The Guardian reports on the discovery of a bibliophilic treasure house.
[A] huge volume containing thousands of summaries of books from 500 years ago, many of which no longer exist… has been found in Copenhagen, where it has lain untouched for more than 350 years.
The Libro de los EpÃtomes manuscript, which is more than a foot thick, contains more than 2,000 pages and summaries from the library of Hernando ColÃ³n, the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus who made it his lifeâ€™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 ColÃ³nâ€™s extensive travels. Today, only around a quarter of the books in the collection survive and have been housed in Seville Cathedral since 1552.
The discovery in the ArnamagnÃ¦an Collection in Copenhagen is â€œextraordinaryâ€, and a window into a â€œlost world of 16th-century booksâ€, said Cambridge academic Dr Edward Wilson-Lee, author of the recent biography of ColÃ³n, The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books.
â€œItâ€™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,â€ said Wilson-Lee. â€œThe 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 â€¦â€
The manuscript was found in the collection of Ãrni MagnÃºsson, 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 EpÃtomes went unnoticed for hundreds of years…
After amassing his collection, ColÃ³n employed a team of writers to read every book in the library and distill each into a little summary in Libro de los EpÃtomes, ranging from a couple of lines long for very short texts to about 30 pages for the complete works of Plato…
Because ColÃ³n collected everything he could lay his hands on, the catalogue is a real record of what people were reading 500 years ago, rather than just the classics. â€œThe important part of Hernandoâ€™s library is itâ€™s not just Plato and Cortez, heâ€™s summarising everything from almanacs to news pamphlets. This is really giving us a window into the entirety of early print, much of which has gone missing, and how people read it â€“ a world that is largely lost to us,â€ said Wilson-Lee.
Wilson-Lee and PÃ©rez FernÃ¡ndez are currently working on a comprehensive account of the library, which will be published in 2020.
HT: Karen L. Myers.