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Labelling errors? Just blame them on the demon Titivillus

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If you are looking for a scapegoat for mistakes in your dispensing labels(Callie Jones) without damaging your team’s morale you may like to use a technique devised by medieval monks. They would blame Titivillus, the “patron demon of scribes”, for the errors that inevitably crept into their painstakingly handcrafted manuscripts.

Titivillus was said to work on behalf of the devil to introduce errors into the work of scribes. He has also been described as collecting idle chat that occurs during church services, as well as mispronounced, mumbled or skipped words of the service, to take to Hell to be counted against the offenders.

After prayer, writing was one of the most prominent activities of the monasteries during the Middle Ages, and the writing room, or scriptorium, was one of the most important places in a monastery. A single manuscript could take years to complete and, with its gold leaf embellishments, could be extremely valuable. Errors and omissions in the Holy Scriptures were a serious problem, not least because an error might go on to be copied many times before it was noticed.

The invention of printing allowed errors to be copied much more rapidly. When one 16th century Pope ordered a printing of the Bible, he promulgated a papal bull resulting in the excommunication of any printer who altered the text in any way. But the Bible’s printing was still so poor that correction slips had to be cut and pasted into position in each copy. This incident was regarded as one of Titivillus’s greatest triumphs.

Titivillus became an important figure in the “exempla” of the Middle Ages — homilies with a moral point collected by preachers. He was involved in stories around the effects of spiritual sloth, which could cause congregation members to engage in idle talk or members of the clergy to mumble their prayers.

Titivillus can be found in later medieval art and literature. Particularly in the East Midlands, a number of churches contain paintings showing the demon in church collecting gossip and trivia (usually from women). He also features in the medieval morality play “Mankind”, written in East Midlands dialect.

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