Posted by: kljolly | January 29, 2013


For those still following–or my fellow conferees at the Marco Manuscript Workshop this coming weekend–I have posted another fiction draft, focused on Scribe B’s sole contribution to Durham Cathedral Library A.IV.19 on fol. 61.

ScribeBdThis particular item is curious for several reasons.  First, Scribe B is less than competent in Latin and orthography:  his intial letter “d” (to the left) uses too small a nib for the size; other errors include odd abbreviations and a decidedly ungainly letter “a.”

Second, Aldred not only glosses the text in red but also corrects it, arguably while Scribe B is still copying–or possibly taking dictation, considering some of the aural errors, like “d” for “t” in such basic words as habed and ut.

Third, the text in question is the prayer of St. John for poison, also found in the medical texts Leechbook and Lacnunga, prayerbooks of Cerne and Nunnaminster, as well as Irish sources, although this is the only case where it is glossed in Old English.

Last, these three points lead me to posit that Aldred set the task for Scribe B as a literacy exercise, giving him a text that would require him to copy words not even Aldred knew the meaning of, such as various and sundry reptiles not found in the British Isles.  I have speculated that Scribe B might be at the lowly clerical rung of exorcist, with this prayer a fine example of the cleaning duties assigned to exorcists (forget the head-spinning stuff and think of washing church utensils).

So my fictional account (Scribe B draft) attempts to reconstruct the relationship between master and pupil as they converse about this prayer–not just the letter forms and words, but the meaning and spiritual import.  Comments are welcome, here or on the page.


  1. I was wondering what you’d do with him. The exorcista had to be literate and I would have thought he might be ‘higher up’ than you suggest, but then again circumstances might well have dictated in this case that an exorcista had been appointed who wasn’t. He would have been in charge of a book (we don’t have any to be found among the extant service-books so I suspect it was a libellus, copied out for temporary use, and that would marry well with your suggestion that this exorcista might have needed some practice!). He would have prepared salt, water, chrism and the like, and would also likely have had charge over the materials used for the various Iudicia Dei about which, as you know, I’ve said far too much elsewhere! Yes, this idea would certainly work. Psalmista is the only other possibility…

  2. HI Sarah. I knew Bert would get your interest. I would think even an exorcist would be more literate than Scribe B appears to be, but perhaps this is what Aldred had to work with. I suspect they were working from booklets, but I can’t prove that.
    Exorcist came to mind because of the conjunction of two bits of info (about all we have to go on): the poor quality of his Latin and orthography, suggesting low rank and/or youth; and the exorcistic quality of the prayer, albeit it isn’t the usual type of ritual that an exorcist would be performing on a daily basis, as you suggest (and for which there are examples in Durham A.IV.19 in the original collectar).
    However, I am also imagining other scribes in the vicinity who demonstrate better competence and therefore a higher clerical rung–perhaps lector.
    The other intriguing bit, is that Aldred copies an account of the clerical ranks that is definitely unusual, but that I will save for another post.

  3. Discussions of the lower clerical ranks always reminds me of the colloquies of Aelfric Bata which contain some very amusing local color. I know he’s a bit later, but the behavior of the students in the first couple are classic.

    • Actually, I have thought of using some of them, and they were in the back of my mind as I thought about the relationship between the scribes.

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