Extraordinary 500-Year-Old Library Catalogue Reveals Books Lost to Time

From The Guardian:

It sounds like something from Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind and his The Cemetery of Forgotten Books: a huge volume containing thousands of summaries of books from 500 years ago, many of which no longer exist. But the real deal has been found in Copenhagen, where it has lain untouched for more than 350 years.

The Libro de los Epítomes manuscript, which is more than a foot thick, contains more than 2,000 pages and summaries from the library of Hernando Colón, the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus who made it his life’s work to create the biggest library the world had ever known in the early part of the 16th century. Running to around 15,000 volumes, the library was put together during Colón’s extensive travels. Today, only around a quarter of the books in the collection survive and have been housed in Seville Cathedral since 1552.

. . . .

“It’s a discovery of immense importance, not only because it contains so much information about how people read 500 years ago, but also, because it contains summaries of books that no longer exist, lost in every other form than these summaries,” said Wilson-Lee. “The idea that this object which was so central to this extraordinary early 16th-century project and which one always thought of with this great sense of loss, of what could have been if this had been preserved, for it then to just show up in Copenhagen perfectly preserved, at least 350 years after its last mention in Spain …”

The manuscript was found in the collection of Árni Magnússon, an Icelandic scholar born in 1663, who donated his books to the University of Copenhagen on his death in 1730. The majority of the some 3,000 items are in Icelandic or Scandinavian languages, with only around 20 Spanish manuscripts, which is probably why the Libro de los Epítomes went unnoticed for hundreds of years.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

1 thought on “Extraordinary 500-Year-Old Library Catalogue Reveals Books Lost to Time”

  1. I wonder what’s usable from way back; maybe some drama and philosophy, and the satisfaction of scientific and artistic curiosity, but it’s hard to believe (says a rationalist) that there will be much actually useful.

    My brain always says, “How interesting!” but never follows up by actually going to look at contents.

    I have the idea that going through masses of old stuff takes masses of time, and is a suitable pursuit mostly for the younger.

    There is SO much out there I’m theoretically interested in, and I can keep track of so little of it. My failings, most likely.

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