Medieval Typos

In studiolum we have finally published the digital edition of a medieval codex to be published together with the Cathedral Library of Kalocsa as the second volume of the “Treasures of Kalocsa” series. This beautiful 13th-century Parisian manuscript contains the epistles of Saint Paul, accompanied by the detailed verse-by-verse commentaries by Petrus Lombardus, in 300 parchment leaves all in all.

This voluminous codex was produced with the working method of the pecia, already widespread at the Paris university at that time. The exemplar kept in the library of the university was divided in sheets and distributed among several copyists at the same time, so that a complete new copy could be produced in a relatively short time. The copied sheets were then collected, and miniators painted large initial letters with alternating red and blue colors in the spaces left blank at the beginning of the biblical verses commented.

This procedure, according to the glorious Histoire de la lecture dans le monde occidental edited by Chartier and Cavallo – that we had the honor of translating into Hungarian – already foreshadowed the working method of the book press, where single sheets were prepared by different compositors, and – at least in the first decades of the printing era – the initials were painted by miniators in the spaces left blank. The more so, because – as we will see below – together with this new method apparently the printer's devil was born as well – some two hundred years before the very invention of printing itself!

Namely, this method assumed that the miniators knew the text, and always painted the appropriate initial in the given space. However, this was not always the case. Apparently the miniator often just casted a short glance at the text to be complemented, and then quickly painted the letter he felt most logical – but which sometimes in fact differed from the sacred text.

So he did, for example, on fol. 264r (Heb 2:7), where he read and complemented the initial word of the verse as “Innuisti” (‘you consented’). Right after that, however, he realized his error, and initialized the commentary at the right of the verse with the correct word “Minuisti” (‘you diminished’).


In other cases, however, it fell to the stationarius – the librarian responsible for the distribution of the sheets and then for the revision of the copies – to correct the error afterwards. Thus for example on fol. 233v (2Cor 16:21), where the miniator complemented the initial word “...alutatio” as “Laudatio” – a frequent initial word in liturgical texts – both in the verse and in the commentary. In the latter it was the corrector who wrote the black ‘S’ in the middle of the red ‘L’, thus changing the word in the correct “Salutatio”.


The same he did on fol. 286r (Heb 10:7), where a little black ‘T’ got into the initial red ‘N’ of the commentary, thus changing the erroneous “Nunc” (‘now’) in a correct “Tunc” (‘therefore’).


In some cases the attention of the corrector grew slack too. Thus for example on fol. 247v (2Tim 1:16), where the miniator had imagined – and created – a “Sed” (‘but’) in place of the relatively rare “Det” (‘let him give’). This example, together with the above quoted misreading of “...alutatio” as “Laudatio” permits us to hypothesize that the miniator did not feel a sharp difference between phonemas ‘t’ and ‘d’.


And finally a very subtle case. On fol. 292r (Heb 11:22), at the right of the verse beginning as “Fide Ioseph”, the initial word of the commentary was complemented as “Mosep”, instead of “Iosep”. Why then?


In this passage of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Apostle enumerates the examples of faith from the patriarch to the prophets. The verse beginning with “Fide Ioseph moriens” is preceded – on the previous page – by a very similar verse beginning with “Fide Iacob moriens” but mentioning “Ioseph” as well, and is followed by another one beginning with “Fide Moyses”. Perhaps the miniator, arriving to the line “Fide Ioseph”, lost track for a moment, and remembering that he had already painted an initial to such phrase on the previous page, he complemented the initial word “...osep” of the commentary as “Mosep” that almost corresponded to the initial word of the following verse. Later this typo was corrected as well with a small black ‘J’ written into the large red ‘M’.

Any moral? Perhaps that errare was humanum already eight hundred years ago. This certainly will not be different with our edition either. We can only hope that the errors of this one will not cause annoyance to the Benevolent User, only some lenient serenity, just like those of the medieval miniator did to us.