>You have to imagine the post’s title in the voice of a distraught dog (if dogs could talk). It’s a reference to a dog treat commercial from about 5 years ago where the dog gets all excited when his human comes home from the store with bacon-flavored treats. He runs around the house, trailing her, while a voice-over cries in excitement, “Is that bacon?! Do you have bacon?! Is there bacon in there?! It sure smells like bacon!!” And then when the bag comes down to his eye-level, he cries in utter despair, “But I can’t read!!” Totally hilarious. At least to me.
Anywho, I chose this lament as the post’s title because today I spent my first day having to deal with 15th century documents in Latin. Oy. So far I’ve been ridiculously lucky in that everything that I’ve encountered up to this point was in English. But starting today, my luck ran out. Now, you’re probably thinking, “Hey, you’re a medievalist. *And* you went to Catholic schools. Don’t you know Latin?” Yes, I do. But not fluently. I need a grammar and a dictionary by my side. And that’s when I’m reading it in modern, printed texts. These texts, you see, are manuscripts, written in a 15th century version of the “Secretary” hand, which, if you ask me, is the Worst. Hand. Ever. (Though I’ll take the 15th century version over the crazy mad loops of the 16th century version.) Here’s an image for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, but let me tell you, it looks all nice and neat and easy here and that’s *not* what happens when it’s in a civic record! And when 15th century (or any medieval century) people write in Latin, they don’t write everything out. They abbreviate every damn word, leaving off endings and sometime middles. And to top everything off, my paleography skills are rusty. Though they’ve gotten better over this trip, it still sometimes takes me a long time to decode what a particular scribble is supposed to say. When it’s in English, it’s a bit like playing Hangman — get enough letters and the rest falls in place. When it’s in Latin, and abbreviated, and your Latin is hella rusty, well, you suddenly feel pretty damn illiterate. Hence the title of this post. (Hm, maybe I should go buy this. Cute.)
Oh, and I’m reading from microfilms, which also makes it a little difficult, though these are pretty damn good ones, at least. And on the upside, I can make copies of and print out the relevant pages and work out the words I’m missing now when I get home to my dictionaries and grammars. Plus, what I’m looking for are records about a particular person — who once owed a manuscript I’m writing about — and so it makes it an easier task to go through the records looking for his name. I don’t actually have to read the pages I’m looking at unless they’re about him. But, oh, god, it’s incredibly boring. Imagine paging through hundreds of pages of strings of digits looking for repetitions of a particular string and you’ll get the idea.
I think, by the way, this is one reason why I like good police procedurals. I empathize with the characters when they have to pour through some civic records office looking for some suspect’s adoption records or whatever because all they have is part of a name and a general time span, or something like that. I feel their pain.
So why am I doing this? I’m not entirely sure! Seriously, I don’t know what I’ll find and if I can use it, but I figure the more information I have about the owner of this manuscript, the more I can say about how the fifteenth century additions to it in the margins and flyleaves reorient the book as whole toward this owner’s social world. But man, getting back to the literary texts in the manuscript itself is going to be such a treat!