Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Scribal fancies

There are lists of psychological and mechanical mistakes that can explain errors or omissions in our textual tradition, even assuming that the scribe was working diligently. I like to imagine, however, whenever I come across such a textual problem, a young monk tucked away in the corner of a stone monastery, at a wooden desk, bathed in dull candlelight, with a half-blank canvas under his pen, and a thick manuscript to the side. As he comes to a line on the delicate features of a beautiful woman, or the innocence of a flower, his mind quickly leaps to a pretty girl he saw in a field past which he had walked early that morning. Just as quickly he turns it again to the page before him, eager to push away that thought, but it is not gone: it lingers in a repeated word or a missed line. It remains to this day, that delicate thought, preserved through time, unbeknownst to him, hidden to us although it is right before our eyes.


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