Thursday, September 29, 2011
Repetitive Strain Injury
All desk workers are familiar with repetitive strain injury. Whole manuals are devoted to Health and Safety at Work, recommending elbow angle, wrist movement radii, and height of computer screen. Looking at pictures of scribes from previous eras, though, it's astonishing how they managed to do their jobs for any length of time. Egyptian scribes sat cross-legged, with the scrolls (sometimes up to 40ft in length) on their laps--rolling out with the left hand hand, and rolling back up with the right, while writing hieroglyphic or demotic with their reed pens. Did this necessitate constant looking down? Or, as with highly competent typists, did they barely need to look at all? Medieval scribes, with their quills and knives, sat at angled desks in drafty cloisters (icy cold at times, presumably), and wrote exquisite calligraphy by daylight or candlelight, without the aid of spectacles until at least the thirteenth century in Europe. We know from some scribes that this was arduous work; yet despite the chill-inducing, muscle-aching, and eye-straining, what was produced was generally so high quality. Next time you read a description of a scribe as 'poor quality', consider what this might mean in the light of these early working conditions.