Study the ancient, faded writing of Exhibit Two this object. Are these spells or incantations? Not quite.
Imagine, if you will, a sunny Thursday afternoon in the spring of 1075, or thereabouts.
The place is Rochester Priory, by the banks of the swift-flowing river Medway in Kent.
A monk is cutting the nib of his new quill. A feather from a goose, perhaps, or even a swan. He needs to try out the nib before writing anything really important, so he dashes out the usual sort of thing - “testing this pen”, “testing this ink” etc.
And you can still see them, on the page right there, near the top, in Latin, and a little further down, in Old Dutch. Little did that monk know, of course, that one thousand years later, his quick throwaway tester sentences would be wondered at by thousands of people, including you right now!
In the Bodleian retelling of Reynard the Fox, Reynard’s wife, the kindly and clever vixen Hermeline, is also a scribe like our monk. Her paws are always covered in ink and her mind is always on her work. She writes in Latin too, but also Middle Dutch, and she loves to translate Arabic texts, of which there were many, many important ones in the Medieval World.
The word for this item, is, of course, Pen, which is the same in Dutch, Pen. It originally comes from the Latin for long feather – Penna.