, was primarily rhetorical and ethical in nature.

It spoke to them directly, individually, always in the present moment.