Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What Exactly IS Parchment, Anyway?

I can see how it happened. You got tired of sending the constant text-messages, the endless emails - your fingers were raw, worked and aching like grouchy little piglets. You wanted something different, a new way of communicating. Then it came to you - "Hey!" you exclaimed, jumping up from the cubicle farm, startling Bertha in accounting and knocking over her triple latte, "It's so simple!" You stood on your chair, put your left hand on your hip and raised your right in a grandiose, Ceasaresque gesture "My fellow co-workers" You exclaimed, chin high and set with determination, "From this day forth, I shall send all my messages by....(wait for it).....PARCHMENT!"

You stood like a proud statue, but the room remained silent except for Ned from sales who gave an enthusiast clap followed by a Vulcan hand gesture. You sat back down, energized from your new undertaking. However, you suddenly realized that you had no idea what parchment is, or how it is made. A small matter, you thought, as you went to your computer to type away the answer. Well, here it is, brave crusader!:

- Parchment is calf-skin, sheep skin, or goat skin scraped thin, stretched and dried creating a material ideal for manuscripts.

- Parchment began replacing papyrus as the popular material for manuscripts around the 4th century AD, although it was used earlier by the Assyrians, Babylonians, and various other cultures. Some say this was because parchment had a "hip look", and those using it were sure to land thousand-goat book-deals. (Others say the papyrus reeds were over-harvested and parchment was used to adapt, but like the theory of evolution, you can ignore that)

- Vellum is parchment made exclusively from calf-skin. Be sure to use this knowledge to impress your next date.

- Parchment was expensive, and generally only available to the wealthy. Some monasteries such as the Benedictines had their own livestock and butchers, enabling their output of fine documents. Of course, Org the Muck-Enthusiast couldn't read anyway, but at least the books were nice and shiny!

- Parchment was made by soaking skins in lime to remove the hair, then stretched and dried over a frame. It was then scraped thin and cut for use. If you want to try this at home, do it in your living room to really impress the mother-in-law. For a great conversation piece, try leaving out the lime-hair bucket.

So, young master, now that you know what parchment is, go forth unto the world and write! Break out the quill pen, boil the walnut ink, and find yourself a nice herd of calves. No more microscopic message keys! No more cramped little screens and twitching eye-muscles! Spread your parchment wide and scribe, sir, scribe!

5 comments:

Not so little Woman said...

I knew some of those facts! I knew them!! :) Sorry, I had to let the nerd historian in me come out. :) Isn't it fun to know these things? That way when people try to show off you know they're wrong :) Hehe. (I'm a little snobby today, no? Whatev. I knew how Parchment was made!)

Cléa said...

This post appealed to me on many levels, informative, well-written and it talked to me for some reason. I wonder what it would have been like to write on parchment, to pour one's creativity without the cut and paste of today. It would have been an art in itself.

Jarod said...

NSLW - Nice! A little nerd never hurt anybody
Clea - Try it! You can probably find blank parchment out there.

kat said...

You know how the writing on those parchments always seems so beautiful, so I guess if you were sloppy, you couldn't become a scribe? Jarod, you make learning so entertaining!

LisaBinDaCity said...

Actually when I first started reading your post, I was thinking about parchment paper to bake with. What a help that is in the kitchen ;-)