Join 3,494 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Complaints Department, medieval monk style
March 27, 2012 7:40 AM   Subscribe

Oh, My Hand: Complaints Medieval Monks Scribbled in the Margins of Illuminated Manuscripts.

Via Maria Popova at Brain Pickings, from the Spring 2012 issue of Lapham's Quarterly.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl (53 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

 
"What in God's name is a 'transistorized control system,' anyway?"
posted by griphus at 7:45 AM on March 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


Sounds like medieval monks were as physically tortured from hours bent at a desk as the people who do coding now days, but at least computers give off heat. lol
posted by Gwynarra at 7:56 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Very nice. Surprised to not see something akin to "A ripped page here, do not blame Bernard".
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:57 AM on March 27, 2012


"Oh, mein leben!"
posted by holdkris99 at 7:59 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


"This is sad! O little book! A day will come in truth when someone over your page will say, TL;DR"
posted by WinnipegDragon at 7:59 AM on March 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


Not all moaning though, sometimes charming poems to their cat.
posted by Abiezer at 8:01 AM on March 27, 2012 [13 favorites]


Lapham's always attributes their sources. In fact, thats what they are about. So I was wondering why the source of these quotes was left out.

The origin appears to be this book: Images on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art.
posted by vacapinta at 8:01 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not a single mention of a holy hand grenade?
posted by arcticseal at 8:07 AM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Brother Joachim is drunk again. The food here is bad, and my bowels keep me up at night. The abbey is ridden with fleas. The Sisters of St. Gertrude are not real nuns, I have heard it said. This place is ill situated- it is dark in the day and darker at night. One of the brothers has stolen the cheese I was saving for the feast day of St. Jerome, but none will admit it. I await the final line the way a sick man awaits death. I am tired of beer. The benches in the chapel trouble me relentlessly and my piles are worse. Winter here is bad, but spring is worse. Brother Ignatius has breath like a privy. The third knob in my back burns like fire, but the sixth is like ice. The pains in my thumb mar my penmanship. These illuminations will amuse no-one. Someone farted. Every night, the rats eat a little more of my foot.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:10 AM on March 27, 2012 [24 favorites]


Most surprising one to me:

"Here I sit all broken hearted
Broke my quill and I've just started."
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:13 AM on March 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


"I'm not even supposed to be here today!"
posted by mph at 8:13 AM on March 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


This one is very close to what I say every time I finish a stupid report for work: "Now I've written the whole thing: for Christ's sake give me a drink". I didn't realize that I was being monkly when I said that.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 8:19 AM on March 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


The ink is thin
The parchment is hairy
I've had it to here
with Jesus and Mary
posted by Kabanos at 8:22 AM on March 27, 2012 [24 favorites]


Not all moaning though, sometimes charming poems to their cat.

This margin is useless without a pic.
posted by Zed at 8:22 AM on March 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Buggre Alle this for a Larke. I amme sick to mye Hart of typesettinge. Master Biltonn is no Gentlemann, and Master Scagges noe more than a tighte fisted Southwarke Knobbesticke. I telle you, onne a daye laike this Ennyone with half an oz. of Sense shoulde bee oute in the Sunneshain, ane nott Stucke here alle the livelong daie inn this mowldey olde By-Our-Lady Workeshoppe. @*Ǣ@;!*
posted by jeribus at 8:22 AM on March 27, 2012 [37 favorites]


Shared this with my friend the medievalist, who says the best one she's ever found personally is "I suffer from headaches and am frequently confused."
posted by jocelmeow at 8:24 AM on March 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


ILLUMINATE ALL THE THINGS
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:29 AM on March 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


"My wrist is cramped." - Jean Genet, for many reasons.
posted by mammary16 at 8:29 AM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Most surprising one to me:

"Here I sit all broken hearted
Broke my quill and I've just started."


Reminds me of Here I Sit by the Ronettes.
posted by this one is danny at 8:32 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Learn any historical calligraphic script, practice it for a half hour a day for months, become quite good at it, to where you can sell it or teach it...doesn't matter. A single page of satisfying calligraphy will test you physically. And that's with modern tools and substrates!
posted by rahnefan at 8:32 AM on March 27, 2012


One of my regrets about not going into medieval history is the lack of amusing marginal notations by copyists in my life.
posted by immlass at 8:32 AM on March 27, 2012


They omit my absolute favorite explicit from Wm. Caxton ca. 1474:

"My pen is worn, mine hand heavy, mine eye even dimmed."
posted by The White Hat at 8:34 AM on March 27, 2012


'Oh my hand - thank God it will soon be dark.' Erm. Yes??
posted by Namlit at 8:41 AM on March 27, 2012


My nose drips on the parchment, it is so cold. I can no longer tell what I am writing. We are downwind from a cow-pasture- it is obvious throughout the summer. It is lent but I desire mutton. There is not enough straw for bedding and my joints ache. Will Brother Albert never stop coughing? Forgive my hand, the lamp smokes excessively and I must squint. Brother Michael is no baker- the bread does not rise, and we break our teeth. My robe smells like a winding-sheet. Brother Albert is STILL COUGHING. The new novices have no more sense than a hen. I will not finish these pages today, and likely not tomorrow. Here, smell this ink- does it smell funny to you? The Prior is not a man blessed with letters or cunning. I think I am copying the same page as before. Brother Albert was taken in the night, I fear we shall all be next.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:46 AM on March 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


I am tired of beer.

BLASPHEMER!
posted by VTX at 8:49 AM on March 27, 2012


/*
     Now I've written the whole thing:
     for Christ's sake give me a drink.
*/

posted by mazola at 8:51 AM on March 27, 2012 [13 favorites]


“There was no plot... and I discovered it by mistake."
-Umberto Eco
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:52 AM on March 27, 2012


'Oh my hand - thank God it will soon be dark.' Erm. Yes??

No electricity, candles kinda sucked to write by (not to mention being valuable), so once the sun went down your work was done for the day.
posted by curious nu at 8:54 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


'Oh my hand - thank God it will soon be dark.' Erm. Yes??
***
No electricity, candles kinda sucked to write by (not to mention being valuable), so once the sun went down your work was done for the day.


If that's "work," you're not doin' it right.

P.S. "Candles . . . sucked." Heh. Heh heh.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:00 AM on March 27, 2012


I seem to recall that at least a few European languages have marginal notes as among their first written examples. Copyists working on some Latin text sometimes went off-piste in Dutch or Welsh because they were only making an aside.
posted by Jehan at 9:12 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


The oldest known piece of English vernacular music, Summer Is Icumen In, was thought to have been written by a copyist, to the same tune as piece of liturgical music with Latin lyrics.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:25 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the margin of the Chi Rho page of the Book of Kells:

"oh man, I'm tripping balls"
posted by kersplunk at 9:30 AM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's weird to think that the closest thing to this are the margin notes by fan manga translators with vulgar or "shipping" comments about the characters on the page.
posted by Memo at 9:33 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


'Oh my hand - thank God it will soon be dark.' Erm. Yes??
***
No electricity, candles kinda sucked to write by (not to mention being valuable), so once the sun went down your work was done for the day.

If that's "work," you're not doin' it right.

Clyde Mnestra, not sure what you're suggesting - that spending all your time from dawn to dusk in a barely-heated room with open (glass-less) windows writing, every day but Sunday and Feast Days, isn't work?

Don't forget that you still have to attend prayers and the reading of the monastery rules pre-dawn, and evening mass after sundown. After that, you are allowed to sleep.

BTW, how was your heated drive to "work" today? Radio have anything good on? Wanna go for a coke at the machine?
posted by IAmBroom at 9:39 AM on March 27, 2012


Links for those who are interested in more than just the Brainpickings brief:

The original article from Lapham's Quarterly.


The book that was based on, Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art.
posted by beagle at 9:40 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find the idea of monastic asceticism entirely appealing, but not enough to do it.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:43 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Um, I think Clyde Mnestra was trying to make a dirty joke?
posted by epersonae at 9:53 AM on March 27, 2012


And I said, I don't care if they lay me off either, because I told, I told Father William that if they move my desk one more time, then, then I'm, I'm quitting, I'm going to quit. And, and I told Brother Don too, because they've moved my desk four times already this year, and I used to be over by the window, and I could see the squirrels, and they were married, but then, they switched from the ostrich quill to the raven quill, but I kept my ostrich quill because it didn't leak as much, and I kept the ink for the ostrich quill and it's not okay because if they take my quill then I'll set the abbey on fire...
posted by entropicamericana at 10:17 AM on March 27, 2012 [26 favorites]


It's not strictly technically marginalia--it's a colophon--but my favorite example of this sort of thing has always been this:

Explicit secunda pars summe fratris thome de aquino ordinis fratrum predicatorum; longissima, prolixissima, et tediosissima scribenti; Deo Gratias, Deo Gratias, et iterum Deo Gratias.

(Here ends the second part of the title work of Brother Thomas Aquinas of the Dominican Order; very long, very verbose, and very tedious for the scribe. Thank God, thank God, and again thank God.)
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 10:20 AM on March 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


And that's with modern tools and substrates!

Coming at this from a woodworking hand-tool angle, you'd be surprised how many changes in our tools in the last 200 years or so have less to do with making them better suited to doing their job, and more to do with manufacturing efficiency.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:26 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Image on the Edge is an awesome book by the way. Camille was a hell of a scholar who died at a lamentably young age.
posted by duvatney at 10:39 AM on March 27, 2012


Sounds like they hated their job as much as modern folk.
posted by booklovers at 10:40 AM on March 27, 2012


Well, I was really trying to explicate -- and then tack onto -- what I perceived to be a dirty joke by Namlit that was causing puzzlement. Apologies to all, including countless generations of undoubtedly clean-minded monks, if I have degraded the conversation.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 11:03 AM on March 27, 2012


I seem to recall that at least a few European languages have marginal notes as among their first written examples. Copyists working on some Latin text sometimes went off-piste in Dutch or Welsh because they were only making an aside.

It was once thought that the earliest written example of Dutch was a phrase written in the margin of a Latin text around 1100:

Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic enda thu wat unbidan we nu
("Have all birds begun nests, except me and you - what are we waiting for?")

But there are much earlier sources, some (depending on whom you ask) from the sixth century even.
posted by mahershalal at 12:01 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, as long as we're doing monk-bitchery,


Gr-r-r-there go, my heart's abhorrence!
Water your damned flower-pots, do!
If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,
God's blood, would not mine kill you!
What? your myrtle-bush wants trimming?
Oh, that rose has prior claims--
Needs its leaden vase filled brimming?
Hell dry you up with its flames!
posted by Diablevert at 12:07 PM on March 27, 2012


Now I'm imagining them passing notes like kids in class.

Brother Joseph, you want to sneak out to test the wine the magistrates sent up?

Brother Mark, I cannot, for the Abbot caught me but two nights ago amongst the chickens.

Again? Dude, seriously?

Our vows be damned, if those things do not stop crowing I will put an end to it myself.

Well, you're the one who wanted to have a cell in the tower.

A fact which I regret more and more each morning.
posted by cmyk at 12:11 PM on March 27, 2012


Well, I was really trying to explicate -- and then tack onto -- what I perceived to be a dirty joke by Namlit that was causing puzzlement.

"Have you boys been whackin' in my trailer?"
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:17 PM on March 27, 2012


Illustrations, or it did not happen.
posted by Chuffy at 12:30 PM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I sometimes write random shit in the margins of books I sell back to the used bookstore. Just to fuck with people who will purchase and read my book in the future:

"Remember to squeeze the oranges before bed or else suffer the consequences." pg. 23 of 1984 by George Orwell.
posted by Fizz at 1:07 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Newspaper sub-editors (the guys who wrangle range raw copy into shape and write the headlines) sometimes express their frustration in print too.

A friend of mine once worked on a subs' desk where they had to deal with a rambling, disorganised and near-incomprehensible piece about what was going on among Danish politicians. Their contemptuous headline was "Something written on the state of Denmark".
posted by Paul Slade at 4:12 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


They have taken the bridge… and the second hall.
We have barred the gates… but cannot hold them for long. The ground shakes.
Drums… drums… in the deep.
We cannot get out. A shadow moves in the dark.
We cannot get out…
They are coming!
Where's my coat?

posted by blue_beetle at 5:06 AM on March 28, 2012


Clyde Mnestra, apologies right back to you. I faced a tragedy very recently, and apparently my sense of humor is currently ailing, too.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:24 AM on March 28, 2012


Well, I was really trying to explicate -- and then tack onto -- what I perceived to be a dirty joke by Namlit that was causing puzzlement. Apologies to all, including countless generations of undoubtedly clean-minded monks, if I have degraded the conversation.

Metafilter: subtlety causes puzzlement. (But thanks for all the kind and patient explanations. Who'da thunk.)
posted by Namlit at 10:18 AM on March 28, 2012


« Older Bonus level unlocked: A deathmatch game of Goldene...  |  Amalie Noether: The Mighty Mat... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments