Are you a bibliophile? Do you like plain books, reference books, illuminated manuscripts? Ancient books on parchment, clay tablets, papyrus scrolls? Did you know, that at first, words were not separated from each other (scriptura continua) and there was no punctuation. Reading today can be tricky sometimes, with punctuation and with word breaks .. how about then – 1800 BC with neither?
Books: Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina; Amartya Sen – The Argumentative Indian; Edwards -The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain; Clark – a Farewell to Alms; A L Basham – the Wonder that was India; Gurcharan Das – India Unbound
On top of that, texts were written from right to left, then following on from the left to the right – so alternate lines read in opposite directions. The technical term for this type of writing is ‘boustrophedon’, which means literally ‘ox-turning’ for the way a farmer drives an ox to plough his fields. Another topic, another day, I think.
At home we used to have lots of reference books around, as well as book books – I started voraciously reading all the fairy stories, fables, parables and we had a well stocked childrens’ ‘library’ .. I miss them ‘they felt like home’. I then moved on to detective stories, novels, historical romantic stories, English literature and plays, and so on as we all go through our lives & I found a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover – that had just been unbanned .. I read it – as any teenager would have done?
When I had my first flat in London .. I filled it mainly with information and reference books and they’ve stayed with me ever since – we needed those then, and despite the net I still use them now, some older editions with a duplicated more up-to-date version. I also have scores of cookery books, books on Africa .. and seem to collect as I go: I’m sure we all do – what books have you got on your shelves?
Since I’ve started this blog I’ve learnt so much – subjects that interested me, snippets and pictures that my mother has loved, and articles to which my uncle was able to add to my beleaguered knowledge, without reference to books or the internet. He was often delving in his encyclopaedia – 24 volumes of it – searching for answers.
A 15th century incunabulum (is a printed (not handwritten) book or sheet of text before the year 1501). Notice the blind-tooled cover, corner bosses and clasps.
In my ‘research’ I often use the magic of Wikipedia and am amazed at the information that is open to us at the touch of a button. I sometimes have great difficulty keeping myself on the topic I have selected – sometimes it changes – and recently I’ve started keeping notes of ideas I come across.
We know written records have been around for millennia, but I’ve been struck by the range of subjects that were written early on, which then have set the standards: eg Codex. A codex (Latin for a block of wood, book) is a book in the form we know it today – it was a Roman invention that replaced the scroll, and was the first form of book in Eurasian cultures.
Real-size facsimile of Codex Gigas: the largest medieval manuscript in the world, created in the early 13th century.
The earliest code of Roman Law (451 – 450BC), compiled by the Decemviri (a commission of ten learned men) was written on 12 tablets, which in Cicero’s time was required to be learnt by heart.
Julius Caesar’s book on The Gallic War (52 – 51B) is still highly regarded today, being written in clear Latin, while also being the first authoritative book for Latin students: this was confirmed when the Asterix albums came out, as gags had been included for the French schoolchildren, who had the Commentarii de Bello Gallico as a textbook!
Probably, when I was looking for Christmas recipes on feasts – the post got hung over! – I came across the Roman cookery collection from the late 4th or early 5th century AD, called De Re Coquinaraia (On the Subject of Cooking), which contains recipes for stuffed chicken, hare, pig and dormouse! To top it off these recipes were written in a language that has been described as being closer to Vulgar than to Classical Latin – now did you know there was a language called “Vulgar”?
Libraries surprisingly were well established in Roman times, having first appeared in classical Greece, and it was estimated that by the end of 3rd Century AD there were 30 public libraries in the city of Rome, which were available to anyone interested in using them. Later in the Middle Ages monasteries and universities also had libraries that were accessible by interested parties; however the books could not be borrowed and were often chained to reading stands or shelves to prevent theft – Chained Libraries.
Celsus Library, Ephesus, Asia Minor was built in 135 AD and could house around 12,000 scrolls
The most common type of surviving medieval illuminated manuscript is the Book of Hours – all unique in their own way, but most containing a similar collection of texts, prayers and psalms, often with appropriate decorations. These Books of Hours were usually written in Latin, although many were written entirely or in part in vernacular European languages. Scotland’s oldest book, a Celtic Psalter, went on show in December in Edinburgh for only the second time in 1,000 years – it is written in Latin, but with Celtic and Pictish illustrations of dragons and other ‘beasts’.
Dioscorides, an ancient Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist, who practised in ancient Rome during the time of Nero (54 – 68 AD), wrote a five-volume book De Meteria Medica (Regarding Medical Matters), that is a precursor to all modern pharmacopeias. Pliny the elder was an author, naturalist and natural philosopher as well as writing an encyclopedic work “Naturalis Historia”, died in AD 79 endeavouring to rescue the citizens of Pompeii, during the eruption of Vesuvius.
A page from the 144 page medieval Psalter – reflecting the brightness of the manuscript – the greens, purples, reds and yellows. (Courtesy Medieval News)
Don’t forget the Venerable Bede, who wrote The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (finished 731AD), and many other monks, other translations and all those developments since the introduction of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg around 1440 – maps, atlases, dictionaries, guides, novels etc etc .. and now we have the internet and we can listen to books, read books on Readers, write books somehow, somewhere out there .. known as ebooks.
Will books last – I hope so .. we’ve been reading them for over three and half thousand years and are still learning more and more about our history through their pictures and text ... books, books, glorious books – but I too must laud Wikipedia and its concept.
Well Mr Postman I guess you do your fair share of book deliveries, but I expect you enjoy reading too, as well as researching the internet .. I know my mother loved her books and still loves learning .. and amazes me what she can remember .. lapis lazuli for instance – as a blue precious stone: we’d pulled one of her Christmas crackers and out popped a hair band with two blue ‘dice’ sized baubles .. fairly quickly my Ma said just like lapis lazuli – incredible for someone who has been confined to bed for nearly three years now, with very little input.
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