Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Cassiodorus on the Task of the Scribe

Cassiodorus (Gesta Theodorici: Leiden, University Library, Ms. vul. 46, fol. 2r)

Cassiodorus is famous for the foundation of his monastery at Vivarium in southern Italy and the copying of books and manuscripts. These activities, however, occurred later in his life. He spent a large part of his earlier career as a Roman statesman serving the administration of Theodoric the Great. Many of his letters are preserved from this time, and in Book 12, letter 21 we find him writing to a certain Deusdedit, a Scribe of Ravenna, about the duties of a scribe. In one place Cassiodorus declares that;
"Banish, therefore, all thoughts of venality from your mind. The worst moth that gets into papers and destroys them is the gold of the dishonest litigant, who bribes the Scribes to make away with evidence which he knows to be hostile. Thus, then, be ready always to produce to suitors genuine old documents; and, on the other hand, transcribe only, do not compose ancient proceedings. Let the copy correspond to the original as the wax to the signet-ring, that as the face is the index of the emotions so your handwriting may not err from the authentic original in anything." (Ep. 12.21)
The context appears to be that of a courtroom, where the scribe is admitting evidence of some kind (contracts, wills, deeds, and the like) and transcribing the minutes of the court proceedings. I find it particularly telling that Cassiodorus declares that the scribes task is to "transcribe only" and not to "compose." And in relation to the copying of texts, he states, "let the copy correspond to the original" and ensure that the "handwriting may not err from the authentic original in anything."
Though the topic of Cassiodorus's letter primarily concerns the scribes task in the courtroom (a primary task for an official city scribe), I cannot help but think that this gives a glimpse into his attitudes towards the copying of biblical texts later in his life.

Hodgkin, Thomas, trans. The Letters of Cassiodorus. London: Henry Frowde, 1886. (pg. 511-512)

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Avoiding The Damaged Page: Imperfections Creating Errors in the Copying of a Text (?)

In 2015, Dr. Brice Jones published a fascinating piece on the scribal practice of avoiding imperfections in the writing material while copying out a text;
"Scribes Avoiding Imperfections in Their Writing Matierials" Archiv für Papyrusforschung 61.2 (2015): 371-383.
Dr. Jones discussed several phenomenon of imperfections that a scribe may encounter while performing their task; cracks, folds, tears, holes, separated or shrunken fibers, stains, and κολλήσεις (joint seams). The article is summarized nicely on his blog, here.
In short, if a scribe encountered a feature on the page they were inscribing, the copyist would more than likely have to pull the pen away from the page and then place it back in a (sometimes drastically) different location. For example, in the case of a hole, the scribe would have to alter the placement of the letters by writing around the defect in some way. Dr. Jones highlighted this phenomenon on pages 376-378. This occurred in the case of Codex Sinaiticus through-out the manuscript, in particular, on Q84-f.5.r, at the bottom of the first column.

A Scribe avoiding a hole in the parchment C. Sinaiticus (Q84-f.5.r)

Dr. Jones also highlights another similar case at Q18-f.6.r on page 377 of his article.
I find this fascinating, especially in its relation to the introduction of scribal errors in the copying of the text. In a particularly bad case in Codex Bezae that Jones highlights on page 377 of his article, the scribe had to avoid a large hole, writing the text around the imperfection.

A scribe avoiding a hole in C. Bezae (f. 205r)
This brought to mind another excellent article that drew attention to the scribal practice of re-inking the pen, which inadvertently led to the introduction of errors in the transcribing of the text.
Peter M. Head and Mike Warren, "Re-inking the Pen: Evidence from P. Oxy. 657 (P13) Concerning Unintentional Scribal Errors." New Testament Studies 43 (1997): 466-473.
In the article, Dr. Head and Dr. Warren contend that, 
"the constant necessity to re-ink one's pen provided the opportunity for scribal distraction at the level of eye, memory, judgement and pen, and would thus have been an occasion for the introduction of unintentional copying error." (pg. 466)
 This may (must) be true in the case of defects in the writing material. The lifting of the pen and the distraction of avoiding the imperfection may have led to the introduction of an error in the copying of the text.