Module 1: Storytelling and The Manuscript

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Manuscript Culture: Europe

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Text, Textuality and Digital media
Professor. Arjun Ghosh
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences,
Indian Institute of Technology Delhi
Lecture 6
Manuscript Culture: Europe
Welcome to this lecture, on we are going to today discuss manuscripts and manuscript production. We will primarily be focusing on early late medieval medieval European manuscripts, very early manuscripts but as I would argue through this lecture that what we are going to witness in with respect to European manuscripts would be true for a large geography even outside Europe because this was a world which was which was linked through trade.
Many of the writing implements that were developed in Europe and the writing practices that developed in Europe were those which were borrowed or had emerged to Europe from other other places in the world and one of the things that we need to remember is that in our previous lectures we had looked at closely at oral forms of communication and oral forms of creation of stories and ideas sharing of ideas and from that we moved to the domain of a of a manuscript. A manuscript unlike the oral is is a is a physical document, right.
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So that means it is tangible, it can be carried, and so it is something that can move from place to place from one place to another, alright. So, and this brings about a very very important change in the way texts are perceived through history. To just give you an example for the moment, if you look at temple architecture for example, or if you look at frescoes in in in medieval churches or early modern churches and cathedrals, you find that those were very fine examples of plastic or visual art.
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And the important point about this is that in order to witness that art, the the sculpture that that’s there on the walls of temples or the frescoes which could be there.
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Or sculptures which would be there on the walls of of cathedrals, you would the viewer would have to go to the to that particular building to that particular artefact, go towards that particular artefact. This artefact was not mass reproduced, right. I am talking about the era before the coming of the digital, before the coming of print, because once print comes into being one could one could actually take a photograph I mean once photography comes into being and put it in print, so you could partake a little bit of that sculpture or that painting by through through mechanical reproduction.
But before that you could not partake of anything unless you actually were there at that spot. So that makes marks a very important distinction simply because here you had an object, an artefact, a creation of art in which the artist had been in the same domain as that of the viewer, the point does not change. Even with the oral, in order to be able to able to understand or able to communicate with the viewer, the listener, the speaker, the teller of (stories) tales had to be in the same domain, in the same geographical space as that of the the listener. So in the case of the oral this this coming together within the same geography had to be simultaneous, it had to happen at the same point of time whereas the sculpture for the sculpture or the painter of the fresco it could be deferred in time, a cathedral could be could be in place for hundreds of years and people, all visitors who come there would be able to see and witness the work but notionally when we look at Michelangelo work in the Sistine Chapel, visitors to the Sistine Chapel are sharing the same space in which Michelangelo did his work, right.
This is not the case when paintings come into being because when paintings come into being the painting is oftentimes produced within the studio of of the painter and then installed in a in a particular location. Usually early paintings would be ones which would be created for patrons would be made to order.
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Really-really large paintings and that is how it began, the really large paintings would probably have been painted in location because they would be very difficult to move but as time progressed and this is something that we are going to discuss in the future lectures is that the nature of objects and the nature of exchange of commodities, you know now art becomes a commodity.
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It becomes a thing that can move from place to place. It works like any other commodity which has mobility. In order to in order for objects to become commodities it is important that they become mobile, they move from place to place. So, the painting moves off the wall into a canvas and the canvas can be produced at a studio which is (owned) which is where where the artist works and the artist really worked by himself he would have many apprentices who would work with him, right.
So, the artist would produce the painting and then it the painting would be taken to the patrons house or wherever it is supposed to be installed and it is possible now that, that painting changes hands over decades over centuries most famous paintings now find their place in in museums.


Or in in in places owned by art collectors, right. In most cases, these are buildings which were never there when the painting was originally made. So the painting may have been made for a particular location but it changes location, right. So it’s important to understand, this this is a this is a very important historical change in the way art is is is circulated the way art is received and the way art is perceived.
Till let us say the 11th to 12th centuries art was not perceived as something that could be mobile, it was perceived as something that is that is stable, that is something that is fixed, right. But this shift that I just described with respect to art is something that it took place in the case of of writing sometime before this.
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Now as a few centuries before this, now as I have mentioned earlier the earliest writing, earliest forms of scripts really began as a way to remember or memorize passages, you know we talked about how would be certain mnemonics which would be used for people to for oral poets to sort of remember certain epithets or certain particular kinds of descriptions and how verse would be used as a way to easily commit a certain passage to memory.
So the earliest forms of writing were personal. There would be that those which would be used in order to remind oneself of what of a certain epithet or a certain episode which (was?) to be told, which (was?) to be communicated orally. The writing piece did not have a life of its own to begin with but as time passed by one figured out and it’s not a question, merely a question of passage of time, human society as it evolves and this is something that we are going to explore in the course.
That as human society evolves human relationships, relationships between various people within the society also undergo a changes and there is a certain kind of a dialogic relationship between the changes in technology and the changes in social relationships. When I say dialogical relationship I mean that the 2 points of interaction, 2 phenomena of interaction do not bear top-down relationship that is one influencing other.
When I say A has a dialogic relationship with B I do not mean to say that either A influences B or that B influences A I mean they both influence each other in turn. So as technological shifts happen, so social relationships change and social relationships change they look for newer technologies to support those relationships and therefore new technologies are developed this is something that we would see we will go hand-in-hand as we move on.
Now what could be the change in social relationship that would affect the conversion of written work from a mnemonic to an object for circulation and that is that there is increased, the increase of learning, growing sphere of learning you would understand by the early mid or late mediaeval periods is, you know these were phases of tremendous monastic activities, there were Christianity was growing.

So there were great importance of preaching and the church was growing in importance and the church was growing in extent in geography as well, so it was important to train the preachers, to train the monks and the monastic. So learning was still firmly within the ecclesiastical domain, it did not go beyond the ecclesiastical domain as much.
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But the ecclesiastical domain itself grew tremendously in influence in extent, so therefore there was important need for circulation of ideas and because of circulation of ideas there was a greater need for circulation of texts. So the need for text increase because it was difficult for people to actually oral text we have realized do not circulate far and wide. They circulate slowly, they may circulate far and wide as we saw in the case of Dastangoi but that transfer is far slower than when a manuscript moves from one part of the world to another, one province to another, one continent to another.
So it is the growth of the need for learning that leads to the development of manuscript tactics. You needed to make more copies of books, to share ideas, to spread ideas most of them would be ecclesiastical documents, So that is important to note that the manuscript for the first time now ensures that there is a separation between the knowledge and the knower that is till the moment of the oral you had a situation where whatever I am uttering is contained in me and I am uttering it.
So knowledge is embodied within the body of the knower, the body of the speaker. The moment instead of speaking I am noting something down and that piece of paper or that book or manuscript moves from one place to another place where I am not going then the knowledge gets disembodied it moves outside the body of the knower and this is true of most forms of reproduction of art which are non-embodied like for example the camera which is there right before us.
Now this is very interesting, we are going to record this lecture in this lecture will be electronically transmitted to the machine in which you are going to listen to the lecture and I would not be present there, so there is a case of dis-embodiment of knowledge from the knower to the person who is going to receive the knowledge, So this is a very important change that takes place in the history of communication and the growth of manuscripts depend upon this important change that takes place.
Now once manuscripts are required, now it is important to note that manuscripts are required in large numbers and the numbers keep growing even today books are getting printed in ever larger numbers that for the first time you understand that the techniques involved in the creation of a work of art, a work of literature is something that is outside that of the body as I
mentioned earlier that human beings are able to write because they are able to hold a pen.
And that is a part of technique, alright. A form of action, a form of creation of art. This technological knowledge is required in the case of writing, writing needs things, its materials, you have to shape that material out of certain raw materials, you need paper, you need ink and you need some style rs to be able to write.

Now these will have to be created. So they are not available, I know something I speak, all I need is language to be able to speak but language is something that I do not have to carry with me, I do not have to create, language is something that I learn and that is it, I never run out of language really, I can run out of paper, I can run out of ink I may not have a pen with me but I will always have language with me. So the first time you have a situation where in order to communicate you first needed to have all the material that you need to be able to write.
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So first and foremost let us talk about each of the things, so the first requirement is that of paper. Now we do understand the paper, there is a history of paper we know that there are many ways in which writing surfaces were developed.
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We had the papyrus from Egypt and we know that the Chinese were really the first to really develop the technique of making paper.
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We also know that within the Indian subcontinent there was great use of palm leaf for manuscripts. And within Europe and within the Middle Eastern areas there was also writing surfaces which was created out of parchment which is through skins of animals.

Now important to note that most ancient scrolls would have been made of paper because would be made of papyrus, we know the Egyptian scrolls but important point to note is that papyrus is a more brittle material, it does not bend, so if you are going to fold paper in this form, if you fold papyrus and keep it, it is going to sort of break and it will not last very long.
So therefore in the case of the Codex, in the case of a scroll which is rolled up where there are no sharp edges of folding papyrus is fine but when you have to fold the paper which is important in the requirement for a Codex these sharp edge it can break.


A palm leaf as you understand is not folded. Palm leaf is taken and it is sort of tied together from one to the other, along the spine. Though it functions as a Codex but the palm leaf really does not come as a very huge sheet but then important point about both paper and parchment that is animal skin is that both of these when they are prepared usually come as very large sheets.
Now very large sheets are difficult to, are not portable. Now important thing about writing is that the need for hitting another need for writing that emerges as we see is portability, it has to move from one place to another though really early mediaeval manuscripts would be very large, really large in size but the raw parchment or the raw paper would be even bigger than that. The paper was to begin with very-very expensive because paper was not developed in Europe it came through, it took many centuries for the idea to travel from China to Europe. 20:15)

It was only around 12th to 13th century that the first paper mills were developed in Europe. So paper was expensive though once developed paper was far outstripped once paper technology really develops, paper far outstrips parchment production because then parchment was far more expensive but good paper was not easily available. Now one question that I would like to ask you is that whenever you look at books.
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You usually see books have this kind of a shape, it has a width which is shorter than the length of the paper, And this is now called as a portrait form.

And this is the landscape form, In both the cases you find that this is a frame which is really kind of universal now but there is no reason, is there a reason? That is the question. Is there a reason why it would have this kind of a rectangular shape and not a square shape or some other shape? If you look at palm leaf manuscripts they are really long pieces of writing surfaces which are there.
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And that is because you have animal skins when parchment was developed, animal skins are roughly when dead animal is skinned and is laid out the skin roughly takes the shape of a rectangle, It’s a (()) (21:59) and smaller paper is created, the smaller pieces of parchment for the Codex which are bound as the Codex are created through folding, So if you look at the

kind of folding, if this is the entire sheet, of course sheets are much bigger than this and this is an A4 sheet.
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The size is a standard A4 sheet, from the paper mill it would come as a very large sheet, And it would have been cut and put into this kind of a shape, machine cut. But if you look at it, it is folded once down here.
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This is what one would call a folio, so you write here, you write here, you write here, you write here on each of the surfaces,
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Now if you fold a second time, you get four writing surfaces, it is smaller, The size of the book, this is the size. This would be called a quarto, quarter. It is possible to fold it a third time.
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You get a smaller page size,
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When you get a smaller page size, you get 8, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 this kind of folding is called an Octavo, right, it is called an Octavo which has been folded 8 times. Now once this is folded if one sort of tears, cuts through the sides, there you are and you stitch along the spine or you bind along the spine and you have your wonderfully folded book..
Now when even today, if there is a printing press near the place where you are, you can like if you want to visit printing presses all your textbooks and others are printed like this in fact there are more folds usual size of a gathering is 32 pages which is it is folded another time.
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So you will be able to get some 16 writing surfaces out of this, out of an octavo, Now this entire folded set is called a Gathering. Now typically a book would be made of various gatherings. So it is a multiple of that many gatherings and then they are bound together by the side, alright.
Now typically what would happen? There would be parchment makers. Typically they would skinned animal, the animal skin will undertake various kinds of treatment and they would be dried, they would be stretched, sometimes they would be much thinly layered maybe the skin, if it is a thick skin it will be pulled apart into 2 to create a very fine kind of parchment on which very thin books are printed, very delicate books are printed they would be far more expensive.
And these parchments would be treated and made ready for preparation and there would be, what you would call the stationary shops which will sell these gatherings. Rarely would a scribe actually prepare the parchment though there is evidence that there would be scribes, people who write, who would also prepare the parchment but usually this would be something that would be got from somebody who supplies. So you already talking about the kind of a market in which this trade takes place. These parchments are available in the form of gatherings.
Beyond that everything that took place was something that a scribe had to prepare themselves.
So most importantly we talk about the stylus now. We can think of various kinds of styluses.
Today we have a pen. We hold the pen in usually, like this.
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With a thumb and the 2 fingers sort of coming together and the pen is held here. But that is how the modern pen is held or the modern pencil is held. In the case of mediaeval quill pens they would have to be held differently because the ink will have to directly flow down they had to be held straight down.
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So typically medieval scribe would hold the quill pen behind the first and the middle finger with a thumb here and would write on paper like this. Straight down, okay you can see that. But that was not universal. In the case of, let us say palm script manuscripts, many of the times these styluses were not made of, they were made of reed pens, Even in Europe, even in Egypt that would be the case and most such reed pens or such kind of styluses even metal styluses which were used to write on palm leaf manuscripts would be held like a fist.


So the pen is put here and the thumb holds it very carefully and the writing happens like this. So many a times you would see some painting which is kind of an imaginative recreation of some old poet writing, sitting down and writing and they would show them holding the quill pen in the form of the modern pen that is what is anachronistic in fact many of the times you would have certain poet figures who would be shown as writing but most of these texts were created orally. So they would not have written, there is imaginative paintings of old poet’s writing on specially within the subcontinental context are purely anachronistic that is they do not represent their time.
They are imagination of a modern concept of writing imposed on what were the
communication technologies or mechanisms in previous generations or previous era centuries, So that is about the stylus. The quill pen had to be prepared, the quill pen had to be mostly used feathers, mostly that of pigeon and they had to be prepared, there was a certain technique with which they were prepared.
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There would be, first they would be hardened, they were too soft, it cannot be too soft the tip of the pen, so they would be put in hot sand to harden it and there would be through very careful use of sharp instruments cut into a certain shape and they would have to be a thin incision which is cut through the pen which will actually hold the ink. The ink actually remains within that incision which is there on the spine of the quill pen and as the ink flows down the writing happens.
So typically what would happen is that the scribes would have to constantly keep preparing, so a typical record show that if anybody many a times these scribes are professional scribes they would need to take dictation from scholars or poets who would not write themselves they would you scribes and these scribes would need to make sure their writing implement is there because when you are doing oral you are stopping for nothing, In the middle of a certain rendition one doesn’t stop to prepare anything, you do not need to prepare anything.

But the scribe constantly had to sharpen their quill, so a typical piece of writing what these scribes who would take dictations they would do, they would cut and prepare lots of quilts together in order to be able to write without interruption, it’s very much like having sharpened pencils. You needed lots of sharpened pencils because the point would get damaged or the point would be and if you want to write without any interruption you need it to be able to continue as it is.
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The important point therefore to be noted is that a certain kind of surface would be required to be able to write, one could not sit and write anywhere, there had to be a proper desk or various kinds of implements, knives, stones and other sort of instruments which would be required constantly to prepare the quill and you needed light, artificial lighting was not available.
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So typically scribes would have to work near a large window or, you know a place which has been lit. Now the next point is that of the ink. Now ink is something that is very interesting.
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Various chemicals gave various kinds of colour and Ink. There would also be very expensive kind of inks which would be transported from very far, so they would be rarely used or sometimes be reused and there is also important point is that for the quill pen the ink needed to be far more viscous. Needed to be far short of thicker.

And to thicken the ink they used something called Gum Arabic which is a particular kind of gum which was organically produced from organic materials and they would be mixed with the ink in order to make the ink viscous. And ink pot would have to be their on the desk and people will dip the quill pen and keep writing as they would need. The other important point to be noted is that in order for scribes, not all scribes took dictations.
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All the scribes did not take dictation all the time they also created, copied from previous sources. So you needed a particular kind of desk in which there was not only a writing surface but also a place to hold the exemplar, it had to be held up, so that the scribe copies from one page to another. So these were the certain kind of circumstances in which the scribes actually operated.
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One of the important features of mediaeval manuscripts were that they had a certain kind of decoration on them, alright.
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They had certain kinds of decorations mediaeval manuscripts. Now important to note as to why these were the cases, one can conjecture and say why?

One important point is that these manuscripts sort of be hooked on to the particular page that was written because you understand that in the oral field when a speaker is speaking the audience can be engrossed not only through the words that the speaker is speaking but the gestures, the facial expressions being made by the speaker.
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You know the performative holds a certain kind of, is an aid to the kind of concentration that could be possible but once you move, the movement to pure text is far-far more difficult and therefore that performative view that visual sort of left behind in the form of writing and that is sort to be transplanted in the form of illustrations which not only sort of work as conduits of imagination they also enable a greater deal of concentration.
You understand that, that is very important to note that most of these mediaeval scholars they would be located in monasteries, moving away from family and one of the things that was also sort of prescribed for these monks would be that of, kind of more ascetic life, they’re not supposed to get married, would not have family and they would lead very frugal kind of existence not much in terms of, various kinds of, their food was also very frugal.
And the point is to minimize distraction as much as possible, alright. So that they are able to concentrate in the ability to undertake the kind of learning journey because you do understand that at this point of time books or manuscripts are becoming more and more available with the ability to reproduce sort of texts each scholar would have access to many more sort of treatises than scholars of previous centuries and generations.
So the mediaeval scholar at that level had access to far more treatises than those before them. And to be able to engulf all that and to be able to deal with all that they needed far greater levels of concentration and since we moved from orality to the written that encompassing of the performative is taken away and therefore concentration becomes a far more difficult task. 

So the illustrations and the kind of the decorations which are there on manuscripts become very important because when you are trying to remember a certain text, remember that in the case of the oral it was aided by various rhyming and rhythmic patterns but when the mediaeval scholar is trying to remember a particular text, he is aided by the picture which is there on that page and what is the text which is, you see it with that page or how that page actually physically looks.
So every page has some unique, so every story, every narrative has a certain illustration along with it and that is what aids the mediaeval scholar to be able to remember or to be able to deal with that work that is there because we are still moving back and forth between oral and written, you remember the oral has not been completely abandoned. So you continued to need aid to memory though writing itself is an aid to memory.
Illustrations do serve a certain purpose. So these mediaeval manuscripts were usually illustrated and there were ways of marking of important pages usually the first pages would have large initials and they would be of different sizes depending on the kind of work that there is or the kind of portion, chapterization of the text if you may want to call it.
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And so therefore there was a hierarchy of decoration. This decoration had a certain hierarchy then this is the mediaeval world and the mediaeval world had a very strong sense of gradation of things, it was more feudal world and the feudal world is always based on a certain gradation within the society between relationships from the King down to the surf, so in between you would have the Dukes, had the landowners and other functionaries, the courtiers and others and they would all be clearly within the court also you would know that the various knights or others would be seated at certain distances from the ruler according to their social status.
And that tradition continues actually even today when a Prime Minister or Chief Minister would be sitting at the head of the table the Cabinet would be also seated according to certain protocol this is certainly true of other kinds of places like the Army and others more important people sit in the front row and rest at the back. But that has sort of reduced tremendously in the modern era.
But in the mediaeval period within feudal domain it has a stronger sense of gradation of things and this kind of hierarchisation was also seen in the creation of manuscripts where there was appropriate levels which were granted to each particular section and they would have different sizes, different kind of illustrations, maybe different kind of ink would be used, so gold or silver would be used for higher graded parts of the text.
And these were recognizable gradations one could figure out while turning the pages of a manuscript as to which portion is of a higher category and which one is lesser. Now one

important point to note is these manuscripts were not when they were produced, through history they underwent various kinds of phases, various forms of circulation, so you would have, either people are making copies for themselves, in which case the scholar is the scribe which would be very often the case.