The Scribe

On page 78 in our reading for today begins a section entitled “Professional Scribes, Commercial Scribes, and Booklet Production.” Here the authors make the distinction between the “professional”–a scribe who works in some sort of legal or bureaucratic capacity, and the “commercial”–a scribe who is paid to produce works for others. The interesting relationship between the professional and commercial scribe, according to the authors, is that they are often the same person. It is fascinating to consider that the same scribes who would work all day in a courtly or legal setting would then go home (or elsewhere) to moonlight. This concept brings about two associations in my mind: one, that the scribes loved the art of manuscript production so much that they would willingly do continue the process in their free time, and two, that scribes simply used their skills for supplementary income. Both ideas add a very humanizing element to a group of people who often seem distant and unknown. The image of some medieval scribe working on a commissioned piece in his home after work brings about all sorts of questions. Did most scribes have the necessary materials to work outside of their places of employment? Where those places even separate from their home? How well known were individual scribes, and what was the process for requesting a commission? What was the quality of life for an average scribe (did they hold any sort of celebrity status)?

On this website,

Making Books for Profit in Medieval Times

which looks eerily familiar, I found a quote from an unnamed scribe saying, “For so little money I never want to produce a book ever again!” I wonder if this sort of sentiment was commonly felt by other scribes of the period.

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