sacred text and a patron demon

Scribe image

Scribe writing with feather quill and holding his work flat with a penknife

The word ‘scribe’ comes from the Latin scribere, “to write”. A scribe is a person who writes books or documents by hand as a profession.

The work could involve copying books, including sacred texts, or secretarial and administrative duties such as taking of dictation and the keeping of business, judicial and historical records for kings, nobility, temples and cities.

Scribes have probably engineered many of the subtle changes in the appearance of our lettering down the ages.

It must have been tempting for any scribe to alter the shapes he was making to relieve the tedium of his work and subsequently to develop a new letter-form.

Titivillus waiting to fill his sack with manuscript errors image

Titivillus waiting to fill his sack with manuscript errors

The repetitiveness of the work they did, day after day, allows time for the concentration to wander and many mistakes were put down to the patron demon of scribes, Titivillus. It was said he needed to fill his sack with manuscript errors each day and then haul them off the devil, where they were recorded against the name of the scribe and pronounced on Judgement Day.

You can often find references to Titivillus in small drawings in the margins or even in the main body of text in historic manuscripts.

Blackletter text showing the denseness of lettering image

Blackletter text showing the denseness of lettering

The word ‘text’ comes from the Latin ‘textere’, “to weave”. The appearance of a page of lettering has a texture which can be likened to woven cloth. Try taking a look at the density of letters on pages of text and how that density alters with the size and spacing of the letters and words. The black letter style, in particular, has the appearance of a weave, with the densely written lettering forming the illusion of threads running through the page.

Writing instruments →