LAC22 Study Aids - Glossary
Literature & Arts C-22
European Culture in the Latin Middle Ages
Terms taken from Jan Ziolkowski's Lecture Notes.
Revised by Jan Ziolkowski

Glossary of Important Terms

Click here for Etymologies


the monk (see definition and etymology) who by virtue of age and authority was acknowledged as spiritual father of a monastery. The word is taken from the Aramaic term that Jesus used to address his father in the New Testament.


the gleaning of literature for its moral insights on another level of meaning than what is there literally. Allegorization was a strategy used especially to find Christian meaning in pagan texts and the Hebrew Bible. It was justified by Jerome, who likened pagan learning to a female slave whose services could benefit Christianity after she had pared her nails and trimmed her locks (see Deuteronomy 21.11-12), and Augustine, who likened Christian appropriation of pagan learning to the Israelites plundering the gold of the Egyptians (see. Exodus 3.22 and 12.35-36).


a hymn of the Roman and Milanese (Ambrosian) rites, written by Ambrose (ca. 340-397) or by a later author who followed the same structure. Augustine mentions four such hymns that Ambrose composed: "Aeterne rerum conditor," "Deus creator omnium," "Iam surgit horat tertia," and "Veni redemptor gentium." The form of all these hymns is the same: eight stanzas of four lines each, all the lines in iambic tetrameter.


(see definition of initial) when the letter itself is composed mainly or entirely of human figures.

and types

a type is a scene from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) that is, from the medieval Christian perspective, fulfilled in an antitypeóan episode from the New Testament. The three days of Jonah within the whale is a type, the three days of Jesus Christ between the Crucifixion and Resurrection are the antitype.


an object that identifies a person, especially a saint. 


study which purports to describe the appearance and behavior of real animals, finding in it transcendent meanings. The bestiary was based on an older and short text known as the Physiologus.


an illustrated biblical commentary that circulated first in manuscripts in the thirteenth century, then as a picture book with miniatures in the fourtheenth, and finally as a printed book with woodcuts in the fifteenth. There are three problems with the title biblia pauperum: it was not a Bible; it was not for the poor, who could not buy books (especially not Latin books!); and it was probably not the original title.


a book-based method of divining the future, in which a book (usually the Bible) is opened a random and the passage thus chosen interpreted to apply to the question at hand. See sortes Vergilianae


a situation in which a population or parts of a population use two languages, both of which are mother tongues. In the United States, for example, people are often bilingual in Spanish and English.

book of hours

a book, almost always illuminated, to be used in private devotion. It is modeled on the divine office and offers a shortened version of the devotions performed at the seven [sometimes counted as eight] canonical hours (see definition). In the lecture on marginalia we saw many folios from a book of hours for Engelbert of Nassau (1451-1504) that was illustrated by the master of Mary of Burgundy.


The border surrounding the text on text pages was often decorated. Sometimes it involved sprouting plants (a foliate border).


(usually referred to as the seven [or eight] canonical hours): times of the day devoted to formal services of prayer. The canonical hours comprised matins (originally ca. 2:30 a.m., later delayed to daybreak) and lauds (ca. 5 a.m.) [these two became joined, which is why there are eight names but the hours are usually counted as seven], prime "the first hour" (ca. 6 a.m.), terce "the third hour" (ca. 9 a.m.), sext "the sixth hour" (ca. 12 p.m.), none "the ninth hour" (ca. 3 p.m.) (see etymology of noon), vespers (ca. 4:30 p.m. or later), compline (ca. 6 p.m. or bedtime)ó(see also definitions of book of hours and divine office). 

( or, less often,

A very clear and legible script that took shape in the late eighth century. It spread gradually throughout Charlemagne's realm as the standard text hand.


A verse composition composed entirely or at least largely of lines and phrases taken from the work or works of an earlier poet or poets (see also etymology). Two of the most famous centos in Latin are Ausonius' Cento nuptialis and Proba's Cento vergilianus.

chained book

a book which has in its binding a staple or ring so that it can be chained to a shelf, desk, or lectern. Such chained books were found in some church collections and college libraries. (Comparable to the "locked cd tower" of the present.)


consulting Jewish scholars and/or learning Hebrew and consulting Hebrew texts


the study of the physical structure of books. It includes attention to such matters as the number of leaves in a quire; the arrangement of hair sides and flesh sides; and the type of pricking and ruling.


a kept woman, especially one associating with men of rank, derived from the Old French taken from the Old Italian for "female courtier"


polite manners or behavior, typical of the court

critical edition

An edition in which the editor makes critical choices that reflect not merely the technical limitations of the medium in which s/he produces the edition, but also subjective interpretation of evidence.


(see definition of initial) adorned somehow (e.g., with colors or flourishes) but not with animals or people.


the skill of distinguishing truth from falsehood and vice versa (see etymology of liberal arts). One of the three arts in the trivium (see etymology).


situation in which a population or parts of a population use two languages, one of which is a mother tongue and the other of which is a father tongue or scriptural language. For example, in the Islamic world many people know a spoken language such as colloquial Arabic and also a "dead" language such as Classical Arabic (Koranic Arabic) that is spoken by no one from the cradle but that is heavily used in religious contexts as well as in many others.


An edition which attempts to reproduce the textual content of one original document. It presents the exact spelling, punctuation, and capitalization of the document, but transcribes it into a different type-face.

divine office

the prayers of the eight canonical hours (see definition). 

(sometimes spelled
"Douai") Bible
and the Rheims
New Testament

(also known as the Douay-Rheims Bible) The official Roman Catholic English Bible, published in 1609-1610, based mainly on the official Latin Bible, the Vulgate. It is named after Douay and Rheims, because the translating was performed in these two cities in France by members of the English Catholic University. 


An epic is a long narrative poem that celebrates the great deeds of one or more legendary heroes. A primary epic is (according to older scholarship) one that reflects without too much modification oral traditional literature. Examples would be the Iliad and the Odyssey. A secondary epic is one that is composed in a society where literacy is more entrenched. An example would be Vergil's Aeneid.


The origin and historical development of a word. Such development may be studied by studying the constituent elements of a word, the earliest known uses, and the changes in form and meaning (see also etymology in Etymologies). Not to be confused with entomology, the scientific study of insects.


The term exegesis refers to critical explanation or interpretation, especially of the Bible. It comes from a Greek word meaning "to show the way" or "to expound."

flesh side

the side of a folio in a manuscript that faced the inner organs of the animal from which the hide was made. It is generally lighter than the other side, which is called the hair side.

foliate border

see border


A sheet of paper roughly 13 x 16 inches, which becomes 13 x 8 inches when folded once. The name derives from the device of a fool's cap with bells which was originally used as a watermark in this kind of paperóas well as many others.


a word or words translating, commenting on, or interpreting a word or words of the main text. Glosses were often written between the lines (interlinear glosses) or in the margins (marginal glosses). In rare instances they were written without the use of ink (drypoint glosses), which made them nearly invisible to people who did not know to look for themóearly instances of cheating? (see also etymology of gloss).

girdle book

a small book designed to be carried easily, by being tied directly by the binding or by having hooks to enable a sash or chain to attach it to a girdle or belt. Most girdle books were books of hours carried by well-to-do women. They were especially popular during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries


the skill of speaking and writing correctly, and the exposition of the poets; considered the origin and foundation of the liberal arts (see etymology of grammar, of liberal arts).


the biography of saints, most often accounts of the saint's life (vita) and martyrdom (passio).

hair side

the side that had the animal's hair in it. It is usually darker and smoother than the flesh side and is often speckled from the hair follicles.


neumes (see definition) written on a staff (a horizontal line on whichóand often above and under whichómusical notes can be written). This arrangement enabled the notation of pitch. The four-line staff continues to be used for the notation of Gregorian chant. The five-line staff came into use already in the thirteenth century.


see definition of initial) containing identifiable figure(s) or scene(s).


study of the subject matter of an image and its meaning; as discussed by Émile Mâle in Religious Art in France: The Thirteenth Century: "The iconography of the Middle Ages is a kind of writing. The art of the Middle Ages is first of all a sacred writing whose elements every artist had to learn. It is arithmetic. Mystical numbers. The second characteristic of medieval iconography is that it obeys a kind of sacred mathematics. Placement, arrangement, symmetry, and number all have extraordinary importance."


the adornment of a manuscript with colors


to take in or include as part or parts of itself (esp. of literary material); to absorb.

(the singular is

early printed books, which followed manuscripts closely in materials, layout, typeface, and illustration. Sometimes these books were printed on parchment, often they had printed initials colored by hand. (see also etymology)


(see definition of initial) containing figure(s) or scene(s) which cannot be identified.


broken into its etymological roots, infatuation is literally "making into a fool, making fatuous"


a large decorated letter that marks the beginning of a major division in a text (see also definitions of anthropomorphic initial, decorated initial, historiated initial, inhabited initial, zoomorphic initial.)


public entertainers of Medieval time, some of whose skills were verbal (singing and storytelling), some musical (playing of instruments), and some physical (acrobatics and juggling). Closely related etymologically to the English words joker, juggler, and jocular.

King James
(of the Bible)

In 1604 King James I of England ordered that the whole Bible be translated to present as closely as possible the contents of the original Hebrew and Greek. Published in 1611, the King James Version was the dominant English version until the late nineteenth century. The King James Version differs substantially from the Douay Bible (see definition) in both its canon and language.


The Song of Roland is written in bundles of verse which are called laisses. The word is cognate with the English noun leash. Each laisse "leashes" on average fourteen lines (sometimes much shorter, sometimes much longer) by having them assonate (share the same sound at the end). The lines are normally ten-syllable, with a caesura after the fourth syllable. (see also laisses similaires).


Two laisses (see definition) which repeat substantially the same material, but using a different assonance or rhyme.


in a commentary or gloss a lemma (the plural is lemmata) is a word or phrase from the text under discussion. This word or phrase is placed at the head of the discussion, so that the reader will know which passage is being discussed (see also definition of gloss).


liturgy means "rites of public worship." The medieval Christian rites consisted of mass (see definition and etymology) and the divine office (see definition).


In English this adjective often describes texts that mixóoften systematicallyówords, phrases, or sentences in two or more languages (see also etymology). These texts may give evidence of bilingualism (e.g., English and French) or diglossia (e.g., English and Latin). In other languages macaronic is used to describe the use of vernacular words with Latin endings.

(abbreviated ms
in the singular,
mss in the

literally meaning "written by hand", this word is used to describe a book so produced.

mappa mundi

medieval Latin phrase meaning a map of the world, whose correct plural form is mappae mundi (maps of the world). The two phrases also appear in the French forms mappemonde (sing.) and mappemondes (pl.)


celebrates the actions of Christ at the Last Supper. (Note: also known as celebration of the Eucharist)

matter of

term designating literature dealing with legends of King Arthur and the Round Table (see matter of France, matter of Rome)

matter of

term designating literature dealing with legends of Charlemagne and his Paladins (see matter of Britain, matter of Rome)

matter of

literature dealing with ancient history, the fall of Troy and Thebes, legends of Alexander and Caesar (see matter of France, matter of Britain)


phrase referring to Vergil's Fourth Eclogue, due to its interpretation of Augustine and others as prophesying the birth of Christ (Dante plays upon this idea in the Divine Comedy)


a freestanding illustration; not an initial and not a border (see also etymology of miniature, and definition of initial and border).

(less frequently
misericorde or

A small projection on the underside of a hinged choir stall seat. When the seat is raised, the misericord offers support for a person standing near it. Misericords were often carved with images or scenes. The word is taken from the Latin misericordia "mercy, pity"


hatred of women, opposition to them


hatred of marriage, opposition to it


a member of a religious brotherhood living in a monastery and devoted to a discipline prescribed by his order (see also etymology).

Muslim trinity

a figment of Western medieval thought: the Islamic faith was supposed to worship Tervagant, Apollo, and Muhammad in direct contrast to the Christian trinity.


notational signs that were used for writing down plainsong (monophonic and rhythmically free melody), especially Gregorian chant, and medieval secular monophony. Until means were developed for indicating pitch and rhythm, neumes served mainly as a mnemonic aid for the oral transmission of chant (see also "heighted" neumes).

Old Latin
versions of the

the term "Old Latin" designates the Latin translations of the Bible which antedated the great revision made by Jerome at the end of the fourth centuryóthe Vulgate (see definition). The translation of the Old Testament was based on the Greek and not on the Hebrew. There were many versionsóin North Africa, Italy, Gaul, and Spain. Often many different readings of the same passage survive. Even after the Vulgate took hold, readings from the Old Latin Bible lived on. They were encapsulated in early writings on the Bible and in forms of the liturgy.


primary orality is the orality of an oral traditional society. Academic orality is the orality of classrooms in educational systems that put a premium on memorization and remembrance. A poet who operated as Homer is supposed to have done would reflect primary orality; a scholar who could quote parts of the Iliad to display his culture would show academic orality. Both types of orality can involve huge amounts of material, but they differ in their motivations and methods for achieving recollection of material.


the study of the history of scripts and related writing systems and the decipherment of them.


a writing material from which one text has been removed and another applied. In the case of parchment (see definition), the writing surface could be cleared by scraping with a pumice stone. The abraded text can often be recovered with the help of ultraviolet light and scanning devices.


a writing material that is named after Pergamum (a city located in what is now Turkey). The word designates an animal skin prepared to be used as a writing surface. Some use the term parchment only to refer to the skins from sheep or goats, and use the term vellum (see etymology and definition) when they are from stillborn or young calves.


text which usually centers on a dialogue between a man of high rank (knight or cleric) and a peasant woman (usually a shepherdess or pastoressóhence the name pastourelle). The man attempts to have sex with the woman. The outcome varies: the man can achieve his aim through charm, persuasion, or violence and rape. Or the woman can rebuff him through her own quick wit or through the intervention of her parents and/or other peasants.


literally the law of the Father(s)


the establishing, correcting, commenting, and interpreting of texts.


according to the American Heritage Dictionary, a liquid dose, especially of medicinal, magic, or poisonous content.


The title of this work refers to the supposed author: "The Naturalist." This text analyzes the habits and properties of animals and stones and relates them to aspects of Christian life, especially to the incarnation and redemption. See also bestiary.


in preparation for ruling, leaves of parchment were pricked to mark the positions of vertical lines and the spaces between the horizontal ones.


A mixed form which combines both prose and verse. A definition of 1656 (Oxford English Dictionary) sums up the form nicely: "consisting partly of Prose, partly of Meeter or Verse." The word comprehends two roots, one purely Latin (prosa stands for pro[r]sa oratio, "straight talk") and metrum (from the Greek metron, "meter").


In at least two regards the Book of Psalmsóor psalterówas the most important book of the Bible. First, in many periods children learning Latin were expected to learn it by heart. Second, it was heavily employed in offices of prayer and received a number of musical settings (see also etymology of psalter).


meaning "fight for a person's soul" or "fight in a person's soul" or "fight of a person's soul", a combination of the Greek psyche "breath, soul" + Greek mache "battle, fight, combat"

quill pens

pens made from the flight feathers of geese or swans (see etymology of pen).

or gathering

quire or gathering: parchment sheets which have been folded once, laid one top of one another, and sewn together to form a unit. Usually a quire in a manuscript or printed book is a quaternion.

or quire

a section of a manuscript or printed book, produced by folding a large sheet first once (which results in a bifolium) and then a second time before cutting it. alternatively, a quire may be produced by laying one bifolium on top of another.

red-letter days

days marked in special colorsóespecially redóto highlight their importance in medieval calendars.

reed pens

pens made from carved reeds (see etymology of pen).


the art of persuasion (see etymology of liberal arts).


the ruling of a folio in a manuscript could be indicated by pressing lines into parchment without pencil or ink or with one or the other.


a place where manuscripts were written and copied. Until a professional booktrade took shape in Paris in the twelfth century, most scriptoria (the plural form) were in monasteries.


an instrument which was used to write on wax tablets, to rule folios of parchment manuscripts, and to make drypoint (inkless) annotations on parchment (see definition of gloss). Usually one end was sharp, for writing, and the other was rounded, for erasing.


this Latin phrase, literally meaning "Vergilian lots" refers to a book-based means of divining the future similar to today's magic eightball: a person opens a copy of Vergil's poetry at random and interprets the passage to apply to the question at hand. This method of divination, especially when applied to the Bible, is known as bibliomancy.


The Knights Templars, also called the Poor Knights of Christ, received their name because their earliest abode was on the site of Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem (the location of the Mosque of al-Aqsa). The Order of the Templars was given its constitution by St. Bernard of Clairvaux in 1128. Their characteristic dress was a white cloak with a red cross and a white linen sword belt. Eventually their wealth and independence aroused envy and persecution. Accused of heresy, idolatry, and homosexuality, many of them were put to death between 1307 and 1314


a quarrelsome or scolding woman; a shrew; derived from Tervagant, the name of a purported Muslim god who appeared in the Chanson de Roland and in later mystery plays (see Muslim trinity)

terza rima

a verse form (the one in Dante wrote the Divine Comedy) which is composed of hendecasyllabic lines which are arranged in groups of three, with the interlocking rhyme pattern aba, bcb, cdc...


as defined by the renowned poet and scholar A. E. Housman, "the science of discovering errors in texts and the art of removing them."


see antitypes and types


the skin of young or stillborn calves, prepared to be used as a writing surface (see also etymology of vellum and definition of parchment).


The name Veronica seems to be the Medieval Latin form of the Late Latin Veraiconica, which would be a bastard word: it contains the Latin form vera, meaning "true," and the Greek derivative iconica, meaning "pertaining to an image" (from the word icon). According to the legend, a pious woman named Veronica offered a handkerchief to Jesus when he fell under the weight of the cross on the road to Calvary. The image of his face was miraculously impressed upon the fabric: a veil of Veronica has been preserved in Rome at St. Peter's since the eighth century. Because all the evidence for the existence of Veronica is late and questionable, she has not been accorded official status as a saint . . . but her story is one of the fourteen "Stations of the Cross" which continue to be practiced in meditation on the Passion. A veronica in bullfighting is a move in which the matador stands still and passes the cape slowly before the charging bull. NOTA BENE: The veronica is not the same as the Shroud of Turin (aka the Holy Shroud), a linen cloth which has been purported to be the burial garment of Jesus Christ. The Shroud has been known since the mid fourteenth century.


the Latin translation of the Bible made at the end of the fourth century C.E. by Jerome (ca. 345-420). It seems to have been begun about 382, at the encouragement of Pope Damasus I, and to have been completed in 404. It was based on fresh examination of the Greek and Hebrew. The name derives from the Latin vulgata (editio), which meant "the popularized (edition)."


(see definition of initial) when the letter itself is composed mainly or entirely of animal figures.