Thursday, April 16, 2015

Dirty manuscripts

Two interesting links to discussions of dirty manuscripts.

discusses dirty medieval books, including fingerprints, leaves and twigs, sand, pins, paint, and cat paws (with nine photos illustrating these). Final paragraph:
While we are perhaps inclined to regard dirt as an unwanted addition to the medieval book – which is an object that should be spotless, after all – the bits and pieces shown here act as historical clues that shed light on how a book was produced or used. There is an interesting parallel to be drawn with the concept of “damage”. This, too, is often seen as a flaw when encountered in a precious medieval book, while, in fact, it may offer crucial information about how the object was used (see this post). Dirt is an intrinsic part of the historical artefact that is the medieval book and deserves to be studied as such.
It is exciting to find a scribal fingerprint - it always evokes in me a sense of connection. I found a really good one last year in the Codex Climaci Rescriptus. To this list I would add wax which is often found in biblical and liturgical manuscripts and can reveal patterns of usage (and I seem to recall it is mentioned negatively in a monastic rule), see some good examples here; as well as glue, which is often found on small fragments re-used in bindings (cf. e.g. here).

Dr. Brice Jones discusses a piece of papyrus featuring “brown lumps of organic material” (a bit of Homer’s Illiad: P. Oxy 4633): “Toilet Papyrus”: A Papyrus of Homer Used as Toilet Paper

For more background: AnneMarie Luijendijk, ‘Sacred Scriptures as Trash: Biblical Papyri from Oxyrhynchus’” Vigiliae Christianae 64 (2010), 217-254.


  1. I would quibble a bit with Dr. Jones: I don't think the use of Homer as toilet papyrus was a reflection of the tastes of the user; he or she may well have been illiterate. But I note with interest that it was a -secular- piece of literature that was put to this use; in modern times, Romania's communists actually pulped confiscated Bibles to be purposely so desecrated.