Titivillus: The Devil That Made Me Do It   Leave a comment

His presence was noted as far back as the Second Century CE, but it wasn’t until the Twelfth Century that his name was actually known.  Titivillus, sometimes known as the “Patron Demon of Scribes,” was charged by Satan with collecting a thousand bags of scribal errors every day.  These bags were delivered to Mr. D., to be later used when a scribe attempted entry through the pearly gates.  The scribe’s life work was, in those days, the copying of sacred manuscripts and errors were fair game in consigning the copyist to one of Dante’s lower circles rather than handing over the standard-issue harp.

Any ancient text we now have was copied by scribes from versions made by earlier scribes; scholars tell us that most have been copied through many – maybe hundreds – of generations.  Titivillus’ labors have therefore rendered the earliest words of any written work obscure and today’s versions very likely, corrupt. 

Reportedly, this fellow was a busy boy during the Renaissance, when the newly emerging merchant class created a demand for books.  Post-1460, after Mr. Gutenberg’s marvelous invention, Titivillus simply changed his focus. 

According to one account, an early press-run of the Bible included a rather salacious omission (is that an oxymoron?) where the word ‘not’ was dropped from the dictum “Thou shall not commit adultery.”  Let us imagine the scene: The penitent enters the booth and closes the door.  “My son, have you sinned?” asks the priest through the grate.  “Father, I was just following what the good book said.”  Maybe he’d get sent home with instructions to paste in an errata sheet.

Rumor has it that these days, Titivillus is actively employed by a large firm in Redmond, WA where he is involved with a program that creates havoc by using there/their/they’re confusion to make babbling idiots out of otherwise competent writers.  Reportedly his efforts are deeply embedded in source code; they can be easily reversed but through a diabolical find-and-replace algorithm can also be propagated through an entire 100,000-word novel in a fraction of a second.  Perhaps, this change is not even noted until later, leaving the hapless writer at a loss to explain it.  This allows our friend to collect his thousand bag daily quota without any effort on his part, putting a big smile on Beelzebub’s red face.

Noah Webster is buried at the Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut.  Presumably, Titivillus is not welcome anywhere near his grave.

Posted January 8, 2012 by JD Rule

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