Happy Wednesday Bloglandia!

So back in the Long Long Ago Times (aka “pre-pandemic”) I used to take these things called “vacations.”

You may have heard of them.

To prepare for these vacations, I would go through several mad rituals such as planning outfits (only to wear the same two things the entire trip), organizing toiletries (to see just how many 100mL bottles I can squeeze into a small plastic zippie bag), and fretting over the possible loss of my manuscripts.

Mostly this fretting had to do with a possible house fire. As I would tell my mom (our dedicated house sitter), “The cats will fend for themselves, just save my laptop!”

However, I also worried about thievery. This isn’t a completely off the wall worry, since my previous house did get broken into and many valuable things are now never to be seen again.

So, in the days leading up to departure, I would backup my computer onto not just one, but two thumbs drives. I would then hide one of those thumb drives deep in my fire safe and take one with me.

Then would come the fear that I’ll lose/someone might steal the take-with-me thumb drive so I would also email myself any in-progress manuscripts (already-published ones can be retrieved in various ways).

Seriously, by the time that plane would take off, I would be a frazzled mess of book-thieving paranoia (this is why I’m eager for the drinks trolley to get to me ASAP).

But apparently my worry over losing my hard work to thieves is nothing more than me being true to bookmaking history. Because for many centuries, scribes have been laying down pretty serious threats for anyone who stole their work.

Granted, I’m not laboriously crafting handwritten illuminated manuscripts where every page could take weeks to create (although during the editing phase, it can feel that way). But I can appreciate the absolute venom that those ancient scribes had for anyone who even THOUGHT about stealing their books.

We often think of those little scribes as peaceful monks, calmly, stoically, painstakingly copying tome after tome and delighting in bringing color and life to the pages.

But those monks had a dark side…who knows, maybe they had an inner horror writer lurking inside that just wanted to be set free.

As Sarah Laskow from Atlas Obscura writes, monks “did not hesitate to use the worst punishments they knew,” including “excommunication from the church and horrible, painful death.”

Here’s an example from a German Bible scribed in 1172 (and the threat was issued in many languages, just to cover their bases)…

“If anyone steals it: may he die, may he be roasted in a frying pan, may the falling sickness [epilepsy] and fever attack him, and may he be rotated [on the breaking wheel] and hanged. Amen.”

I do like the “Amen” bit at the end. Like saying, “Go die horribly and in pain. Thanks for that.” After all, it always pays to be polite.

And like I said, the monks got pretty specific, like Clive-Barker specific in the torment they wanted thieves to endure…

“Whoever steals this book
Will hang on a gallows in Paris,
And, if he isn’t hung, he’ll drown,
And, if he doesn’t drown, he’ll roast,
And, if he doesn’t roast, a worse end will befall him.”

“A worse end?” I do like the vagueness of that. Kind of like saying, “Here’s what’s definitely going to happen, then I’ll really get creative with dealing out the pain.”

And you didn’t even have to get away with stealing the books. Just trying was enough to require a bit of torture as a 13th century manuscript from the Vatican Library shows…

“Whoever to steal this volume tries, Out with his eyes, out with his eyes!”

Yeah, take that you book thief!

Because honestly, writing a book, while it can be fun at times, is hard work and most authors (aka, “me”) get very little in return for the hours and hours even modern writers put into every page.

So, if I ever do get to go on vacation again (HA!) and you’re a thief, please don’t steal my manuscripts, because I’d really hate to have to summon the ravens (see below) and dig out my roasting pan.

Have a great one everyone, and watch out for those ravens…

To steal this book, if you should try,
It’s by the throat you’ll hang high.
And ravens then will gather ’bout
To find your eyes and pull them out.
And when you’re screaming ‘oh, oh, oh!’
Remember, you deserved this woe.


(The idea and quotes for this post was stirred up by an article on OpenCulture.com titled “Medieval Scribes Discouraged Theft of Manuscripts by Adding Curses Threatening Death & Damnation to Their Pages“, just in case you want to read the full text.)



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6 thoughts on “Going Medieval on Book Thieves

  1. Delightful post and I see you are as paranoid a traveler as I am. Not paranoid about traveling but about leaving the house unsupervised! Perhaps you should post in your home a warning that you will inflict the punishments that ancient scribes threatened: “Take my thumb drive and I’ll remove your thumbs as a start to your evening of torture!” – Tammie-goes-medieval

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Phew, I’m not the only travel loon out there. And I’m getting that custom warning sign printed right now. I’ll put it up right next to the thumb screw torture device I’m ordering as well : )

      Liked by 2 people

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