Frozen in time

Little is known about the scribes and copyists who carried Europe’s written culture on the shoulder of their quills.

What we may know about them comes from the scribbles they left at the end of the manuscripts they penned. Known as colophons, these end notes preserve the memory of the men and women who devoted tens, hundreds, sometimes thousands of hours of their lives to making a new book or copying an old one.

The scribes always have the final word.

And their words are frozen in time. Nuggets of resistance against forgetfulness, against abandon, against time. The fossils of a world where writing is painful, and each scribe is the guardian of literacy. Where reading exists only inasmuch as there is something to read, and each book is a culture’s most treasured artefact. Where the reproduction of a written tradition depends on legions of midwives armed with a pen and knife, sitting – often freezing – in front of a piece of animal skin, dreaming of colophons and final words.

And in this world of blood and skin, those words assume a status that few other words aspire to have, that of telegrams to posterity asking the reader to honour the memory of those who kept the wheels turning, against all odds, against themselves, for all of us, today, even if we are no longer the readers they imagined us to be.

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