A gloss is a definition, explanation, translation, or other commentary on a text that is written within the texts. Today we are used to having "glossaries": a list of words from the text with explanations. Imagine that instead of being listed all together in the back of the book, the terms were explained in the margins of where they are used in the text.

In medieval times, glosses were very common and took on different forms depending on culture and function. Here are some of the types of glosses you might find in a medieval manuscript:

  • One word can have a gloss to explain it, especially if it is a word in a different and unfamiliar language. Sometimes words in Hebrew are glossed to give the Latin translation.
  • Texts can have a line by line gloss in a more familiar language.
  • Glosses can talk about the text. Sometimes the gloss could be a short note, meant to bring out the meaning of a passage. Other times, lengthy glosses appear side by side with the original text, or even surrounding the original text. These glosses can be so in depth that they become famous and widely-read in their own right.

Here are some examples of medieval glosses:

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