The last word

A leaf from a 12th-century manuscript featuring a decorated explicit indicating the end of a theological text, Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Cod. A 92.28

Medieval authors and scribes loved code. Not only did they write in Latin, which was the closest the Middle Ages came to coding, given the artificial character of the language and the even more artificial way they acquired and used it; but they loved defining and tagging the words they wrote.

The remarquable thing about medieval book cultures is that They are both extremely foreign to us and extremely familiar. Radically, ancient and urgently modern.

The written page was a battlefield, works clashing with one another for the readers attention. Books, often contains more than one work, in more than one genre. Compilations collections or simple juxtapositions of written works, crowded, the books, written in the mediaeval period and anxiety about the written word, wanted to have everything laid down quickly, before time began its own way of erasure. I will discuss this anxietyIn a separate post here, I want to bring out the messy character of mediaeval books. Readers have always been victims of writers, no reader, or writer or the night. And reading aids emerged, as soon as books began to grow.

One such reading aid was to tag the work with what is known as incipits and explicits. Here begins and here ends [add name of written work]. These were ways of marking, the beginning, and the ending of a work, so that readers could navigate the book, find the way around the texts, and make the most of the written words therein.

The last word was as important as the first. Works were often divided into books and chapters, and the last word was describes assurance to the reader, that the work was over. In the world of handwritten, rather than printed, words, the explicit made it clear that no further text was to be expected for a given work after that point. The end is not now, it is right here and right now. There is nothing beyond, except the incipit of another text.

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