Medieval scribes’ complaints

Recently a fine little piece in that estimable publication, Lapham’s Quarterly, came to my attention.  The graphic compelled, and compels, attention:


Hah. Here are some sententiae for our readers. Slight problem…the graphic gives English. The accompanying article gives no source for any of them. And the graphic first appeared where I saw it…there’s no ultimate source. The next post will have more, along with details on  how I wrung some Latin out of it when Sergei & Larry were no help at all. Some of the complaints were in either Old Irish or Anglo-Saxon; fine for me (at least the AS), not so fine for our gentle readers. So without further ado:

colophon-1-of-1Photo & transcription by  Giulio Menna;

“This work is done, for Chrissake give me some grog;  my right hand is killing me.”

hoc opus est scriptum magister da mihi potum; Dextera scriptoris careat grauitate doloris

Er, pally, that’s why God invented BenGay.

” New parchment, bad ink; I say nothing more.”
Original in Old Irish

“As the sailor rejoices in the harbor at journey’s end,  so the scribe at the end of his toils.”

ut nauta gaudet litore post evectus
ita et scriba novissimum versum sulcatum.

This one was a crowd pleaser; turns up everywhere, in Greek, Syriac and Latin (8th century ms.)


“The scribe has the toughest job of all; the work is drudgery, and you get a stiff neck from writing six hours day in and day out.”

Ardua scriptorum prae cunctis artibus ars est; difficilis labor est, durus quoque flectere colla, et membrana bis ternas sulcare per horas

From a ninth century manuscript; you’ll never get finished if you spend your time bitching and moaning.

More, much more, to come soon.

5 thoughts on “Medieval scribes’ complaints

  1. This turned out great. I want to read more! If only “The Swerve” had made us think of the physical pain of the scribes’ lives rather than merely look down on their menial existence!

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