Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

Balancing Form, Function, and Aesthetic: A Study of Ruling Patterns for Zodiac Men in Astro-Medical Manuscripts of Late Medieval England

Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

Balancing Form, Function, and Aesthetic: A Study of Ruling Patterns for Zodiac Men in Astro-Medical Manuscripts of Late Medieval England

Article excerpt

Introduction

In studies of medieval literature, it has increasingly been emphasized that the tnise-en-page has a fundamental impact on the reader's engagement with the text, and a growing amount of attention is thus being given to the semantics and pragmatics of organizational features such as rubrication, punctuation, and verse layout. (1) Recent examples concerning the late medieval period include Jessica Brantley's analysis of the presentation of tail-rhyme in Chaucer's Sir Thopas, Aditi Nafde's comparison of page layout in autograph and non-autograph manuscripts of Hoccleve's poetry, and the study of the Polychronicon by Ruth Carroll, et al., which highlights that paraphs were used as a "visual structuring device." (2) However, in discussions of medieval page design, the ruling patterns have received relatively little attention in comparison with other features. Matti Peikola has laid important foundations by arguing that ruling patterns shed valuable light upon the "communicative purpose of a text," but he nevertheless observes that "the research potential of this codicological feature remains largely underutilised." (3) The present article seeks to expose some of this potential by exploring how form, function, and aesthetic are balanced in the ruling patterns of Zodiac Men diagrams and their accompanying text.

The Zodiac Man is a representation of a man marked with astrological signs in verbal or pictorial form according to the parts of the body over which those particular signs were thought to have influence. (4) It is found in several forms in medieval culture, with and without supplementary text; for example, the iconography of the Zodiac Man features on items including a medieval quadrant and can also be found in Books of Hours. (5) In late medieval England, the Zodiac Man occurs commonly in astro-medical texts written in Latin and Middle English, including John Somer's Kalendarium, Nicholas of Lynn's Kalendarium, and astro-medical miscellanies. (6) In this context, the Zodiac Man is typically accompanied by a text explaining that operating on any of these body parts is unwise when the moon is in that particular sign. Although it is likely that some of these manuscripts were used by medical practitioners, such texts probably circulated among a wider audience than physicians alone. (7)

The ruling patterns for Zodiac Men offer a useful case study for understandings of the mise-en-page, not least because of the need to accommodate the awkwardly shaped diagram, which can take forms such as an arrow, a rectangle, or even a cross. As this diagram is typically encircled by text, the ruling patterns also shed light upon the imperative to balance word and image on the page. Furthermore, manuscripts featuring Zodiac Men often had to be ruled to accommodate various different kinds of information, which offers an insight into the functional priorities of page design in astro-medical manuscripts. For example, in addition to medical guidance, the medieval Kalendarium typically contained a variety of other types of information including a chart of moveable feasts as well as specific dates for solar and lunar eclipses. (8)

This article commences with a brief descriptive survey of the ruling patterns found in a selection of manuscripts containing Zodiac Men in order to contextualize the extent of variation arising from these organizational challenges. Most attention is given to Somer's Kalendarium, especially a recurring arrow-shaped model found in a significant number of witnesses. Zodiac Men in other astro-medical texts, including Lynn's Kalendarium, will then be introduced for comparative purposes. Throughout, it is assumed that the scribe was responsible for creating the ruling patterns and copying out the text, while a separate individual completed the diagrams. These assumptions about ruling are impossible to confirm but reflect the most likely situation and are in line with common critical consensus. …

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