This week saw a wonderful story for bibiophiles: the discovery of a 16th century catalogue of books
, many of which had been lost to history until now, each with a detailed summary. There’s a great backstory: the owner was Christopher Columbus’s son, Hernando, who dreamed of building a library with every book in the world… The catalogue will eventually be digitised and translated, but in the meantime, there are some lovely photos here
I’m fascinated by the relationship between the idea of long lost texts and technology. Recent advances in “stylometrics” allowed
scholars to identify which sections of The History of Cardenio
- the tantalising prospect of Shakespeare’s take on Don Quixote - are authentically Shakespeare and which are not (see The Tragedy of Arthur
for a superb rendering of this idea in fiction). And then there’s the extraordinary true story of Herculaneum, told in this superb long read in the New Yorker
: a treasure trove of ancient manuscripts and the battle over whether to use new tech to read them.
The rediscovery of any ancient text today is exciting because we have so few sources. By contrast, future scholars of the early 21st century are likely to be able to find everything; their (no less difficult) task will be decide what on earth was important.