Medieval Scribes’ Complaints: Halloween Edition

The medieval scribes aren’t done. Before their next regular appearance, here’s their special edition on this year’s Day of the Dead, aka Halloween. What do medieval scribes have to do with Halloween? Everything. Be patient, be very patient (some groundwork is needed; it will be worth it) and read on….

First up, an entry from Sextus Pompeius Festus’ De Significatu Verborum (About Words’ Meanings):
Euerriator: he who, after receiving an inheritance, must do the funeral rites for the dead person according to the proper legal formalities; if he does not do it, or if anything interferes with his performance, he must pay with his life (or: “lose his social status”). The word [Euerriator] comes from “sweeping”(uerrendo). For sweeping (exuerriae) is a particular kind of cleaning the house from which the dead person has been taken to burial. This cleaning is done by the euerriator with a special kind of broom, so named because of the sweeping out.”
Festus 68 Lindsay
Everriator vocatur, qui iure accepta hereditate iusta facere
defuncto debet; qui si non fecerit, seu quid in ea re turbaverit, suo capite luat. Id nomen ductum a verrendo. Nam exverriae sunt purgatio quaedam domus, ex qua mortuus ad sepulturam ferendus est, quae fit per everriatorem certo
genere scoparum adhibito, ab extra verrendo dictarum.

Okay, the Latin can be kind of nasty. This isn’t a great prose stylist who writes relatively easy Latin like Caesar or Cicero. This is a pedant, probably second century AD, doing an epitiome of Verrius Flaccus’ enormous, not preserved work of the same title from the first century BC. But it gets worse. In the Middle Ages, Festus’ Latin was a heavy lift for, gasp, medieval scribes and others. So in the eighth century AD, Paul the Deacon did an epitome of Festus’ epitome. Why on earth do we care? Because the oldest Festus manuscript from which all others are descended got caught in a fire, and a big chunk is no more. So we have to rely on Paul for that which was burned. But better, we can compare Paul with Festus for the chunk which the Festus manuscripts have preserved to get some idea of how much Paul could have omitted. The answer: a lot. The payoff? Our Everriator passage must have been significantly longer in Festus (I’d guess two more paragraphs) and downright Long Read in Flaccus’ original  (I’d guess at least ten more paragraphs).

But where are the ghosts? Am I leading you down the garden path? No way. We’re getting there. Read on!

The passage is about funeral rites. In a majority of societies, the dead are considered unclean; in pedantic terms, a religious pollution. Consider, for example, the washing of the corpse (common in earlier USA and elsewhere), the preparation of the corpse (ditto), the mourning period, the rituals of the funeral, the special status of cemeteries (if the society has them) and graves.
Our passage deals with a part of the Roman funeral rites, the Denicales. On first glance, it looks like sweeping out the pollution, and sweeping out pollution was common in ancient Greece and many other archaic societies including India of the Vedas and a substantial part of the Pacific Rim even today.

But was that all? Maybe not. Everriator is known only from Festus & Company. A rare word. And thus….

Stage Left: Enter Medieval Scribes!

Rare words gave the scribes fits. They researched, they speculated. Their notes are preserved in an enormous number of marginalia, and whole works, Glossaries. Mind-numbing stuff even for scholars unless they specialize in glossaries…believe it nor not, some do.
Lo and behold, Everriator turns up once in the glossaries:

“Euerriator. He who tends to (or: “collects” ) the spirits of the departed.”
Lindsay Glossaria Latina  4.192
everriatores: qui defunctorum umbras colunt (or colligunt)

Either verb works. The manuscript gives colunt, but for palaeographic reasons of the Carolingian Miniscule script, it could easily be a misreading of an original colligunt. But the big news is the object of the verb, the spirits of the departed. They’re on the floor. They’re getting swept out. That’s one really bad-ass kind of pollution. Hah!

Now it gets really interesting. Ghosts on the floor are prominent in very traditional European folklore, especially from the Tyrol. And ancient Greece. And India. They’re none too friendly, and they’re very hungry. Clearly it’s going to take more than an Everriator with a laser-guided Swiffer. They’ve got to be fed, or the results could be very bad.

So, thanks to the Medieval Scribes, we’ve gained a whole lot. Ghosts on the floor were a regular matter in Roman funeral rites. And, it turns out, there was a very neat way to deal with that.

Coming in the followup post. In the meantime, be very careful walking in your abode this Halloween. And especially be careful about dropping any food on the floor. Ghosts are hungry and often really seriously pissed.





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