Table of Contents
Main Sections
I. Function of Books
II. Book Production
III. Book Structure
      1. Structure of the Text
      2. Arrangement of the Text
IV. Typology of Books
V. Book Illumination
Back to the previous subchapter           III. 2. Arrangement of the Text   Credits
1. Letters

Due to the fact that medieval books were written by hand, in order to make books legible special types of book-scripts, different from the usual handwriting, were elaborated. These scripts certainly changed over time.

In the Early Middle Ages the entire text, except for the incipits and initials, was usually written in one same script. Later development brought considerable changes. For the purpose of visual separation of the main text from the commentary (or several sets of commentaries) different scripts were used within one page, “fine-print” as well as various cursives.

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The title of a book, and incipits of the parts of a book were usually written in a special decorative  display script, sometimes very difficult to read.

Bigger letters written in red or, rarely, blue ink, were used to indicate the beginning of a section of a book. These are called initials. Initials were often richly decorated.

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From the twelfth century onwards letters bigger than the rest of the text but smaller than initials, the so-called litterae notabiliores (usually different in colour from the initials proper) marked the minor divisions of the text.

In order to ease and speed up copying of a manuscript, medieval scribes employed numerous abbreviations. These were used mainly in Latin and Greek texts, although late-medieval vernacular manuscripts also show a number of abbreviated words. There are three main categories of abbreviations: suspensions, in which the end of a word is abbreviated; contractions, in which another part of a word is abbreviated; and abbreviation symbols, standing for a whole word. The latter ones were often preserved from Antiquity, as, e.g., the so-called tyronian notes: & for "et." Ubiquitously, abbreviations were used for the “sacred names,” such as Xpc for "Christus."

  2. Division of the Text

The text of medieval books of the first millennium A.D. looked more or less as an uninterrupted flow, without any of the visible breaks into smaller parts or units the modern reader is accustomed to. Words were not always separated from each other, there was no division into paragraphs or chapters, quotations were not distinguished from the author’s words. Special, highly decorative book-scripts also added to “illegibility” of the text. In the end, these books were not meant to be read quickly, sometimes they were not meant for being read at all: these were prestigious gifts, artistic items, for which enjoyable decorative appearance was much more important than the contents.

For this reason, perhaps, even in the Early Middle Ages books designed for study rather than for the pleasure of looking at or for a slow reading were arranged in a bit different way. For instance, the “study-Bibles” had almost no decoration, were written in a legible “fine-print” script, the text being broken into chapters and verses.

In the twelfth century a new generation of readers appeared, with new demands on the text presentation. This fact exerted an immense influence on the overall arrangement of the text, including its division into distinct parts and sections.

Words were now clearly separated from each other. The text itself was divided into chapters and subchapters, with headings containing either numbers, or words, or both numbers and words. The practice of numbering chapters, known since Antiquity, became the norm in the twelfth century. Chapter numbers would appear on the margin, beside the text. Later chapter titles combined both the number and the topic of the chapter. In most cases chapter titles did not belong to the author of the text. In older manuscripts they were inserted on the margins by twelfth-century readers. Later scribes copied such texts together with the chapter-titles, inserting them into the text onto a correct place. Put together into an analytical index, chapter titles in combination with page-numbers built up a handy system of reference.

Marginal space was extensively used in the twelfth century for indicating breaks in the text and for annotations. Upper margin was a place for the running titles which replaced or mirrorred chapter titles. Running titles were particularly useful for quick browsing through the text. Left and right margins were very practical in theological or legal writings, where a reader needed guidance through a complicated argument. In the text itself the stages of the argument were distinguished by litterae notabiliores. In addition, parts of the argument were indicated and nominated on side margins with special “signposts,” such as “quaestio”, “prima causa,” “secunda,” “objectio,” “responsio,” “distinctio,” etc.

Margins were also used to indicate references, cross-references, and quotations.

References were especially needed in the thirteenth century, when, instead of glossing the text, editors chose rather to provide links to separate other texts, e.g., to indicate in the Aristotle manuscript a relevant section of Averroes’ commentary on Aristotle. Another usage of references was to make any small part of the text easily retrievable with the help of a separate external index, such as the concordance for the Bible.

Cross-references linked different parts of the same manuscript.

Quotations before the thirteenth century and often also after were inserted right into the text rather than pushed into margins. Over the course of time, a system of signs indicating quotations was worked out. The text of the quotation would normally be marked by dots or commas in the margin, at times even accompanied with an inclusive line from the beginning to the end of the quotation. The source of quotation (abbreviated name of the author) would be placed next to it, also on the margin.

3.Text Layout

Before the twelfth century any text would normally be written in one or two continuous columns of equal size, implying equal significance of the contents of both columns.In cases when a scribe or a consequent reader felt the need to expand the text, discuss it, or in any way comment on it, these commentaries (called glosses) were usually inserted between the lines or placed in the margins, without any particular order.

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By the twelfth century three fields of medieval learning, that is, theology, jurisprudence, and biblical study, worked out a new attitude toward spacial disposition of the text on a page. The reason for this innovation was the impetus to present the text of importance in the context of the commentary tradition that surrounds this text. The three most significant examples of such presentation are the Glossa Ordinaria (commented Bible), the Sentences by Peter of Lombard (concise exposition of the patristic doctrine), and the Decreta by Gratian (commented canon law), all of the mid-twelfth century. These compositions attempted to present both the original text and the corpus of commentaries on it all on one page, in order to facilitate understanding of the important source.

There existed numerous ways of laying the text out on a page, the main characteristic of all of them being concentration on the commentary rather than on the original itself. In the case of glossed Bibles, the main text would be written in the central, narrow column, in a large script with large spacing. The glosses, written in a much smaller script, sometimes in cursive, would run parallel to the text on either side, two lines of the gloss corresponding to one line of the main text. In effect, marginal glosses turn into full-fledged left and right columns, for which the place is assigned beforehand, already at the preparatory stage of ruling the page out. The beginning of each individual gloss would be conspicuously linked to the corresponding place in the main text. Keywords, lemmata, would also be distinguished in the commentary by means of underlining.

The text of the commentary developped in a way similar to the development of the main text: parts of the text were indicated by bigger letters, by marginal signs, and by the division of the text into small bits. Quotations, first included into the gloss itself, were marked by dots on the margins, and the abbreviated name of the author stood for the source reference. Later on, words of the commentator were distinguished from the words of his sources by means of paragraphs.

Medieval picture-books demonstrate a very different page layout: there illuminations take the central position, while the text serves rather as a caption.

Illuminated booksstand in the middle between the university books and the picture-books: the text plays the main role, while illuminations either illustrate it, or clarify its meaning, or accompany it.

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