Coptic scribes arranged their thick calami (pens), made from cut reeds, in leather cases. Some have come down to us and are preserved in the Coptic Museum in Cairo, the State Museum of Berlin, and in the Louvre, Paris; some come from the tombs of ANTINOOPOLIS.
These pen cases, in the form of an extended triangle about 8 inches (20 cm) long, are made from two pieces of leather, one of which is flat and the other corrugated from one end to the other. The two pieces are stitched together in the grooves thus obtained and around the edge. The number of tubules into which the calami were slipped varies from two to five.
More sophisticated designs are restricted to elaborate cases. Some have, in addition, a small flap cut in the leather showing traces of sewing. It served to fasten the object or to fix an inkwell to it. A specimen from the Cairo Museum still shows this combination. The fragment of a case in the Louvre includes a bronze fragment riveted to this flap.
The finest examples are decorated with pictures and texts. Some mention the scribe’s name, invoke a saint, or quote obscure litanies. This work is executed by incising the leather or else, as on the case of Theodoros in the State Museum of Berlin, painting on a wooden panel fixed to the case. Three decorated pen cases are preserved in the Louvre. At the widest part of each case, a picture is incised within a trapezium. Inscriptions emphasize the upper edge and fill the lower triangle.
On one of them, geometrical borders decorate the sides and separate the “metopes” where Mary is enthroned between the archangels Michael and Gabriel, while lower down an orant’s bust between two palms is designated as Saint Thomas. On the other two, a saint armed with a powerful lance fell a demon. One of these pictures is badly damaged, but the second specifies that it represents Saint Philotheus; the monster he subdues has a serpent’s body and a human head.
[See also: Leatherswork, Coptic.]
- Benazeth, D. Un siècle de fouilles françaises en Egypte, 1880-1980, 340. 356, p. 340. Exhibition catalog. Cairo, 1981.
- Strzygowski, J. “Koptische Kunst.” Catalogue Général des Antiquités égyptiennes du Musée du Caire, nos. 7247-7250. Vienna, 1904.