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In a few different sources, I have found this poem on parchment-making attributed to Conradus de Mure. It is mostly intelligible, but several parts are obscure to me, either because of the language or because of my own lack of knowledge of parchment-making. Below is the poem and my rough draft of a translation. Below that I explain the difficulties I still have.

Conradus de Mure, De natura animalium

Item de pelle, qualiter de ea fiat carta: 

Pellis aquis vituli decoriata datur.
Calx admiscetur, quae crudum mordicet omne,
Mundificet plene, decorietque pilos. 
Circulus aptatur, in quo distenditur illa;
Ponitur ad solem, humor ut exul eat. 
Subtilem reddit gratuitatque cutem.

Libris aptatur: primo quadratur in arcus,
Arcus iuguntur in statione pari. 
Deinde venit pumex, qui quaeque superflua tollit;
Creta superseritur, ne liquefiat opus.
Puncti punctuantur, sequitur quos linea plumbi, 
Consilio quorum linea tendit iter. 

Pellis de carne, de pelle caro removetur: 
Tu de carne tua carnea vota trahe. 

Likewise concerning the pelt, how paper is made from it:

The pelt of a calf is peeled off and given to waters. 
Lime is mixed in, so it may eat away all the raw, bloody bits,
thoroughly cleanse the skin, and peel off the hairs. 
The skin is fitted to a circular frame, on which it is stretched;
It is put out in the sun, to allow the moisture to depart. 
This renders the skin thin and agreeable (?). 

It is attached to books (?); first it is folded into quires (?)
The folds are attached [to the spine] at evenly-spaced intervals (?)
Then comes the pumice, which removes every superfluity;
Chalk (or gypsum?) is added on top, lest the book dissolve. 
Points are pricked, which the rule-line will follow, 
by their counsel the line directs its journey. 

The pelt from the flesh, the flesh from the pelt is removed; 
As for you, tear from your flesh your fleshly desires. 

In the first stanza, I have only one real difficulty, the word "gratuitatque." I cannot find any reference to a verb gratuitare. If I conjecture an emendation to gratuitam, that renders the line intelligible, and an adjective seems to fit better than a verb there anyway.

In the second stanza, I lose my way a bit. libris aptatur could mean "it is attached to books," but contextually that doesn't make sense, unless by "books" the author means the spines of the books. Maybe that works.

"quadratur in arcus" seems to refer to a spatial transformation of the parchment, with "arcus" being the resulting shape. Maybe "quadratur" means "folded into squares"? I don't really know what arcus means here, but in context, this is where we would expect to see a reference to quires. A quire is a bundle of folded parchment/paper, which I guess could resemble an arch shape.

The arcus are "iuguntur in statione pari." I believe stationes are sometimes technical terms for the attachment points of the quires to the spine, but here "at evenly-spaced intervals" seemed sufficient.

"Creta" could refer to a few different agents used for polishing and preserving the parchment.

The last part, by the way, refers to little pricks made in the surface of the parchment, sometimes with a pricking wheel, that served as a tactile guide for the ruler, to ensure that the eventual scribe would be able to write in straight lines.

Anyway, if you have any suggestions for how to handle the more difficult spots in this poem, I'd love to hear them.

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  • libris is not an argument of aptatur but a free dative. libris aptatur: "for books, it gets bound", i.e. "to make books, one binds it". Jan 21, 2023 at 2:17

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