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Difficulties in Reading the Naples Recipes: Was the Scribe a Woman?

Difficulties in Reading the Naples Recipes: Was the Scribe a Woman?

Paper by James Weldon, Wilfrid Laurier

Given at the Canadian Society of Medievalists Congress 2012, at Wilfrid Laurier University, on May 27, 2012

Professor Weldon examines an anonymous fifteenth-century anthology, Biblioteca Nazionale, Naples, MS XIII.B.29. Known as the Naples Recipes, this work is a compilation that includes a Saint’s life, three romances, Chaucer’s The Clerks Tale, and medical recipes.

In a previous article, Weldon has argued that the manuscript, which is dated to 1457, was intended for a female audience. Now he has also come to believe that text was also written by a female author.

He notes that it could argued that different people wrote parts of the manuscript, with as many as three different scribes doing the writing. Weldon, however, believes that it is more likely that these could be just variations in the hand over a number of years.

Taking a closer look at the text, Weldon notes how the author used of common Latin phrases, and that like other women writers, such as Margery Paston, penned abbreviations in their Latin. Moreover, there is problems with the authors’s Latin. For example, a healing charm is given as ‘Sator arepo tenet opera rotas’. There is also problems with French in the text.

Weldon also noes that the medical material deal with women’s issues, such as childbirth. Combined with the other material in the text and the poor grasp of Latin and French, it leads Weldon to conclude that it is very likely that the author was a woman and a medical practitioner.

Finally, Weldon notes that the 15th century sees far more production of manuscripts, which is evidence for increased literacy. This is true for women as well, especially in urban areas.

Click here to access James Weldon’s article “The Naples Manuscript and the Case for a Female Readership,” from Neophilologus, Volume 93, Number 4 (2009)

Click here for more information about James Weldon

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