Feb 20, 2014

Latin in the margins

In a previous post, ‘Starting in the margins’, I noted that early examples of English writing were typically not standalone texts; rather, they tended to be glosses to Latin texts. In such bilingual documents from early medieval England, the Latin text was given prominence visually – the script was larger and it filled the main text block – while the English gloss, squeezed in between the lines in a smaller script or placed in the margins, was clearly meant to be apparatus in a supporting role.

British Library MS Cotton Nero D.iv (Lindisfarne Gospels), fol. 45r.

Although this relationship of Latin and English continued to be expressed in similar ways in documents throughout the Middle Ages, there are also many cases in which the two languages appear to switch positions: English as the main text, Latin in the margins.

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 12, fol. 10r (detail)