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From Parchment to Cyberspace

Medieval Literature in the Digital Age


Stephen G. Nichols

From Parchment to Cyberspace argues the case for studying high-resolution digital images of original manuscripts to analyze medieval literature. By presenting a rigorous philosophical argument for the authenticity of such images (a point disputed by digital skeptics) the book illustrates how digitization offers scholars innovative methods for comparing manuscripts of vernacular literature – such as The Romance of the Rose or texts by Christine de Pizan – that reveal aspects of medieval culture crucial to understanding the period.

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6. Synoptic Reading: Medieval Manuscripts as Text Networks


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“… a fourth dimension allows a three-dimensional

form to be rotated onto its mirror image.”

—Möbius (1827)

On a deep winter’s day in 1372, an unprecedented event took place in Paris at the court of King Charles V. For the first time in French history, the king filled the office of Chancellor of France by election. The chancellorship was the second most important administrative post of the kingdom, an office so crucial that French kings traditionally entrusted it only to aristocrats. But in this case, Charles summoned his council—some two hundred churchmen, aristocrats, bourgeois, and others—to his residence at the Hôtel Saint-Pol for deliberation and vote.1

Charles’s decision to fill the office by election was so unusual that the writer of the Grandes chroniques de France, who recorded it, seems not to have known what to make of it (Fig. 6.1).2 While qualifying it as notable eleccion, “a noteworthy election,” he disposed of it in a single sentence, embedded in an account of the resignation of the previous Chancellor, Cardinal Jean de Dormans, Bishop of Beauvais, and brother of the newly elected chancellor.

Item, le samedi.xxie. jour de fevrier.mccclxxi. desus dit monseigneur Jean de Dormans, Cardinal nomé de Biauvais, pour ce que il avoit esté evesque de Biauvais, lors chancellier de France, rendy au Roy les seaulx de France, et laissa l’office de chancellerie. Et par notable ← 143 | 144 → elecion fist le Roy...

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