Sunday, November 4, 2007

Colophons and marginalia

I am enjoying dipping into The Smithsonian Book of Books at the moment.

The Smithsonian Book of Books by Michael Olmert

In the chapters covering the arts and development of the medieval scribes and illuminated manuscripts are a littering of the marginalia and colophons inked in by those toiling scribes of centuries past (and which seem to bring us closer to them than any of the actual text they are copying):

To copy books is better than to ditch the vines:
the second serves the belly, but the first the mind.

Or from this Irish scribe about his favorite pet:

Pangur is proof the arts of cats

And men are in alliance;

His mind is set on catching rats,

And mine on snaring science.

I make my book, the world forgot,
A kind of endless class-time;
My hobby Pangur envies not--
He likes more childish pastime.

Caught in his diplomatic net,
A mouse jumps down his gullet;
And sometimes I can half-way get
A problem when I mull it.

An Irish scribe in the 1100s couldn't resist adding this editorial colophon to the book he had just finished copying:

I who have copied down this story, or more accurately fantasy, do not credit the details of the story, or fantasy. Some things in it are devilish lies, and some poetical figments; some seem possible and others not; some are for the enjoyment of idiots.

Another exasperated scribe noted in the margins of a particularly challenging piece of Greek

There's an end to that . . and my seven curses go with it.

And then there is the simple and touching colophon to a just completed copy:

Goodbye, little book.

No comments:

Post a Comment