20 June 2018

The Demon Titivillus

Marc Drogin, Medieval Calligraphy: Its History and Technique (New York: Dover Publications, 1989), pp. 17-18 (footnotes omitted):
Titivillus was born in the minds of medieval monks  created in jest to make a serious point. The repetitiveness of monastic life took its toll. Monks would occasionally cease to pay precise attention and words were mutilated, misspelled, and misplaced. Monks had to be reminded of the sin of inattentiveness. The earliest recorded mention of Titivillus by name appeared c. 1285 in John of Wales' Tractatus de Penitentia. And the comment about him was repeated early in the next century when, in a sermon, Petrus de Palude, Patriarch of Jerusalem, commented, “Fragmina psalmorum / Titivillus colligit horum" which, loosely translated. says that Titivillus collects bits of the psalms. Slipping about unseen he listened for each and every verbal atrocity that occurred in the services. But the monks deplored copying and writing errors as much as those in reading and singing. While no record of his interest in scribal errors was found until the 15th century, it is logical to assume that he may have followed the monks from services to see what was amiss in the scriptorium.

What Titivillus did when he heard or saw an error gave him demonic status. John of Wales' early description added another fact corroborated in several manuscripts (among them London, British Museum, Arundel 506, folio 46): "Quacque die mille / vicibus sarcinat ille." Titivillus, it explained, was required each day to find enough errors to fill his sack a thousand times. And these he hauled to the Devil below where each sin was duly recorded in a book against the name of the monk who had committed it, there to be read out on the Day of Judgment.

Titivillus keeping a watchful eye

A related post: It Makes the Kidneys Ache