Networking Scribes


Networking Scribes

Brynley Roberts (University of Wales, Aberystwyth)Detail of a miniature of a scribe writing the miraculous Gospels of Kildare - Royal 13 B.VIII, f.22

**Prof. Roberts was not present, his paper was read aloud by Chair Catherine McKenna (Harvard University)

This was the keynote paper given at the Celtic Studies Association of North America Annual Conference at the University of Toronto  April 18 – 21, 2013. 

Textual studies and textual criticism refer only to prose texts: A definable composition, copies that have a recognizable, verbal identity. Copies may show variations, patterns, shared errors etc. and can be more than one retelling of a narrative – these retellings are versions. The authority of a text lies in its social milieu context, the backdrop of the scholars knowledge, his readers and their needs. Scribes are free to adapt texts, adding and omitting information.Text, redaction and version may have minimal significance for the medieval scribe. He was more concerned with genres, and had more freedom. “version, redaction and copy are our problem, not his”. He would transcribe what was before him and was free to reshape a sentence, alter words, and in his own mind, he would be transcribing faithfully but to the modern editor,  this was merely ” aversion”. Medieval scholars saw to make texts intelligent and useful – to best meet their needs and those of their patrons.

Roberts looked at Welsh prose and translations.  The distinctions between author/translator are often blurred, ‘Manuscripts are unique human objects’. He examined four manuscripts of the Welsh translation – Gwassanaeth Meir – The Little Office, shows differences in liturgical manuscripts. These are books of private devotion and reading. Two scribes were careful copyists and reflect their regional dialects in their work.

Peniarth MS191 vs. Shrewsbury School MSXI
mewn/ y mewn           Mywn/ y mywn
ymchwelet              ymchoelit/ymchoel




Peniarth MS 192 – the smallest one that was carried in a bag much like later Victorian ladies carried on their travels and contained popular prayers. Four additional prayers were added to the text as this was an incomplete copy. However, these copies are incomplete only in our view – to the medieval scribe, they were complete as they served their purposes.

Ystorya Peredur – four manuscripts

Peniarth MS 7, s. XIII/XIV – terminates with the hero’s fourteen year stay. Context of traditional focus on material of the hero – what happened after is another story.
Peniarth MS 14, s. XIV
White Book of Rhydderch, s. XIV – while this narrator aims to give the readers further concluding stories of adventure.
Red Book of Hergest, s. XIV/XV

We must read both of the texts as complete.
Then he looked at the Welsh translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth – the Red Book of Hergest version, ‘Brut y Brenhinedd’.

In the Red Book Redaction – the manuscripts mentioned were:

Peniarth MS 18
Mostyn MS 116
Llanstephan MS 172
Red Book of Hergest

Extensive work of historical revision was being carried out in southern Wales in Cistercian monasteries. Manuscripts travelled from one centre to another to be transcribed. Scriptoria in monastic houses was like a medieval version of networking. Roberts explored various translations and versions of Welsh texts and investigated secular texts for personal, not ecclesiastical use. It was not uncommon for the scribe to use more than one exempla for a text as scribes were able to locate the “joins” between texts. In the world of textual transmission, the enigmas will still remain.