Medieval Monks Copying Books Complained in the Margins

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medieval monks copying books

Many of the religious texts that we read today are the product of medieval monks copying books. As you can imagine, in a time before printing presses the only way to do such a job was by hand, literally copying word for word the text from another book. Could you imagine how mind numbingly boring this would have been? Sure, the books the medieval monks were copying were the best sellers of the day, but they were hardly a gripping suspenseful novel. They were religious texts. In reality, they probably already knew the contents of the book, probably word for word. But here’s the thing. To conduct such a laborious job surely you’d have to have a passion for the job, right? Not exactly. The monks hated it, and wait until you find out how we know.

The medieval monks copying books actually complained about their jobs in the margins of the books. Historians claim to have been able to have learned more from these complaints than from any other source. So what kind of things did the monks write in the margins? It will surprise you, especially considering that they were writing religious text.

Some of the thins the monks wrote into the ledger of the books were things like “oh my hand,” and “I’m so cold.” Not overly offensive, but you can that they weren’t overly joyed with their job. The complaints got a little weird, well weird for monks. One great example is “Now I’ve written the whole thing: for Christ’s sake give me a drink.” Did I miss something? He’s a monk and writing like that into the margins of religious books.

But complaining wasn’t all they did in the margins. They also got creative, weird creative. They often included illustrations, and some of them would make you look twice. One image in a book shows a nun breastfeeding a monkey, and another shows a demon shooting an arrow into the butt of a merman.



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