Tidbits #1

Here’s what I thought: in my researches, I frequently come across a few lines that I feel like sharing with the world, mainly because the subject is just so cool. Most people know very little about bibliography and history of the book, so I think you’ll enjoy finding out about book history as well. Here comes tidbit #1!

Two physical features of medieval institutional manuscripts which commonly catch the popular imagination are chained bindings, and those dramatic ownership inscriptions inside the covers which invoke the curses of God and the saints against anyone stealing or selling the book. Chains or chain-hasps are especially characteristic of volumes which formed part of institutional libraries where at least some of the other books were available on loan, often medieval college of university collections. Chains usually indicated something like ‘reference only’ in a modern library. They date mostly from the end of the Middle Ages or even later, and they must have been disincentives to theft rather than fool-proof security. It is not difficult to twist off a chain. Curses are rather different. From time to time at Sotheby I had to catalogue for sale manuscripts with thousand-year-old anathemas, calling down perpetual damnation in the name of the Almighty God on any person who should ever at any time sell or attempt to sell the book, and I have to confess that I sometimes found the experience of selling such manuscripts distinctly creepy. European book curses go back to at least the seventh century. They say things like ‘ He who steals or sells this book or removes its inscription may he be cursed’ or ‘May he who takes this book be killed by the sword of anathema’; or ‘ If anyone dares to carry it off, either secretly or publicly, let him incur the curse of the twelve apostles’; or ‘…let him die under the malediction of Jesus Christ and the most glorious Virgin his mother and the blessed Thomas the martyr’ […]; or ‘…may he receive eternal damnation with Judas the traitor and Annas and Caiaphas’; or …hang by the throat as ravens pick his eyes’ – that one is German, and so is this: ‘ let him die the death, let him be fried in a pan, let the falling sickness and fever seize him, and let him be broken on a wheel and hanged, Amen.’

[De Hamel, Christopher. 2004. “Book Thefts in the Middle Ages.” In Against the Law. Crime, Sharp Practice and the Control of Print, edited by Robin Myers, Michael Harris, and Giles Mandelbrote, 1–14. New Castle – London: Oak Knoll & The British Library.]

I am particularly fond of the frying part…



One thought on “Tidbits #1

  1. Lavorando in una biblioteca universitaria ho trovato questo post “inspiring”, a dir poco. Il lavoro che fai è meraviglioso!

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