Oh, Titivillus, stay thy hand
The Demon of Calligraphy was a mythological medieval creature said to work on behalf of Belphegor, Lucifer or Satan to introduce errors into the work of a poor, hapless scribe. Titivillus, beleaguered the minds of monks who were often overcome with boredom and repetitiveness of monastery life. The effects of such a life caused monks to occasionally let their minds wander, therefore creating scribal errors in their work, and altering copied text - sometimes, dramatically. The myth follows that the demon Titivullus had to find enough manuscript errors each day to fill his sack a thousand times. And these he hauled to the devil below, where each sin was duly recorded in a book against the name of the monk who had committed it, there to be read out on the Day of Judgement.
The first reference to Titivillus by name occurred in Tractatus de Penitentia, c. 1285, by John of Wales. Titivillus has also been described as collecting idle chat that occurs during church service, and mispronounced, mumbled or skipped words of the service itself, to take to Hell to be counted against the offender. "Fragmina verborum /Titivillus colligit horum / Quibus die mille / Vicibus se sarcinat ille." Scholars are still debating the precise meaning of this verse, but it seems to mean something along the lines of 'Titivillus packs his bag with verbal detritus a thousand times a day'.
In an anonymous fifteenth-century English devotional treatise, Myroure of Oure Ladye, Titivillus introduced himself thus (I.xx.54): "I am a poure dyuel, and my name ys Tytyvyllus... I muste eche day ... brynge my master a thousande pokes full of faylynges, and of neglygences in syllables and wordes."
Such a demon of the mind had its effect on the monks, who soon took better care to avoid any slanders Titivillus would bring against them. Short on sins, it is said that the demon of calligraphy was reduced to the drabbest eviltry, where he would lurk in churches, and take the names of women gossiping during mass."
Errors and omissions in the Holy Scriptures were obviously a serious and constant problem, not least because an error that crept in unnoticed might itself have been copied many times over before it was spotted - if it ever was. Of course, after the invention of the printing press an unnoticed error would be reproduced even more rapidly. In 1561 a document entitled Anatomy of the Mass, edited by a monk, was found to contain an enormous number of errors. The monk said that the devil had caused the printer to produce the errors. At that time the Pope ordered a printing of the Bible, and promulgated a Papal Bull resulting in automatic excommunication of any printer who introduced any alteration to the text. Nevertheless the result was so bad that correction slips had to be printed, cut out, and pasted in the right position in every single copy.
In the later Renaissance period, Titivillus gained a broader role as a subversive figure of physical comedy, with satirical commentary on human vanities, in late medieval English pageants, such as the Iudicium that finishes the Towneley Cycle. He plays an antagonistic role in the Medieval English play Mankind.