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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.