Sunday, November 01, 2009

Medieval Manuscript Fragments

I was contacted recently by a scholar who had an interest in a paleography sample shown on the website Medieval Writing. While I had just put it up there in order to show how to read Gothic textura script, he had a special interest in the actual content. He was interested to find out how the text continued after the end of the sample shown, but sadly, I couldn't tell him, as all I had was an isolated leaf that I had bought.
Unfortunately, we do not know enough about the range and variety of medieval texts to be pulling books to pieces in order to sell individual pages from books as art works, but there are dealers out there who do just that. However, there are also people who sell the little leftover bits and pieces from books which have been damaged or broken up in the distant past. These fragments may contain tantalising hints about lost texts, or variants of texts, as mine evidently did. Parchment or vellum was also frequently re-used for a number of purposes, but commonly for bookbinding. Little scrappy bits of vellum with a few lines of medieval script are out there in the marketplace for those with an interest in these things.
Sticking Humpty Dumpty back together again would be a cakewalk compared to trying to reconnect these fragments back into coherent text, but occasionally there are efforts to do so. Somewhere I have even seen the suggestion that somebody should save all the photgraphs of medieval pages sold on eBay as a means of creating a digital library of fragments. I think the logistics of that would defeat most of us.
In the meantime, perhaps the most ethical thing to do is to avoid buying from anyone who is clearly selling a book off page by page. They won't do it if they are not making a bucket of money out of it. The genuine lost fragments are then a bonus, which may turn out to be of interest to somebody, even if they are frustratingly decontexted.

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