This 15th-century doodle is found in the lower margin of a manuscript containing Juvenal’s Satires. This classical text was a popular device to teach young students - kids - morals. The medieval teacher Alexander Nequam stated: “Let the student read the satirists […] so that he may learn even in his younger days that vices are to be shunned” (quote here). Spoken like a true optimist, because this page shows what young school boys like to do with rules: disobey them. And so in stead of studying the student who used this book drew a funny doodle in the lower margin: a figure with a flower in one hand and what appears to be a pipe in the other. Could it be his teacher? Doodles are of all ages but those produced by bored school kids are the most entertaining.
Pic: Carpentras, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 368 (here). Here is another example of school kids doodling.
The Scottish Declaration of Independence, April 6th 1320
The Declaration of Arbroath was made in the form of a letter, composed in Latin and submitted to Pope John XXII in the year of 1320. Its purpose was to get the pope to acknowledge Robert the Bruce as the country’s lawful king, to assert Scotland’s status as an independent, sovereign state and to defend Scotland’s right to use military force when unjustly attacked. It was most likely drafted in the scriptorium of Arbroath Abbey by Abbot Bernard on behalf of the nobles and barons of Scotland. Eight earls and about forty barons attached their seals to the Declaration. The following is one of its most popular excerpts:
"As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we are fighting, but for freedom - for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself."
The Declaration of Arbroath represents the founding of the Scottish nation and it has been credited as being part of the inspiration for the American Declaration of Independence.
Medieval music books, with their merry notes jumping off the page, are a pleasure to look at. This sensational page from the 14th century adds to this experience in a most unusual manner. It presents a well-known song, the French ballade titled En la maison Dedalus (In the house of Dedalus), be it that the scribe decided to write both music and lyrics in a circular form. There is reason behind this madness. The maze created by music and words locks up the main character of the song, the mythological figure Ariadne, who is a prisoner in the house of Daedalus - she is represented by the red dot. The book contains treatises on music theory, notation, tuning and chant. In other words, it was meant for experts readers. The beholder likely enjoyed the challenge of singing a circular song (did he or she spin the book around?) and how it held its subject hostage in the merriest of ways.
Pic: Berkeley, Music Library, MS 744 (made in Paris in 1375). More about the manuscript here, including more unusual images. This is a study of the book (the ballade is discussed at p. 14).
Here is something special I happened upon by coincidence in a French database today. These unique drawings are found in a handwritten book from 1611 produced by Nicolas de Rély, a monk from Corbie. We know little about the author and the book is relatively unknown in scholarship, which is kind of amazing considering its topic: a study of medieval labyrinths. These large objects were mazes of up to 40 feet in diameter, built into the floor of cathedrals of twelfth and thirteenth-century Europe (see Chartres Cathedral, lower image). Church visitors, which included a lot of pilgrims, had to undertake a journey to its centre - the latter on their knees, by means of repentance. The labyrinth is also an intellectual exercise, of creating an object of perfect harmony, of balance and calculation, like the Gothic cathedrals which housed them. The monk in the early 17th century was so fascinated by them that he devoted a study to their shapes and routes, replicating them in detail: what a beautiful way to lose yourself!
Pic: Amiens, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 405 (dated 1611). More images and some more information here. More information of labyrinths here and in this PDF. More about the Amiens labyrinth here.
These pages from a late-16th-century scientific manuscript share a most unusual feature: they contain a string that runs through a pierced hole. Dozens of them are found in this book. The pages contain diagrams that accompany astronomical tracts. They show such things as the working of the astrolabe (Pic 1), the position of the stars (Pic 4), and the movement of the sun (Pic 6). The book was written and copied by the cartographer Jean du Temps of Blois (born 1555), about whom little appears to be known. The book contains a number of volvelles or wheel charts: revolving disks that the reader would turn to execute calculations. The strings seen in these images are another example of the “hands-on” kind of reading the book facilitates. Pulling the string tight and moving it from left to right, or all the way around, would connect different bits of data, like a modern computer: the string drew a temporary line between two or more values, highlighting their relationship. The tiny addition made the physical page as smart as its contents.
Pics: London, British Library, Harley MS 3263: more on this book here; and full digital reproduction here.