The Structure of the Text of Medieval
The arrangement of modern
books follows certain conventions that make books easy to use. Even without
reading a book one may expect to gather information about its contents
by examining certain formal elements of almost every book, such as
its title, the name of an author, the table of contents, the foreword (introduction,
preface), the footnotes, the indices, etc. Moreover, one always knows where
to find these elements because their disposition within a book normally
follows a universally accepted order. For instance, author’s (editor’s)
name, the title of a book, the name of a publisher would usually appear
on the cover or the first page of a book. The table of contents is to be
found at the very beginning or the very end of a book. The author’s (editor’s)
address to the reader is usually placed at the beginning, right before
the main body of the text. The comments and references are situated either
right on the page to which they refer, or at the end of the text.
Medieval hand-written books,
followed similar, although not identical, conventions.
A book would begin with a titulus
(title) and -- if known – the name of the author.
The first page of a book sometimes
bears a subscriptio – an inscription, indicating the place and/or
the date of making the book and/or the name of a scribe or of a person
who ordered the book. Both subscriptio and colophon -- a statement
of the same contents, a mirror of the subscriptio at the end of a book
-- are optional elements, appearing in medieval books only sporadically.
For the Renaissance books colophon is more common than the subscriptio.
In the early prints colophon became the emblem, or device, of the publisher.
Subscriptio and colophon serve for defining the origin of a manuscript.
Incipit (« begins »)
is the formula indicating the beginning of the text. In codices containing
several pieces of writing (four Gospels, or a collection of sermons) each
of them would normally have its own incipit. Incipit is sometimes confused
with a titulus or, more often, with a subscriptio, for the reason that
all of them may begin with the word « incipit. »
For a similar reason explicit
(literally, « unfolded ») – a formula marking the end of the
text or of the part of the text -- is sometimes confused with colophon.
Manuscripts acquired for monastic or
secular libraries often have a mark indicating that they belong to a particular
collection or person. These marks, called ex libris, are more often
placed at the beginning of the manuscript. They provide an invaluable source
of information on the provenance of the manuscript.
Index, or an analytical
table of contents, appeared as a result of the general change in the attitude
to reading. Before, books were read continuously from the beginning to
the end. This was a slow meditative monastic reading, without any need
for quickly finding any particular part of the book. In the twelfth century,
with the rise of the scholarly – scholastic – culture this attitude changed.
Students, professors, and preachers, who now became the main book-users,
perceived books as a reference material for consultation rather than for
reading through. They wanted to be able to do a quick search within any
book, to easily locate a place of interest, skipping the rest of the text.
An index prefacing the text, the first instrument for retrieving information,
thus became an indispensable element of any twelfth-century manuscript.
First indices simply listed chapter-headings; more elaborated subject indices
were to appear later. Writings like Decreta by Gratian, a complex
legal text, were prefaced by the so-called materia operis, a synoptic
index containing not only numbered chapter-titles but also short summaries
of the topics discussed in each chapter and subchapter.
Numbering of pages is a practice which
developed in medieval manuscripts only gradually. At the beginning, only
were marked by catchwords. Catchword, the first word of the first
line of the following quire, was normally written on the margin, in the
lower right-hand corner of the last verso
of the preceding quire. Catchword helped a binder to establish the correct
order of quires. Later the indication of the sequence of quires by numbers
or letters was introduced. All these signs were drawn by the same scribe
who copied the text, for the binder to know the order in which to join
quires to each other.
Two factors brought about a universal
acceptance of foliation: development of the scriptoria,
on the one hand, and change in the function of a book, on the other hand.
By the twelfth-thirteenth centuries the number of people taking part in
the production of a manuscript grew considerably: rubricators, miniaturists,
correctors all intervened in the process. This circumstance increased the
danger of misplacing not only quires
but also bifolia
inside a quire. On the other hand, the new twelfth-century generation of
readers wanted to be able to find a reference in a book easily and quickly.
Foliation is the numbering of the
of the manuscript when numbers were only assigned to the recto
side of a folio. Occasionally used since Antiquity, in the twelfth century
foliation became a rule. There existed various systems of foliation. One
of them was to mark folios with a combination of letters, numbers, or some
other signs (asterisks, dots, circles, crosses, etc.) where first the number
of a quire was given, and then the number of a folio within this single
quire: Ai, Aii, Aiii to Aviii, Bi, Bii, etc. These marks were now placed
in the middle of the bottom margin and sometimes nicely decorated. It was
not anymore a job of a scribe to indicate the sequence of folios: foliation
was usually done by a specially appointed person after the copying, decoration,
and correction had been completed.
Pagination is a continuous numbering
of the pages of a manuscript, when numbers were assigned to both recto
and verso sides of a folio. Continuous pagination throughout (e.g., 1 to
348) first appeared in the thirteenth century and became wide-spread in
the later Middle Ages.
In addition to foliation and pagination,
for the ease of citation some liturgical or theological books numbered
the columns of the text (in case that there were more than one column on
a page) and even lines.