4406 entries. 94 themes. Last updated December 26, 2016.

Fiction / Science Fiction / Drama / Poetry Timeline


8,000 BCE – 1,000 BCE

Discovery of the "Ark Tablet": Decoding the Story of the Flood Circa 1,900 BCE – 1,700 BCE

In 2009 British Museum curator Irving Finkel, an expert on cuneiform inscriptions on clay tablets from ancient Mesopotamia, received for examination and translation what came to be known as the "Ark Tablet" from its owner Douglas Simmonds. This is the only cuneiform tablet with precise instructions as to how to build the Ark described in the early accounts of the flood, best known through later accounts in literature, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Ark Tablet provided instructions for building the Ark in the form of a very large round boat called a coracle.

According to Finkel, the tablet dates from 1900-1700 BCE, though the tablet was not dated by the scribe. However, comparatively precise dating can be done from the character and composition of the cuneiform signs and from grammatical forms and usages. The tablet measures 11.5 x 6.0 cm and contains exactly 60 lines of cuneiform script written out ably and without error. In The Ark Before Noah. Decoding the Story of the Flood (2014) Finkel illustrated the tablet and translated its contents on pp. 107-110. Incidentally Finkel's well-illustrated book is a masterpiece of writing about relatively abstruse subjects for the general public. So geared to a non-scholarly audience is this book that footnotes are not even mentioned in the text. One has to search for them at the back of the book.

In the British Museum blog announcing his book on January 23, 2014 Finkel summarized his conclusions in this way:

"When the gods decided to wipe out mankind with a flood, the god Enki, who had a sense of humour, leaked the news to a man called Atra-hasis, the ‘Babylonian Noah,’ who was to build the Ark. Atra-hasis’s Ark, however was round. To my knowledge, no one has ever thought of that possibility. The new tablet also describes the materials and the measurements to build it: quantities of palm-fibre rope, wooden ribs and bathfuls of hot bitumen to waterproof the finished vessel. The result was a traditional coracle, but the largest the world had ever dreamed of, with an area of 3,600 sq. metres (equivalent to two-thirds the area of a football pitch), and six-metre high walls. The amount of rope prescribed, stretched out in a line, would reach from London to Edinburgh!

"To anyone who has the typical image learnt from children’s toys and book illustrations in mind, a round Ark is bizarre at first, but, on reflection, the idea makes sense. A waterproofed coracle would never sink and being round isn’t a problem – it never had to go anywhere: all it had to do was float and keep the contents safe: a cosmic lifeboat. Palm-and-pitch coracles had been seen on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers since time immemorial: they were still a common sight on Iraq’s great waterways in the 1950s."

In an article in The Guardian published on January 24, 2014 Finkel was quoted as saying, "I am 107% convinced the ark never existed."

"Finkel describes the clay tablet as 'one of the most important human documents ever discovered', and his conclusions will send ripples into the world of creationism and among ark hunters, where many believe in the literal truth of the Bible account, and innumerable expeditions have been mounted to try to find the remains of the ark.

"The clay tablet is going on display at the British Museum, loaned by Simmons, beside a tablet from the museum's collection with the earliest map of the world, as seen from ancient Babylon. The flood tablet helped explain details of the map, which shows islands beyond the river marking the edge of the known world, with the text on the back explaining that on one are the remains of the ark.

"Finkel said that not only did the ark never exist, but ark hunters were looking in the wrong place – the map shows the ark in the direction of, but far beyond the mountain range later known as Ararat."

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Probably the Earliest Surviving Recipe for Making Beer Circa 1,800 BCE

Evidence for brewing beer in Mesopotamia dates back to 3500-3100 BCE at the Sumerian settlement of Godin Tepe, an archaeological site in western Iran In 1992, archaeologists discovered chemical traces of beer in a fragmented jar dating to the mid-fourth century BCE. The same site also yielded evidence for early wine-making.

The Hymn to Ninkasi, the ancient Sumerian matron goddess of beer and alcohol, is probably the earliest surviving recipe for making beer. It's date is estimated at 1800 BCE. It is believed that recording the recipe in song or poetry may have served as a mnemonic for a people that was primarily illiterate. An English translation of the Hymn from the University of Oxford Electronic Text Corpus (ETCSLtranslation: t.4.23.1) reads as follows: 

"A hymn to Ninkasi (Ninkasi A)

"1-4. Given birth by the flowing water ……, tenderly cared for by Ninḫursaĝa! Ninkasi, given birth by the flowing water ……, tenderly cared for by Ninḫursaĝa!

"5-8. Having founded your town upon wax, she completed its great walls for you. Ninkasi, having founded your town upon wax, she completed its great walls for you.

"9-12. Your father is Enki, Lord Nudimmud, and your mother is Ninti, the queen of the abzu. Ninkasi, your father is Enki, Lord Nudimmud, and your mother is Ninti, the queen of the abzu.

"13-16. It is you who handle the …… and dough with a big shovel, mixing, in a pit, the beerbread with sweet aromatics. Ninkasi, it is you who handle the …… and dough with a big shovel, mixing, in a pit, the beerbread with sweet aromatics.

"17-20. It is you who bake the beerbread in the big oven, and put in order the piles of hulled grain. Ninkasi, it is you who bake the beerbread in the big oven, and put in order the piles of hulled grain.

"21-24. It is you who water the earth-covered malt; the noble dogs guard it even from the potentates (?). Ninkasi, it is you who water the earth-covered malt; the noble dogs guard it even from the potentates (?).

"25-28. It is you who soak the malt in a jar; the waves rise, the waves fall. Ninkasi, it is you who soak the malt in a jar; the waves rise, the waves fall.

"29-32. It is you who spread the cooked mash on large reed mats; coolness overcomes ……. Ninkasi, it is you who spread the cooked mash on large reed mats; coolness overcomes …….

"33-36. It is you who hold with both hands the great sweetwort, brewing it with honey and wine. Ninkasi, it is you who hold with both hands the great sweetwort, brewing it with honey and wine.


"1 line fragmentary You …… the sweetwort to the vessel. Ninkasi, ……. You …… the sweetwort to the vessel.

"41-44. You place the fermenting vat, which makes a pleasant sound, appropriately on top of a large collector vat. Ninkasi, you place the fermenting vat, which makes a pleasant sound, appropriately on top of a large collector vat.

"45-48. It is you who pour out the filtered beer of the collector vat; it is like the onrush of the Tigris and the Euphrates. Ninkasi, it is you who pour out the filtered beer of the collector vat; it is like the onrush of the Tigris and the Euphrates" (accessed 01-12-2013).

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The Rigveda Circa 1,700 BCE – 1,100 BCE

One of the oldest extant texts in any Indo-European language, the Rigveda (Rig Veda) (Sanskrit: ऋग्वेद ṛgveda, a compound of ṛc "praise, verse" and veda "knowledge"), an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns, was composed in the north-western region of the Indian subcontinent. 

"It is counted among the four canonical sacred texts (śruti) of Hinduism known as the Vedas. Some of its verses are still recited as Hindu prayers, at religious functions and other occasions, putting these among the world's oldest religious texts in continued use. The Rigveda contains several mythological and poetical accounts of the origin of the world, hymns praising the gods, and ancient prayers for life, prosperity, etc." (Wikipedia article on Rigveda, accessed 07-10-2011).

The date of composition of the Vedas is controversial. Some argue that the Rigveda was composed circa 3000 BCE, which would make it the oldest surviving literary work.

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The Epic of Gilgamesh, Probable Source of Aspects of Biblical and Homeric Literature Circa 1,300 BCE – 1,000 BCE

One of the twelve tablets--of the 1200 discovered by Austen Henry Layard in Ninveh--upon which the Epic of Gilgamesh was recorded. (View larger)

The most complete and "standard" Akkadian version of the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest known works of literary fiction, was written in standard Babylonian, a dialect of Akkadian that was only used for literary purposes, and compiled out of older legends by the Mesopotamian incantation/exorcist priest Sîn-lēqi-unninni, sometime between 1300 and 1000 BCE. Various themes, plot elements, and characters in the Epic of Gilgamesh have counterparts in the book of Genesis, notably the accounts of the Garden of Eden and Noah's Flood.

"Gilgamesh, we can be sure, was a real man. he was an early king of Uruk who founded a short-lived dynasty at the beginning of the historical period. All the surviving literary traditions about Gilgamesh point to a figure of power and charisma that long-outlasted his own lifetime. The cycle of stories that came to circulate about his name testify to this, and the impression that he was a man out of the same box as Alexander the Great, the impact of whose death led to narratives far beyond the sober scope of the historians who first tackled his life and times" (Irving Finkel, The Ark Before Noah. Decoding the Story of the Flood [2014] 82).

The standard version of the epic was recorded on twelve cuneiform tablets, of which the ark story appeared in tablet 11. These were discovered in 1853 by the Assyrian and Christian Assyriologist Hormuzd Rassam in the library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh. Rassam, the protegé of British archaeologist Austen Henry Layard, who had accompanied Layard in his second expedition to iraq from 1849 to 1851, discovered the tablets after Layard left archaeology and began a political career. The deciphering of the twelve tablets in 1872 by George Smith at the British Museum, where the tablets are preserved, caused this epic to be rediscovered by the world. Smith's first published account of the tablets appeared in Chaldean Account of the Deluge. Terra Cotta Tablets Found at Nineveh, and Now in the British Museum. Two Photographs. Translation and Text by Geo. Smith. . . , Photographed by Stephen Thompson, London: Mansell, 1872.

"The parallels between the stories of Enkidu/Shamhat and Adam/Eve have been long recognized by scholars. In both, a man is created from the soil by a god, and lives in a natural setting amongst the animals. He is introduced to a woman who tempts him. In both stories the man accepts food from the woman, covers his nakedness, and must leave his former realm, unable to return. The presence of a snake that steals a plant of immortality from the hero later in the epic is another point of similarity.

"Andrew R. George submits that the flood myth in Genesis 6–8 matches that in Gilgamesh so closely that 'few doubt' that it derives from a Mesopotamian account. What is particularly noticeable is the way the Genesis flood story follows the Gilgamesh flood tale "point by point and in the same order", even when the story permits other alternatives.

"In a 2001 Torah commentary released on behalf of the Conservative Movement of Judaism, rabbinic scholar Robert Wexler stated: 'The most likely assumption we can make is that both Genesis and Gilgamesh drew their material from a common tradition about the flood that existed in Mesopotamia. These stories then diverged in the retelling.'

"Matthias Henze suggests that Nebuchadnezzar's madness in the biblical Book of Daniel draws on the Epic of Gilgamesh. He claims that the author uses elements from the description of Enkidu to paint a sarcastic and mocking portrait of the king of Babylon.[22]

"Many scholars note an influence on the book of Ecclesiastes.The speech of Sidhuri in an old Babylonian version of the epic is so similar to Ecclesiastes 9:7–10 that direct influence is a possibility. A rare proverb about the strength of a triple-stranded rope is common to both books.

"Numerous scholars have drawn attention to various themes, episodes, and verses, that indicate a substantial influence of the Epic of Gilgamesh on both of the epic poems ascribed to Homer. These influences are detailed by Martin Litchfield West in The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth. According to Tzvi Abusch of Brandeis University, the novel "combines the power and tragedy of the Iliad with the wanderings and marvels of the Odyssey. It is a work of adventure, but is no less a meditation on some fundamental issues of human existence" (Wikipedia article on Epic of Gilgamesh, accessed 03-09-2014).

(This entry was last revised on 12-27-2014.)

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1,000 BCE – 300 BCE

Standardization of the Homeric Texts Possibly Begins Circa 750 BCE


Many scholars believe that the Iliad is the oldest extant work of literature in the ancient Greek language, making it one of the first works of ancient Greek literature. It is believed that the Odyssey, sequel to the Iliad, was composed after the Iliad. Both epic poems, products of the oral tradition, may have undergone a process of standardization and refinement out of older material around 750 BCE. The standardization of the Homeric texts may have been caused by the Athenian tyrant Peisistratos (d. 527/8 BCE) who reformed the recitation of Homeric poetry at the Panathenaic festival, which he initiated. This reform may have involved the production of a canonical written text. A tradition concerning the role of Peisistratos in the standardization of Homer was current in the ancient world; however, T. W. Allen, in his classic work, Homer: The Origins and Transmission (1924) refuted this theory in his chapter "Pisistratus and Homer."  

When the Homeric poems would have taken on a fixed written form is debatable. According to the traditional 'transcription hypothesis', a non-literate 'Homer' dictated his poem to a literate scribe in the 6th century or earlier. However, in view of the way that texts were written on papyrus before the Hellenistic period, a canonical text would probably have been impossible at this time. Reynolds & Wilson wrote:

"Finally it should be emphasized that the text as arranged on the papyrus was much harder for the reader to interpret than in any modern book. Punctuation was usually rudimentary at best. Texts were written without word-division, and it was not until the middle ages that a real effort was made to alter this convention in Greek or Latin texts (in a few Latin texts of the classical period a point is placed after each word). The system of accentuation, which might have compensated for this difficulty in Greek, was not invented until the Hellenistic period, and for a long time after its invention it was not universally used; here again it is not until the early middle ages that the writing of accents becomes normal practice. In dramatic texts throughout antiquity changes of speaker were not indicated with the precision now thought necessary; it was enough to write a horizontal stroke at the beginning of a line, or two points one above the other, like the modern English colon, for changes elsewhere; the names of the characters were frequently omitted. . . . Another and perhaps even stranger feature of books in the pre-Hellenistic period is that lyric verse was written as if it were prose; the fourth-century papyrus of Timotheus (P. Berol. 9875) is an instance, and even without this valuable document the fact could have been inferred from the tradition that Aristophanes of Byzantium (c. 257-180 BCE) devised the colometry which makes clear the metrical units of the poetry (Dion. Hal. de comp.verb. 156, 221). It is to be noted that the difficulties facing the reader of an ancient book were equally troublesome to the man who wished to transcribe his own copy. The risk of misinterpretation and consequent corruption of the text in this period is not to be underestimated. It is certain that a high proportion of the most serious corruptions in classical texts go back to this period and were already widely current in the books that eventually entered the library of the Museum of Alexandria" (Reynolds and Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 3rd ed. [1991] 4-5).

"Though evincing many features characteristic of oral poetry, the Iliad and Odyssey were at some point committed to writing. The Greek script, adapted from a Phoenician syllabary around 800 BCE, made possible the notation of the complex rhythms and vowel clusters that make up hexameter verse. Homer's poems appear to have been recorded shortly after the alphabet's invention: an inscription from Ischia in the Bay of Naples, ca. 740 BCE, appears to refer to a text of the Iliad; likewise, illustrations seemingly inspired by the Polyphemus episode in the Odyssey are found on Samos, Mykonos and in Italy in the first quarter of the seventh century BCE. We have little information about the early condition of the Homeric poems, but Alexandrian editors stabilized the text in the second century BCE, from which all modern texts descend" (Wikipedia article on Homer, accessed 11-27-2008).

(This entry was last revised on 05-03-2014.)

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The "Fatal Letter" in the Iliad: Introduction of Written Language to the Greeks Circa 750 BCE


In the mid-eighth century BCE the Greeks are thought to have developed their own writing system based on the Phoenician alphabet, along with the use of wax tablets, and the leather roll for writing. The Phoenicians, whose culture was at its peak from circa 1200-800 BCE, were the first state-level society to make extensive use of the alphabet; the Phoenician phonetic alphabet is generally considered the ancestor of almost all modern alphabets. However, it did not contain any vowels; those were added by the Greeks. From a traditional linguistic perspective, the Phoenicians spoke Phoenician, a Canaanite dialect. However, due to the very slight differences in language, and the insufficient records of the time, whether Phoenician formed a separate and united dialect, or was merely a superficially defined part of a broader language continuum, is unclear. Through their maritime trade, the Phoenicians spread the use of the alphabet to North Africa and Europe, where it was adopted by the Greeks. The Greeks later passed it on to the Etruscans, who in turn transmitted it to the Romans. In addition to many stone inscriptions, the Phoenicians are believed to have left numerous other types of written sources, but most have not survived.

The earliest surviving examples of writing in Greek are on tablets made of metal. The first reference in written Greek literature to writing tablets appears in Homer, and in one place in the Iliad only: the narrated tale of Bellerophon (Iliad vi.155–203), which introduced the trope of the "fatal letter," with its message sealed within the folded tablets that read "Kill the bearer of this." As Homer was the product of the oral tradition, the reference to written tablets was an anachronism in a narrative of an event that had transpired generations before the Trojan War, and long before the Greeks had a written language. However, the "fatal letter" story helps date the earliest possible recension of the epic to the mid-eighth century, when writing was introduced to Greece. 

In his Histories Herodotus wrote:

"So these Phoenicians, including the Gephyraians, came with Kadmos and settled this land, and they transmitted much lore to the Hellenes, and in particular, taught them the alphabet which, I believe, the Hellenes did not have previously, but which was originally used by all Phoenicians. With the passage of time, both the sound and the shape of the letters changed. Because at this time it was mostly Ionians who lived around the Phoenicians, they were the ones who were first instructed in the use of the alphabet by them, and after making a few changes to the form of the letters, they put them to good use; but when they spoke of them, they called them 'Phoenician' letters, which was only right since these letters had been introduced to Hellas by Phoenicians. Furthermore, the Ionians have called papyrus scrolls 'skins,' since long ago, when papyrus was scarce, they used the skins of goats and sheep instead. In fact, even in my time many barbarians still write on such skins" (Strassler [ed] The Landmark Herodotus [2007] 5.58, 391).

(This entry was last revised on 03-19-2014.)

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The First Known Description of a Binary Numerical System Circa 500 BCE

In Chandaḥśāstra (also Chandaḥsūtra), the earliest known Sanskrit treatise on prosody,  “Pingala presented the first known description of a binary numeral system. He described the binary numeral system in connection with the listing of Vedic meters with short and long syllables. His work also contains the basic ideas of maatraameru (Fibonacci number) and meruprastaara (Pascal’s triangle.)”

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The Pronomos Vase: Pictorial Evidence for Theatre in Ancient Greece Circa 400 BCE

The Pronomos Vase from Naples shows the performers of a Greek satyr play. (View Larger)

The Pronomos vase, a red-figure volute-krater was created circa 400 BCE. Depicting an entire theatrical chorus and cast along with the celebrated musician Pronomos, in the presence of their patron god, Dionysos, it is considered the single most important surviving piece of pictorial evidence for theatre from ancient Greece. It was discovered in Ruvo di Puglia, Italy in 1836, and is preserved in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli.

(This entry was last revised on April 13, 2014.)

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Probably the Earliest Surviving Papyrus of a Greek Text Circa 350 BCE

A papyrus fragment of The Persae by the Greek musician and dithyrambic poet, Timotheus (Timotheos) of Miletus, discovered in Abusir, Egypt, is probably the earliest surviving papyrus of a Greek text found in Egypt. It is preserved in the Staatliches Museum, Berlin (P. Berol. 9875).

The text was first edited and published by Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Möllendorff as Timotheos, Die Perser, aus einem Papyrus von Abusir im Aufrage der deutschen Orientgesellschaft (1903).

Morison, Politics and Script. . . . Barker ed. (1972) 11, pl. 8 describes the Greek writing on the papyrus as "Formal book-script; square; monoline; unserifed."

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300 BCE – 30 CE

Philology Probably Begins at the Royal Library of Alexandria Circa 280 BCE

Fragments of the Odyssey, most likely copied in Alexandria.

Commentaries on the Iliad and the Odyssey written during the Hellenistic period at Alexandria began exploring the textual inconsistencies of the poems which occurred as the result of different scribes writing down differing versions of poems passed down through the oral tradition. Examples of these variant readings have survived in Bodleian Library papyrus (MS. Gr. class. b.3 [P]). The process of comparing different manuscript texts— such as would have been preserved at the Alexandrian Library— to arrive at what might be the “canonical” text, was the beginning of philology

The first critical edition of Homer was made by Zenodotus of Ephesus, first superintendant of the Library of Alexandria, who lived during the reigns of the first two Ptolemies, and was at the height of his reputation about 280 BCE. His colleagues in librarianship were Alexander of Aetolia and Lycophron of Chalcis, to whom were allotted the tragic and comic writers respectively, Homer and other epic poets being assigned to Zenodotus.

"Having collated the different manuscripts in the library, he expunged or obelized doubtful verses, transposed or altered lines, and introduced new readings. It is probable that he was responsible for the division of the Homeric poems into twenty-four books each (using capital Greek letters for the Iliad, and lower-case for the Odyssey), and possibly was the author of the calculation of the days of the Iliad in the Tabula Iliaca" (Wikipedia article on Zenodotus, accessed 11-26-2008).

The most famous Greek manuscript of the IliadVenetus A (Marcianus Graecus Z. 454 [=822]), a tenth century codex preserved at the Biblioteca Marciana, Venice, contains several layers of annotations, glosses, and commentaries known as the "A scholia." These are thought to preserve editorial comments made by scholars at the Royal Library of Alexandria, as well as scholia accumulated by late antique annotators and philologists until the manuscript was written at Constantinople during the Macedonian Renaissance.

(This entry was last revised on 12-20-2014.)

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A "Wild" or "Eccentric" Papyrus of the Iliad Circa 275 BCE

Fragments of the Iliad, Books XXI-XXIII, dating from circa 275 BCE, and preserved at the Bodleian Library (MS. Gr. class. b.3 [P]) were recovered from cartonnage, the material made of waste papyrus used to make mummy cases in Egypt. Cartonnage of this type has proven to be a rich source of fragments of literary texts on papyrus.

"Literary papyri of this early date are by no means common, and this one has the added interest of being one of the best examples of what are sometimes called 'wild' or 'eccentric' papyri of Homer. The text deviates substantially, e.g. by the omission or addition of whole lines, from the standard version later established by the Alexandrian scholars." 

"Bibl.: P. Grenf. II. 4 (bought from B. P. Grenfell in 1896) + P. Hibeh 22 (given by the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1909). Other fragments are in Heidelberg, Universitätsbibliothek (P. Heidelberg 1262-6) Pack 2 no. 979. For a full discussion see S. R. West, The Ptolemaic papyri of Homer (Papyriologica coloniensia, 3), Cologne 1967, 136-191" (Hunt, R.W., The Survival of Ancient Literature, Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1975, No. 1.)

(This entry was last revised on 04-29-2014.)

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The Beginning of Latin Literature Circa 250 BCE

Roman dramatist and epic poet Livius Andronicus translated Homer's Odyssey into Latin, and translated and staged Greek comedies and tragedies in Rome.

This is considered the beginning of Latin literature.

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The Origins of Bibliography Circa 200 BCE

A digital recreation of the Library of Alexandria.

Around 200 BCE Kallimachos (Callimachus), a renowned poet and head of the Alexandrian Library, compiled a catalogue of its holdings which he called Pinakes (Tables or Lists). Supposedly extending to 120 papyrus rolls, this catalogue amounted to a systematic survey of Greek literature up to its time. It also represented the origins of bibliography. Only a few fragments survived the eventual destruction of the library, together with a scattering of references to it in other ancient works.

Callimachus’s bibliographical methods would not be out of place in a modern library; an analysis of the eight remaining fragments of the Pinakes shows that Callimachus

"1. divided the authors into classes and within these classes if necessary into subdivisions;

"2. arranged the authors in the classes or subdivisions alphabetically;

"3. added to the name of each author (if possible) biographical data;

"4. listed under an author’s name the titles of his works, combining works of the same kind to groups (no more than that can be deduced from the eight citations); and

"5. cited the opening words of each work as well as

"6. its extent, i.e., the number of lines" (Blum, p. 152).

"The Pinakes were neither an inventory nor an exhaustive catalog of the works in the library: they did not list all the copies of a work that the library owned and did not give an indication of how to locate a book in the library—actual access would have required consulting the librarian. The Pinakes built on preexisting practices of list making (including Aristotle's pinakes of poets), sorting (such as Theophrastus' doxographies sorted topically and chronologically), and alphabetizing, the principles of which were likely already understood although they had never been put to such extensive use before" (Blair, Too Much to Know. Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age [201] 17).

The surviving fragments of Kallimachos's Pinakes were first published in print in Hymni, epigrammata et fragmenta, edited by Theodor (Theodorus) J. G. F. Graevius et al. (2 vols, Utrecht, 1697). That edition included the first edition of the monumental 758-page commentary by Ezechiel Spanheim, and also incorporated the 420 fragments collected and elucidated by the English theologian, classical scholar and critic Richard Bentley, whose reading of these fragments represents “the earliest example of a really critical method applied to such a work" (Dictionary of National Biography). ". . . many even of his boldest conjectures have been completely confirmed by the papyri" (Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship 1300-1850, 154.) Among the other commentaries and notes assembled in Graevius's edition are those by Henri Estienne, Nichodemus Frischlin, Bonaventura Vulcanius, and Anne Dacier.

♦ Apart from his contributions to bibliography, Kallimachos is known in the history of books for his quip in Fragments (ed. Pfeiffer) 465 that a "big book is a big evil" (μεγα βιβλιον μεγα κακων), a statement that he made in defense of the short lyric and elegiac poems he wrote and favored over longer epic poems. This has also been translated as "A great book is a great evil."

Breslauer & Folter, Bibliography. Its History and Development (1984) no. 1.  Blum, Kallimachos. The Alexandrian Library and the Origins of Bibliography. Translated by Hans H. Wellisch (1991).

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Details of the Roman Book Trade Circa 70 BCE – 100 CE

"Bookdealers, like many businessmen in Rome, tended to be freedmen, men of low social status. We come across a few names: the Sosii, for instance, who worked with Horace; Dorus, who Seneca says handled Livy; and Pollio Valerianus, the freedman Secundus, and Trypho, who deal with the books of Martial. They were, in simple terms the owners of small shops that dealt in luxury items. Perhaps as significant, they apparently only handled current literature and did not sell older works.

"Their business was conducted at the retail level: each bookdealer made the copies he sold. There was little or no distribution system to support the individual shop-owner and therefore, virtually no broad-based geographical distribution except on the individual level. If a bookshop owner in a provincial city sold a copy of a book, it implies that he had made that copy, not that he had bought a large number of copies from a Rome-based distributor.

"Most of the copies bookdealers sold were probably made at the specific request of a customer. The shop-owner merely needed to have on hand or to acquire exemplars of various texts from which he could make copies as necessary. A stock might be maintained of some texts . . . .

"We have no idea at all how many copies of a work might be made. A famous letter of Pliny mentions that Regulus had one thousand copies made of his eulogy for his son, but that is an unusual kind of text and Pliny thinks the number excessive and in bad taste. The question is actually close to meaningless in a world of individually made copies, since the number of copies would increase directly in proportion to the number of readers who wanted one and was not related to the number made at any particular time.

"Nor do we know how the individual copies were made. The most common method was undoubtedly having slaves make one copy after another from a master copy, as probably happened with Regulus' one thousand copies of his eulogy of his son. Various other methods have also been suggested. To extrapolate the pecia system back in time, a text might be divided into sections which would then be passed out to a number of different copyists. Alternatively, one person mght dictate a text to several others, who would write it out, thus producing an economy of time. Our modern insistence on economies of speed and scale, however, makes it difficult for us to keep in mind that such economies did not necessarily motivate the Romans.

"Book prices in bookstores also elude conclusive discussion, since they appear only very occasionally in the surviving sources. For example, as we have seen, Martial mentions that a deluxe copy of one of his books costs five denarii. The basic points, however, reduce the importance of the question. First, book prices would not have concerned the large majority of the population of the Roman world for the simple reason that they could not read. Second, the economic structure of that population – with a very small number of very wealthy people, a very large number of very poor people, and no significant middle class in the modern sense – put books at any price out of most people's reach. Third, as we have seen, the booktrade was merely an ancillary system of circulation beside the private channels that probably supplied the vast majority of literary texts. In short, not many people owned books in the first place, and, of those who did, not many bought them at bookshops.

"More tantatlizing questions are who patronized bookdealers and why. The answer may lie in the fact that Roman bookdealers were not in competition with the private channels of circulation in which so much of roman literature moved. If a Roman could acquire a text through those private channels, there was no reason for him to buy from a bookdealer. Neither Cicero nor Pliny, for instance, two of our major sources for the circulation of literary texts, ever mentions going to a bookshop. This, of course, does not prove that they never visited such a shop, but it may suggest that they obtained any texts they wanted through their friends. if a reader's circle of friends included neither the author of the text nor someone who owned a copy, then a bookstore might provide a helpful service. Catullus, for example, says that he will torment a friend by buying books of bad poetry and giving them to him (14.1-20). The joke may be based not only on the low quality of the poetry but also on the implication that the poets he mentions were so terrible that no one in his circle would know them or own a copy of their poetry.

"Since even the elite used bookstores as gathering-places and since booksellers put up advertisements on their doorposts, the shop would expose the work of unknowns to the literary upper crust. That exposure might conceivably and eventually produce social contact, which at least theoretically, might provide a way to break into the concentric circules of circulation and friendship and might even result in the discovery of a patron. Monetary gain directly from the sale of copies was not a factor.

"Other advantages have been suggested by modern scholars but are overstated. First, a bookstore was a place to send people who wanted a copy, as Martial sends his obnoxious Quintus, to whom he does not want to give a gift copy and with whom he does not want to acknowledge the degree of friendship that would imply. This, however, would only be done in awkward situations, not as a common practice. Second, bookshops have been thought to provide some safeguard for the accuracy of the text, at least early in its circulation, although the relatively unregulated circulation of texts would substantially limit this advantage.

"The Booktrade appears to become more important during the first century A.D., so that by Pliny's time it appears to have become an accepted method for the circulation of literature, although by no means the only method. Martial, as we have seen, often mentions the dealers who handle his books. . . . By Pliny's time, at least some authors thought it appropriate to give a copy of a work to a bookseller, who could then make and sell copies if anyone wanted them. Even if bookshops did become more important, however, private channels did not lose their importance. Such channels wold have continued to serve the literary needs of the established literary and social élite and would also have continued to provide non-literary works such as commentaries and lexica.

"The increasing importance of bookshops may be due to several factors. First, authors in Pliny's time may have wanted to reach further beyond the narrow circles of their own friends and their friends' friends. It would be misleading to think of this as an increase in author's ambitions, since this might seem to imply that earlier writers were men of modest ambitions. Rather, the change may have represented a somewhat broader conception of the potential audience for a literary work. Even so, wider distribution does not imply an enormous increase in the number and diversity of the reading public, since the potential audience remains the intellectual aristocracy. The change would still be profound, nonetheless, since it implies the partial freeing of literature from the bonds of friendship.

Second, a larger role for bookshops may reflect the emergence of a relatively new type of Roman writer. For old Roman writers, literature was always seen as merely one facet of the life of an aristocrat, albeit a very important one. Althought writing and reading undoubtedly affected their social relationships, those relationships were also based on other ties such as politics, marriage alliances and family traditions. For the newer writers such as Martial, however, arriving in Rome from abroad, lacking the ties of politics and the other elements of aristocratic friendship, literature provided a point of access to the aristocracy, a way of making contact with the elite. From them ltierature played a functional role in addition to its earlier one. Any financial advantage, however, came from the well-established system of patronage.

"Third, since, as has been argued above, bookshops enjoyed no special status above that of any luxury shop, that very commonality of commercial status may hint that literature was becoming something that could be bought and sold like perfume or expensive fabric. Since literature had been and remained a symbol of social status, its reduction to a marketable commodity may indicate a weakening of the hold of the traditional aristocracy on the control of access to social status. In earlier Roman society, one had to be a member of an aristocratic group to acquire access to works that circulated primarily with that group. In this later period, bookstores made it at least theoretically possible for access to literature to precede and perhaps even to facilitate access to certain refined circles.

"Yet, for all these suggestions, Roman literature remained the preserve of the aristocracy except in oratorical events and public performances. If bookshops helped literature move out of the strict control of aristocratic groups of friends, they actually did so only to help outsiders gain access to those élite circles" (Raymond J. Starr,"The Circulation of Literary Texts in the Roman World," The Classical Quarterly 37, No. 1 [1987] 213-223, quoting from 219-23.) Note that I could not include the approximately 30 footnotes associated with this quotation.

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The Oldest Surviving Manuscript of Latin Poetry Circa 50 BCE – 25 CE

The Roman poet, orator and politician Gaius Cornellus Gallus, prefect of Egypt from 30 to 26 BCE, enjoyed a high reputation among his contemporaries as a man of intellect, and was considered by the poet Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) to be the first of the elegiac poets of Rome. He is known to have written four books of elegies chiefly on his mistress Lycoris (a poetic name for Cytheris), a notorious actress, and he is thought to have been an inspiration for the Latin elegiac poet Sextus Propertius, and the Latin poet Albius Tibullus as well as Ovid. Yet his literary reputation is entirely based on heresay since until the late 20th century only one pentameter of his had survived.

In 1978 excavations at Qasr Ibrim yielded a papyrus fragment containing nine lines by Gallus. Qasr Ibrim was originally a major city perched on a cliff above the Nile, but the flooding of Lake Nasser after the construction of the Aswan High Dam transformed it into an island, which remains a major site for archaeological investigations. The Gallus papyrus is designated PQasrIbrîm inv. 78-3-11/ (L1/2). It consists of five fragments of papyrus which join to make a single piece 19.4 cm wide by 16.3 cm high. The papyrus was published with very extensive analysis by R. D. Anderson, P. J. Parsons and R.G.M. Nisbet in "Elegiacs by Gallus from Qasr Ibrîm," Journal of Roman Studies 69 (1979) 125-55, including color reproductions of portions of the papyrus.

Among some of their observations:

"At all events, we have here the remains of a Roman book, very probably of the reign of Augustus, quite possibly of the lifetime of Gallus himself. It is, with PHerc 817 (Carmen de bello Aegypticaco), by far our oldest MS of Latin poetry." (p. 128) [PHerc 817 is not later than 79 CE.]

"The text is written in a small formal upright bilinear bookhand. This is among the earliest examples (very possibly is the earliest example) of the style, which in many features anticipates the 'canonized' (that is, ossified) Rustic Capital of iv A. D. and after.

"The book can be dated from its archaeological context, more precisely (c.50-20 B.C.) or less precisely (c.50 B.C.- A.D. 25). It therefore provides one of the few fixed points in the early history of Latin literary scripts." (P. 135)

"Given the rarity of early Latin books, it is not easy to assess this one. The script is small and neat and deftly executed, less gawky than PHerc 817, less ostentatiously stylish than in PHer 1475; despite wide inconsistences of ornament, letter-shape and even ductus (which indeed may have been the norm before canonization set in), an elegant calligraphic performance. This, with wide margins, certainly suggests a good professional copy. On the other hand, the apex is not written, in contrast to some other early MSS, and a clear mistake is not corrected, although the employment of a corrector was—for scholars at least—an essential part of proper book production. This mixture of features may be a matter of date, of quality or of both. We cannot even tell whether the book was imported from Italy, or copied (under Gallus' prefecture) in Egypt." (p. 138).

"Scholars used to believe, in the absence of any surviving poetry by Gallus and on the basis of his high reputation among his contemporaries, that his poetical gifts were little short of those of Virgil. A nineteenth-century British classicist famously asked, 'What would we not barter of all the epics of empire for ten lines of Gallus?' The discoveries at Qasr Ibrim have now given us nine lines of Gallus. Coincidentally, one of them mentions Lycoris, ('saddened, Lycoris, by your wanton behaviour'), confirming their authorship. Possibly atypical, these surviving lines are of disappointing quality. They are written in a Latin more Lucretian and Catullan than Virgilian, and a certain roughness in the composition recalls Quintilian's judgment that Gallus's style was durior (rather harsh). Their sentiments are conventional, and show little trace of originality" (Wikipedia article on Cornelius Gallus, accessed 03-01-2014). 

According to Anderson, Parsons and Nisbet, PQasrIbrîm in. 78-3-11/1 (L1/2) (case 7, item 84) is preserved in the Cairo Museum.

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Virgil Composes the Ecologues, the Georgics and the Aeneid 42 BCE – 19 BCE


Between 42 and 19 BCE Publius Vergilius Maro composed the Ecologues, the Georgics,  dying before the Aeneid was complete. Virgil's (Vergil's) writings were widely copied in the Middle Ages. Manuscripts of his poems are among the earliest surviving literary codices in Latin.

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30 CE – 500 CE

Automata Invented by Heron of Alexandria Circa 50 CE – 200 CE

Hero of Alexandria

The dates of the Greek mathematician and engineer Heron of Alexandria (Hero of Alexandria, Ἥρων ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς) are not known with certainty, but he must have worked between the first and third century CE. Boas cites evidence in Heron's treatise Dioptra that Heron referred to an eclipse of the moon that occurred on March 13, 63, which would place him definitely in the first century. In Heron's numerous surviving writings are designs for automata—machines operated by mechanical or pneumatic means. These included devices for temples to instill faith by deceiving believers with "magical acts of the gods," for theatrical spectacles, and machines like a statue that poured wine. Among his inventions were:

♦ A windwheel operating a pipe organ—the first instance of wind powering a machine.

♦ The first automatic vending machine. When a coin was introduced through a slot on the top of the machine, a set amount of holy water was dispensed. When the coin was deposited, it fell upon a pan attached to a lever. The lever opened up a valve which let some water flow out. The pan continued to tilt with the weight of the coin until the coin fell off, at which point a counter-weight would snap the lever back up and turn off the valve.

♦ Mechanisms for the Greek theater, including an entirely mechanical puppet play almost ten minutes in length, powered by a binary-like system of ropes, knots, and simple machines operated by a rotating cylindrical cogwheel. The sound of thunder was produced by the mechanically-timed dropping of metal balls onto a hidden drum.

More illustrated technical treatises by Heron survived than those of any other writer from the ancient world. His Pneumatica, which described a series of apparatus for natural magic or parlor magic, was definitely the most widely read of his works during the Middle Ages; more than 100 manuscripts of it survived. However, the earliest surviving copy of this text, Codex Gr. 516 in the Bibliotheca Marciana in Venice, dates from about the thirteenth century— a later date than one might expect. Conversely, the complete text of Heron's other widely known work, the Mechanica, survived through only a single Arabic translation made by Kosta ben Luka between 862 and 866 CE. This manuscript is preserved in Leiden University Library (cod. 51).

The first publication in print of any of Heron's works appeared as a paraphrase of the early pages of the Pneumatica in the encyclopedic De expetendis et fugiendis rebus of humanist Giorgio Valla published in Venice the year after Valla's death, in 1501. The first printed edition of the complete text of the Pneumatica was the Latin translation from the Greek by mathematician and humanist Federico Commandino published as Heronis Alexandrini spiritualium liber (1575). The second work of Heron to be published in print was the translation from the Greek into Italian of Heron's work on automata by Commandino's pupil, the scientist and writer Bernardino BaldiDe gli automati, ouero machine se mouenti, libri due, first issued from Venice in 1589. Heron's Mechanica, a textbook for architects, engineers, builders and contractors, concerned the theoretical knowledge and practical skills necessary for an architect. It's complete text was first published in print in French translation from the Arabic as Les méchaniques ou l'élévateur de Héron d'Alexandrie publiées spour la première foi sur la version Arabe de Qostà ibn Lûqà et traduites en Français par M. le Baron Carra de Vaux. (1893).

Marie Boas, "Hero's Pneumatica: A Study of its Transmission and Influence, Isis 40, no. 1 (1949) 38-48.

Kurt Weitzmann, "Greek Sources of Islamic Scientific Illustration," Studies in Classical and Byzantine Manuscript Illumination, ed. by Herbert Kessler, (1971) 20-25.

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Discoveries of Greek & Roman Papyri in the Library of the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, the Only Library Preserved Intact from Graeco-Roman Times 79 CE – 2015

In 79 CE the eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed the Roman coastal city of Herculaneum together with Pompeii and Stabiae. Among the vast ruins preserved in lava was the library of papyrus rolls in the so-called “Villa of the Papyri” at Herculaneum— a magnificent home thought to have been built by Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus. Discovery of this library in 1752, nearly seventeen centuries after the eruption, was the first and only discovery of ancient papyri in Europe.

On October 19, 1752 Neopolitan "cavamonti", who had been digging at Herculaneum since 1738 by order of Charles III of Spain (who through conquest was also Charles VII of Naples), excavated the first papyrus rolls from a large suburban villa. Over the next two years several hundred papyrus rolls were excavated from the site, and the villa from which they were excavated became known as the Villa dei Papiri (Villa of the Papyri) or Villa dei Pisoni, after its original owner. This library was the only library that survived "intact" since Graeco-Roman times.

Discovery of the Herculaneum papyri was a landmark not only in archaeology, and in the recovery of classical texts, but also in book history because until the discovery of papyrus rolls at Herculaneum no one in early modern Europe had seen the actual roll form of books from the ancient world, or even a fragment written on papyrus. When Mabillon described papyri in his De re diplomatica (1681) he had not seen an actual example.

Papyrus rolls did not survive in humid environments, and for this reason information on rolls that might have survived into the early Middle Ages had either been lost through the decay of the rolls, or had been copied onto parchment codices for preservation before the rolls were lost or discarded. By about 1200, when paper was introduced into Europe, the precise nature of ancient papyrus as a writing surface had been for the most part forgotten. Without a medieval Latin word for paper, which was new to Europeans, scholars reapplied the old word papyrus to paper. Papyrus remained the Latin word for paper until the early seventeenth century. This double usage of the word, as Christopher de Hamel pointed out, sometimes led scholars to confuse the comparatively modern material (paper) with the material referred to by ancient Christian writers, who wrote on papyrus. 

The papyrus rolls discovered at Herculaneum had been carbonized by lava, and all were deformed to some extent because of the weight of the lava that had covered them over the centuries. Paradoxically, the carbonization process had preserved the rolls and their content, but made unrolling them and reading them exceptionally difficult. In spite of the state in which the papyrus rolls were found they were examples of the Roman papyrus roll and the form in which the rolls were stored in a Roman library. Besides the libary at the Villa of the Papyri,  frescos also discovered at Herculaneum showed how the Roman books were kept.

The first account of the Herculaneum papyri to reach the scientific world was a brief mention in a letter from the artist, sculptor and art restorer Camillo Paderni, director of the Museum Herculanense, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.  The first of these, an extract of a letter to Richard Mead, was written on November 18, 1752, only a month after the discovery, and read to the Royal Society on February 8, 1753. This letter contained a brief extract of what was then the earliest surviving manuscript of Latin poetry, P.Herc 817. In this letter Paderni reported:

"it is not a month ago [specifically October 19, 1752] that there have been found many volumes of papyrus, but turn'd to a sort of charcoal, so brittle, that, being touched, it falls readily into ashes. Nevertheless, by his Majesty's orders, I have made many trials to open them, butt all to no purpose, excepting some words which I have picked out intire, where they are divers bits, by which it appears in what manner the whole was written. The form of the characters, made with very black tincture, that overcomes the darkness of the charcoal. . . ."

Paderni's letter contained portions of two continguous hexameters from P.Herc.817P.Herc. 817, containing the text of Carmen de bello actiaco, sometimes known as the Carmen de Bello Aegyptiaco, was the most substantial Latin papyrus discovered in 1752 in the library of the Villa dei Papiri. Written in Italy between 31 BCE, the date of the battle of Actium, and 79 CE, when Herculaneum was destroyed, this is one of the two earliest manuscripts of Latin poetry, the other being the slightly earlier fragment of the poetry of Gaius Cornellus Gallus discovered in 1978 at Qasr Ibrim, Egypt. The twenty-three papyrus fragments of the poem Carmen de Bello Actiaco preserved in Naples at the Biblioteca Nazionale, and in Paris at the Louvre, represent the earliest surviving dated examples of rustic capitals

"Latin Rustic probably began its career as a rationalized version of official and popular writing, fused with a loosening version of the Square Capitals, the whole written with a pen cut specially for speed. It secured a measure of public approval in Rome during or before the first century B.C., though the evidence is slight" (Stanley Morison, Politics and Script . . . Barker ed. [1972] 43; see also 41-43, and pl. 34.

Two other letters by Paderni were also published in Philosophical Transactions. His second letter, to Thomas Hollis, was dated April 27, 1754 and read to the Royal Society on June 13, 1754, reported that excavators had discovered an entire library:

"In one of these buildings there has been found an entire library, compos'd of volumes of the Egyptian Papyrus, of which there have been taken out about 250; and the place is not yet clear'd or emptied, it having been deem'd necessary to erect props first, to keep the earth, which lies above it, from falling in upon it. These volumes of Papyrus consist of Latin, and Greek manuscripts, but from their brittleness, occasion'd by the fire and time, it is not possible to unroll them, they being now decay'd and rotten. His majesty however has done his part; having sent for a certain monk from Rome [Padre Antonio Piaggio], who belong'd to the Vatican library; in hopes, by his means, to have unfolded them; but hitherto in vain.

'Your servant Paderni alone can shew some fragments of several lines, and more than this he is much afraid will never been seen. Of these there are many in my custody, which I suppose you will have the pleasure of observing in the intended catalogue. There have been found those small tables [i.e. wax tablets] which they are cover'd with what was called the palimpseston, then wrote on them with the stylus; but all these are become a kind of cinder, and have likewise suffer'd by the damps; from both which circumstances they are now so tender, that they break with the touch."

Paderni's third letter, also to Hollis, was dated October 18, 1754 and read to the Royal Society on December 12, 1754. In this letter he explained what he meant by a library, as up to this time no one in Europe had a clear idea of what the interior of an ancient Roman library would look like:

"As yet we have only entered into one room, the floor of which is formed of mosaic work, not unelegant. It appears to have been a library, adorned with presses, inlaid with different sorts of wood, disposed in rows; at the top of which were cornices, as in our own times. I was buried in this spot for more than twelve days, to carry off the volumes found there; many of which were so perished, that it was impossible to remove them. Those, which I took away, amounted to the number of three hundred thirty-seven, all of them at present incapable of being opened. These are all written in Greek characters. While I was busy in this work, I observed a large bundle, which, from the size, I imagined must contain more than a single volume. I tried with the utmost care to get it out, but could not, from the damp and weight of it. However I perceived, that it consisted, of about eighteen volumes, each of which was in length a palm and three Neapolitan inches; being the longest hitherto discovered. They were wrapped about with the bark of a tree, and covered at each end with a piece of wood. All these were written in Latin, as appears by a few words, which broke off from them. I was in hopes to have got something out of them, but they are in a worse condition than the Greek. From the latter the public will see some intire columns, having myself had the good fortune to extract two, and many other fine fragments. Of all these an account is drawing up, which will be published together with the other Greek characters, now engraving on copper-plates and afterwards make separate work by themselves. . . At present the monk, who was sent for from Rome, to try to open the former manuscripts, has begun to give us some hopes in respect to one of them. Those which I have opened, are philosophical tracts the subjects of which are known to me; but I am not liberty to be more explicit. When they are published they are to be immediately conveyed to you. That first papyri, of which I formerly acquainted you, were in a separate room, adjoining to the beforementioned palace." 

Because of the difficulty in reading the carbonized documents, the first publication of the texts of Herculaneum papyri occurred forty years after their discovery, in 1793 with the issue of the first volume of Herculanensium voluminum quae supersunt in Naples. Because of the fragility of the papyrus burned and preserved in lava, Paderni did not attempt to unroll P.Herc. 817  until 1805, at which time apographs were drawn by Carlo Orazi. The first coherent publication of its text appeared in the second volume of Herculanensium Voluminum (Naples, 1809) without facsimiles or reproductions of the papyrus. Orazi's apographs were taken to Palermo before the French occupation of Naples in 1806, but facsimiles of P.Herc. 817 were not published until nearly 80 years later. Efforts to read the remainder of the papyri proceeded very gradually; this series was completed in 11 volumes in 1855. Two hundred years after their discovery many of the Herculaneum papyri remained illegible to scholars, even after sophisticated imaging techniques were applied.

In 1800 the Prince of Wales (later George IV) decided to support the unrolling and deciphering of the papyri found at Herculaneum in 1752, and sent his chaplain in ordinary John Hayter to Naples, who was an expert on antiquities, to take charge of the "Officina" and direct the work. By this time, perhaps out of appropriate caution, or because of the difficulty involved, only 18 of the approximately 1800 manuscripts found in the Villa dei Papiri had been unrolled. It is thought that Padierni opened only the rolls that he thought were most promising from the textual standpoint.

Discussing the background of the project, in 1800 Hayter issued a few copies of a 22-page pamphlet entitled the Herculanean and Pompeian Manuscripts. This was written in the form of a letter to the Prince of Wales. By this time the papyri had been moved to Palermo. Hayter began operations in 1802 at Portici, near Naples. He had charge of the papyri from 1802 to 1806. In four years about two hundred rolls were opened, and nearly one hundred copied in lead-pencil facsimiles under Hayter's superintendence.

In 1802 Ferdinand IV, King of Naples and the Two Sicilies, in a diplomatic move, offered six rolls of Herculaneum papyrus as a gift to First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte. Eager to discover the contents of these artefacts — some of the most impressive examples — Bonaparte handed them over to the Institut de France in Paris. There the mathematician and keen archaeologist Gaspard Monge, and Vivant Denon, the "founder" of the Louvre, were put in charge of unrolling the rolls. When the French invaded southern Italy in 1806, Hayter followed King Ferdnand into exile in Palermo, Sicily, and the original papyri fell into the hands of the French. The lead-pencil facsimiles also passed out of Hayter's hands, but were recovered from the Neapolitan authorities through the influence of William Drummond of Logiealmond, the British minister. Between 1807 and 1808 copperplates were incised at Palermo under Hayter's direction, and shipped to England where, instead of being published as Hayter had planned, they were archived at Oxford's Bodleian Library. Meanwhile, during the last illness of George III, the Prince of Wales became the Prince Regent, and would ascend to the throne in 1820 at the death of his father. In 1811 Hayter issued a rather grand volume on the project, printed in unusually large type, and illustrated with fine color mezzotint plates, entitled, A Report upon the Herculaneum Manuscripts, in a Second Letter, Addressed, by Permission to his Royal Highness the Prince Regent. The volume discusses Hayter's experience with the papyri in detail, and includes some beautiful color images of the papyrus plant, but no reproductions of papyri. It also reprints the text of Hayter's first (1800) letter to the Prince. My copy is bound in the original pink boards with its title printed in large boldface letters on the upper cover. Hayter's series of reproductions of P.Herc 817 and other papyri were mostly not published until 1885, in an appendix to Fragmenta Herculanensia: A Descriptive Catalogue of the Oxford Copies of the Herculanean Rolls by Walter Scott. The first photographs of any of the fragments were published by Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores III (1938) 385.

In 1816 some of the Herculaneum papyrus fragments which had been brought to Paris and London were entrusted to the German polymath and archaeologist Friedrich Carl Sickler who attempted to unroll them, but in the process destroyed several. As a record of this experience Sickler published a pamphlet entitled Herculaneum Rolls. Correspondence Relative to a Proposition Made by Dr. Sickler of Hildberghausen Relative to Their Development (London, 1817).

Following this the chemist Sir Humphrey Davy travelled to the museum at Naples, reported on the state of the papyri found there, and attempted to unroll some of them in Naples, and to use chlorine to unroll some of those in London. Even though he employed scientific care some destruction occurred. Davy published his results as "Some Observations and Experiments on the Papyri Found at Herculaneum," Philosophical Transactions, III (1821) 191-208, plates XI-XVIII, include some of Hayter's reproductions published for the first time. These were probably the earliest reproductions of papyrus fragments published in England. When historian of libraries Edward Edwards published his Memoirs of Libraries I (1859) he was able to get permission from the Royal Society to reproduce Davy's plates from the original copperplates which were still preserved. These he reproduced in his account of Davy's work facing facing p. 72.


In 1999 researchers at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, began to apply multispectral imaging, a technique originally designed for the study of extraterrestrial planetary surfaces, to the study of ancient documents that were difficult to read. One of the successes of this project was the revelation of the texts of the documents from Herculaneum.

♦ On December 19, 2013 BBC News published an article by Robin Banerji entitled Unlocking the scrolls of HerculaneumThis contained the best illustrated summary that I had seen to date of the history of the problems in unrolling and deciphering the Herculaneum papyri. (Thanks to my friend William P. Watson for directing my attention to this, and the following paper.)

♦ On January 20, 2015 in an article entitled X-ray technique 'reads' burnt Vesuvius scroll Jonathan Webb reported on bbc.com that a 3D X-ray imagining technique sometimes used in breast scans had been successful in reading some of the Herculaneum papyri without unrolling them. Webb's article summarized a paper by Vito Mocella and colleagues: "Revealing letters in rolled Herculaeum papyri by X-ray phase-contrast imaging," Nature Comunications, January 20, 2015. In the United States The New York Times published an equally interesting article by Nicholas Wade, with different illustrations entitled "Unlocking Scrolls Preserved in Eruption of Vesuvius, Using X-Ray Beams." On January 21, 2015 further information and a photograph of the researchers was available from artdaily.org at this link.


The most useful modern study of the library is David Sider's The Library of the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum (2005).

The classic study of the excavation of Herculaneum through 1908, which impressed upon its readers the necessity for further excavation, was Waldstein & Shoobridge, Herculaneum Past Present and Future (1908). This includes a very useful historical bibliography. In 2011 Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Director of the Herculaneum Conservation Project, issued the most beautiful large-format full color book entitled Herculaneum, Past and Future. The volume included hundreds of color photographs, numerous full color maps and charts, and several double-foldout 360 degree views. Reading this book truly gives one the feeling of being in the ancient place.

 (This entry was last revised on 01-21-2015.)

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The First Mention of Literary Works Published in Parchment Codices 84 CE – 86 CE

A portrait of Martial.

The first mention of literary works published in parchment codices is found in Martial, a Latin poet from Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula) best known for his twelve books of Epigrams, published in Rome between 86 and 103 CE. In poems written during the years 84-86 he emphasizes their compactness, their handiness for the traveller, and tells provides the name of the shop where such novelties can be bought (I.2.7-8):


qui tecum cupis esse meos ubicumque libellos 
   et comites longae quaeris habere uiae, 
hos eme, quos artat breuibus membrana tabellis: 
   scrinia da magnis, me manus una capit. 
ne tamen ignores ubi sim uenalis et erres 
   urbe uagus tota, me duce certus eris: 
libertum docti Lucensis quaere Secundum 
   limina post Pacis Palladiumque forum. 

You who long for my little books to be with you everywhere and want to have companions for a long journey, buy these ones which parchment confines within small pages: give your scroll-cases to the great authors - one hand can hold me. So that you are not ignorant of where I am on sale, and don't wander aimlessly through the whole city, I will be your guide and you will be certain: look for Secundus, the freedman of learned Lucensis, behind the threshold of the Temple of Peace and the Forum of Pallas.       (Translated by Nick, http://martialis.blogspot.com/2004_06_01_archive.html#108637752590707142, accessed 02-28-2014).

 "Athough there is one surviving fragment of a parchment codex written about A.D. 100 (the anonymous De Bellis Macedonicis, P. Lit. Lond. 121) the pocket editions that Martial was at pains to advertise were not a success. The codex did not come into use for pagan literature until the second century; but it rapidly gained ground in the third, and triumphed in the fourth" (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 3rd ed., [1991] 34).

"The poet Martial, writing in or near 85 A.D., described codex books, though not using that term for them. In perhaps the clearest of his several references, he described a book containing the works of Homer in 'muliplici pelle,' much-folded or many-layered leather. The context of his references suggests that the codices he had in mind were curiosities, his general point being that by this means (as compared to the standard alternative, the roll) a substantial text could be contained in quite a small, handy volume. His precise meaning is not certain; some scholars have conjectured that Martial was describing books in minature scripts" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 4).

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The "Hawara Homer" Circa 150 CE

Recto of papyrus containing lines from Homer's Illiad, found at Hawara. (View Larger)

The ten frames of the so-called "Hawara Homer," preserved at the Bodleian Library (MS. Gr. class. a. 1 [P]) and dated about 150 CE, were discovered lying rolled up under the head of a mummified woman by W. M. Flinders Petrie in the cemetery at Hawara, Egypt.

"William Flinders Petrie excavated at Hawara in 1888. After working in Medinet el-Fayum (Arsinoe) and Biahmu, he moved on to the site south of Arsinoe and took the 60 workers he had already employed at the former sites with him. The results of his excavations at Hawara were published in 1889 in his "Hawara, Biahmu, and Arsinoe". The papyrological material said to have been found at Hawara was studied by Prof. Sayce and published on pages 24 to 37 of that volume. Sayce gave a general description of the great papyrus roll which contains parts of books 1 and 2 of the Iliad (the "Hawara Homer"), emphasizing the importance of the variants, and edited the texts of the most complete documents, some of them in a very preliminary way.

"J. G. Milne undertook a new edition of 37 of these papyri in the Archiv für Papyrusforschung 5, 1913, 378-397. He did not work on the Hawara Homer but concentrated on the smaller literary texts and gave a proper publication of some more documents. The texts which were not reconsidered in Milne's publication were reprinted in Sammelbuch I (nos. 5220, 5223, 5224).

"When Flinders Petrie brought his finds back to England, the material was divided between several institutions. The Hawara Homer was given to the Bodleian Library in Oxford (where it still is today), while all the other papyrological material stayed in London and was given to the Department of Egyptology at University College London. In 1948, the young professor of Papyrology, Eric Turner received permission from the then Professor of Egyptology, J. Czerny, to take the Hawara papyri to the Department of Greek and Latin at UCL and to keep them there in his custody. A letter from 16 June 1949 confirms the transfer of the papyri. They were kept in a secret place in the department for more than 50 years.

"As usual, Flinders Petrie did not give precise indications, as to where the papyri were found on the site. He just mentions that the region north of the pyramid "was the usual place for burials in the early Roman period , when gilt cartonnage busts were used. Papyri from the Ist and IInd cent. AD are also usual in the soil here, and for some way north" (p. 8, no. 11; cf. the map on plate XXV in the book)" (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/GrandLatMisc/hawara/, accessed 04-27-2014.)

"The script is a fine rounded capital hand of large size. In the left-hand margin of frame 10 there are some critical signs of the type developed by the Alexandrian scholars. There are also some brief scholia in which Aristarchus (216-144 B.C.), the greatest of the Hellenistic critics, is named." (Hunt, R.W., The Survival of the Classics, Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1975, No. 3).

Illustrated in Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 3rd ed., 1991, plate 1.

(This entry was last revised on 04-27-2014.)

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The Bankes Homer: One of the Best Preserved Papyri of Homer Circa 150 CE

The Bankes Homer, a second century papyrus roll consisting of Iliad 24 (Ω) lines 127-804, (P. Lond. Lit. 28; TM 60500), is one of the longest and best preserved papyri of Homer surviving from antiquity. Its colophon reads Ἰλίαδος Ω. Like most Homeric papyri, it is incomplete, lacking the first 126 lines of Iliad 24, and possibly all of Iliad 23. The roll measures 240 x 2325mm. In April 2014 digital facsimiles of the papyrus unrolled and unpressed showing its wrinkles, and also flattened out under glass, were available from the British Library at this link.

The Banks Homer contains 16 columns of Greek written in scriptio continua in an uncial hand, each column measuring 195 x 105mm, and containing between 42 and 44 lines. The papyrus also contains the names of characters in the margin to indicate passages of direct speech, and abbreviated notes marking narrative sequences of text. In addition, it contains breathing marks and accents made by an ancient diorthotes or "corrector" to show correct poetic pronunciation. 

In the ancient world reading of literary texts was done aloud, and the accentual marks served as an aid for maintaining correct pronunciation. In scholia for the Tékhnē grammatiké (τέχνη γραμματική) attributed to the Hellenistic grammarian Dionysius Thrax (23.3f. ed. Hilgard 1901) the role of the "corrector" was described:

"Before the student would begin to read the corrector [diorthotes] would take the book and correct [diorthousthai] so that he [the student] would not read it wrong and thus fall into a bad habit. Afterward, the student woudl take the book as corrected [diorthousthai] to a reading-teacher [anagnostikos] who was supposed to teach him how to read according to the correction-work  [diorthosis] of the corrector [diorthotes]" (Nagy, "Traces of an Ancient System of Reading in the Venetus A," Dué (ed) Recapturing a Homeric Legacy [2009] 135.)

The Bankes Homer was purchased in Elephantine, Egypt in 1821 by the explorer, Egyptologist, adventurer, and antiquary William John Bankes. Bankes retained as interpreter and intermediary another adventurer named Giovanni Finati, and it was Finati who acquired the manuscript, describing the purchase his memoirs, which Bankes translated from the Italian and edited for publication as Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Giovanni Finati, Native of Ferrara, 2 vols, London 1830, vol. 2, pp. 357-58. In his blog dated 02-13-2014 Roger Pearse reproduced this section of Bankes edition of Finati's text, which I quote:

". . . we all took our departure together for Assouan. And it was during our stay there of a few days that, on the opposite island of Elephantine, (which I have always remarked to be, after Thebes, the place where the greatest harvest of curious antiquities is brought for sale by the natives,) a roll of papyrus in the Greek character + was put into my hands, for which I bargained and fixed the price in the first place, and then took it to Monsieur Linant for the money, stipulating at the time that it was to be bought on Mr. Bankes’s account.

"This roll proved to be that manuscript of Homer * which is considered so precious, but which it grieved me afterwards, and ever will, to have seen sold for more than its weight in gold + to that gentleman whom I considered the owner of it, and who would certainly have had it at my hands, without any further demand.

"+ In my own journey, I bought a scrap of Greek upon papyrus in a very fine clear character, which seems to be the fragment of a letter or edict. I have a great number of tiles also written in a cursive Greek character, and highly curious upon that account, which purport to be receipts of pay by the Roman soldiery at Assouan during several reigns, from Tiberius to Commodius—one of these I found myself at Elephantine; and I have an amphora, also, that has served the same purposes as a modern slate to some tradesman’s family in Roman times, with his house or shop accounts registered upon it in ink from day to day.

"* It contains the last book of the Iliad, most beautifully written, in uncial letters, and the lines numbered in the margin: what is very surprising, it has had accents added to it afterwards.

"+ The author, though the first who had the handling of this papyrus, seems here to have formed a very undue estimate of its weight, for the sum which I paid for it amounted to no less than 25,000 piastres (about 500l.), that being stated as the offer that had been made for it from another quarter."

In 1879 the British Museum acquired the papyrus from Walter Ralph Bankes (1853-1904). 

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Pollux's Onomasticon, the Oldest Specimen of Encylopedism Surviving from Antiquity Circa 175 CE

Julius Pollux's (Ἰούλιος Πολυδεύκηςis) Onomasticon, a thesaurus of Attic Greek synonyms and phrases arranged thematically in ten books, is the oldest specimen of encyclopedism surviving from antiquity. It is also the only surviving Greek lexical work with an onomastic structure— not an alphabetic sequence of lemmata but topical assemblages of synonyms.

One of the most significant intellectuals of the later second century CE, the apogee of Hellenism under the Roman EmpirePollux, born in the city of Naucratis in Egypt, was a Greek sophist and grammarian. He received instruction in criticism from his father, and afterwards went to Athens, where he studied rhetoric under the sophist Adrian. He opened a private school at Athens, where he gave instruction in grammar and rhetoric, and was subsequently appointed by the emperor Commodus to the chair of rhetoric at Athens. He died during the reign of Commodus at the age of fifty-eight. 

The Onomasticon, Pollux's only surviving work, is divided into ten books, each of which contains a short dedication to Commodus as Caesar indicating that the work was published before 177 CE, since Commodus became Augustus in that year. Each book forms a separate treatise by itself, containing the most important words relating to certain subjects, with short explanations of the meanings of the words, which are frequently illustrated by quotations from ancient writers. Instead of an alphabetical arrangement, the words are given according to the subjects treated of in each book. The object of the work was to present youths with a kind of store-house, from which they could borrow all the words of which they had need, and could at the same time learn their usage in the best writers.  Subject matter of the ten books is as follows:

"1. Of the gods and their worship, of kings, of speed and slowness, of dyeing, of commerce and manuftactures, of fertility and the contrary, of time and the divisions of the year, of houses, of ships, of war, of horses, of agriculture, of the parts of the plough and the waggon, and of bees.

2. The second treats of man, his eye, the parts of his body and the like.

3. Of relations, of political life, of friends, of the love of country, of love, of the relation between masters and slaves, of money, of travelling, and numerous other subjects.

4. Of the various branches of knowledge and science.

5. Of hunting, animals, &c.

6. Of meals, the names of crimes, &c.

7. Of the different trades, &c.

8. Of the courts, the administration of justice, &c.

9. Of towns, buildings, coins, games, &c.

10. Of various vessels, &c."(Smith, W. Ed. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology from Perseus Digital Library, accessed 01-24-2015).

  “It supplies in passing much rare and valuable information on many points of classical antiquity— objects in daily life, the theater, politics— and quotes numerous fragments of lost works. Pollux was probably the person satirized by Lucian as a worthless and ignorant person who gains a reputation as an orator by sheer effrontery, and pilloried in his Lexiphanes, a satire upon the affectation of obscure and obsolete words” (Encyclopaedia Britannica [1999]).

The Onomasticon did not survive in its original form; all manuscripts of its text derive from four incomplete exemplars which descend from a common hyparchetype— an epitome owned and interpolated by the Greek Orthodox theologian Arethas of Patrae, later Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. One of the few known Byzantine book collectors, Arethas also owned the earliest surviving manuscripts of Euclid and Plato, among other items. The editio princeps of Pollux’s Onomasticon, issued by Aldus Manutius in 1502, made the work more widely available to Renaissance scholars and antiquaries for the first time.

Renouard, Aldus Manutius, pp. 32-33

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The Oldest Surviving Manuscript of the Comedies of Terence Circa 350 CE – 450 CE

Dating from the fourth or fifth century, the Codex Bembinus (Vatican Library Vat. lat. 3226) is the oldest surviving manuscript containing all or portions of the six comedies, or Fabulae, of Terence. It is written in Rustic Capitals

"The marginal gloss is in a Cursive Half-Uncial, the handwriting of the educated person of late Antiquity which, as in this example, would often be used for annotation of formal works. It consists of a rapid form of Half-Uncial, as the name suggests" (Brown, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 [1990] no. 7, plate 7).

In the middle of the 15th century the manuscript belonged to Gianantonio de' Pandoni (Porcellio) when in 1457 it was acquired by humanist Bernardo Bembo. It later passed into the collection of humanist, collector and archaeologist Fulvio Orsini, and entered the Vatican Library in 1600.

Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars 3rd. ed., (1991) 36.

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The Earliest of Two Surviving Examples of Codices Written Entirely in Roman Square Capitals, and the Earliest Manuscript with a Large Ornamented Initial Letter at the Beginning of Each Page Circa 350 CE

One of the four leaves of the Vergilius Augusteus that resides in the Vatican Library.(View Larger)

The Codex Augusteus of Virgil, or the Vergilius Augusteus, was once thought to have been created in the Age of Octavian, the first Roman Emperor, but was later estimated to have been written in the fourth century CE. This and the Codex Sangallensis, are the only surviving examples of ancient manuscripts written entirely in Square capitals, a style of writing that was extremely complex and time consuming, and most often reserved for display headings. The Codex Augusteus also contains the earliest surviving examples of large ornamented initial letters at the beginning of each page. 

Square capitals were generally reserved for display purposes, or for use in monumental epigraphic inscriptions (scriptura monumentalis). "The angular letter-forms, with their frequent changes of angle and their serifs, were difficult to achieve with the reed pen (calamus) hence the preference for more rounded book scripts" (Brown, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 [1990] no. 1 and plate 1).

"According to Lowe, the Codex was almost certainly written in Italy. The script is the creation of the broad pen whose edge is held parallel to the base line; the position of the arm for which, according to the cut of the pen, gives thick perpendiculars and thin sub-strokes. It is a position, also, that requires to be maintained by a constant effort of the will if the letters to is to remain consistent throughout. Accordingly, when, as often, the o is tilted, it is probably against the intention of the scribe" (Morison, Politics and Script. . . . Barker ed. [1972] 49).

Only seven leaves of the manuscript survive, of which four are in the Vatican Library (Vat. Lat. 3256), and the remaining three in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Lat. fol. 416.) The manuscript was probably written in Italy. By the 15th century it was in St. Denis, Paris. The four leaves in the Vatican Library belonged to the jurist, humanist and bibliophile, Claude Dupuy. He gave two leaves to the humanist, historian and archaeologist Fulvio Orsini in 1574, and gave him the other two in 1575.  

Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores I (1934) no. 13.  Lowe, "Some facts about our Oldest Latin Manuscripts," Bieler (ed) E. A. Lowe. Palaeographical Papers 1907-1965 (1972) 189.

Stan Knight, Historical Scripts from Classical Times to the Renaissance (2009) B3 (pp. 26-27, with excellent images).

(This entry was last revised on 08-15-2014.)


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The Largest Papyrus Codex and the Earliest to Use Red Ink for Titles Circa 350 CE

A papyrus fragment in Latin of Vergil's (Virgil's) Georgics, Book II.527 - Book III.25, owned by the Egypt Exploration Society and preserved in the Ashmolean Museum, represents portions of the leaf of a papyrus codex, the page size of which cannot have measured less than 41 x 27.5 cm. When this fragment was exhibited at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, in 1975 it was judged "the largest size for a papyrus codex yet discovered, " and its use of red ink for titles etc. was considered "the earliest known."

"The papyrus codex represented by these poor scraps from a single leaf was once a book of great magnificence. The side shown (recto) contains the end of Georgics II, followed by the closing title of Bk. II and the opening title of Bk. III in red, and a short introduction to Bk. III. The first three lines of Bk. III on the verso are also in red. The main text is written in a 'stately bd-uncial' and the introduction in a smaller 'mixed half-uncial (E. A. Lowe).

". . . Most fragments of Vergil found in Egypt are schoolroom texts of the Aeneid, but this fragment of the Georgics (a text rare among the finds) must be from a collector's luxury copy — a theory not incompatible with its poor textual quality" (Hunt, The Survival of Ancient Literature, Bodleian Library [1976] No. 21).

The fragment, P. Ant. 29, was excavated at Antinoë, Egypt (Antinopolis, Antinoöpolis, Antinoopolis, Ἀντινόουπόλις, Coptic  Ansena, modern Sheikh 'Ibada) in 1913-14.

Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores Supplement (1971) No. 1708 illustrated portions, and stated that the papyrus on which the fragment was written is "of unusually fine quality for this period." He also commented, "Origin uncertain. Found at Antinoë. Its stately calligraphy and generous margins speak for the volume's being an importation, perhaps from Syria, the home of the Fragmentum de Formula Fabiana, with which it has features in common."

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Herald of Christianity and Magus: One of the Oldest Surviving Illustrated Codices Circa 380 CE

Vergilius Vaticanus

The Vergilius Vaticanus (Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Cod. Vat. lat. 3225; also known as the Vatican Virgil or Vatican Vergil) is an illustrated manuscript written in Rome in rustic capitals toward the end of the fourth century, containing fragments of Vergil's (Virgil's) Aeneid and Georgics. It is one of the oldest sources for the text of the Aeneid,  and one of the oldest surviving illustrated codices on any subect. Therefore some of its images represent firsts in book illustration. For example, the image of the seige of Troy on leaf 19 recto is probably the oldest image of warfare in a codex.

The Vatican Virgil is also the oldest of three surviving lllustrated manuscripts of classical literature. The two others are the Vergilius Romanus (circa 450) and the Ambrosian Iliad (Ilias Ambrosiana) (493-508). Before passing into the Vatican Library, the Vergilius Vaticanus, of which seventy-five leaves survive, belonged to the humanist and poet, Giovanni Giovano Pontano, to the poet, literary theorist and cardinal Pietro Bembo, and to the humanist, historian and archaeologist, Fulvio Orsini.

"It is Italy that has left us the greatest legacy of books and literature from the late Roman world. In the Italy of the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries there were probably still stationers who employed scribes to produce books and well as scribes and artists who worked independently. The Codex Vaticanus [same as Vergilius Vaticanus] of Virgil and the Quedlinburg fragment of the Book of Kings in the Vetus Latin version are two products of this professional scribal activity from the end of the fourth century. Both manuscripts might have originated in the same scriptorium" (Bernhard Bischoff, Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne [2007] 3-4).

Note: In his dating of the Quedlinburg fragment, and his consideration that both might have been produced by the same shop, Bischoff, who originally wrote his essays in German between 1966 and 1981, differs from later scholarship. 

"Even as the Roman empire collapsed, literate men acknowledged that the Christianized Virgil was a master poet.. . . . The Aeneid remained the central Latin literary text of the Middle Ages and retained its status as the grand epic of the Latin peoples, and of those who considered themselves to be of Roman provenance, such as the English. It also held religious importance as it describes the founding of the Holy City. Virgil was made palatable for his Christian audience also through a belief in his prophecy of Christ in his Fourth Ecologue. Cicero and other classical writers too were declared Christian due to similarities in moral thinking to Christianity.

•"In the Middle Ages, Virgil was considered a herald of Christianity for his Ecologue 4 verses (Perseus Project Ecl.4) concerning the birth of a boy, which were read as a prophecy of Jesus' nativity.

•"Also during the Middle Ages, as Virgil was developed into a kind of magus, manuscripts of the Aeneid were used for divinatory bibliomancy, the Sortes Virgilianae, in which a line would be selected at random and interpreted in the context of a current situation" (Wikipedia article on Virgil, accessed 12-03-08).

Possibly coincident with the type facsimile publication in 1741 of the text of the fifth century Codex Mediceus of Virgil, an edition of the illustrations of the Vergilius Vaticanus and the Codex Romanus engraved by Pietro Santi Bartoli was published in Rome: Antiqvissimi Virgiliani codicis fragmenta et picturae ex Bibliotheca Vaticana : ad priscas imaginum formas a Petro Sancte Bartholi incisae. Romae : ex Chalcographia R.C.A., apud Pedem Marmoreum, 1741. This contained 58 engraved plates reproducing images from the Vergilius Vaticanus plus 6 additional illustrations from the Codex Romanus. Catalogue records indicate that Bartoli's images may have been first published separately in 1677.

In 1782 Bartoli's engravings were reissued in an excellent edition combining images from both Virgil manuscripts together with related images from ancient engraved gems depicting events in Virgil.  The new edition was entitled Picturae antiquissimi Virgiliani codicis Bibliothecae Vaticanae a Petro Sancte Bartoli aere incisae accedunt ex insignioribus pinacothecia picturis aliae veteres gemmae et anaglypha, and published in Rome by Venantius Menaldini. The frontispiece, engraved title and dedication of this edition are spectacular. The 1782 edition contains 124 images plus the engraved frontispiece, title, and dedication.

In 1899 the Vatican Library issued a black and white facsimile of the Vatican Vergil as the first of its facsimile series, Codices e vaticanis selecti phototypice expressi, vol. 1. In 1980 they followed this with a facsimile in color as Codices e vaticanis selecti phototypice expressi, vol. 40. The best and most exact facsimile was issued by Akademische Druck-u. Verlagsanstalt, Graz, Austria in 1984. That edition reproduced the manuscript and its 19th century red morocco binding precisely, and included a commentary volume in English by David H. Wright. The definitive study of the manuscript, which places it within the artistic and cultural context of its time, is Wright's The Vatican Vergil. A Masterpiece of Late Antique Art (1993).

Reynolds, Texts and Transmission. A Survey of the Latin Classics (1983) 434.

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Early Christians May Have Destroyed What Remained of the Alexandrian Library Because of its Pagan Contents 391 CE

One theory suggests that in 391 CE what remained of the Alexandrian Library was held in the Serapeum of Alexandria, a temple built by Ptolemy III and dedicated to Serapis, the syncretic Hellenistic-Egyptian god who was made the protector of Alexandria.

According to the the monk historian and theologian Tyrannius Rufinus and the historian of the Christian church Salminius Hermias Sozomenus (Σωζομενός Sozomen), Theophilus of Alexandria, Patriarch of Alexandria, discovered a hidden pagan temple. He and his followers mockingly displayed the pagan artifacts to the public which offended the pagans enough to provoke an attack on the Christians. The Christian faction counter-attacked, forcing the pagans to retreat to the Serapeum, which at that time may have housed what remained of the Alexandrian Library.  In response to this conflict the emperor sent Theophilus a letter ordering that the offending pagans be pardoned, but giving permission to destroy the temple and its pagan contents. According to church historian Socrates Scholasticus or Socrates of Constantinople, the emperor granted permission to destroy the temple in response to heavy solicitation by Theophilus.

“ 'Seizing this opportunity, Theophilus exerted himself to the utmost ... he caused the Mithraeum to be cleaned out... Then he destroyed the Serapeum... and he had the phalli of Priapus carried through the midst of the forum. ... the heathen temples... were therefore razed to the ground, and the images of their gods molten into pots and other convenient utensils for the use of the Alexandrian church'  —Socrates Scholasticus, The Ecclesiastical History" (Wikipedia article on Theophilus of Alexandria, accessed 11-28-2010).

♦ A papyrus fragment from an illustrated Greek chronicle written in Alexandria circa 450 CE has survived, depicting Theophilus standing triumphantly on top of the Serapeum, providing a near contemporary portrait of Theophilus in the context of these events. _________________________________________________________

In 2009 Spanish film director Alejandro Amenábar released the historical fiction film Agora based on elements of these historical events, and the life of the female neoplatonic philosopher and mathematician Hypatia (portrayed by Rachel Weisz), who was the daughter of the last known mathematician associated with Alexandria, Theon of Alexandria (portrayed by Michael Lonsdale). In my opinion this is among the few historical films to include discussion of serious, if watered-down scientific and philosophical ideas along with all the action sequences. The drama seems relatively objective, presenting the tragedy of the deaths of Hypatia and Theon, and the loss of the Alexandrian Library against unbiased and unflattering portrayals of the conflicts between pagans and Christians, and the conflicts between Christians and Jews.

From the standpoint of book history, the film seems reasonably accurate, with the exception of two details: in one scene a Christian is shown preaching from a papyrus roll. More than likely this would have been a codex; in another scene a Christian preacher is appropriately shown with an open codex written in what resembles the correct Greek majuscule. The other probably inaccurate detail is the way that the rolls are shelved in the Serapeum. Instead of pigeon hole shelves which would probably have been historically accurate, the rolls are displayed in shelves with diagonal cross-pieces rather like those used in some wine cellars. The film was a critical success but commercial flop in the U.S.; it was financially successful in Europe, and released on DVD in 2010

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The Codex Mediceus of Virgil Circa 450 CE

The Codex Mediceus of Virgil (Vergil) (Florence, Laur. 39.1 + Vatican lat. 3225, f.76), a fifth century manuscript preserved in the Laurentian Library (Biblioteca Medicea Laurentiana) in Florence, with a single leaf preserved in the Vatican Library, contains the Ecologues from VI.48, the Georgics, and the Aeneid. A subscription at the end of the Ecologues records that the manuscript was corrected at Rome by Turcius Rufius Apronianus Asterius, consul in 494. Reynolds states that the manuscript "found its way to Bobbio, and was still there in 1467." Soon thereafter it was taken to the Vatican Library in Rome, and by 1471 it was in the hands of humanist Julius Pomponius Laetus (Pomponio Leto) who wrote emendations in the codex in red ink. The manuscript was first preserved in the Vatican Library, and later purchased by Cosimo de' Medici from the heirs of Cardinal Rodolpho Pio da Carpi, who died in 1564. 

In 1741 the Codex Mediceus was first published in print in an extraordinary typographic reproduction, or typographic facsimile, planned and edited by Vatican librarian and philologist Pier Francesco Foggini. The edition, printed by Manniani in Florence, was printed with types imitating the uncial script of the original, in red and black. By combining different sizes of types, the printer was also able to include the annotations and emendations of Asterius and Laetus. The edition began with an engraved vignette that reproduced a fragment of the manuscript in more literal detail.

In Printing Types I (1962, p. 171) Daniel Berkeley Updike commented on this edition as follows:

"A curious piece of Italian typography, very characteristic of the eighteenth century, is an edition of Virgil (P.Vergilii Maronis, Codex Antiquissimus, A Rufio Turcio Aproniano V. C. Distinctus et Emendatus. . . Florentiae. Typis Mannianis), published in 1741 at Florence, and printed by Joseph Manni, a person of scholarly tastes. It is set entirely in old style capitals with a few characters imitating those of an ancient and famous manuscript of Virgil in rustic characters in the Laurentian Library, Florence. The preface exhibits a fairly accurate engraved reproduction of a few lines of the model on which the book was based, and in the text the ingenious introduction of but three specially cut letters give the general effect of a font of 'rustic' type. Thus the work displays that amazing audacity in arriving at a striking effect, notwithstanding inaccurate details and economy of method, which was typical of Italian printing at that time. Issued at a place and period which appears unfavourable to such a venture, and dedicated to lovers of the Fine Arts, it also indicates there has always been a public sufficiently sympathetic to encourage such publications. The volume is enlivened by occasional rubrication which gives it a distinguished air." 

Reynolds, Texts and Transmission. A Survey of the Latin Classics (1983) 433.

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The Only Illustrated Homer from Antiquity 493 CE – 508

Achilles sacrificing to Zeus from the Ambrosian Iliad. (View Larger)

Fifty-eight miniatures cut out of a 5th century illuminated manuscript on vellum of the Iliad of Homer are known as the Ilias Ambrosiana (Ilia picta). The manuscript is thought to have been produced in Constantinople during the late 5th or early 6th century, specifically between 493 and 508. "This time frame was developed by Ranuccio Bandinelli and is based on the abundance of green in the pictures, which happened to be the color of the faction in power at the time" (Wikipedia article on Ambrosian Iliad, accessed 11-30-2008).

The images from the Ambrosian Iliad are the only surviving portions of an illustrated copy of Homer from antiquity. Along with the Vergilius Vaticanusand the Vergilius Romanus, this incomplete manuscript of the Iliad is one of only three illustrated manuscripts of classical literature that survived from antiquity. The Iliad images

"show a considerable diversity of compositional schemes, from single combat to complex battle scenes. This indicates that, by that time, Iliad illustration had passed through various stages of development and thus had a long history behind it. It seems mere chance that neither an illustrated Odyssey nor any of the other Greek epic poems has survived" (Weitzmann,  Late Antique and Early Christian Book Illumination [1977] 13).

Before it was preserved in the Bibliotheca Ambrosiana, Milan, the Ilias Ambrosiana fragment was in the library of humanist, botanist, and collector, Gian Vincenzo Pinelli, whose library of hundreds of manuscripts and roughly 8500 printed works was probably the greatest in 16th century Italy.

Nuovo, "The Creation and Dispersal of the Library of Gian Vincenzo Pinelli", Mandelbrote et al (eds) Books on the Move: Tracking Copies Through Collections and the Book Trade (2007) 39-68.

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500 CE – 600

An Archive of Papyri, Including the Oldest Surviving Poems Written by a Known Poet Circa 520 – 585

The archive of Flavius Dioscorus (Dioscoros), called Dioscorus of Aphrodito, consists of several hundred papyri in mostly in Greek, with some in Coptic. The papyri are the records of Dioscorus, an Egyptian landlord, notary and village administrator who lived in the Egyptian village of Aphrodito from about 520 to 585. This town, located 45 north of Sohag, is now called Kom Isgaw, Kom Ishgau or Kom Ashkaw. The archive was discovered by accident in Kom Isgaw during a home renovation in 1905 when a floor collapsed revealing historic objects below. As a result of this discovery, more is known about Dioscorus and his intellectual-political-religious milieu than virtually any other individual in Egypt during the Early Byzantine period.

Dioscorus's native language was Egyptian and his faith was Christian; however, he was also versed in pagan Greek culture, and he had studied Roman law. Petitions that he composed on behalf of citizens of Aphrodito are considered "unique for their poetic and religious qualities." Dioscorus was also a writer of poetry; his poems represent the oldest surviving poems written by a known poet. In December 2013 a scholarly English translation of his poems was available from byzantineegypt.com at this link.

"The archive can be divided into several, well-delinated periods. Some of the oldest documents are related to Dioscoros's father, Apollos, who moved the family into the upper classes of Aphrodito, and was eventually accorded the honorific nomen 'Flavius." In the last decade of his life, Apollos retired to a monatery that he had himself founded. Disocoros received a higher education in Antinoopolis or Alexandria. Following in his father's footsteps, he became village headman and received numerous petitions. After acting as a notaroy in the nome metropolis Antinoopolis for some years, he returned to Aphrodito sometime between 570 and 573. Having a great interest in Chrstian and pagan literatures, Disocoros maintained a private library that included works by Homer and the comedy writer Menander. In his spare time he appears to have been an enthusiastic poet of wedding songs and the lie, written in classical Greek meters" (Vandorpe, "Archives and Dossiers," Bagnall (ed) The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology [2009] 241-42).

A standard biography is Mac Coull, Dioscorus of Aphrodito. His Work and His World (1989); in December 2013 a digital edition of this was available at this link.

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700 – 800

The Earliest Known Example of an Historiated Initial and One of the Earliest Witnesses to Bede's Text Circa 750

The oldest known historiated initial, found in the St. Petersurg Bede, also known as the Leningrad Bede.

The earliest known example of an historiated initial—an enlarged letter at the beginning of a paragraph or other section of text which contains a picture—is in the St Petersburg Bede, an Insular manuscript, which was written about 750 CE. Only four 8th century manuscripts of Bede survive. The St. Petersburg Bede and the manuscript known as the "Moore Bede", preserved in Cambridge University Library, are the earliest witnesses to Bede's text.

The Saint Petersburg Bede

The Saint Petersburg Bede (Saint Petersburg, National Library of Russia, lat. Q. v. I. 18), formerly known as the Leningrad Bede, is one of the two earliest surviving illuminated manuscripts of Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People). Traditionally, it was attributed on palaeographic grounds to Bede’s monastery at Wearmouth-Jarrow. It has also been traditionally dated to 731/732 × 746 on the basis of the so-called Memoranda, a series of retrospective dates found in the margins of Bede’s recapitulo in Book V Chapter 24. The validity of these Memoranda (and similar notes in the Moore Bede) as evidence for the precise year in which the manuscript was copied has been vigorously challenged, and while it may not be possible to assign the manuscript to a specific year, it seems unlikely that it was copied much after the middle of the eighth century.

After the huge disruption of French monastic libraries during the French Revolution, the manuscript was acquired by  Russian  diplomat, paleographer, secretary of the Russian Embassy in France, and collector of manuscripts and books, Peter Petrovich Dubrovsky, who later sold it to the Russian Imperial Library.

M. B. Parkes, The Scriptorium of Wearmouth-Jarrow, Jarrow Lecture 1982.

The Moore Bede

"The Moore Bede is traditionally dated to 734 × 737 on the basis of the so-called Moore Memoranda, a series of chronological notes preserved on f. 128v. Although the validity of these (and similar notes in The Leningrad [St. Petersburg] Bede) as evidence for the manuscript’s date has been challenged vigorously, the manuscript can be dated securely to the eighth century on palaeographic and codicological grounds.

"The manuscript is now thought "likely to be English in origin" (Ker 1990). Bischoff has shown that the manuscript was at the Palace School at Aachen around CE 800 (Bischoff 1966–1968, 56). Parkes suggests that it may have been sent to there from York at the request of Alcuin (Parkes 1982, 27, n. 35)" (Wikipedia article on the Moore Bede, accessed 11-22-2008).

The Earliest Surviving Copies of Caedmon's Hymn

♦ The Moore Bede and the St. Petersburg Bede also contain the earliest known copies of Caedmon's Hymn, the only surviving work of the earliest English poet whose name is known. 

"The poem is one of the earliest attested examples of Old English and is, with the runic Ruthwell Cross and Franks Casket inscriptions, one of three candidates for the earliest attested example of Old English poetry. It is also one of the earliest recorded examples of sustained poetry in a Germanic language" (Wikipedia article on Caedmon, accessed 01-12-2010).

(This entry was last revised on 08-24-2014.)

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"Very Little That Was Recopied in the Crucial Ninth Century Was Subsequently Lost" Circa 790

The court library of Charlemagne at Aachen set an example for abbey and cathedral scriptoria throughout the Holy Roman Empire.

"The titles of classical books jotted down in a Berlin manuscript circa 790 have been shown to be a partial list of the library at Aachen. It is remarkable for the range and rarity of the authors represented—Sallust, Martial, Lucan, and Cicero, for example—some of whose books had scarcely survived the Merovingian period. Indeed, it is characteristic of many textual traditions propagated in Carolingian times from old (fifth- or sixth-century) manuscripts, with an intermediate stage. Very little that was recopied in the crucial ninth century was subsequently lost, and the diligent collecting of these earlier representatives themselves ensured the survival of many ancient codices in capitals and uncials.

"Many monastic libraries evidently relied upon copies taken from the palace library for their stock. Some such as Corbie on the Somme or St. Martin at Tours, seem to have benefited spectacularly from their close connection to the court. Other books would be bequeathed by wealthy patrons or procured from outside by persistent begging for loans such as Lupus, Abbot of Ferrières (south of Paris) in the mid-ninth century, engaged in for much of his life. Monastic and cathedral libraries also freely exchanged copies of works as they were needed, along regular routes of circulation. France, especially in the north and central areas, had the lions share of this general revival of learning in terms of numbers of books produced, but the old Irish monasteries in Germany — Fulda, Hersfeld, St. Gall-and more modern foundations such as the imperially favored abbey of Lorsch, south of Mainz, also housed and recopied large numbers of manuscripts old and new, some of them of great importance. Of the seven ancient Italian manuscripts on which the text of Virgil rests, at least four were preserved in Carolingian monasteries in France and Germany" (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries," Stam (ed)., The International Dictionary of Library Histories I [2001] 105-6).

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800 – 900

The First Written Swedish Literature Circa 800

The Rök Runestone, believed to be the earliest Sweedish writing, makes reference to Ostrogothic King, Theodoric the Great.

The Rök Runestone (Swedish: Rökstenen; Ög 136), one of the most famous runestones, features the longest known runic inscription in stone. Preserved by the church in Rök (between Mjölby and Ödeshög, close to the E4 and Lake Vättern), Östergötland, Sweden, it is considered the first piece of written Swedish literature. The stone dates from about 800.

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Carmina Figurata Word Pictures Circa 810

One of the most outsanding illumated manuscripts of De luadibus sanctae crucis, preserved in the Vatican Library, depicting Christ. (View Larger)


About 810 Frankish Benedictine monk, Hrabanus Maurus, wrote De laudibus sanctae crucis, a collection of 28 encrypted religious poems in praise of the holy cross. Arranged in the carmina figurata style of word pictures, in which shapes appropriate to the textual context are created by the outlines of letters, phrases or verses of poetry, these became much-admired and often copied.

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of an excellent 11th century illuminated manuscript of the text was available from the Burgerbibliothek, Bern, Switzerland at this link.

Bischoff, Latin Paleography: Antiquity and Middle Ages (1990) 210.

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"The most ingenious and expressive work of narrative art known from all of Late Antiquity" 820

Detail of folios 4v/5r of the Vaticanus Latinus 3868.  Please click to view entire image.

Vat. Lat. 3868, an illuminated manuscript of the comedies of Terence preserved in the Vatican Library, containing illustrations of 141 scenes from the plays, is one of four surviving copies of late antique illuminated manuscripts most probably copied at the court of Louis the Pious in the second decade of the ninth century.

In a monograph entitled The Lost Late Antique Illustrated Terence (2006) David Wright attempted to reconstruct the lost exemplar from which the manuscript was copied. He characterized this lost exemplar as "the most ingenious and expressive work of narrative art known from all of Late Antiquity."

"He argues that it was made at Rome around 400 AD, under the supervision of Calliopius, who is named on fol. 1v and 92r Feliciter Calliopio Bono Scholastico. Scholasticus could mean a teacher or a grammarian, it is not a term obviously linked to book production, though Wright regards the colophon as ‘a trade mark and an advertisement for the workshop’ and suggests that Calliopius was ‘the master of the scriptorium’. The final colophon Hrodgarius scripsit, in excellent large capitalis script, identifies the scribe, who has not been found elsewhere. The best of the three artists wrote the inscription Adelricus me fecit on the right-hand side of the cornice of the aedicule on fol. 3r. . . .

"The copying of classical texts on parchment in codices, rather than on papyrus rolls, was a fourth-century innovation, and the lost exemplar was ‘something of a pioneer in the design of a sumptuously presented codex’. Illustrations to Terence did not exist, and Wright suggests that staged performances of Terence's plays had ended some three centuries earlier. So the exemplar of the Vatican manuscript contained illustrations of the scenes which depended on the artist reading the text. Most impressive are the full-page frontispiece with two actors flanking an author portrait, and the full-page depictions of aedicules with masks for all of the characters in the individual plays (of which two were lost).  

"The copy is the work of three artists, of whom Adelricus was the best, though he had the smallest share of the work. The parchment is calf rather than sheep, and it has numerous minor defects, including holes in pages 9, 11, 19, 36, 43 (in body of figure), 53, 56 and 64. The figures are generally shown standing on a coloured baseline: on fol. 36v there are two figures in a garden, and in several scenes the figures stand in front of doorways, sometimes fitted with a central curtain or a decorated grille. Properties include a square-shaped casket (fol. 29r p. 51), a ring, birds and fishes as food, and money bags. Cratinus the lawyer holds wax tablets on fol. 82r and v. Many of the figures wear scarves and gesture with them. The figures are named in capitalis script, but in several cases the names are given to the wrong figure in a scene. Wright argues that there were names in the exemplar, which must imply that the scribe who copied them was singularly inept. The curious position of the prologue to the Phormio on fol. 77v, where the figure is to the left of a block of text, is not commented on.  

"The illustrations do not seem to have influenced manuscript illumination except for additional illustrated copies of Terence. The ninth-century Reims manuscript, Paris, BNF, Lat. 7899, has a full set of illustrations, while a Corbie copy has much cruder illustrations on the first eleven folios and spaces for further illustrations. Wright thinks both were copied from the lost exemplar. Adelricus was an accomplished artist, and presumably had a career. It may not be possible to explain why the court of Louis the Pious made such careful copies of late antique manuscripts, but it is important to recall that it did, and to envisage the possible resonances of such a response to non-Christian models. According to Thegan's biography Louis never raised his voice in laughter, and when the people laughed at scurri et mimi cum coraulis he did not smile. Paschasius Radbertus, in his memorial for Abbot Wala of Corbie, included a substantial passage from Terence, showing that he had studied the plays, as had Hincmar. The glosses in Vat. Lat. 3868 reveal that it was rapidly treated as a text to be studied, rather than simply a luxury book. Unfortunately Wright is silent on any evidence to be derived from these glosses, which are thought to be a Carolingian composition but which incorporate earlier material.  

"The scribe Hrodgarius wrote a very distinctive capital ‘H’ with an elongated ascender on the right slanting upwards from the crossbar to trail over the following letter. Such a form of ‘H’ is also found in fifth-century manuscripts and was presumably copied from the exemplar. He used an ‘or’ ligature with a prominent ‘r’. His form of ‘a’ lacks any upper shaft, and the upper bow of ‘g’ is generally open. The ligatures ‘ri’ and ‘ro’ occur infrequently. So far his script has proved impossible to localize. It is worth noting that fifteen verses from the prologue to the Heautontimoroumenos were copied onto the first leaf of Paris, BNF, Lat. 2109 in a script which E.K. Rand described as ‘decent rustic capitals’. The manuscript, a copy of Eugippius' Excerpta, was copied at St Amand at the same time as Vat. Lat. 3868. So there probably was a capitalis exemplar at St Amand which may have been the manuscript Wright is trying to reconstruct.  

"Wright reconstructs an exemplar of some 220 folios, each with an illustration of a single scene, with the text copied in rustic capitals in 22 lines per page. In his stylistic parallels for the date of this exemplar he strangely makes no mention of the mosaics of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, which Byvanck discussed in detail, though they show many similar poses and gestures. The scenes on the Susanna crystal have groupings of figures not unlike the Terence illustrations. We are getting a clearer sense of how Carolingian artists imitated Roman models of sacred art. That they were equally moved by the superb quality of secular illustration should remind us that beauty, old and new, is always powerful enough to be loved and to transform. That the exemplar of the Vatican Terence was so challenging to a group of artists in the 820s may be the most important of the features that Wright has so carefully recovered for us" (review by David Ganz http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-, 0254.2009.00292_20.x/full, accessed 09-15-2010).

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The Fables of Phaedrus Circa 850

The Roman fabulist Phaedrus (c. 15 BCE- 50 CE), probably a Thracian slave born in Pydna of Macedonia (now Greece), lived in the reigns of Caesar Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius. He was first writer to translate entire books of fables into Latin, retelling in iambic meter the Greek prose fables of Aesop.

The earliest and most important surviving manuscript of Phaedrus is [Fabularum Aesopiarum libri quinque], also called the Codex Pithoeanus, MS M.906 in the Morgan Library & Museum. This manuscript, probably written at Reims, may have been in the library of the Abbey of Fleury. It was later in the library of Pierre Daniel (1530-1603), from which it passed to François Pithou, who gave it to his brother, the lawyer and scholar Pierre Pithou, in 1595.  At the front of the volume, which was bound c. 1600, is a transcription of the five books of Phaedrus's text by Pierre Pithou, which he prepared for the first printed edition of the text which he published in Troyes, 1596. The manuscript then descended through Pithou's family, belonging to Claude le Peletier (bookplate of the Le Peletier de Rosanbo [also spelled Rosambo] family), and then to the Marquis de Rosanbo at Dusmenil near Mantes, from whom the Morgan Library purchased it in 1961.

Reynolds, Texts and Tranmission. A Survey of the Latin Classics (1983) 300-302.

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The Earliest-Known Manuscript of the Arabian Nights October 20, 879

A fragment of the 1000 Nights, the first two folios of the earliest-known manuscript of the Alf Lailah, or Arabian Nights stories, written on brownish paper made from linen in Kufic-naskhi script, was discovered in Egypt in 1947 and purchased by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (Oriental Institute No. 17618). It consists of the title page and first page of text, used as scratch paper. Prior to this discovery, the earliest known manuscript of the Arabian Nights was dated to the mid-15th century. In 1949 Abbot p. 130 (reference below) called the fragment "the earliest known extant paper book in Islam and with a date of prime significance for the early history of the Nights." From a study of the text Abbot believed that the manuscript originated in Syria and was taken to Egypt early in its history. The title reads in translation:

"A book of tales from a Thousand Nights. There is neither strength nor power in God the Highest, the Mightiest."

"On the next page is the beginning of the first story.

"This much-tattered fragment was used as scrap paper. . . , with numerous scribblings and drawings on the flyleaf and margins. These include pious phrases, the draft of a letter, and five drafts of a legal formula written by on Ahamad ibn Mahfuz, and dated by him the last of Safar of the year six and sixty and two [hundred] corresponding to 20th October 879 A.D." (Bosch, Carswell, Petherbridge, Islamic Bindings & Bookmaking [1981] no. 98, 223-224).

Bloom, Paper Before Print. The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World (2001) 58 and figure 26.

Abbott, "A Ninth-Century Fragment of the 'Thousand Nights.' New Light on the Early History of the Arabian Nights," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 8, no. 3 (July 1949) 129-164 (includes 4 illustrations of the fragment).

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One of the Two Oldest Manuscripts of Ovid's Ars Amatoria Circa 880

A quire of ten leaves bound up in a volume of miscellaneous contents represents the earliest surviving manuscript of Book I of Ovid's Ars amatoria (Art of Love). According to a Bodleian Library exhibition catalogue, the last leaf of the mansucript may be in St. Dunstan's hand:

"The original manuscript was probably written in Wales. There are some glosses in Old Welsh, and the 'syntax marks' . . . inserts as a help to construing are also a Welsh feature. This manuscript and the 9th-cent. French copy, Paris lat. 7311, are the oldest manuscripts of the work, and they are closely related" (Hunt, R.W., The Survival of Ancient Literature [1975] no. 117).

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900 – 1000

"The Junius Manuscript": An Illustrated Codex of Old English Literature 930 – 960

Boldleian Library MS Junius 11,"The Junius manuscript" or "Caedmon manuscript," a tenth century illustrated collection of poems on biblical narratives, is one of the four major codices of Old English Literature. Its scheme of illustrations is unparalleled in other manuscripts of Anglo-Saxon poetry, suggesting that it may have been intended for devotional or teaching purposes. 

Its "... compilation was in two stages: the initial version of the manuscript contained GenesisExodus, and Daniel, and was the work of a single scribe. Later the final poem, Christ and Satan, was added by several other scribes. The manuscript contains numerous illustrations that are a fine demonstration of Anglo-Saxon drawing on religious topics; it appears that two illustrators worked independently on the manuscript. The first scribe left spaces in the text for other illustrations which were never completed" (Wikipedia article on Caedmon manuscript, accessed 12-24-2013).

A popular name for the codex is the "Caedmon manuscript," after an early theory, since debunked, that the poems it contains might be the work of the poet Caedmon

In December 2013 a digital facsimile was available from Oxford University Libraries at this link.

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Possibly the Earliest Surviving Manuscript Produced in Scotland Circa 950

A portrait of Luke on Folio 29v of the Book of Deer. (View Larger)

The Book of Deer  is a 10th century Gospel Book, written in Latin, Old Irish and Scottish Gaelic, from Old Deer, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It contains the earliest surviving Gaelic literature from Scotland, and may be the oldest surviving manuscript produced in Scotland, with the possible exception of the Book of Kells. It is also notable for having originated in what is now considered a Lowland area. 

"Each Gospel is prefaced by a full-page illumination (1v, 16v, 29v, 41v). The manuscript belongs to the category of 'Irish pocket Gospel Books', produced for private use rather than for church services. The association with Deer is deduced from additions in Gaelic or Middle Irish (3-5) including an account of the foundation of a monastery by Saint Columba and Saint Drostan and land grants to the house, and a Latin brieve of King David I in favour of the 'clerics of Deer' (40). One entry is dated 8 David I (1131-32). It is reasonable to assume that the manuscript was at Deer in Aberdeenshire when these additions were made" (http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-II-00006-00032/1, accessed 12-13-2012).

The Book of Deer is preserved in Cambridge University Library. In February 2014 a digital facsimile of it was available at this link.

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The Most Famous, and Most Significant Manuscript of the Iliad Circa 950

Folio 12r of Venetus A. (View Larger)

The most famous Greek manuscript of the Homeric Iliad, Venetus A (Marcianus Graecus Z. 454 [=822]), is regarded by some as the best text of the epic poem. It also contains several layers of annotations, glosses, and commentaries known as the "A scholia."  These are thought to preserve editorial comments made by scholars at the Royal Library of Alexandria, as well as scholia accumulated by late antique annotators and philologists until the manuscript was written at Constantinople during the Macedonian Renaissance. The manuscript, also includes a summary of the early Greek Epic Cycle which is considered the most important source of information on those lost poems. 

At the end of most of the books of the poem there is a subscription, attributing many of the scholia to four Homeric scholars from antiquity. This was translated as follows:

"Alongside the text lie the Signs of Aristonicus, and Didymus' work On the Edition of Aristarchus, as well as some things from the Prosody of Herodian and Nicanor's On Punctuation."

The first scholar mentioned in the subscription, the Greek grammarian Aristonicus (Ἀριστόνικος Aristonikos) of Alexandria, lived during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius. He taught at Rome, and wrote commentaries and grammatical treatises. Most of his works were related to the Homeric poems, including On the Wanderings of Menelaus (περὶ τῆς Μενελάου πλάνης), On the Critical Signs of the Iliad and Odyssey (περὶ τῶν σημείων τῆς Ἰλιάδος καὶ Ὀδυσσείας), on the marginal signs by which the Alexandrian critics used to mark suspected or interpolated verses in the Homeric poems and in Hesiod's Theogony, and On Ungrammatical Words (ἀσυντάκτων ὀνομάτων βιβλία), a work of six books on irregular grammatical constructions in Homer. These and some other works are for the most part lost, except for fragments preserved in the scholia of Venetus A.

The second scholar mentioned, Greek scholar and grammarian Didymus Chalcenterus (Δίδυμος χαλκέντερος Didymos chalkenteros, "Didymus bronze-guts"), flourished in the time of Cicero and Augustus. His surname "bronze-guts" came from his nearly incredible productivity: he was said to have written so many books that he was unable to recollect what he had written in earlier ones, and so often contradicted himself. (Athenaeus records that he wrote 3500 books; Seneca estimated that he wrote 4000.) As a result Didymos acquired the additional nickname βιβλιολάθης "book-forgetter". Didymos taught in Alexandria and Rome, and is chiefly important as having introduced Alexandrian learning to the Romans. A follower of the school of the Alexandrian grammarian and editor Aristarchus of Samothrace (Ἀρίσταρχος), Didymos wrote a treatise on Aristarchus' edition of Homer entitled On Aristarchus' recension (περὶ τῆς Ἀριστάρχου διορθωσέως), fragments of which are preserved in Venetus A.

The third scholar cited, Aelius Herodianus (Αἴλιος Ἡρωδιανός) or Herodian, was one of the most celebrated grammarians of Greco-Roman antiquity. He was born in Alexandria, and from there he seems to have moved to Rome, where he gained the favor of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, to whom he dedicated a work on prosody. He is usually known as Herodian except when there is a danger of confusion with the historian also named Herodian.

Lastly, the Greek grammarian Nicanor (Νικάνωρ) Stigmatias lived during the reign of Hadrian in the early 2nd century. According to the Suda he came from Alexandria; according to Stephanus of Byzantium he came from Hierapolis. The Suda records that Nicanor acquired the nickname stigmatias (στιγματίας, punctuated) because of his concentration on punctuation. His scholia on the elucidation of Homer's epics through punctuation are extensively quoted in the Venetus A.

"Scholars refer to the work of these men as the 'four-man commentary,' or VMK (from the German Viermännerkommentar). The repeated subscriptions in the Venetus A identify the areas of Homeric studies to which each of the four contributed. Aristonicus wrote on the topic of editorial symbols attached to the text. Herodian wrote on questions of prosody, that is poetic meter. Nicanor wrote about punctuation. And Didymus wrote about the earlier editorial work of the Alexandrian scholar Aristarchus.

"A certain category of scholia, while related to the VMK, has been separately  identified and named the 'D Scholia.' These were once thought to have come originally from Didymus, hence their name, but this view is no longer generally accepted. The D Scholia appear on several Byzantine and medieval manuscripts of the Iliad and generally contain information about mythology, the meanings of obscure words and pieces of allegorical interpretation. On the Venetus A the D Scholia appear as interlinear notes written in a semiuncial script and are largely 'glosses,' short defintions of words in the poems. One of the most interesting aspects of the D Scholia is their lemmata, the Homeric passages that a scholion may quote before commenting. In many cases, these lemmata do not match the Homeric text that appears in the manuscript. Thus, these scholia may offer insights into alternative versions of the text, other examples of traditional material that fell out of the common text of the Iliad by the ninth century, but are preserved here and there in brief quotations by the scholiasts, the writers of these marginal notes.

"Still other scholia on our manuscript derive from the work of the scholar and philosopher Porphyry, who lived during the third century CE. Among his writings, many of which had to do with Platonic philosophy, was a treatise entitled 'Homeric Questions' (Ομηικα Ζητηματα, Homerika Zetemata, or in its more commonly given Latin translation, Quaestiones Homericae). This work exists only in a fragmentary state in the Vatican Library (Vaticanus Graecus 305), and the rest of what we know of its contents comes from close reading of various scholia on Homeric manuscripts. Porphyri's work is an example of the late-antique genre of Ζητηματα, which is generally translated 'Questions,' consisting of inquiries into various topics with (often) varying and debatable answers. Ancient works of Ζητηματα covered ethical, legal, and historical topics, and Porphyry's work on Homer is one of the few examples of literary 'Questions,' consisting of inquries into various topics with (often) varying and debatable answers. The scholiastic material that comes from this work is valuable for a number of reasons, although its value has not always been appreciated. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, scholars dismissed Porphyry as telling us little about Homeric poetry itself, but much about the literary 'parlor games' played by intelligent aristocrats in antiquity. But these scholia preserve some observations on Homeric poetry made by Aristotle and Plato, which in turn can tell us about the particular vocabulary these ancient thinkers used when they discussed epic poetry, and thus much about the ancient experience of listening to this poetry.

"Finally, there are scholia related to a group known as the 'bT' scholia. These get their name from the Townley Manuscript of the Iliad, an eleventh-century codex now in the British Museum (BM, Burney 86); this manuscript is believed to have been one of several copied from an even older manuscript, which is now lost, to which scholars refer by the siglum 'b', hence the 'bT' scholia. These scholia, which may also be derived from the work of Porphyry, offer explanations of thematic matters found in the Iliad, cultural practices, questions of cosmology or theology, and so forth. These scholia have not enjoyed a high reputation among scholars. Their most famous critic, K. Lehrs, said that 'not one word in them is to be believed," (nullum unum verbum iis credendum esse). But more recent students of this material have found them more valuable, suggesting that they offer important insight into how the ancient Greeks understood Homer, but also provide more access to the work of Aristarchus at the Library of Alexandria.

"There is diagreement among scholars as to how and when the VMK was created (proposed dates ranged from the fourth to seventh centuries CE) and whether or not they were created by the same editor. The 20th century scholars most interested in the Homeric scholia believed that the VMK tradition was combined with the D Scholia and the bT Scholia at some time during the eighth century, about two centuries before our nameless scribe produced the elaboratately annotated manuscript we call the Venetus A" (Blackwell & Dué, "Homer and History in the Venetus A," Recapturing a Homeric Legacy. Images and Insights From the Venetus A Manuscript of the Iliad, Dué ed. [2009] 7-9).

How and when Venetus A was transported to Italy is uncertain. At one point it was thought that Giovanni Aurispa brought it there, as in 1424, he mentioned four volumes which he had brought back from Greece in a letter to Ambrogio Traversari in Venice:

Aristarchum super Iliade in duobus voluminibus, opus quoddam spatiosum et pretiosissimum; aliud commentum super Iliade, cuius eundem auctorem esse puto et illius quod ex me Nicolaus noster habuit super Ulixiade.

Aristarchus on the Iliad in two volumes, a large and very precious work; another commentary on the Iliad; I think Aristarchus was the author of that, as well as of the one on the Odyssey that our friend Niccolò Niccoli got from me.

This has been interpretted as a reference to the codices of the Iliad known as Venetus A and B. However, it has also been argued that the two volume commentary referred to was the commentary by the twelfth century Byzantine scholar and archbishop Eustathius of Thessalonica (Laurentianus LIX 2 and 3) attested in Florence a century later in the library of Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici, and now in the Laurentian Library.

Eventually, Venetus A came into the possession of Greek immigrant scholar, and book collector Cardinal Basileios Bessarion (Βασίλειος Βησσαρίων), who collected a library of 482 Greek manuscripts and 264 Latin manuscripts before, and especially after, the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Among Bessarion's library was the only complete text of Athenaios' Deipnosophistai; the autograph of Planudes' Greek Anthology; and Venetus A and B. In 1468 Bessarion donated his library to the Republic of Venice; he continued to add to it until his death in 1472. By preserving so many Greek texts Bessarion became one of those most influential on the revival of Greek literature during the Renaissance. Bessarion's library became the core of the Biblioteca Marciana, which since 1554 has been housed to the building designed for it by Sansovino, the Biblioteca Sansoviniana.

With respect to the study of Venetus A, it is known that Martinus Phileticus used the manuscript as a source in the 1480s, followed by Vettore Fausto in 1546 or 1547. After that, Venetus A was largely forgotten until French philologist Jean-Baptiste-Gaspard d'Ansse de Villoison rediscovered and published it, along with the "B scholia" from Venetus B, in his book Ilias Homeri to Veteris Codicis Veneti fidem-recensita; scholia in eam antiquissima, eodem Code ex nunc primum eruta (Venice, 1788). This was the first publication of any Iliadic scholia other than the "D" scholia (the scholia minora). Because of the complexity of the writing on each page of Venetus A, Villoison's work represented a very impressive work of scholarship and a high level of technical achievement in the printing of Greek. In April 2014 high resolution images of each page in Villoison's 716-page work were available from the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard at this link.

Once available to scholars, the A and B scholia were a catalyst for several new ideas from the scholar Friedrich August Wolf. In reviewing Villoison's edition, Wolf realized that these scholia proved conclusively that the Homeric epics had been transmitted orally for an unknown length of time before they were written down. This led to his seminal work, Prolegomena ad Homerum, which set the agenda for much of later Homeric scholarship.

In 1901 Venetus A was reproduced in photographic facsimile as Homeri Ilias cum scholiis. Codex Venetus A, Marcianus 454. Phototypice editus. Praefatus est Dominicus Comparetti, and published in Leiden by A. W. Sijthoff. However, the technology of the time could not reproduce all of the small script in the manuscript legibly.

More than 100 years later, in May 2007 both Venetus A and Venetus B were photographed at high resolution, using a Hasselblad H1 camera with a 39 megapixel Phase One P45 digital back, at the Biblioteca Marciana. The availability of truly legible images of all the text in these manuscripts resulted in insights published in 2009 as Hellenic Studies 35, entitled Recapturing a Homeric Legacy. Images and Insights From the Venetus A Manuscript of the Iliad, edited by Casey Dué, and published by the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard. In April 2014 this book was available online from homermultitext.org. Also in April 2014 high resolution images of each page in Venetus A and B were available from the same source at this link.

The Homer Multitext project also made available the Greek texts of Venetus A and B online. The site stated that "This site publishes editions of texts from Byzantine manuscripts using the Canonical Text Services protocol. The service is primarily intended for automated use by other computer programs, but you can follow the links below to to browse and read texts." The site also made available images of individual pages of the Townley Homer. However, in April 2014 a much easier to use digital facsimile of that manuscript was available from the British Library at this link.

 (This entry was last revised on 04-26-2014.)

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The Palatine Anthology of Greek Poetry Circa 950

Folio 30 of suppl. gr. 384, belonging to the Bibliothèque Nationale.

The Palatine Anthology, a codex compilation of 3765 poems in Greek, was once in Rome at the Vatican Library, along with other manuscripts in the Bibliotheca Palatina, but is now divided between the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg  (Palat. gr. 23) and the Bibliothèque nationale de France (suppl. gr. 384). It is one of the two manuscripts on which the collection known as the Greek Anthology or Anthologia Graeca, is based; the other manuscript is the Planudean Anthology.

The bulk of the Palatine Anthology was based upon the compilation of Constantine Cephalas (Konstantanos Kephalas), a Byzantine schoolmaster who in about the year 900 excerpted all the major ancient manuscript collections. To material gathered by Cephalas, whose original compilation no longer survives, the compiler of the Palatine Anthology added Christian and "rhetorically descriptive" epigrams. A possible compiler of the Palatine Anthology was the 10th century poet, Constantine the Rhodian, three of whose poems are included in the anthology. 

"In 1606 or 1607 [Claudius] Salmasius had discovered, in the library of the Counts Palatine in Heidelberg, the only surviving copy of Cephalas's early unexpurgated copy of the Greek Anthology, including the 258-poem anthology of homoerotic poems by Straton of Sardis that would eventually become known as the notorious Book 12 of the Greek Anthology. The newly discovered poems in the Palatine version were copied out by Salmasius, and he began to circulate clandestine manuscript copies of them as the Anthologia Inedita. His copy was later published: first in 1776 when Richard François Philippe Brunck included it in his Analecta; and then the full Palatine Anthology was published by Friedrich Jacobs as the Anthologia Graeca (13 vols. 1794-1803; revised 1813-1817). The remains of Straton's anthology became Book 12 in Jacob's standard critical Anthologia Graeca edition. It was only in 2001 that a full Greek-to-English translation of Book 12 was issued, by Princeton University Press" (Wikipedia article on Claudius Salmasius, accessed 02-03-2009).

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The Exeter Book: The Largest Original Collection of Old English Literature Circa 960 – 990

A tenth-century anthology of Anglo-Saxon poetry, the Exeter Book, (Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501, Codex Exoniensis) is one of the four major Anglo-Saxon literature codices, along with the Vercelli Book, the Nowell Codex and the Junius manuscript. The largest surviving original collection of Old English literature, containing approximately one-sixth of the surviving corpus of Old English verse, it is believed originally to have contained 131 leaves, of which eight original leaves were lost at some point, and replaced with other leaves.

"The precise date when the Exeter Book was compiled and written down is unknown, but it is rightly acknowledged to be one of the great works of the English Benedictine revival of the tenth century, and proposed dates for it range from 960 to 990. This period saw a rise in monastic activity and productivity under the renewed influence of Benedictine principles and standards. At the opening of the period, Dunstan's importance to the Church and to the English kingdom was established, culminating in his appointment to the Archbishopric at Canterbury under Edgar and leading to the monastic reformation by which this era was characterised. Dunstan died in 998, and by the period's close, England under Æthelred faced an increasingly determined Scandinavian incursion, to which it would eventually succumb.

"The Exeter Book's heritage becomes traceable from 1072, when Leofric, Bishop at Exeter, died. Among the treasures which he is recorded to have bestowed in his Will upon the then-impoverished monastery, is one famously described as 'mycel Englisc boc be gehwilcum þingum on leoð-wisan geworht' (i.e., 'a large English book of poetic works about all sorts of things'). This book has been widely assumed to be the Exeter Codex as it survives today.

"Some marginalia were added to the manuscript by Laurence Nowell in the sixteenth century and George Hickes in the seventeenth" (Wikipedia article on Exeter book, accessed 12-24-2013).

During the bishopric of Leofric, the cathedral library at Exeter was the fourth largest in England. Along with the Exeter Book, Leofric bequeathed sixty-five other manuscripts and books to the cathedral—an exceptionally large personal library for the time. Of those, about twenty remain extant.

"Three versions of the donation list drawn up by Leofric survive, which is one of the earliest surviving cathedral library catalogues. The list consists of 31 books used to conduct cathedral services, 24 other ecclesiastical works, and 11 works that were secular. This last group included philosophical works as well as poetry.... Besides the Exeter Book and the Leofric Missal, Leofric's own copy of the Rule of Chrodegang also survives, although it is no longer at Exeter. Now it is at Cambridge University, where it is Corpus Christi College MS 191. Another surviving manuscript from Leofric's collection is a Gospel book written in Latin now in the Bodleian Library, which was probably acquired by Leofric while he was on the continent, as the manuscript was originally written for a Breton monastery" (Wikipedia article on Leofric (bishop), accessed 12-24-2013).

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The Vercelli Book, One of the Four Old English Poetic Codices Circa 975

Preserved in the Museo del Tesoro del Duomo e Archivio Capitolare (Capitulary Library and Archive) of Vercelli in Northern Italy, the Vercelli Book is one of the oldest of the four Old English Poetic Codices. It contains a miscellany, or florilegium, of religious texts that were apparently selected for private inspiration, written in Anglo-Saxon square minuscule, presumably in England. The manuscript was found at Vercelli in 1822 by the lawyer, legal historian, and writer on Italian libraries, Friedrich Blume (Bluhme),  who first described it, without understanding its full significance, in the first and fourth volumes of his Iter Italicum (Stettin, 4 vols., 1824-36). The extraordinary presence in Italy of a codex of Old English poetry was explained by the existence of a hospice catering to English pilgrims that was founded by Jacopo Guala Bicchieri, bishop of Vercelli, who had been papal legate in England from 1216 to 1218. However, the codex was documented in Vercelli as early as the eleventh century.

"In the words of a modern critic [Elaine Treharne], 'The Vercelli Book appears ... to have been put together from a number of different exemplars with no apparent overall design in mind. The manner in which the scribe did the copying is relatively mechanical. In most cases, he copied the dialect and the manuscript punctuation that was found in the original texts, and these aspects therefore aid in reconstructing the variety of exemplars. The texts therefore range in date for although they were all copied in the later tenth century, they need not all have been written in this period.'

"The verse items occur in three randomly placed groups intermixed with prose. Evidence suggests that the scribe may have assembled the material over an extended period of time. Elaine Treharne in Old and Middle English: An Anthology suggests: 'Although the examples are diverse, and no apparent chronological or formal arrangement can be discerned, the texts suggest the compiler was someone in a monastic setting who wished to illustrate his personal interest in penitential and eschatological themes and to glorify the ascetic way of life. The homilies represent part of the anonymous tradition of religious prose writing in Anglo Saxon England.' " (Wikipedia article on Vercelli Book, accessed 12-24-2013).

In December 2013 the beta version of the Digital Vercelli Book went online. It published digital facsimiles and transcriptions of portions of the Vercelli Book, available at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 03-14-2014.)

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1000 – 1100

Beowulf: Known from a Unique Medieval Manuscript Circa 1000

The first page of the Beowulf manuscript. (View Larger)

Beowulf, a traditional heroic epic poem written in Old English alliterative verse, and representing with its 3,182 lines 10% of all surviving Old English poetry, is known from one medieval manuscript that dates from between the 8th and the 11th century, perhaps in the first decade after 1000. The manuscript, known as the Nowell Codex or Cotton Vitellius A. xv, is preserved in the British Library.

The volume as it was bound in the 17th century contains two manuscripts: a 12th century manuscript that contains four prose works, and the Nowell codex, named after the q6th century English antiquarian, cartographer, and scholar of Anglo-Saxon language and literature Laurence Nowell, whose name is inscribed on its first page, and who owned the manuscript in the mid-16th century. It was then acquired by Sir Robert Cotton, who placed it in his library as the 15th manuscript on the first shelf of the bookcase that was headed by a bust of Vitellius.

"The unique copy of Beowulf is preserved in the Cottonian collection of manuscripts that suffered from a great fire in 1731. It remained in its burnt binding until the middle of the nineteenth century, when Sir Frederic Madden, Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum, undertook to restore these damaged manuscripts in his care. His bookbinder first traced the outline of each burnt leaf, cut out the center of the tracing except for a retaining edge of about 2mm, and pasted and taped the vellum leaf to the paper frame. Then he rebound the framed leaves in a new cover. The method well preserved the fragile bits of text along the burnt edges of the leaves, but the retaining edges of the paper mounts, and the paste and tape used to secure the leaves to them, hide from view many hundreds of letters and bits of letters. Today they are visible only if one holds a bright light directly behind them, an ineffectual solution if one lacks the manuscript, the bright light, or the permission to use them together" (The Electronic Beowulf, 1993, accessed 06-15-2009).

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The First Conclusive Proof that Norsemen Reached North America Circa 1000

The reconstructions of three Norse buildings are the focal point of this archaeological site, the earliest known European settlement in the New World. The archaeological remains at the site were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

Examples of objects found at L'Anse aux Meadow.

Timeline of occupation of L'Anse aux Meadows.

In 1960 Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad and his wife, archaeologist Anne Stine, discovered the remains of a Norse village in at L'Anse aux Meadows on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. This was the first conclusive proof that Greenlandic Norsemen had found a way across the Atlantic Ocean to North America, roughly 500 years before Christopher Columbus and John Cabot.

"Archaeologists determined the site is of Norse origin because of definitive similarities between the characteristics of structures and artifacts found at the site compared to sites in Greenland and Iceland from around CE 1000.

"Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad carried out seven archaeological excavations from 1961 to 1968, investigating eight complete house sites as well as the remains of a ninth.

"The L'Anse aux Meadows area was originally inhabited by Native peoples as far back as 6000BP. The area was probably sought due to its abundance of marine life and close proximity to Labrador. The most prominent of early Native inhabitants were the Dorset Eskimo; however, during the centuries of Norse exploration of the area there were thought to be no inhabitants in the immediate area" (Wikipedia article on L'Anse aux Meadows, accessed 10-24-2012).

"L'Anse aux Meadows remains the only widely accepted instance of pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact and is notable for its possible connection with the attempted colony of Vinland established by Leif Ericson around the same time period or, more broadly, with Norse exploration of the Americas. . . .The settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows has been dated to approximately 1,000 years ago, an assessment that tallies with the relative dating of artifact and structure types.The remains of eight buildings were located. They are believed to have been constructed of sod placed over a wooden frame. Based on associated artifacts, the buildings were variously identified as dwellings or workshops. The largest dwelling measured 28.8 by 15.6 m (94.5 by 51 ft) and consisted of several rooms. Workshops were identified as an iron smithy containing a forge and iron slag, a carpentry workshop, which generated wood debris, and a specialized boat repair area containing worn rivets. Besides those related to iron working, carpentry, and boat repair, other artifacts found at the site consisted of common everyday Norse items, including a stone oil lamp, a whetstone, a bronze fastening pin, a bone knitting needle, and part of a spindle. The presence of the spindle and needle suggests that women were present as well as men. Food remains included butternuts, which are significant because they do not grow naturally north of New Brunswick, and their presence probably indicates the Norse inhabitants travelled farther south to obtain them.Archaeologists concluded that the site was inhabited by the Norse for a relatively short period of time.  

"Norse sagas are written versions of older oral traditions. Two Icelandic sagas, commonly called the Saga of the Greenlanders and the Saga of Eric the Red, describe the experiences of Norse Greenlanders who discovered and attempted to settle land to the west of Greenland, identified by them as Vinland. The sagas suggest that the Vinland settlement failed because of conflicts within the Norse community, as well as between the Norse and the native people they encountered, whom they called Skrælingar.

"Recent archaeological studies suggest that the L'Anse aux Meadows site is not Vinland itself but was within a land called Vinland that spread farther south from L'Anse aux Meadows, extending to the St. Lawrence River and New Brunswick. The village at L'Anse aux Meadows served as an exploration base and winter camp for expeditions heading southward into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The settlements of Vinland mentioned in the Eric saga and the Greenlanders saga, Leifsbudir (Leif Ericson) and Hóp (Norse Greenlanders), have both been identified as the L'Anse aux Meadows site (Wikipedia article on Helge Ingstad, accessed 10-24-2012).

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1100 – 1200

Written and Illuminated by the Nun Herrad of Landsberg 1167 – 1185

Plate 8 of the Englehardt facsimile of the Hortus delicarum. In the centermost circle, Philosophy rests upon a queenly throne, holding a banner that says 'All wisdom comes from God, only the wise can do what they want.' Directly below sit Socrates and Plato, at abutting desks. In the surrounding orbs stand the Seven Liberal arts: grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. (View Larger)

The Hortus deliciarum (Garden of Delights), a medieval manuscript compiled by and illuminated by the nun, Herrad of Landsberg, at the Hohenburg Abbey in Alsace from 1167 to 1185, was an illuminated encyclopedia, written as a pedagogical tool for young novices at the convent.

"Most of the manuscript was not original, but was a compendium of 12th century knowledge. The manuscript contained poems, illustrations, and music, and drew from texts by classical and Arab writers. Interspersed with writings from other sources were poems by Herrad, addressed to the nuns, almost all of which were set to music. The most famous portion of the manuscript is the illustrations, of which there were 336, which symbolised various themes, including theosophical, philosophical, and literary themes."

Having been preserved for centuries at the Hohenburg Abbey, the Hortus Deliciarum passed into the municipal Library of Strasbourg about the time of the French Revolution. There the minatures were copied in 1818 by Christian Moritz (or Maurice) Engelhardt; the text was copied and published by Straub and Keller, 1879-1899. Thus, although the original perished in the burning of the Library of Strasbourg during the Siege of Strasbourg in the Franco-Prussian War, we can still appreciate the artistic and literary value of Herrad's work.

"Hortus deliciarum is one of the first sources of polyphony originating from a nunnery. The manuscript contained at least 20 song texts, all of which were originally notated with music. Those which can be recognized now are from the conductus repertory, and are mainly note against note in texture. The notation was in semi-quadratic neumes with pairs of four-line staves.Two songs survive with music intact: Primus parens hominum, a monophonic song, and a two part work, Sol oritur occasus" (Wikipedia article on Hortus deliciarum, accessed 12-25-2008).

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Layamon's "Brut", the Earliest Source of the Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table 1190 – 1215

Brut, a Middle English poem compiled and recast by the English priest Layamon (Laȝamon or Laȝamonn; occasionally written Lawman), was the first historigraphy written in English after the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and the first work in the English language to discuss the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It survived in two manuscripts both preserved in the Cottonian Library in the British Library: MS. Cotton Caligula A ix, dating from the third quarter of the 13th century, and the Cotton Otho C xiii, copied about fifty years later.

Layamon who lived at Areley Kings in Worcestershire, and wrote at a time in English history when most prose and poetry was composed in French, chose to write in English for his illiterate, impoverished religious audience. His poem is considered one of the best examples of early Middle English.

The work was first published in print as Laȝamon's Brut, or Chronicle of Britain, a Poetical Semi-Saxon Parapharase of the Brut of Wace. Now First published from the Cottonian Manuscripts in the British Museum accompanied by a Literal Translation, Notes and a Grammatical Glossary by Sir Frederick Madden (3 vols., London: The Society of Antiquaries, 1847.

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1200 – 1300

Le Roman de la Rose: A Medieval Best Seller Circa 1230 – 1275

Folio 1r of Fr. 1573 at the Bibliotheque Nationale, the earliest extant copy of 'Le Roman de la Rose.' (View Larger)

Around the year 1230 French scholar and poet Guillaume de Lorris wrote the first section (4058 lines) of Le Roman de la Rose (Romance of the Rose), a book-length poem in Old French, in which the narrator enters a dream world and falls in love with a Rose—an allegorical representation of a young woman. During his pursuit he instructs readers on the art of courtly love, with frequent bawdy comments and detours into alchemy and astronomy. Le Roman de la Rose became one of the best-sellers of the Middle Ages, of which at least 270 medieval manuscripts survive— many illuminated— from the 13th to 16th centuries. The earliest, dating close after the completion of the work, is in the Bibliothèque national de France (BnF fr. 1573).

The Roman de la Rose Digital Library, a joint project of the Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins University and the Bibliothèque nationale, intended to make virtual copies of at least 150 of the extant manuscripts of this work available with page turner software.

de Lorris' ". . . part of the story is set in a walled garden or locus amoenus, one of the traditional topoi of epic and chivalric literature. In this walled garden, the interior represents romance, while the exterior stands for everyday life. It is unclear whether Lorris considered his version to be incomplete, but it was generally viewed as such.

"Around 1275, Jean de Meun composed an additional 17,724 lines. Jean's discussion of love is considered more philosophical and encyclopedic, but also more misogynistic and bawdy. The writer Denis de Rougemont felt that the first part of the poem portrayed Rose as an idealised figure, while the second part portrayed her as a more physical and sensual being " (Wikipedia article on Roman de la Rose, accessed 12-30-2008).

"The date of this second part is generally fixed between 1268 and 1285 by a reference in the poem to the death of Manfred and Conradin, executed in 1268 by order of Charles of Anjou (d. 1285) who is described as the present king of Sicily. M. F. Guillon (Jean Clopinel, 1903), however, considering the poem primarily as a political satire, places it in the last five years of the 13th century. Jean de Meun doubtless edited the work of his predecessor, Guillaume de Lorris, before using it as the starting-point of his own vast poem, running to 19,000 lines. The continuation of Jean de Meun is a satire on the monastic orders, on celibacy, on the nobility, the papal see, the excessive pretensions of royalty, and especially on women and marriage. Guillaume had been the servant of love, and the exponent of the laws of "courtoisie"; Jean de Meun added an "art of love," exposing with brutality the vices of women, their arts of deception, and the means by which men may outwit them. Jean de Meun embodied the mocking, sceptical spirit of the fabliaux. He did not share in current superstitions, he had no respect for established institutions, and he scorned the conventions of feudalism and romance. His poem shows in the highest degree, in spite of the looseness of its plan, the faculty of keen observation, of lucid reasoning and exposition, and it entitles him to be considered the greatest of French medieval poets. He handled the French language with an ease and precision unknown to his predecessors, and the length of his poem was no bar to its popularity in the 13th and 14th centuries. Part of its vogue was no doubt because the author, who had mastered practically all the scientific and literary knowledge of his contemporaries in France, had found room in his poem for a great amount of useful information and for numerous citations from classical authors" (Wikipedia article on Jean de Meun, accessed 12-29-2008).

"At least 270 manuscripts and manuscript fragments of the Roman de la Rose survive from the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. These works are kept mainly in European libraries, and most remain in France where the majority of these books were produced. Thirty Rose manuscripts are now in different repositories in the US, including the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore (Walters 143), the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles (Ludwig XV7) and the Morgan Library & Museum in New York (Morgan 948).

"There are also several Rose manuscripts in private collections, two of which are part of the Rose Digital Library (Cox Macro Rose and Ferrell Rose); two are now owned by Senshu University in Japan (Senshu 2 and Senshu 3) and can also be found on this site. One of the oldest surviving Rose texts is a manuscript now in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris (BnF fr. 1573), made in the late 13th century, not long after Jean de Meun finished his section of the poem. Two early illustrated texts of the Rose are Paris, BnF, fr. 378 and Paris, BnF, fr. 1559. Both of these date from the late 13th century as well. The last illustrated Roman de la Rose manuscript is the Morgan Rose. With 107 miniatures, this late work was produced c. 1520, after the first printed editions of the Rose text had already come out, around the turn of the 16th century (Rosenwald 396 and Rosenwald 917).

"Many Rose manuscripts are illustrated, some with large cycles of miniatures, and lavishly painted with gold and colored pigments. Others are unillustrated and represent a less costly undertaking. In a number of these manuscripts spaces were left for illustrations that were never begun, possibly because the bookmakers ran out of time, or because the patron ran out of money" (Keefe, Manuscripts of the Rose Digital Library, accessed 12-30-2008).

The well-known novel and film by Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (1980), alludes to the literary tradition of Le Roman de la Rose.

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The Song of the Nibelungs Circa 1230

Folio 1r of the 'C' manuscript of the Nibelungenlied. (View Larger)

The Nibelungenlied (translated as The Song of the Nibelungs), an epic poem in Middle High German, told of dragon-slayer Siegfried at the court of the Burgundians, how he was murdered, and of his wife Kriemhild's revenge. It was based on pre-Christian Germanic heroic motifs (the "Nibelungensaga"), which included oral traditions and reports based on historic events and individuals from the 5th and 6th centuries.

"The poem in its various written forms was lost by the end of the 16th century, but manuscripts from as early as the 13th century were re-discovered during the 18th century. There are thirty-five known manuscripts of the Nibelungenlied and its variant versions. Eleven of these manuscripts are essentially complete. The oldest version however seems to be the one preserved in manuscript "B". Twenty-four manuscripts are in various fragmentary states of completion, including one version in Dutch (manuscript 'T'). The text contains approximately 2,400 stanzas in 39 Aventiuren. The title under which the poem has been known since its discovery is derived from the final line of one of the three main versions, "hie hât daz mære ein ende: daz ist der Nibelunge liet" ("here the story takes an end: this is the lay of the Nibelungs"). Liet here means lay, tale or epic rather than simply song, as it would in Modern German.

"The manuscript sources deviate considerably from one another. Philologists and literary scholars usually designate three main genealogical groups for the entire range of available manuscripts, with two primary versions comprising the oldest known copies: *AB and *C. This categorization derives from the signatures on the *A, *B, and *C manuscripts as well as the wording of the last verse in each source: "daz ist der Nibelunge liet" or "daz ist der Nibelunge nôt". Nineteenth century philologist Karl Lachmann developed this categorisation of the manuscript sources in Der Nibelunge Noth und die Klage nach der ältesten Überlieferung mit Bezeichnung des Unechten und mit den Abweichungen der gemeinen Lesart (Berlin: Reimer, 1826).

"Prevailing scholarly theories strongly suggest that the written Nibelungenlied is the work of an anonymous poet from the area of the Danube between Passau and Vienna, dating from about 1180 to 1210, possibly at the court of Wolfger von Erla, the bishop of Passau (in office 1191–1204). Most scholars consider it likely that the author was a man of literary and ecclesiastical education at the bishop's court, and that the poem's recipients were the clerics and noblemen at the same court" (Wikipedia article on Nibelungenlied, accessed 08-02-2009).

♦ In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the manuscript "C", preserved in the Badische LandesBibliothek, was available at this link

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Perhaps the First Grammar of a Romance Language Circa 1240

About 1240 troubadours Uc "Faidit" (meaning "exiled" or "dispossessed," Uc de Saint Circ [San Sir] or Hugues [Hugh] de Saint Circq, and Raymond Vidal de Besaudun published Donatz proensals.

Troubadours (Occitan pronunciation: [tɾuβaˈðuɾ], originally [tɾuβaˈðoɾ], English /ˈtruːbədʊər/, French: [tʁubaduːʁ]) were composers and performers of Occitan lyric poetry during the High Middle Ages (1100–1350).  Uc is considered the "inventor" (trobador) of troubadour poetry. It is thouight that he may have taken the name "Faidit" (exiled or dispossessed) during his exile in Italy during the Albigensian Crusade. This grammar of the Occitan language may have been first grammar of an Romance language.

Occitan, a romance language spoken in southern France, Italy's Occitan Valleys, Monaco, and Spain's Val d'Aran-- the regions sometimes known informally as Occitania-- is also spoken in the linguistic enclave of Guardia Piemontese (Calabria, Italy). It is an official language in Catalonia (Spain) (known as Aranese in Val d'Aran). Modern Occitan is the closest relative of Catalan.

The manuscript was first published in print in 1840.  A "revised, corrected and considerably augmented" edition by François Guesnard entitled Grammaires provençales appeared in Paris in 1858.

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The Black Book of Carmarthen, Probably Earliest Surviving Manuscript Written Entirely in Welsh Circa 1250

One of the collection of manuscripts amassed at the mansion of Hengwrt, near DolgellauGwynedd, Wales, by Welsh antiquary  Robert Vaughan in the 17th century, the Black Book of Carmarthen (Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin) may be the earliest surviving manuscript written entirely in Welsh. It was associated with the Priory of St. John the Evangelist and Teulyddog at Carmarthen, possibly the oldest town in Wales. This and its black binding are the source of its name. Notably the manuscript contains some of the earliest references to King Arthur and Merlin.

The Black Book of Carmarthen is a small (170 x 125 mm), incomplete, vellum codex of 54 folios (108 pages) in eight gatherings. Though it was written by a single scribe, inconsistency in the ruling of each folio, in the number of lines per folio, and in handwriting size and style, suggest a non-professional writing over a long period of time. The opening folia, written in a large textura on alternating ruled lines, are followed by folia in much smaller, cramped script.

"The book contains a small group of triads about the horses of Welsh heroes, but is chiefly a collection of 9th–12th century poetry falling into various categories: religious and secular subjects, and odes of praise and of mourning. Of greater interest are the poems which draw on traditions relating to the Welsh heroes associated with the Hen Ogledd  (Cumbria  and surrounding area), and especially those connected with the legend of Arthur and Myrddin, also known as Merlin, thus predating the descriptions of Merlin by Geoffrey of Monmouth. One of the poems, The Elegy of Gereint son of Erbin, refers to the "Battle of Llongborth", the location of which can no longer be pinpointed, and mentions Arthur's involvement in the battle.

"The poems 'Yr Afallennau' and 'Yr Oianau' describe the mad Merlin in a forest talking to an apple tree and a pig, prophesying the success or failure of the Welsh army in battles with the Normans in South Wales" (Wikipedia article on Black Book of Carmarthen, accessed 04-07-2015).

The manuscript seems to have been first recorded in the 16th century, when it came to the possession of Sir John Prise (Price) of Brecon, a Welsh public notary who acted as a royal agent and visitor of the monasteries during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. It was given to him by the treasurer of St. David’s Cathedral, having come from Carmarthen Priory. In the 19th century William Forbes Skene described the Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin as one of the ‘Four Ancient Books of Wales’. It is preserved in the National Library of Wales (NLW Peniarth MS 1).

In April 2015 a digital facsimile of the manuscript was available from the National Library of Wales at this link.

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The "North French Hebrew Miscellany": More a Library than a Book 1278 – 1325

The North French Hebrew Miscellany (or "French Miscellany" or "London Miscellany") (British Library Add. MS 11639) was written and signed by Binyamin Ha-Sofer (Benjamin the Scribe), probably in central France (Ile de France or Champagne) in the last quarter of the 13th century or the first quarter of the 14th century. Comprising 746 folios (1492 pages), it contains 84 different groups of texts, including hundreds of poems. It is exceptional both for its wide variety of texts and for the quality of its illuminations, which were added by Christian illuminators. Elements can be dated from contents, including Isaac ben Joseph of Corbeil's legal compendium the Sefer Mitzvot Katan  (a text known to have been finished in 1277), mentions of Yehiel of Paris, who died in 1286, as still alive, and "a table of moladot (lunation-commencements) for the period 1279/80 - 1295/95 (f. 444)."

The manuscript includes 49 full-page miniatures, mostly of Biblical subjects which were executed by 3-5 different Christian illuminators probably attached to workshops in St. Omer (Artois) and Paris. The manuscript has been extensively studied, and elements of its production are debated; the British Library catalogue entry includes an unusually long bibliography.


"A deed of sale written in a German rabbinic hand shows that the manuscript was sold in 1431 by Samuel b. Hayyim to Abraham b. Moses of Coburg. The manuscript probably left France when its owners were banished during the wave of persecution in 1306. By 1479 it had reached Mestre in Italy and a little later was in Venice. In 1480 it was in Padua and in 1481 in Iesi, near Ancona.

"By the end of the fifteenth century it had found its way to north-eastern Italy and was rebound in Modena, near Bologna, in the sixteenth century. The magnificent calf binding that still survives bears the arms of the Rovigo family, one of whose most eminent members, Rabbi Abraham b. Michael, a kabbalist writer, may have owned the manuscript. In the seventeenth century it was examined by a censor and later came into the possession of the Barberini family whose famous golden-bee insignia can still be made out on the binding under a later decorative motif. It is unclear where the manuscript spent the intervening years.... Wherever it was, Giovanni Bernardo de Rossi was able to examine it in the last quarter of the eighteenth century and to include it in his seminal work, Variae lectionis veteris testamenti, in Parma in 1784. The manuscript finally came into the possession of the Reina Library of Milan and remained there until it was sold in 1839 by Maison Silvestre in Paris to Payne & Foss, and then on to the British Museum where it became Additional Manuscript 11639...." (Facsimile Editions description of their edition, accessed 12-10-2013).

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The Planudean Anthology as Basis for the Anthologia Graeca 1299 – 1301

Between 1299 and 1301 Byzantine Greek grammarian, theologian, translator, and classical scholar at Constantinople Maximus Planudes prepared a compilation that became the basis for the Anthologia Graeca, or Greek Anthology. Planudes used for the purpose three lost manuscripts: two of collections similar to the Palatine Anthology possibly compiled by Constantine the Rhodian, and a third which was an abridged version of the collection made by Byzantine schoolmaster Constantine Cephalas circa 900, on which the Palatine Anthology was based.

"Planudes both rejected many poems and, making skillful use of his metrical knowledge, 'emended' others to reflect contemporary propriety. The Planudean Anthnology is divided into seven books - epideictic, satiric, funerary, ekphrastic epigrams. Each book is subdivided, poems on each theme being arranged alphabetically. Planudes' autograph manuscript (Venice, Bibliotheca Nazionale Marciana, Marc. gr. 481) is dated 1301 (or 1299) and there survive also a preliminary and an incomplete final revision done under the compiler's supervision. The 388 poems unqiue to this compilation, usually collectively called the Planudean Appendix or, incorrectly, book 16 of the Palatine Anthology, are mainly epigrams about or imaginarily inscribed upon statues and paintings" (A. R. Littlewood, article on Anthology, Greek in Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece (2006).

The Anthologia Graeca Planudea was first published in print by Laurentius (Francisci) de Alopa, Venetus, in Florence on August 11, 1494. The earliest copies of the edition contain, as the final quire, a verse epilogue and dedication to Piero de' Medici, then leader of Florence, by its editor, Greek scholar Janus Lascaris. This dedication was suppressed in the second issue later in 1494, presumably after Piero's proscription and flight from Florence, along with the rest of the Medici family. (ISTC No. ia00765000). Lascaris's edition was the version by which the work was known in Western Europe until the Palatine Anthology was published in print by French classical scholar Richard François Philippe Brunck in his Anthologia Graeca or Analecta veterum Poetarum Graecorum 3 vols., (1772–1776).

(This entry was last revised on 04-26-2014.)

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1300 – 1400

Islamic History Containing the Earliest Notice of Chinese Printing from a Non-Chinese Source 1307

A scene from Rashid al-Din Tabib's 'Jami al-Tawarikh' in which the Ghazan Khan is converted to Islam. (View Larger)

In 1307 Persian physician of Jewish origin, polymathic writer and historian from HamadanRashīd al-Dīn Tabīb (Persian: رشیدالدین طبیب) also Rashīd al-Dīn Fadhl-allāh Hamadānī (Persian: رشیدالدین فضل‌الله همدانی), a convert to Islam, wrote in the Persian language a history, very long for the time, entitled Jami al-Tawarikh.  

"It was in three volumes with a total of approximately 400 pages, with versions in Persian, Arabic and Mongol. The work describes cultures and major events in world history from China to Europe; in addition, it covers Mongol history, as a way of establishing their cultural legacy. The lavish illustrations and calligraphy required the efforts of hundreds of scribes and artists, with the intent that two new copies (one in Persian, and one in Arabic) would be created each year and distributed to schools and cities around the Ilkhanate, in the Middle East, Central Asia, Asia Minor, and the Indian sub-continent. Approximately 20 illustrated copies were made of the work during Rashid al-Din's lifetime, but only a few portions remain, and the complete text has not survived. The oldest known copy is an Arabic version, of which half has been lost, but one set of pages is currently in the Khalili Collection, comprising 59 folios from the second volume of the work. Another set of pages, with 151 folios from the same volume, is owned by the Edinburgh University Library. Two Persian copies from the first generation of manuscripts survive in the Topkapi Palace Library in Istanbul. The early illustrated manuscripts together represent 'one of the most important surviving examples of Ilkhanid art in any medium' and are the largest surviving body of early examples of the Persian miniature"( Wikipedia article on Jami al-Tawarikh, accessed 01-25-2012).

This history contained a discussion of printing in China. The description of the printing process bears very strong resemblance to the processes used in the large printing ventures in China under Feng Dao (932–953):

"When any book was desired, a copy was made by a skillful calligrapher on tablets and carefully corrected by proof-readers whose names were inscribed on the back of the tablets. The letters were then cut out by expert engravers, and all pages of the books consecutively numbered. When completed, the tablets were placed in sealed bags to be kept by reliable persons, and if anyone wanted a copy of the book, he paid the charges fixed by the government. The tablets were then taken out of the bags and imposed on leaves of paper to obtain the printed sheets as desired. In this way, alterations could not be made and documents could be faithfully transmitted. Under this system he had copies made, lent them to friends, and urged them to transcribe them and return the originals. He had Arabic translations made of those works he composed in Persian, and Persian translations of works composed in Arabic. When the translations had been prepared, he deposited them in the mosque library of the Rab'-e Rashidi" (Wikipedia article on Rashid-al-Din Hamadani, accessed 08-20-2014).

"This is the earliest notice of Chinese printing, aside from the making of paper money, outside of East Asiatic sources. It is evident that Rashid had a reasonably reliable source of information and that the printing in which he was interested was the printing of books, especially historical records. Where he failed was in not grasping the importance of the new art as an economical means of disseminating literature and in seeing it merely as a means of authenticating the exact text—a characteristic of Chinese official printing that has already been noticed . . . ." (Carter, Invention of Printing in China 2nd ed[1955] 173).

In 1980, a 120-page illuminated version of Rashīd al-Dīn's manuscript in Arabic was sold at Sotheby's to Nasser David Khalili of London for £850,000, then the highest price ever paid for an Arabic manuscript. In August 2014 an extensive description of Khalili manuscript was available from Saudi Aramco World at this link.

♦ Also in August 2014 a digital facsimile of the Jami al-Twarikh of Rashid al-Din in Edinburgh University Library, which was considered another portion of the identical manuscript from which the Khalili portion originated, was available from Edinburgh University Library at this link. The Edinburgh portion was collected by Colonel John Baillie and donated to Edinburgh University in 1876.

(This entry was last revised on 08-20-2014.)


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Dante Alighieri's "Divina Commedia" 1308 – 1321

A statue of Dante at the Uffizi. (View Larger)

Between 1308 and 1321 Italian poet Dante Alighieri, a Florentine, also called the "Father of the Italian language," composed the Divine Comedy (Divina Commedia), an allegorical vision of the afterlife as a culmination of the medieval world-view. The work was originally called Commedia, but later changed to Divina Commedia by the Italian author and poet Giovanni Boccaccio. Printed editions did not add the word Divina to the title until that of that of the Venetian humanist Lodovico Dolce, published in 1555 by Gabriele Giolito de' Ferrari.

No original manuscript written by Dante survived, though we have over 600 manuscript copies from the 14th century, and probably even more from the 15th century. Beginning with a commentary written in 1333 by Dante's son Jacopo, 15 medieval commentaries on the Divina Commedia were written.

The first dated illustrated manuscript of the Divina Commedia was written in 1337 by the notary and poet Ser Francesco di Ser Nardo da Barberini (Francésco da Barberino)  (Milan, Biblotheca Trivulziana MS. 1080). It was illuminated in Florence by the artist known as the Master of the Dominican Effigies. In March 2014 images of this manuscript were available from the Bibliotheca Augustana website at this link.

"The legend is that Ser Francesco provided dowries for his daughters by writing out a hundred mansuscripts of the Divine Comedy, and it is curious that there are at least three other copies so closedly related to the signed mansucript in their script and decoration that they must have been produced together: Flrorenc, Bibl. Laur. Strozz. MS 152, Bibl. Naz. Palat. MS 313, and Pierpont Morgan Library M. 289. The proceeds of even a few such books would make any daughter worth chasing" (De Hamel, A History of Illuminated Manuscripts [1986] 143-44).

From the textual standpoint the most precious 14th century manuscripts of the Divina Commedia may be the three full copies made by Giovanni Boccaccio during the 1360s. Even by this early date Boccaccio could not consult Dante's original manuscript.

(This entry was last revised on March 23, 2014.)


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The Rochefoucauld Grail 1315 – 1323

Arthur versus the Saxons as depicted in the Rochefoucauld Grail. (View Larger)

Between 1315 and 1323 The Rochefoulcauld Grail was written and illuminated in Flanders or Artois by the same team of artists and scribes who produced the deluxe copies of the text now London, British Library, Add. MS. 10292-4 and Royal MS.14.E.III) perhaps for Guy VII, baron de La Rochefoucauld. It is one of the principal manuscripts of the greatest romance of the Middle Ages, with 107 miniatures illustrating warfare, chivalry and courtly love. It contains the Lancelot-Grail cycle in French prose, the oldest and most comprehensive version of the legend of King Arthur and the Holy Grail.

The manuscript was sold at Sotheby's London on December 10, 2010 for £2,393,250 including premium. The Sotheby's catalogue description, presumably written by Christopher de Hamel, included the provenance and numerous published references. The manuscript sold consisted of three volumes. A fourth volume of the manuscript is divided between the Bodeleian Library, Oxford (Douce MS 215) and the John Rylands Library, Manchester (MS Fr. 1).

In February 2014 a selection of images from the manuscript was available from Theguardian.com at this link.  

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The Chantilly Illuminated Manuscript of Dante's Inferno Circa 1345

Along with Yates Thompson MS 36 in the British Library, the Chantilly Inferno (Chantilly, Mus. Condé, MS 597/1424) is considered one of the greatest of the illuminated manuscripts of Dante's Divine Comedy. The Chantilly manuscript was probably created in Pisa about 1345, only a little more than twenty years after Dante may have finished the poem.

The Chantilly Inferno contains the text of the Inferno together with the Latin commentary on the text by the Italian writer Guido da Pisa. It is among the earliest illuminated copies of the Inferno, and the only known illuminated copy of Guido da Piso's commentary. Most of the 55 miniatures in the manuscript accompany the commentary, though their iconography is drawn from the Inferno. The miniatures mainly appear in the lower margins, reflective of one of two types of illustration that were developed in Florence in the 1330s for the illustration of the Divine Comedy. The color palette for these illustrations is limited to browns and grays, and one one episode is depicted in each miniature. The paintings were attributed by art historian Millard Meiss to three or more artists working in the style of Francesco Traini. These artists, Meiss, theorized, had been trained as panel or mural painters.

Grove Encyclopedia of Medieval Art and Architecture II, 18-19.

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Writing Zilbaldone Circa 1350

The practice of writing zibaldone, or collections of notes in paper codices of small and medium format, such as we might call commonplace books, began in the mid 14th century.

"Rather than miniatures, zibaldone often incorporate the author's sketches. Zibaldone were in cursive scripts (first chancery minuscule and later mercantile minuscule) and contained what Armando Petrucci, the renowned palaeographer, describes as 'an astonishing variety of poetic and prose texts.' Devotional, technical, documentary and literary texts appear side-by-side in no discernible order. The juxtaposition of gabelle taxes paid, currency exchange rates, medicinal remedies, recipes and favourite quotations from Augustine and Virgil portrays a developing secular, literate culture. By far the most popular of literary selections were the works of Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca and Giovanni Boccaccio: the 'Three Crowns' of the Florentine vernacular traditions.These collections have been used by modern scholars as a source for interpreting how merchants and artisans interacted with the literature and visual arts of the Florentine Renaissance" (Wikipedia article on commonplace book, accessed 01-16-2011).

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Both of the Earliest and Most Authoritative Manuscripts of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales Were Written by the Same Scribe Circa 1380

The opening leaf of the Hengwrt Chaucer. (View Larger)

Under the direction of Geoffrey Chaucer scribe Adam Pinkhurst wrote the Hengwrt manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Chaucer composed a short poem gently chiding a scribe who worked for him named "Adam." In the poem Chaucer scolded the scribe for having so many errors in his manuscripts that Chaucer had to correct them in proofreading. This scribe Professor Lynne Mooney identified as Adam Pinkhurst by comparing the writing of the manuscript with Pinkhurst's signature on an oath Pinkhurst had to sign when he joined the Writers of the Court Letter, predecessor of the Scrivener's Company of London, shortly after 1382.

Here is Chaucer's poem written to Adam Pinkhurst:

Chaucer's Wordes Unto Adam His Own Scriveyne

Adam scrivener, if ever thee befall

Boece or Troilus for to write new [again],

Under thy longe locks thow maist have the scall,

But [unless] after my makinge thou write mor trew,

So oft a day I mot [must] thy werke renewe It to correct, and eke to rubbe and scrape,

And all is thorowe thy necligence and rape [haste].

Preserved in the National Library of Wales, in Aberystwyth, where it is known as MS Peniarth 392D, the Hengwrt Chaucer is the earliest and most authoritative manuscript of the Canterbury Tales.

"Recent scholarship has shown that the variant spellings given in the Hengwrt manuscript likely reflect Chaucer's own spelling practices in his East Midlands / London dialect of Middle English, while the Ellesmere text shows evidence of a later attempt to regularise spelling; Hengwrt is therefore probably very close to the original authorial holograph."

"This was one of the collection of manuscripts amassed at the mansion of Hengwrt, near Dolgellau, Gwynedd, by Welsh antiquary Robert Vaughan (c.1592-1667); the collection later passed to the newly-established National Library of Wales as the Peniarth or Hengwrt-Peniarth Manuscripts.

"The Hengwrt manuscript's very early ownership is unknown, but by the 16th century it can be identified as belonging to Fouke Dutton, a draper of Chester who died in 1558.  It then seems to have passed into the ownership of the Bannester family of Chester and Caernarfon, and through them was in the possession of an Andrew Brereton by 1625; by the middle of the 17th century it had been acquired by Vaughan.

 "Peniarth MS 392 D contains 250 folios with a page size of around 29 x 20.5 centimetres. It is written on heavily stained and rather damaged parchment. The main textual hand has been identified with one found in several other manuscripts of the period (see below); there are a number of other hands in the manuscript, including one of a person who attempted to fill in several gaps in the text. This has been tentatively identified as the hand of the poet Thomas Hoccleve" Wikipedia article on Hengwrt Chaucer, accessed 02-28-2009).

It is also understood that scribe Adam Pinkhurst, employed by Chaucer, wrote the more famous and more elegant Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer probably after Chaucer's death.

The opening of 'The Knight's Tale' in the Ellesmere Chaucer. (View Larger)

"The early history of the manuscript is uncertain, but it seems to have come into the possession of Thomas de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford at some point. "The Ellesmere manuscripts began to be assembled by the Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas Egerton (1540-1617), Baron Ellesmere and Viscount Brackley and were added to by his descendants; he obtained his manuscript of the Tales from Roger, Lord North. The library of manuscripts remained at the Egerton house, Ashridge, Hertfordshire, until 1802 when it was removed to London. Francis Egerton, created Earl of Ellesmere in 1846, inherited the library, and it remained in the family until its sale to Henry Huntington by John Francis Granville Scrope Egerton (1872-1944), 4th Earl of Ellesmere. Huntington purchased the Bridgewater library privately in 1917 through Sotheby’s.

"The Ellesmere manuscript is a highly polished example of scribal workmanship, with a great deal of elaborate illumination and, notably, a series of illustrations of the various narrators of the Tales (including a famous one of Chaucer himself, mounted an a horse). As such, it was clearly a de luxe product, commissioned for a very wealthy patron.

"The manuscript is written on fine vellum and is approximately 400mm by 284mm in size; there are 240 leaves, of which 232 contain the text of the Tales. Though a single scribe was employed, the illustrations were possibly carried out by three different artists" (quotations from Wikipedia article on Ellesmere manuscript, accessed 02-28-2009).

The Ellesmere Chaucer is preserved in The Huntington Library.

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1400 – 1450

The Largest and Finest Collection of Greek Texts before Bessarion's December 15, 1423

Having spent four years in Constantinople collecting manuscripts, on December 15, 1423 book collector, scholar, and occasional bookseller Giovanni Aurispa arrived in Venice with the largest and finest collection of Greek texts to reach the west prior to those brought by Cardinal Basilios Bessarion.

"In reply to a letter from Ambrogio Traversari, he [Aurispa] says that he brought back 238 manuscripts. These contained all of Plato, all of Plotinus, all of Proclus, much of Iamblichus, many of the Greek poets, including Pindar, and a great deal of Greek history, including volumes of Procopius and Xenophon which had been given to him by the emperor. Also the poems of Callimachus and Oppian, and the Orphic verses; the historical works of Dio Cassius, Diodorus Siculus, and Arrian. Most of the works were hitherto unknown in the west.

"Further items included the oldest manuscript of Athenaeus; a 10th century codex containing 7 plays by Sophocles, 6 by Aeschylus — the only manuscript in the world of these—, plus the Argonautica of Apollonius; the Iliad, Demosthenes, and many more. A Herodotus was also among the collection; also the Geography of Strabo. The texts are all listed in the letter to Traversari" (Wikipedia article Giovanni Aurispa, accessed 11-26-2008).

(This entry was last revised on April 8, 2014.)

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The Yates Thompson MS 36 of Dante's Divine Comedy 1444 – 1450

One of the very greatest of the illuminated manuscripts of Dante's Divina Commedia is Yates Thompson MS 36, preserved in the British Library. In 1993 John Pope-Hennessy proposed a date for the manuscript of between 1444 and 1450, partly depending on the representations of the dome and cupola of Florence Cathedral, which was under construction during these years. This manuscript, which originated in Tuscany, has a very interesting provenance:

"Alfonso V, king of Aragon, Naples and Sicily (reigned 1416 to 1458): his arms (f. 1r). Ferdinand (Fernando de Aragón), Duke of Calabria (b. 1488, d. 1550): his donation to the convent of San Miguel, Valencia in 1538. The monastery of San Miguel de los Reyes, Valencia, 1613: inscribed 'Ex commissione dominorum Inquisitorum Valentie vidi et expurgavi secundum expurgatorium novum Madriti 1612. et subscripsi die. 14. Septembris 1613. ego frater Antonius Oller' (f. 190v). Bought by Henry Yates Thompson from Señor Luis Mayans, Madrid, May 1901. Henry Yates Thompson (b. 1838, d. 1928), collector of illuminated manuscripts and newspaper proprietor: with his book-plate inscribed '[MS] CV / £blee.e.e [i.e. £1900.0.0] / [bought from] Harris / Madrid / May 29 / 1901' (inside upper cover). Bequeathed to the British Museum in 1941 by Mrs Yates Thompson."

In March 2014 a digital facsimile of Yates Thompson MS 36 was available from the British Library at this link.

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1450 – 1500

The First Printed Editions of Virgil 1469 – 1470

Detail of page from Sweynheym and Pannartz's edition of the Opera of Virgil at Rome. (Please click on image to view the entire page.)

Detail of page from Mentelin's edition of the Opera of Virgil at Rome. (Please click on the image to view the entire page.)

In 1469 and 1470 printers Sweynheym and Pannartz issued an edition of the Opera of Virgil at Rome (ISTC no. iv00149000); printer Johannes Mentelin issued another edition at Strassburg (ISTC no. iv00151000).

These were the first printed editions of Virgil, and the ISTC estimates that the Mentelin edition appeared the year after the Sweynheym and Pannartz edition.

One of the most widely copied and read authors during the Middle Ages, Virgil was also one of the most frequently printed authors in the 15th century, with about 100 editions issued.

♦♦ In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the copy of the Rome edition in the Bibliothèque de Saint Geneviève was available from the Internet Archive at this link. Also in November 2013 a digital facsimile of the Strassburg edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

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The First Three Printed Editions of Dante's Divine Comedy 1472

Dante Alighieri's La Commedia first appeared in print in 1472; during that year three printed editions were issued. On April 11, 1472 Johann Numeister and Evangelista [Angelini?] completed the printing of the earliest dated edition in the town of Foligno, Italy. (ISTC No.: id00022000.) Of the 300 copies printed of this edition, 14 copies are recorded. According to the Wikipedia, the original printing press used for the book is on display in the Oratorio della Nunziatella in Foligno.

The second dated edition was completed on July 18, 1472 by Federicus de Comitibus of Verona, and probably issued from Venice. According to ISTC No. id00024000, only five copies of this edition are recorded, of which three are imperfect.

A third edition, dated 1472, but without specification of day or month, was issued  in Mantua by Georgius de Augusta and Paulus de Butzbach for Columbinus Veronensis. According to ISTC No. id00023000, 17 copies are recorded in insitutions. 

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The Editio Princeps of Homer: The First Printing of a Major Greek Work in its Original Language 1488 – 1489

In 1488 and 1489 the first printed edition (editio princeps) of the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer appeared in Florence in two volumes. This edition of Homer's Opera in Greek was edited by the Greek scholar Demetrius Chalcondyles and printed by Bartolommeo di Libri at the expense of the brothers Nerli. It was the first printed edition of any major Greek work in its original language.

"The type used was that of Demetrius Damilas, whose 'labor and skill' . . . is acknowledged in the colophon" (Barker, Aldus Manutius and the Development of Greek Script & Type in the Fifteenth Century [1992] 37).

ISTC no. ih00300000.  In November 2013 a digital facsimile was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link

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Sebastian Brant's "Book Fool", and Others February 11, 1494

In February 1494 Sebastian Brant published Das Narrenschiff (The Ship of Fools) in Basel, Switzerland at the press of Johann Bergmann, de Olpe. Some of the woodcuts illustrating this work were by the young Albrecht Dürer.

Brandt's satire became a great bestseller. It included a characterization and woodcut illustration of the "book fool" who enjoyed owning many books but read few of them. That book-collecting had become a topic for satire by this time is a reflection of the proliferation of books since the invention of printing by movable type.

The popularity of Brandt's satire was also a reflection of the proliferation of books. Twenty-six different editions appeared in the 15th century. Brandt authorized six editions in German during his lifetime and there were at least six other unauthorized editions published. The work was translated into Latin by Jacob Locher in 1497 (Stultifera Navis), into French by Paul Rivière in 1497 and by Jehan Droyn in 1498. An English verse translation by Alexander Barclay appeared in London in 1509, and again in 1570; one in prose by Henry Watson in London, 1509; and again 1517. It was also rendered into Dutch and Low German.

ISTC no. ib01080000. In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the first edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliotheck at this link.

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1500 – 1550

The Aldine Virgil: the First Book Completely Printed in Italic Type and the First of Aldus's Pocket Editions of the Classics, Model for the Portable Printed Book Format April 1501

In April 1501 Venetian scholar printer Aldus Manutius issued an edition of the poems of Virgil (Vergil) in Italic type designed by the punchcutter Francesco Griffo, also known as Francesco da Bologna. A very skilled craftsman, Griffo was also a "tumultuous character" who ended his life in the hangman's noose for murdering his son-in-law. This was the first book completely printed in Italic type, an adaptation of humanist script, possibly Aldus's own handwriting. Facing the first page of Virgil's text, Aldus included a poem praising the skill of Griffo who designed the new type. In addition to its elegant design, Italic type had the advantage of a higher character count, allowing more information to be printed legibly in less space than Roman or Gothic type.

Aldus’s edition of Virgil was also the first of a series of volumes that he issued in the pocket, or octavo format. This smaller format had previously been used for editions of devotional texts, but Aldus was the first to use the smaller format to make non-devotional literature available in the more portable format, and at lower cost. Davies pointed out that a signifcant reason for Aldus's introduction of the octavo format was the collapse of the credit market in Venice in 1500 caused by "Venetian defeats and Turkish advances," which caused many business failures, and would have motivated Aldus to publish books that could be sold at lower cost.

"The innovation lay not in the small format, often used by printers for devotional texts, but in applying it to a class of literature hitherto issued in large and imposing folios or quartos. It is also certain that the small-format manuscripts in Bernardo Bembo's library included a good number written by the leading Paduan scribe, Bartolomeo Sanvito, whose hand seems to be the best and closest model for the Aldine italic.

"This famous type was a sympathetic rendering by Francesco Griffo of the best humanist cursive script of the day, a wholly new departure in Latin typography but parallel to Aldus's adaptation of Greek cursive hands for his earlier work. If italic has today become practically confined to words that convention dictates be 'italicized', we must also recognize that it appeared to contemporaries as a revelation of elegance -- to Erasmus, 'the neatest types in the world'. The narrow set of the type is also very economical of paper, an important consideration in those days. The very first appearance is in a few words set in the woodcut that adorns the folio St Catherine . . . , followed by limited use in the preface to the second (quarto) edition of Aldus's Latin grammar of February 1501. Italic reached its manifest destiny as the text type of the book which began Aldus's great series of octavo classics, the Virgil of April 1501" (Martin Davies, Aldus Manutius: Printer and Publisher of Renaissance Venice [1999] 42).

Aldus' pocket editions of Virgil were a commercial success:

".. . . By the time of the dedication to Bembo in 1514, Aldus had already exhausted two editions of the works of Virgil (which we can estimate to have been about 3,000 for each run). By contrast, nearly all the incunable editions of his Greek folios were still available in the third advertisement of 1513, some at reduced prices. Not that the octavos were cheap—Isabella d'Este, the learned Marchioness of Mantua (and another former pupil of Battista Guarino), sent back some vellum copies she had ordered when she was told by her courtiers that they were worth no more than half the price Aldus's partners were asking. These may have been special illuminated copies costing five ducats or more—some exquisite vellum editions that she did buy from Aldus survive in the British Library—but even the plain paper copies, according to Aldus's annotation of the 1503 advertisement, went for a substantial quarter of a ducat" (Davies, op. cit., 46).

"Aldus's great innovation was his production of the libelli portatiles, or 'portable little books,' a phenomenon that is analogous to the paperback revolution of the past half century. He called his creation (later misnamed pocketbooks) the enchiridion, or 'handbook,' meaning a book that could be held comfortably in the hand. He thought of them as noble instruments (he referred to pseudo-Virgilian pornographic verse as 'unworthy of the enchiridion') and intended the series to be composed only of good literature: the 'classics' in Greek, Latin, and, very selectively in Italian. His tripartite achievement consisted simultaneously of (1) an edited text issued without commentary (2) printed in a novel typeface that mimicked chancery script, the humanist's cursive handwriting, (3) produced in a light, small book of elongated format that would sit comforably in the hand.

"In my view, the portable octavo is the quintessential Aldine, and is probably what first comes to mind when the books of the Press are mentioned even if thereafter one quickly thinks of the imposing Greek folios from the incunabular period. The portable library set new goals for Aldus's contemporaries, and publishers have been inspired to honor Aldus's revolution by imitating his achevement ever since" (H. George Fletcher, In Praise of Aldus Manutius. A Quincentenary Exhibition [1995] 50).

 In April 2014 the John Rylands Library, in their blog Manutius in Manchester, featured a copy of the 1501 Aldine Virgil printed on vellum, and illuminated for the Pisani family of Venice. Also in April 2014, a larger image of the illuminated page of the Pisani Virgil from the Rylands Library was available from the Wikipedia at this link

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Aldus Manutius Publishes the Editiones Principes of Thucydides, Sophocles, and Herodotus 1502

1502 was a year of remarkable scholarship and publishing productivity for the scholar printer Aldus Manutius. On May 14 he completed the first edition of Thucydides in Greek (editio princeps), and only a few months later, in September, he completed the first edition of Herodotus in Greek. Between the two, in the month of August, he was able to issue the editio princeps of Sophocles, his first edition of a Greek text in his octavo portable book format. The following year Aldus also published an edition of the Scholia to Thucydides, resulting from his editorial work on that text.

This entry will briefly discuss Aldus's achievements in publishing the editiones principes of the two leading ancient Greek historians. Though Aldus frequently employed editors to prepare his texts, he was apparently interested enough in both Thucydides and Herodotus to edit their texts himself. From a sentence in the dedicatory epistle of his edition of Thucydides we learn that during that period of his life, at least, he insisted on having at least three manuscripts of an author before printing:

"eram daturus . . .τα τε ΧενοΦϖντος, Πλνθωνος, . . .sed quia non habebam minum tria exemplaria, distulimus in aliud tempus."

In his paper, "The Aldine Scholia to Thucydides," Classical Quarterly 30, No. 3/4 (July-October 1936) 146-50, from which Aldus's statement is quoted, J. Enoch Powell reconstructed the texts that Aldus consulted, identifying in theory the three codices that Aldus probably used, and elements of their subsequent history. He also indicated (on p. 147) that "nothing seems to be known about the ultimate fate of Aldus' private library: all that I can find is that according to his will his property of every kind was divided equally between his three sons; the family became extinct in 1601." In April 2014 a listing of the extant exemplars of Thucydides were available from Roger Pearse's tertullian.org at this link. It was unclear how those correlated with the manuscripts mentioned in Powell's paper.

Similarly in his dedication to his editio princeps of Herodotus, Aldus claimed that he corrected the text from multiple exemplars. While Lorenzo Valla had used manuscripts of Herodotus from Rome for his Latin translation of Herodotus, Aldus obtained manuscripts from Florence, which contained variant readings. In 1993 Brigitte Mondrain discovered Aldus's manuscript for the editio princeps of Herodotus in a library in Nuremberg: Mondrain, "Un nouveau manuscrit d’Hérodote: le modèle de l’impression aldine," Scriptorium 49 (1995) 263-273. (When I wrote this entry in April 2014 I had not had the opportunity to read Mondrain's paper, which I assumed would fill in signficant details.)

Aldus designed his editions of Thucydides and Herodotus as a matching set. The editions share the same paper stock, all types, and the number of lines per page. 

The Aldine Press: Catalogue of the Ahmanson-Murphy Collection of Books by or Relating to the Press in the Library of the University of California, Los Angeles (2001) Nos. 57 (Thucydides) and 62 (Herodotus).

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Bronzino Paints a Portrait of an Elegant Young Man Mishandling a Book Circa 1535

Portrait of a Young Man by Bronzino, preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is considered one of the artist's "most arresting" paintings. It is also notable for the sitter's mishandling a book by wedging his finger in the volume while holding it tightly closed. Of course, this simply adds realism to the portrait. 

"The sitter is not known, but he must have belonged to Bronzino's close circle of literary friends, which included the historian Benedetto Varchi and the poet Laura Battiferri, both of whom sat for the artist. Bronzino himself composed verses in the style of Petrarch, and some of the fanciful and witty conceits in this picture—the grotesque heads on the table and chair and the masklike face formed by the youth's breeches—would have been much appreciated in literary circles. The book is doubtless a collection of poems" (http://www.metmuseum.org/collections/search-the-collections/110000235?img=0, accessed 10-25-2011).

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1550 – 1600

The Only Manuscript Pages Thought to be in the Hand of William Shakespeare Circa 1591 – 1596

Three pages in the manuscript of an unpublished play Sir Thomas More, probably written between 1591 and 1596, represent the only manuscript pages thought to have been written by William Shakespeare. These three pages, written in what is known as Hand D, plus six surviving signatures written by Shakepeare on four legal documents, including his Last Will and Testament containing three signatures, respresent the entire surviving body of manuscripts that Shakespeare is thought to have written in his own hand. Notably all six extant signatures attributed to Shakespeare spell his name differently.

Tbe three pages in the play Sir Thomas More are in the single manuscript of a collaborative Elizabethan play by Anthony Munday and others depicting the life and death of Sir Thomas More. The manuscript, preserved in the British Library as Harley MS 7368, contains many layers of collaborative writing by six different hands, of which five have been identified.  Hand D has been attributed to Shakespeare since 1871, supported by a minute paleographical study of the handwriting by Sir Edward Maunde Thompson in 1916, and the publication in 1923 of Shakespeare's Hand in the Play of Sir Thomas More by five noted scholars to analyzed the play from multiple perspectives, all of which leading to the conclusion that Hand D was the handwriting of Shakespeare.

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1600 – 1650

Thomas Thorpe Issues the First Edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets May 20, 1609

On May 20, 1609 English publisher and "procurer of manuscripts" Thomas Thorpe issued from London, without the author's permission, Shake-Speare's Sonnets. The volume contained 152 previously unpublished sonnets, and two (numbers 138 and 144) that had previously been published in a 1599 miscellany entitled The Passionate Pilgrim. This earlier collection, falsely attributed in its entirety to Shakespeare, had been published by William Jaggard, who would later, in 1623, publish the so-called "First Folio" of Shakespeare's plays.

Thorpe's "apparent disregard for Shakespeare's permission earned him a poor reputation, although modern author Katherine Duncan-Jones has argued that he was not such a 'scoundrel' as he was portrayed, and the amiable and admirable [Edward] Blount would certainly not associate with him if he were a scoundrel. It has even been suggested that Shakespeare did sell his manuscript to Thorpe, because of his acquaintance with [Ben] Jonson as an actor in Sejanus, who may have recommended Thorpe to him as a good publisher. The dedication, which is addressed to a mysterious Mr. W.H., may have been written either by Shakespeare himself or by Thorpe. Popular belief, however, is that Shakespeare is the author of the dedication, but the identity of Mr. W.H. is not known. Thorpe was probably responsible for the arrangement of the sonnets, with 1-17 being the "procreation sonnets", 18-126 being love sonnets to the Fair Youth (for the most part), and 127-154 being written on a variety of subjects, including politics, sex, and the Dark Lady. Critics have failed to agree whether or not his arrangement was the most apt, but most detect a logical coherence in the order, which is generally retained today: (Wikipedia article on Thomas Thorpe, accessed 05-21-2009).

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Jacques Bongars Issues the First Collection of Chronicles of the Crusades 1611

In 1611 French scholar and diplomat Jacques Bongars edited a number of chronicles of the crusades under the title Gesta Dei per Francos, Sive Orientalium Expeditionum et Regnifrancorum Hierosolimitani Historia, and had them published in Hanover, Germany. Bongars' work was the first of a long series of editions and publications devoted to the Crusades, and to the fateful history of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.

"No other movement in the history of the Middle Ages has made such a strong appeal to posterity; no other cause has seemed inspired by so much valour and religious fervour. To contemporaries, the liberation of the Holy places from the yoke of the infidel had been God's own work; and the long series of calamities that followed were due to unaccountable evil forces. The unexpected success of the First Crusade appeared little short of miraculous; the establishment of a Christian State in the Holy Land, which managed to survive under the most adverse conditions for almost 200 years, was a proud achievement and an inspiration to western chivalry. Barbarossa's untimely death, the reconquest of Acre, during the Third Crusade, and the eventual collapse of the kingdom at the hands of the savage Mameluks of Egypt stirred the imagination of the Latin world for many generations to come. The opulent eastern way of life in which the Frankish setters indulged, the friendly relations that were formed between them and their Arab and Turish opponents, Saladin's magnanimity and his generosity towards their captured leaders were contrary to the Latin customs and practices of the time, and anticipated the standards and ideals of later centuries. The Crusaders' experiences, embellished with fabulous tales, figure prominenty in the contemporary chansons de geste, and the deep impression they made in the West remained well into modern times.

"The reappraisal of the Crusading movement which has taken place during the last hundred years or so has made us take a less romantic and more sober view of events. The relations between the Latin Kingdom, the Byzantine Empire, and the Moslem States appear as a game of power politics even more ruthless than subtle. The organization of the Kingdom as a feudal State on the western pattern, the crude intolerance of the Franks, and their complete failure to appreciate the guiding principles and traditions of Byzantine policy were fundamental weaknesses which were bound to aggravate antagonism and breed disaster. The history of the thirteenth century, especially, presents itself as an interminable succession of unco-ordinated exploits, inspired by personal jealousy, lust for power, cruelty, and greed. Frequently the affairs of the Kingdom were in the hands of high-minded and galant leaders who earned the respect of friend and foe alike; but their example remained without lasting influence on the course of events. No doubt the Crusades mark a turning-point in the intellectual hsitory of the western world. They ended its parochialism and self-sufficiency, and opened the way for new ideas which initiated the intellectual achievements of the Italian Renaissance. But Europe paid a terrible price. The wilful and irresponsible destruction of the political power of Byzantium led to the unchecked ascendancy of the Ottoman Turks, and to the untold humiliations and sufferings which it entailed" (Hugo Buchthal, Miniature Painting in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem [1957] xxvii-xxviii). 

(This entry was last revised on 05-05-2014.)

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Preface to the First Folio Edition of Shakespeare’s Plays by Henrie Condell and Iohn Heminge 1623


"FROM the most able, to him that can but spell: There you are number’d. We had rather you were weighd. Especially, when the fate of all Bookes depends vpon your capacities: and not of your heads alone, but of your purses. Well! it is now publique, & you wil stand for your priuiledges wee know: to read, and censure. Do so, but buy it first. That doth best commend a Booke, the Stationer saies. Then, how odde soeuer your braines be, or your wisedomes, make your licence the same, and spare not. Iudge your sixe-pen’orth, your shillings worth, your fiue shillings worth at a time, or higher, so you rise to the iust rates, and welcome. But, what euer you do, Buy. Censure will not driue a Trade, or make the Iacke go. and though you be a Magistrate of wit, and sit on the Stage at Black-Friers, or theCock-pit, to arraigne Playes dailie, know, these Playes haue had their triall alreadie, and stood out all Appeals; and do now come forth quitted rather by a Decree of Court, then any purchas’d Letters of commendation.

 "It had bene a thing, we confesse, worthie to haue bene wished, that the Author himselfe had liu’d to haue set forth, and ouerseen his owne writings; But since it hath bin ordain’d otherwise, and he by death departed from that right, we pray you do not envie his Friends, the office of their care, and paine, to haue collected & publish’d them; and so to haue publish’d them, as where (before) you were abus’d with diuerse stolne, and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of iniurious imposters, that expos’d them: euen those, are now offer’d to your view cur’d, and perfect of their limbes; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers, as he conceiued them. Who, as he was a happie imitator of Nature, was a most gentle expresser of it. His mind and hand went together: and what he thought, he vttered with that easinesse, that wee haue scarse receiued from him a blot in his papers. But it is not our prouince, who onely gather his works, and giue them you, to praise him. It is yours that reade him. and there we hope, to your diuers capacities, you will finde enough, both to draw, and hold you: for his wit can no more lie hid, then it could be lost. Reade him, therefore; and againe, and againe: and if then you doe not like him, surely you are in some manifest danger, not to understand him. and so we leaue you to other of his Friends, whom if you need, can bee your guides: if you neede them not, you can leade your selues, and others. and such Readers we wish him. 

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Francesco Stelluti Issues the First Book Containing Images of Organisms Viewed through the Microscope 1630

In 1630 Italian scientist Francesco Stelluti published Persio tradotto in verso schiolto e dichiarato . . . in Rome at the press of Giacomo Mascardi. This translation of the works of the Latin poet Persius (Aulus Persius Flaccus), Stelluti dedicated to Cardinal Francesco Barberini in an attempt to gain the Cardinal's patronage for the Accademia dei Lincei, one of the first scientific societies, of which Stelluti was a co-founder. Stelluti’s edition of Persius was intended for the most part as a means for advertising the Accademia’s activities. “Whenever he possibly could, Stelluti took a word or phrase in Persius—almost any word or phrase—and used it as an excuse to refer to one or another aspect of the natural historical researches of the Linceans. The most insignificant reference in the elegies sparked long and short excursuses on the Linceans’ work” (Freedburg, p. 187) 

Stelluti's book was also the first book to contain images of organisms as viewed through the microscope. The book’s striking full-page image of a magnified bee (p. 52), showing minute details of the antennae, legs, sting, head and tongue, “still has the capacity to arouse the wonder of modern experts” (Freedburg, p. 189). On page 127 is a smaller illustration of a magnified grain weevil, including a detail of the tip of the insect’s snout and mandibles.

An obscure reference in Persius’s first satire to what may have been the ancient town of Eretum gave Stelluti his pretext for including the bee images, since the former Eretum was then presumably Monterotondo, seat of the Barberini country estate, and the Barberini family had adopted the bee as its emblem. Stelluti’s weevil image was likewise prompted by a mention of that insect in another of Persius’s poems.

Stelluti’s bee image is similar, but not identical to, an earlier image showing magnified views of a bee, that Stelluti published as a broadsheet in 1625 under the title Apiarium; this broadsheet is extremely rare, with only two or three copies recorded. The Apiarium was intended to form part of a projected encyclopedia by Stelluti’s fellow Lincean Federico Cesi, but this project was never realized. In 1624 Cesi had been sent a microscope by Galileo, another Lincean, and it was most likely this instrument that Cesi and Stelluti used to prepare their pioneering images of insects under magnification.

Ford, Images of Science: A History of Scientific Illustration, pp. 172-173, 179-180. Freedburg, The Eye of the Lynx: Galileo, His Friends, and the Beginnings of Modern Natural History (2003).

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George Herbert Publishes Some of the Earliest Printed Examples of Concrete or Shaped Poetry 1633

In 1633 The Temple. Sacred Poems, and Private Enjaculations by Welsh-born English poet, orator, and Anglican priest George Herbert was posthumously issued from Cambridge. On his deathbed, Herbert had sent the manuscript of The Temple to Nicholas Ferrar, of Little Gidding. telling him to publish the poems if he thought they might "turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul"; otherwise, to burn them. Ferrar decided to publish them. This book contained some of the earliest printed examples of concrete poetry, or shaped poetry or "pattern poems."  On p. 18 of the 1638 edition Herbert's poem, "The Altar," is arranged on the page in the shape of an altar. On pp. 34-35 of the same edition his poem "Easter-wings" is spread over two pages in the shape of two sets of outstretched wings.

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1700 – 1750

Popol Vuh, The Book of the People, Known from a Single Manuscript 1701 – 2012

Between 1701 and 1703 Domincan priest, scholar and linguist Francesco Ximénez, serving in the parish at Santo Tomás Chichicastenango, a town in the El Quiché department of Guatemala, transcribed the corpus of mytho-historical narratives of the Post Classic K'iche' kingdom known as Popol Vuh (Popol Buj, "Book of the Community", "Book of the Council", "Book of the People"). All editions of this work, written in the Classical K'iche' language, are based on the single manuscript that Father Ximénez transcribed, which is preserved in the Newberry Library, Chicago. Ximénez's manuscript recorded parallel texts in K'iche' and Spanish. What Ximénez transcribed was presumably a codex written shortly after the Spanish conquest by a Quiché native, who had learned to read and write Spanish, containing cosmological concepts and ancient traditions of this aboriginal American people, their history and origin, and the chronology of their kings down to the year 1550. The fate of the original manuscript after its transcription by Ximénez is unknown.

Prior to its arrival at the Newberry, the manuscript passed through several hands. In 1855, French writer, ethnographer, historian and archaeologist Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg found Ximénez's writings in the university library in Guatemala City, and perhaps absconded with the volume and took it to France. In 1861 Brasseur de Bourbourg published in Paris a French translation of the text as Popol Vuh, Le livre sacré et les mythes de l'antiquité américaine. After Brasseur's death in 1874 the Mexico-Guatémalienne collection containing Popol Vuh passed to French explorer, philologist, and ethnographer Alphonse Pinart, through whom it was sold to businessman and collector Edward E. Ayer, who donated his vast library on the history of native Americans in North and Central America to The Newberry Library in 1911. 

Father Ximénez's manuscript was reproduced online, with K'iche' text and Spanish and English translations by The Ohio State University

The first English translation of Popol Vuh was made by Delia Goetz and Sylvanus Griswold Morley from a translation into Spanish by Adrián Recinos and published in 1950 as The Book of the People: Popol Vuh. The National Book of the Ancient Quiché Maya. In 1954 this edition was reissued by the Limited Editions Club, finely printed by Saul Marks at The Plantin Press, Los Angeles. Late in 2012 I acquired copy of the the LEC edition. In their introduction to the translation (p. xv) the translators state that:

"Besides the Mansuscrito de Chichicastenango, the following are the original original Quiché documents which are preserved:

"1. The original manuscript of the Historia Quiché by Don Juan de Torres, dated October 24, 1580, which differens from the manuscript which Fuentes y Guzmán cites and which contains the account of the kings and lords, chiefs of the Great Houses, and of the chinamitales or calpules of the Quiché;

"2. The Spanish translation of the Títulos de los antiquos nuestros antepasados, los que ganaron las tierras de Otzoyá, written apparently in 1524 and bearing the signature of Don Pedro de Alvarado;

"3. The Spanish translation of the Título de los Señores de Totonicapán, dated 1554; and

"4. The Papel de Origen de los Señores included in the Descripción de Zapolitlán y Suchitepec, año de 1579.

"Despite thier brevity, these documents contain interesting accounts of the origin, political organization, and history of the Quiché people, which supplement the information given in the Popol Vuh."

♦ I had been unaware of the Popol Vuh until the later part of 2012 when various articles began appearing in the press concerning what was characterized as the 2012 phenomenon, "a range of eschatological beliefs that cataclysmic or transformative events would occur around 21 December 2012. This date was regarded as the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, and as such, Mayan festivities to commemorate the end of the b'ak'tun 13 took place on 21 December 2012 in the countries that were part of the Mayan empire (Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador), with main events at Chichén Itzá in Mexico, and Tikal in Guatemala." Because 12-21-12 happened to be my daughter Alex's 21st birthday, the topic became a source of amusement around our house.

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Jonathan Swift Creates a Fictional Device that Resembles a Modern Computer 1726

In Gulliver's Travels Jonathan Swift describes a fictional device called The Engine, which generates permutations of word sets. It is possibly the earliest literary reference to a fictional device resembling aspects of a modern computer.  Though Swift does not reference the medieval Ars generalis ultima (Ars magna) of the Spanish philosopher Ramon Llull (Lull), called by Leibniz, the ars combinatoria in Leibnitz's De arte combinatoria, the passage is considered a parody of Llull's method.

Swift wrote:

“... Every one knew how laborious the usual method is of attaining to arts and sciences; whereas, by his contrivance, the most ignorant person, at a reasonable charge, and with a little bodily labour, might write books in philosophy, poetry, politics, laws, mathematics, and theology, without the least assistance from genius or study.” He then led me to the frame, about the sides, whereof all his pupils stood in ranks. It was twenty feet square, placed in the middle of the room. The superfices was composed of several bits of wood, about the bigness of a die, but some larger than others. They were all linked together by slender wires. These bits of wood were covered, on every square, with paper pasted on them; and on these papers were written all the words of their language, in their several moods, tenses, and declensions; but without any order. The professor then desired me “to observe; for he was going to set his engine at work.” The pupils, at his command, took each of them hold of an iron handle, whereof there were forty fixed round the edges of the frame; and giving them a sudden turn, the whole disposition of the words was entirely changed. He then commanded six-and-thirty of the lads, to read the several lines softly, as they appeared upon the frame; and where they found three or four words together that might make part of a sentence, they dictated to the four remaining boys, who were scribes. This work was repeated three or four times, and at every turn, the engine was so contrived, that the words shifted into new places, as the square bits of wood moved upside down."

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Edward Cave Founds "The Gentleman's Magazine," the First General-Interest Periodical and the First to Use the Word "Magazine" to Indicate a Storehouse of Knowledge January 1731

Printer, editor, and publisher of St. John's Gate, LondonEdward Cave founded The Gentleman's Magazine: or, Trader's monthly intelligencer in January, 1731.

A "repository of all things worth mentioning," this was the first general-interest periodical in the modern sense, and the first to use the word magazine to indicate a storehouse of knowledge. With its title reduced to The Gentleman's Magazine, the work continued publication uninterrupted until 1922. It was also the most important periodical of 18th century England, reflecting the diversity of Georgian life, politics and culture, and at the price of 6d per issue, it was an outstanding bargain. It covered current affairs, political opinion, lead articles from other journals, miscellaneous information such as quack cures and social gossip, prices of stocks, science and technological discoveries, notices of births, deaths, and marriages, ecclesiastical preferments, travel, parliamentary debates, and poetry. Writers such as Dr Johnson, John Hawkesworth, Richard Savage, and Anna Seward were just a few of the thousands who contributed to it.  Because the periodical covered such a wide range of topics, and continued uninterrupted for so long it became a kind of comprehensive reference on various aspects of culture.

"Prior to the founding of The Gentleman's Magazine, there had been specialized journals, but no such wide-ranging publication (though there had been attempts, such as The Gentleman's Journal, which was edited by Peter Motteux and ran from 1692 to 1694).

"Samuel Johnson's first regular employment as a writer was with The Gentleman's Magazine. During a time when parliamentary reporting was banned, Johnson regularly contributed parliamentary reports as 'Debates of the Senate of Magna Lilliputia'. Though they reflected the positions of the participants, the words of the debates were mostly Johnson's own" (Wikipedia article on The Gentleman's Magazine, accessed 03-07-2009).

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1750 – 1800

Voltaire Issues "Candide, ou l'Optimism" Anonymously and Secretively 1759

In 1759 French philosophe François-Marie Arouet, who wrote under the pen name Voltaire, pseudonymously published the satirical novella Candide, ou l'Optimisme, traduit de l‟Allemand de Mr. le Docteur Ralph secretly in Geneva, Switzerland. The work was first printed at the press of printer and bookseller Gabriel Cramer. Probably within days, editions were also published in Paris, Amsterdam, London and Brussels.

Immediately after its secretive publication, the book was widely banned because it contained religious blasphemy, political sedition and intellectual hostility hidden under a thin veil of naïveté. Attempts at censorship undoubtedly backfired, and promoted sales. Twenty different editions of the work dated 1759 have been identified. Of those, four with 299 pages, are considered the earliest. It is estimated that 20,000 to 30,000 copies of the work were sold during its first year, making it a resounding bestseller.

"The bibliographical history of this book has been exasperatingly complex and confused, and, until recently, virtually insoluble. The cumulative analyses of Ira Wade, Giles Barber, and Stephen Weissman, however, finally succeeded in resolving the matter conclusively. The 1759 Cramer edition containing 299-pages, with the points detailed below, has been given priority: the misprint 'que ce ce fut' on p. 103, line 4 (corrected in later editions to 'que ce fut'); the incorrect adjective 'precisement' on p. 125, line 4 (corrected in later editions to 'precipitamment'); with Voltaire‟s revisions on p. 31, where an unnecessary paragraph break was eliminated, and p. 41, where several short sentences about the Lisbon earthquake were rewritten. Finally, as in all of the few known copies of the Geneva printing, Chapter XXV (signature L) does not contain the paragraph critical of contemporary German poets, which Voltaire decided to drop while the book was being printed. Ten copies of the first issue are known, of which seven were bound without the final leaves N7, a blank, and N8, instructions to the binder concerning the cancellation of two pairs of leaves (B4 and B9 and D6 and D7)" (James J. Jaffe, list prepared for the New York Antiquarian Book Fair April 11, 2011, no. 124). 

The true first state is very rare, though it is likely that a few more than ten copies exist.

Barber 299G. Bengesco 14 34. Morize 59a. Wade 1. Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) No. 204. For the influence of Candide in the history of economics see Reinert, How Rich Countries Got Rich . . . and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor (2008) XIX-XXII.

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Laurence Sterne's "Tristram Shandy": Philosophical and Comedic Digressions and Innovative Illustration Techniques 1759 – 1767

English writer Laurence Sterne published the bawdy, humorous novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman in nine volumes, the first two appearing in 1759, and seven others following over the next seven years (vols. 3 and 4, 1761; vols. 5 and 6, 1762; vols. 7 and 8, 1765; vol. 9, 1767). As its title suggests, the book is ostensibly Tristram's narration of his life story, but one of the central jokes of the novel is that Tristram cannot explain anything simply, and must make explanatory digressions (often erudite) on the widest variety of topics to add context and color to his tale, to the extent that his own birth is not even reached until Volume III. 

In the work Laurence Sterne employed unusual visual imagery that became famous in the history of book illustration: a black page that mourned the death of a character, a squiggly line drawn by another character as he flourished his walking stick, and on page 169, vol. 3, of the first edition an example of actual marbled paper mounted on a page. Sterne, an eccentric and tubercular Anglican priest, badgered his publisher, Dodsley, to include the marbled paper (which he called “the motley emblem of my work”) in order to suggest something about the opacity of literary meaning. Later editions economized production cost by replacing the actual mounted piece of marbled paper with a monochrome engraved reproduction.

Editions, translations and adaptations of Tristram Shandy continue to occur in many media. Relevant to illustrations in particular, in 2009, commemorating the 250th anniversary of Sterne's "Black Page," originally published in 1779 on p. 73 of Volume I, the Lawrence Sterne Trust held The Black Page Exhibition at Sterne's home, Shandy Hall, inviting 73 writers and artists to create their own "Black Page for exhibition and sale at auction. The page contained links to the websites of nearly all of the artists, reproducing the images each created for the exhibition. In 2011, on the 250th anniversary of Sterne's marbled page, the Lawrence Sterne Trust invitied 170 artists to produce their own versions of Sterne's "Emblem of My Work, most of which were reproduced at this link.

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The First Book Printed Entirely on Wove Paper October 6, 1759 – 1760

The first book printed entirely on James Whatman's wove paper, which had been invented by Whatman circa 1756, and first issued in Baskerville's quarto Virgil published in 1757, was English Shakespearean critic Edward Capell's Prolusions; or, Select Pieces of Antient Poetry. . . . This work was beautifully printed in London by Dryden Leach and completed, according to his colophon, on October 6, 1759.  It was issued by publishers J. and R. Tonson, with a title page dated 1760. By 1759 Whatman's wove paper was substantially improved over that used in the Baskerville Virgil.

Capell's book is notable in bibliography for including the first quasi-facsimile transcriptions of title pages of printed texts referenced.

The work was also the first modern edition of many of the early literary pieces it republished.

Balston, The Whatmans and Wove (Velin) Paper (1998) xxxiv, 85-86.

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Friedrich August Wolf Argues that the Poetry of Homer Shoud be Studied as a Product of Oral Tradition 1795

In 1795 German Philologist Friedrich August Wolf published, in Halle "E Libraria Orphanotrophei," Prolegomena ad Homerum Volume 1 (all published)This began the scholarly investigation of the oral sources of the epic poems attributed to Homer.

"In 1788 Villoison published the marginal scholia to the Iliad found in the codex now known as Venetus A (Marc. gr. 454). They contained a vast fund of new information about the Alexandrian critics of Homer, and this information stimulated F.A. Wolf to write Prolegomena ad Homerum, one of the most important books in the whole history of classical scholarship (1795). While Robert Wood, in his Essay on the original genius of Homer, had already seen in 1767 that the usual picture of a literate Homer writing down his poems could not be a complete explanation of the present form of the Homeric poems, it was left to Wolf to demonstrate, with the help of the newly found scholia, that the textual problems in Homer were not of the same type as in other authors, and that an explanation for this state of affairs could be provided on the assumption that the text of Homer was not written down until the time of Solon or Pisistratus. Wolf's book marked the beginning of serious discussion of what is traditionally called the Homeric Question" (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars 3rd ed [1991] 198).

(This entry was last revised on 04-26-2014.)

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Alois Senefelder Invents & Develops Lithography 1796 – 1819

In 1796 German actor and playwright Alois Senefelder invented lithography (from Greek λίθος - lithos, 'stone' + γράφω - graphο, 'to write') as a cheaper way of publishing his plays. Lithography was the first planographic printing process, and the first radically new method of printing since Gutenberg’s invention of printing by movable type.

Senefelder experimented with a new etching technique using a greasy, acid resistant ink as a resist on a smooth fine-grained stone of Solnhofen limestone from Bavaria (Bayern), halfway between Nuremberg (Nürnberg) and Munich (München). He discovered that this could be extended to allow printing from the flat surface of the stone alone. Gradually he brought his technique into a workable form, perfecting both the chemical processes and the special form of printing press required for using the stones. Senefelder called it Steindruckerei (stone printing) or chemical printing, but the French name lithographie (lithography) became more widely adopted. With the composer Franz Gleißner, in 1796 Senefelder started a publishing firm using lithography. The two collaborated for about 30 years. In his A Complete Course of Lithography (1819) p. 13-14 Senefelder described how how he and Gleissner decided in 1796 to apply Senefelder's new printing process to publishing music as a first commercial venture:

"A page of wretchedly printed music from a prayer-book, which I accidentally met with at a shop at Ingolstadt, suggested to me the idea that my new method of printing would be particularly applicable to music printing; I, therefore, resolved on my return to Munich, to go directly to Mr. Falter, a publisher of music, to offer him my invention, and beg his assistance. My natural shyness alone prevented me from executing this plan immediately; I had twice passed his door, without having the courage to enter the house, when I accidentally met an acquaintance, to whom I had occasionally communicated something of my invention; and, conversing with him, I learned that Mr. Gleissner, a musician of the Elector's band, was just about to publish some pieces of sacred music. This was most welcome news to me, as Mr. G. was a particular friend of mine.

"Without further delay, I called on Mr. Gleissner, to whom I communicated my new invention, offering him, at the same time, my services for the publication of his music. The specimens of music, and other printing, which I showed him, obtained his and his wife's highest approbation; he admired the neatness and beauty of the impressions, and the great expedition of the printing; and, feeling himself flattered by my confidence, and the preference I gave him, he immediately proposed to undertake the publication of his music on our joint account. I had, in the mean time, procured a common copper-plate printing press, with two cylinders; and, though it was very imperfect, it still enabled me to take neat impressions from the stone plates. Having, therefore, copied the twelve songs, composed by Gleissner, with all possible expedition, on stone, I succeeded in taking, with the assitance of one printer, 120 copies form it. The composiing, writing on stone, and printing, and had been accomplished in less than a fortnight; and in a short time we sold of these songs to the amount of 100 florins, though the whole expense of stones, paper, and printing, did not exceed 30 florins, which left us a clear profit of 70 florins."

According to Hans Schneider, Makarius Falter (1762-1843) und sein Münchner Musikverlag I:Der Verlag im Besitz der Familie (1796-1827); Verlagsgeschichte und Bibliographie (1993) p. 75, the title of Senefelder's first commercial publication by means of lithography was 12 Neue Lieder für's Klavier. . . von Franz Gleissner. .  . München, 1796. As Senefelder recounts in his Complete Course of Lithography p. 20 the following year Falter issued his first lithographed edition of music: Mozart's IIme Partie de Grand Opera Die Zauberflöte (Munich, 1797; Schneider  p. 81.) This was drawn on stone by Senefelder and printed at Mr. Falter's house by two soldiers whom Senefelder had instructed in the process of printing. "But these workmen, not entering into the spirit of the art, spoiled a great deal of paper, so that Mr. Falter at last prefrred printing again from copper." Nevertheless Falter continued to issue music printed both by lithography and copper plate engraving. 

In 1799 Senefelder met with German composer and music publisher Johann Anton André in Munich. Senefelder agreed to collaborate with André, and granted André's firm the right to use the new printing method. This occurred for the first time in 1800 when a 10-page selection from André's own opera Die Weiber von Weinsberg came off the press

On June 20, 1801 Senefelder received British patent no. 2518 for "A New Method and Process of performing the Various Branches of the Art of Printing on Paper, Linen, Cotton, Woollen and other Articles." This patent, with 18 pages of text and 9 figures on a large folding plate, represented Senefelder's earliest technical description of the process of lithography. It may be worthy of note that, as the specification of the patent indicated, Senefelder foresaw the wide range of applications of his process beyond strictly printing on paper. By 1803 Senefelder adapted zinc plates as substitutes for limestone in the process of lithography. Zinc plates eliminated the necessity of using smooth fine-grained limestone, and made it possible to lithograph larger plates with zinc plates that were much lighter in weight, and thus more manageable in the press than stones of equivalent dimensions.

In order to promote the virtues of lithography for reproducing art works, in 1808 Senefelder issued from his press in Munich an edition of the prayer book with Albrecht Dürer's drawings as Albrecht Dürers Christlich-Mythologische Handzeichnungen.  Three centuries earlier, in 1512 Maximilian I, archduke of Austria and Holy Roman Emperor, had appointed Dürer artistic advisor for his print projects. Like all rulers of his age, Maximilian was acutely aware of his personal status; he became the first ruler to recognize the potential of the print as an effective way of perpetuating his name and dynasty. Among Dürer's commissions for the emperor, were forty-five pages of marginal drawings to the manuscript Prayer Book of Maximilian (1515). These revealed a light-hearted and witty side to Dürer's graphic work. Dürer's drawings for Maxmilian's prayer book remained unpublished until Senefelder's edition. Frequently this small folio volume from 1808 has been considered the first book printed entirely by lithography. It contained a lithographed portrait of Dürer, a lithographed title in black and violet, 2 pages of lithographed text in Senefelder's hand, and 43 lithographs by Johan Nepomuk Strixner reproducing each drawing in the single color in which Dürer drew it, the single colors per drawing, including violet, sepia, red, black or green. However, the honor for the first book printed by entirely by lithography may be assigned to Johann Anton André's  Thematisches Verzeichniss sämmtlicher Kompositionen von W.A. Mozart (1805).

In 1817 when Anglo-German bookseller, inventor, lithographer, publisher and businessman Rudolph Ackermann set up his lithographic press in London his first publication was an English version of Senefelder's first lithographic book: Designs of the Prayer Book. Published September 1, 1817 at R. Ackermann's Lithographic Press.  The following year Senefelder published a manual of lithography in Munich entitled Vollständiges Lehrbuch der SteindruckereyThis outstanding and comprehensive manual, which included many different examples of lithography, also introduced  chromolithography, with a two-color lithographic reproduction of the first page of the 1457 Mainz Psalter reproducing its large two-color initial letter. Senefelder's book was translated into French and published Paris in 1819 as l'Art de la lithographie en construction pratique contenant la déscription claire et succincte des différents procédés à suivre pour déssiner, graver et imprimer sur pierre; precédée d'un histoire de la lithographie et de ses progrès. The same year the book appeared in English, published in London by Ackermann as A Complete Course of Lithography: ... Accompanied by Illustrative Specimens of Drawings. To Which is Prefixed a History of Lithography. Of the three editions of Senefelder's textbook, it has been argued that the English edition had the most impact in spreading the technique of lithography around the world.

Twyman, Lithography 1800-1850 (1970) 26-27, 257.

(This entry was last revised on 02-17-2015.)

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1800 – 1850

Maillardet's Automaton Circa 1800

About the year 1800 Swiss mechanician Henri Maillardet, working in London, constructed Maillardet's Automaton (or the "Draughtsman-Writer", or "Maelzel's Juvenile Artist" or "Juvenile Artist"), a spring-activated automaton that draws pictures and writes verses in both French and English. The motions of the hand are produced by a series of cams located on shafts in the base of the automaton, which produces the necessary movement to complete seven sketches and the text. This automaton has the largest cam-based memory of any automaton of the era. The capacity of the automaton to store seven images within the machine was calculated as 299,040 points, or almost 300 kilobits of storage. This was achieved by placing the driving machinery in a large chest that forms the base of the machine, rather than in the automaton's body.

"The memory is contained in the 'cams,' or  brass disks. . . . As the cams are turned by the clockwork motor, three steel fingers follow their irregular edges. The fingers translate the movements of the cams into side to side, front and back, and up and down movements of the doll's writing hand through a complex system of levers and rods that produce the markings on paper" (http://www.fi.edu/learn/sci-tech/automaton/automaton.php?cts=instrumentation, accessed 12-30-2013).

When first presented to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia in 1928, the automaton was of unknown origin. Once restored to working order, the automaton itself provided the answer when it penned the words "written by the automaton of Maillardet."

This automaton was a principal inspiration for Brian Selznick's 2007 book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was later adapted to make the 2011 film Hugo directed by Martin Scorsese.

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The First Literary Magazine is Published in the United States 1815

In 1815 American journalist and newspaper publisher Nathan Hale and others founded The North American Review in Boston. This was the first literary magazine published in the United States.

Remarkably the journal was published continuously for over 100 years, until 1940 when publication was suspended after its owner, J. H. Smyth, was unmasked as a Japanese spy. After a 24 year interruption publication resumed in 1964 at Cornell College, Mount Vernon, Iowa under Robert Dana. Since 1968 the review was issued from the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.

In December 2013 digital facsimiles of all 19th century volumes of the journal were available from Cornell University Library's Making of America at this link.

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"The Book of Life: A Bibliographical Melody" 1820

In 1820 printer John Johnson, who would later be known for his Typographia (1824), issued fifty copies on paper and two on vellum of a poem entitled The Book of Life; A Bibliographical Melody. These copies Richard Thomson presented to the members of The Roxburghe Club on June 17, 1820. In 2013 I obtained an edition of the poem printed at the Feathered Serpent Press by Susan Acker and presented to the members of the Roxburghe Club of San Francisco and the Zamorano Club of Los Angeles by William P. Wreden in October 1990. The text reads as follows:

THE BOOK OF LIFE; A Bibliographical Melody

THAT Life is a Comedy oft hath been shown,

By all who Mortality's changes have known;

But more like a Volume it's actions appear,

Where each Day is Page, and Chapter a Year.

'Tis a Manuscript Time shall full surely unfold,

Though with Black-Letter shaded, or shining with Gold;

The Initial, like Youth, glitters bright on its Page,

But its Text is as dark—as the gloom of Old Age.

Then Life's Counsels of Wisdom engrave on thy breast,

And deep on thine Heart be her lessons imprest.


Though the Title stand first it can little declare,

The Contents which the Pages ensuing shall bear;

As little the first day of Life can explain

The succeeding events which shall glide in its train.

The Book follows next, and delighted we trace,

An Elzevir's beauty, a Guttemberg's grace;

Thus on pleasure we gaze with as 'raptured an eye, 

Till cut off like a Volume imperfect—we die!

The Life's Counsels of Wisdom engrave on thy breast,

And deep on thine Heart be her lessons imprest.


Yet e'en thus imperfect, complete, or defaced,

The skill of the Printer is still to be traced;

And though Death bend us early in life to his will,

The wise hand of our Author is visible still.

Like the Colophon lines, the Epitaph's lay,

Which tells of what age and what nation our day;

And, like the Device of the Printer, we bear

The form of the Founder, whose Image we wear.

The Life's Counsels of Wisdom engrave on thy breast,

And deep on thine Heart be her lessons imprest.


The work thus completed it's Boards shall enclose,

Till a Binding more bright and more beauteous it shows;

And who can deny, when Life's Vision hath past,

That the dark Boards of Death shall surround us at last.

Yet our Volume illumed with fresh splendours shall rise,

To be gazed at by Angels, and read to the skies,

Reviewed by it's Author, revised by his pen,

In a fair New Edition to flourish again.

The Life's Counsels of Wisdom engraved on thy breast,

And deep on thine Heart be her lessons Imprest.

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The First Indigenous Arabic Press in Egypt December 1822

In 1822 Muhammad Ali Pasha al-Mas'ud ibn Agha (Arabic: محمد علي باشا‎, Muḥammad ʿAlī Bāšā), self-declared Khedive of Egypt and Sudan, established a government press in Bulaq (Boulaq), Egypt, to print manuals for the military, an official manual for the administration, and textbooks for new schools.

This was the first indigenous Arabic press set up in Egypt by Muslims. It was also the first government press on the African continent, apart from the short-lived presses briefly established by Napoleon during his Egyptian campaign.

"In 1815 he [Muhammad Ali] sent Nicolas Musabiki to Rome and Milan to study type-founding and printing. Muhammad Ali also ordered three presses from Milan - along with the necessary paper and ink from Leghorn and Trieste - and, when Musabiki returned, made him manager of the Bulaq Press, working under 'Uthman Nur al-Din. The press itself, in the meantime, had been established in old Nile port of Bulaq, now a suburb of Cairo, and shortly afterwards, the second, and largest, student mission - it numbered 44 students - had returned from Paris. These men, under the leadship of Rifa'a Bey Rafi' al-Tahtawi, had studied French with a view to the translation of technical books into Arabic. The most prolific of these translators turned out to be al-Tahtawi himself. 

"Al -Tahtawi had been educated at al-Azhar University, then and now the most prestigious center for the study of the Islamic sciences in the Muslim world. There was apparently no opposition by the Shaikhs of al-Azhar to the innovation of printing. . . . Muhmmad Ali attached several professors from al-Azhar to the Bulaq Press to learn the art of printing; one became head of the foundry, another printer-in-chief, and others worked as compositors and proofreaders.

"Between 1822 and 1842, the press at Bulaq published 243 titles. . . . By far the largest number of books - 48 - were on military and naval subjects. Muhammad Ali had seen both the French and the English fleets in action, and realized how vulnerable Egypt was to invasion from the sea. He had also noted how successful the modern arms of the French had been against the antiquated weapons of the Mamluks.

"Interestingly though, the next largest category of books published by the Bulaq Press was poetry. Twenty-six works of poetry in Turkish, Persian and Arabic were published in the first 20 years of the press' operation; clearly the men associated with the Bulaq Press were as interested in traditional Islamic literature as they were in translation of European works on military tactics. After poetry comes grammar, with 21 titles, mathematics and mechanics with 16, medicine with 15 and veterinary medicine with 12. Thre rest of the books published by the press were on religion, botany, agriculture, political administration and so forth" (http://muslimheritage.com/topics/default.cfm?ArticleID=988, accessed 06-10-2012).

In December 1822 the Bulaq Press issued its first book, an Italian-Arabic dictionary by Raphael Antoine Zakhour, an Egyptian born Roman Catholic monk from Aleppo, who had accompanied Napoleon's French expedition on its return to France as a translator:

Dizionario Italiano e Arabo che Contiene in Succinto Tutti Vocaboli che Sono Piu in Uso e Piu Necessari per Imparpar a Parlare de Due Lingue Correttamente Egli e Diviso in Due Parti. Part 1. De Dizionario Disposto Com il Solito Nell-ordine Alfabetico. Parte II. Che Contiene Una Breve Raccolta di Nomi e di Verbi li Piu Neccesari, e Piu Utili all Studio Dell Due Lingue. Bolacco: Dall Stamperio Reale, M.D.CCC.XXII.

Conforming with the idea of Muhammad Ali of "openness toward Europe to achieve development," Italian delegations were sent to Italy, and Italian became the first foreign language taught in Egyptian schools.

By 1851 the Bulaq press issued 570 works.

Cheng-Hsiang Hsu, "A Survey of Arabic-character Publications Printed in Egypt during the Period of 1238-1267 (1822-1851)," Sadgrove (ed) History of Printing and Publishing in the Languages and Countries of the Middle East (2005) 1-16.

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The First "Livre d'Artiste," Illustrated by Delacroix 1828

Faust, Tragédie M. de Goethe, Traduite en Français par M. Albert Stapfer, illustrated by French romantic artist Eugène Delacroix, and published in 1828 in Paris by Ch. Motte and Sautelet, is usually considered the first livre d'artiste. It contained a frontispiece portrait of Goethe and 17 lithographed plates drawn on stone by Delacroix. This was one of the major art books illustrated by lithography and the beginning of the French tradition of the painter-lithographer, with the artist preparing his own images on stone for the press. 

Though the edition met initially with a hostile reception because of the free, fantastic style of the images, Goethe appreciated their power, writing to Eckermann after he had seen some of the lithographs in November, 1826:

"One must acknowledge that this M. Delacroix has a great talent, which in Faust has found its true nourishment. The French public reproach him for an excess of savage force, but, actually, here it is perfectly suitable . . . If I have to agree that M. Delacroix has surpassed the scenes my writing has conjured up in my own imagination, how much more will readers of the book find his compositions full of reality, and passing beyond the imagery which they envision?" (translation in Ray, The Art of the French Illustrated Book 1700-1914 [1982] No. 143, p. 208).

Concerning the images Delacroix later remarked:

"The peculiar character of the illustrations themselves invited caricature and confirmed my reputation as one of the leaders of the school of ugliness. Gérare, however, although an academician, complimented me on some of the drawings, particularly that of the tavern" (translation in Breon Mitchell, The Complete Illustrations from Delacroix's "Faust" and Manet's "The Raven" [1981] vii.)

(This entry was last revised on 05-20-2014).

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The First Complete Printed Edition in Arabic of the Thousand and One Nights 1835

The first complete printed edition of the Thousand and One Nights in the original Arabic, Kitab Alf layla wa-layla, was produced in Bulaq (Boulaq) Egypt, a district of Cairo, by Matba‘at Bulaq in 2 volumes in 1251  AH, or 1835. The opening page was decorated with woodcuts, and the entire text was framed by double rules.  The edition was printed by letterpress. It was preceded by the 1814-1818 Arabic edition issued in Calcutta (Kolkata), India by the British East India Company with an English title page.  That edition contained only the first 200 "Nights."  

The first description of 1835 edition that I ever saw was item No. 50 in A Selection of Books, Autographs and Manuscripts, Jointly offered for sale by Antiquariat Inlibris and Kotte Autographs in 2012.  They indicated that OCLC listed eight copies in institutions and that no copy had appeared at auction within the past 50 years.

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Possibly the First Book Written During Hand Typesetting Rather than on Paper 1843 – 1865

In March 2014 English antiquarian bookseller Simon Beattie drew the attention of the Ex-Libris newsgroup to a book he planned to exhibit at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair beginning on April 3, 2014. This book, which he characterized as "The first unwritten book," was published anonymously by writer and printer C. L. Lordan, "From the Press of J. Lordan, Romsey," England, in 1843. Beattie raised the question to the readers of Ex-Libris whether they knew of any earlier book composed by its author on the "composing stick," the tool used to compose lines of type when typesetting was done by hand, rather than on paper.

Lordan's book was entitled Colloquies, Desultory and Diverse, but Chiefly upon Poetry and Poets: Between an Elder, Enthusiastic, and an Apostle of the Law. It was an octavo (206 x 129 mm) in half-sheets, [4], iv, [2], 200pp. plus a colophon leaf. Beattie stated that the method of writing the book was mentioned in a printed inscription on the leaf preceding the title-page. This leaf reads, "From Circumstances Herinafter Adverted to, The Sixty Copies of this Orignal Edition are Dispensed on Customary 'Considerations.' "

According to Beattie,

"The explanation is provided in full in a long dedication to John Wilson (a.k.a. ‘Christopher North’), the Scottish critic who edited Blackwood’s Magazine: ‘Of the little volume before you, one individual has been the composer, and compositor and imprinter throughout … The pen has been a stranger to the prose part of its composition, and the scribe’s office subverted: — with the exception of acknowledged quotations, I have been unaided by a line of manuscript or other copy. There is a rhythmical extravaganza in the sixth chapter, which I very reluctantly
signalize in this place, because the skeleton of twenty lines of it, or thereabouts, was pen-traced; the composing-stick has otherwise been my sole mechanical 'help to composition'." 

"Included are ‘colloquies’ about Wordsworth and Shakespeare, and ‘twenty minutes talk about Milton’. The text was published in a trade edition the following year, where it was described as ‘the first unwritten book’. The identity of J. Lordan has not been specifically determined; the typography looks fairly normal throughout, save for the first leaf and the colophon, which are printed in a rather primitive type-face. C. L. Lordan’s name appears in the imprint of a number of later books of Romsey interest, but as a publisher rather than a printer.

"OCLC locates 5 copies (BL, Cambridge, Folger, Library of Congress, South Carolina."

Users of this database may have noticed that I sometimes collect copies of items that I write about, especially in the field of book history. That only 60 copies of this very unusual volume were issued, and from the very unusual printing location— the town of Romsey, appealed to me, and I was pleased to successfully order the book. When I wrote this database entry on March 27, 2014 I planned to pick it up at the New York Book Fair in April. 

Whether Lordan's book was actually the first book composed by its printer on the composing stick was unclear from responses that came from readers of Ex-Libris. My first thought was that I had heard, but never confirmed, that the French 18th century printer novelist / pornographer Nicolas-Edme Rétif may have done some of his writing directly on the composing stick. Whether he actually issued a complete book in this manner was unknown to me; perhaps I will have time to research the question some day.

Other books written on the composing stick mentioned by readers of Ex-Libris were:

1. Beattie mentioned that possibly certain works by the paper historian and printer Dard Hunter were written during the hand-typesetting process.

2. Rowan Gibbs wrote that "Benjamin Farjeon is said to have done this with the first edition of his first novel, Shadows on the Snow, published in Dunedin [New Zealand] at the end of 1865. He was working as a compositor on the Otago Daily Times."

3. Others indicated that various, presumably short works, had been written directly into type in various book arts projects in the past few decades. 

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Aspects of Concordance Production Before and During the Early Years of Computerization 1847 – 1965

"In 1911 Professor Lane Cooper published a concordance of William Wordsworth's poetry so that scholars could readily locate words in which they were interested. The 1,136 page tome lists all 211,000 nontrivial words in the poet's works, from Aäliza to Zutphen's, yet remarkably, it took less than 7 months to construct. The task was completed so quickly because it was undertaken by a highly organized team of 67 people—3 of whom had died by the time the concordance was published—using 3-by-5 inch cards, scissors, glue, and stamps.

"The task of construction of concordances has traditionally been very onerous and time-consuming. As an example, a concordance for the Greek version of the New Testament was compiled by William Moulton and Alfred Geden and first published in 1897. The work has undergone several revisions since then, and responsibility for the task has been passed down through three generations of the Moulton family. . . .The task is not entirely mechanical, since several inflections of the verb are recorded under one heading.

"The Greek New Testament concordance was just one of many comprehensive indexes to various books—such as the Bible, the works of Shakespeare, and the writings of classical philosophers—produced by hand in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The prefaces of these works tell of many years of painstaking toil, presumably driven by a belief in the worthiness of the text being indexed. The term concordance originally applied just to biblical indexes. Its root, concord, means unity, and the term apparently arose out of the school of thought that the unity of the Bible should be reflected in consistency between the Old and New Testaments, which could be demonstrated by a concordance.

"The 1960s and 1970s saw another ebullition of concordance making, this time fueled by the ease with which indexes could be constructed with the aid of a computer. All that was required was enough motivation to type a work into a machine-readable format and access to a sufficiently powerful computer system and suitable software. In this way concordances came into being for all sorts of literature, from Charlotte Brontë to Dylan Thomas, from the Tao-Tsang to Charles Darwin. There are even concordances of musical compositions and of mathematical sequences and values. A 1965 index of Byron's works was not computer-generated but concedes that the computer will be the concordance maker of the future, predicting that the author's work 'may be considered the last of the hand-made concordances.' Its construction was begun in 1940, well before computers were available for this tedious task, and we can sense the compiler's frustation that in 1965 it may have been better to discard the 285,000 cards compiled over 25 years and have a computer construct the information in a matter of days. Nevertheless, the compiler righly points out that there ae advantages to manually constructed concordances, including the opporutnity to spot errors in the original text. It was also noted that the pleasure of working with Byron's poetry would have been lost on a machine (Young, ed., A Concordance to the Poetry of Byron, 4 vols., 1965).

"As computers capable of constructing concordances become more and more accessible, the task of compiling such an index becomes less and less significant. What was once the work of a lifetime—or longer—is now a relatively modest project. In 1875, Mary Cowden Clarke proudly wote in the preface to her concorance of Shakespeare that 'to furnish a fiathful guide to this rich mine of intellectual treasure . . .has been the ambition of a life; and it is hoped that the sixteen years' assiduous labour . . . may be found to have accomplished that ambition' (Clarke, The Complete Concordance to Shakspeare, 1875 [first published 1847]). It may have been hard for Mrs. Clarke to imagine that a century later, just one person, Todd K. Bender, professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, would produce nine concordances in the time it took her to construct one. [footnote: Bender is the sole author of 9 concordances but has coauthored 22 more]. Mrs. Horace Howard Furness, the author of a concordance of Shakespeare's poetry that was also published in 1875 and whose husband and son both wrote books about Shakespeare's work, describes herself as a 'harmless drudge' (Furness, A Concordance to Shakespeare's Poems: An Index to Every Word Therein Contained, 1875). Clearly concordance making is an ideal task for mechanization" (Witten, Moffat, Bell, Managing Gigabytes. Compressing and Indexing Documents and Images 2nd ed. [1999] 1-3).  

Note the links are my additions. My additions are in brackets; the author's footnote I incorporated into the quote. I also expanded the bibliographical references within the quote. In the printed book these are brief references to expanded citations in the bibliography at the end of the book.

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1850 – 1875

Samuel Butler's "Darwin among the Machines" June 13, 1863

On June 13, 1863 English author Samuel Butler published "Darwin among the Machines" in The Press newspaper published in Christchurch, New Zealand. This article, published by Butler under the pseudonym of Cellarius, suggested that machines might be kind of "mechanistic life," undergoing, the spirit of Darwinian natural selection, a kind of constant evolution, and that machines might eventually supplant humans as the dominant species.

"We refer to the question: What sort of creature man’s next successor in the supremacy of the earth is likely to be. We have often heard this debated; but it appears to us that we are ourselves creating our own successors; we are daily adding to the beauty and delicacy of their physical organisation; we are daily giving them greater power and supplying by all sorts of ingenious contrivances that self-regulating, self-acting power which will be to them what intellect has been to the human race. In the course of ages we shall find ourselves the inferior race. ...

"Day by day, however, the machines are gaining ground upon us; day by day we are becoming more subservient to them; more men are daily bound down as slaves to tend them, more men are daily devoting the energies of their whole lives to the development of mechanical life. The upshot is simply a question of time, but that the time will come when the machines will hold the real supremacy over the world and its inhabitants is what no person of a truly philosophic mind can for a moment question " (Wikipedia article on Darwin among the Machines, accessed 01-02-2013).

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Heinrich Schliemann Discovers the Ancient City of Troy 1871 – 1873

Although many scholars believed that events in the Trojan War, as recorded in the Iliad, were non-historical, German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann disagreed. From 1871 to 1873 he excavated a hill, called Hisarlik (Hissarlik) by the Turks, near the town of Chanak in north-western Anatolia. There he discoversed the ruins of a series of ancient cities, dating from the Bronze Age to the Roman period.

From this excavation and another in 1878-79, Schliemann declared one of these cities—at first Troy I, later Troy II—to be the city of Troy. This identification became widely accepted. Later excavations showed that at least nine cities were built, one on top of the other, at this site.

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Samuel Butler Novel "Erewhon" Describes Artificial Consciousness 1872

In 1872 Erewhon: or, Over the Range, a satirical utopian novel by the English writer Samuel Butler, was published anonymously in London. A notable aspect of this satire on aspects of Victorian society, expanded from letters that Butler originally published in the New Zealand newspaper, The Press, was that Erewhonians believed that machines were potentially dangerous and that Erewhonian society had undergone a revolution that destroyed most mechanical inventions. In the section of Butler's satire called "The Book of the Machines" Butler appears to have imagined the possiblity of machine consciousness, or artificial consciousness, and that machines could replicate themselves

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Anthony Comstock Founds the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice and Lobbies for Passage of the "Comstock Law" 1873 – 1950

In 1873 United States Postal Inspector and politician Anthony Comstock founded the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, an organization dedicated to supervising public morality. Later that year Comstock successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Comstock Law, which made illegal the delivery or transportation of "obscene, lewd, or lascivious" material, as well as the distribution of any methods of, or information pertaining to, birth control, or any information about venereal disease. 

"George Bernard Shaw used the term "comstockery", meaning 'censorship because of perceived obscenity or immorality', after Comstock alerted the New York City police to the content of Shaw's play Mrs. Warren's Profession. Shaw remarked that 'Comstockery is the world's standing joke at the expense of the United States. Europe likes to hear of such things. It confirms the deep-seated conviction of the Old World that America is a provincial place, a second-rate country-town civilization after all.' Comstock thought of Shaw as an 'Irish smut dealer.' The term 'comstockery' was actually first coined in an editorial in The New York Times in 1895" (Wikipedia article on Anthony Comstock, accessed 01-12-2014).

The specific mission of the NYSSV was to monitor compliance with state laws and work with the courts and district attorneys in bringing offenders to justice. While the organization is best remembered for its opposition to literary works, it also closely monitored newsstands, which sold the popular magazines of the day. When I wrote this entry in January 2014 the Wikipedia article listed numerous "noteworthy actions"— mainly attempts to suppress literary or theatrical works undertaken by the NYSSV between 1900 and its closure in 1950. As far as I know, all of the suppressed works were eventually published in spite of the organization and the Comstock law(s).

Relevant to censorship, the circular symbol of the society graphically depicted a policeman arresting an offender on the left, and a top-hatted man burning books on the right.

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1875 – 1900

Listening to the Earliest Surviving Recording of a Musical Performance June 22, 1878 – October 2012

In October 2012 computing technology made it possible to listen to the oldest playable recording of an American voice and the first-ever capturing of a musical performance.  The recording on tinfoil, which lasts 78 seconds, was made on a phonograph in St. Louis, Missouri on June 22, 1878, months after Thomas Edison invented the phonograph.

" 'In the history of recorded sound that's still playable, this is about as far back as we can go,' said John Schneiter, a trustee at the Museum of Innovation and Science in Schenectady, where it was played Thursday night in the city where Edison helped found the General Electric Co.

"The recording opens with a 23-second cornet solo of an unidentified song, followed by a man's voice reciting 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' and 'Old Mother Hubbard.' The man laughs at two spots during the recording, including at the end, when he recites the wrong words in the second nursery rhyme.

" 'Look at me; I don't know the song,' he says.

"When the recording was played using modern technology during a presentation Thursday at a nearby theater, it was likely the first time it had been played at a public event since it was created during an Edison phonograph demonstration held June 22, 1878, in St. Louis, museum officials said. The recording was made on a sheet of tinfoil, 5 inches wide by 15 inches long, placed on the cylinder of the phonograph Edison invented in 1877 and began selling the following year. A hand crank turned the cylinder under a stylus that would move up and down over the foil, recording the sound waves created by the operator's voice. The stylus would eventually tear the foil after just a few playbacks, and the person demonstrating the technology would typically tear up the tinfoil and hand the pieces out as souvenirs, according to museum curator Chris Hunter.

"Popping noises heard on this recording are likely from scars left from where the foil was folded up for more than a century.

" 'Realistically, once you played it a couple of times, the stylus would tear through it and destroy it,' he said. Only a handful of the tinfoil recording sheets are known to known to survive, and of those, only two are playable: the Schenectady museum's and an 1880 recording owned by The Henry Ford museum in Michigan.

"Hunter said he was able to determine just this week that the man's voice on the museum's 1878 tinfoil recording is believed to be that of Thomas Mason, a St. Louis newspaper political writer who also went by the pen name I.X. Peck. Edison company records show that one of his newly invented tinfoil phonographs, serial No. 8, was sold to Mason for $95.50 in April 1878, and a search of old newspapers revealed a listing for a public phonograph program being offered by Peck on June 22, 1878, in St. Louis, the curator said. A woman's voice says the words 'Old Mother Hubbard,' but her identity remains a mystery, he said. Three weeks after making the recording, Mason died of sunstroke, Hunter said" (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5izrvFWaR6h-FWye-Eq2bZN5RCqOg?docId=c9195e25da6f473e90e726152ddbc4d6, accessed 10-26-2012).

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Imagining a Library 100 Years in the Future 1883

In 1883 Charles Ammi Cutter, Librarian of the Boston Atheneum, and author of Cutter Expansive Classification, published a short story entitled The Buffalo Public Library in 1983. In it he predicted how a library would operate one hundred years into the future. Here is a selection:

“ 'But what,' he continued, 'will be a novelty to you, is the listening-room, where works, of which we have fonografic editions prepared by the best readers, are read by machines, often to crowded audiences. The rooms are distributed all over the city, fifty or more, and we are intending to increase the number. People go to them with their whole families, except to those where smoking is allowed, which are frequented for the most part by men alone. There they listen to the reading of a story or an entertaining history or biografy, or book of travels, or a work of popular science. Sometimes one work occupies the whole evening, sometimes selections are read. The program for the whole city is advertised in the papers each day. The reading-machines have reached such a pitch of perfection that it is as if one were listening to an agreeable elocutionist. I prefer to do my own reading, but there are many whose eyes are weak, or who do not read with ease, or have not comfortable homes, or do not own the book that is to be read, or prefer to listen in company. We are very particular about the ventilation. We do not want any one to go to sleep.” I asked him whether he thought these readings gave any real instruction, or only amusement. He admitted that an exciting novel would draw better than anything else, but said that they did not allow the selection to run too much to fiction. 'In the circulation of books we have to follow the public taste, but in these listening-rooms we have the matter more in our control. Of course we must select bright books which the people will come to hear. Dull books must be rigidly excluded; but that is not difficult, because no dull book is published in reading-machine editions. Yes, I think a great deal of information is spread that way, and at any rate they are a valuable rival to the dram-shops, and keep many a young man out of bad places. The readings are usually in the evening. Where a school-room is used for the purpose it must be so; but, for our own branches, we have a rule that if ten people ask for a reading in the day-time it shall be granted, with any book they choose. When trade is dull there are readings going on all day.'

"I omit many details in which their ways did not differ much from ours, — the book-trucks, the fall-power lifts just large enough for one person, the means of communication between all parts of the building by telefone or pneumatic tubes, or in any other way that the situation required. Their intention was to make the work easy and quick, and to reduce time and space as nearly as possible to zero. I cannot stop to describe the arrangements for allowing the public access to the shelves. But I may mention that the library was open every day in the year, without any exception; that one study-room was kept open as late at night as anybody wanted it, and on several occasions, when there was a special need, it had been kept open all night.

“ 'One other practical point: The fonograf,' I was told, 'plays a great part in our library work. If Boston or Philadelphia has a rare book from which we wish extracts, instead of having it sent on with the risk of loss, we have a fonografic foil made of the desired passages, which are read off to us, or, if we pay a little more, are sent on. In the latter case, a duplicate, made by a new process, is kept at the library, so that librarians gradually accumulate fonografic reproductions of all their rarest books, and when they are called for have only to put the foil in the machine and have it read off through the wires to the end of the Union. All the libraries in the country, you see, are practically one library.' ”

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Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions 1884

In 1884 English clergyman and headmaster of the City of London School  Edwin A. Abbott published a work of scientific fantasy or mathematical fiction entitled Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. With illustrations by the Author, A SQUARE.

"It is a charming, slightly pedestrian tale of imaginary beings; polygons who live in a two-dimensional universe of the Euclidean plane. Just below the surface, though, it is a biting satire on Victorian values--especially as regards women and social status-- and an accomplished and original piece of scientific popularization about the fourth dimension. And, perhaps, an allegory of a spiritual journey" (Ian Stewart, editor, The Annotated Flatland [2002] ix).

♦ In 2008 Ladd Ehlinger Jr. produced an excellent computer-animated film of Flatland, which he characterized as a tale of "math, physics, dimensionality, philosophy, religion and war." 

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First Use of the Term "Credit Card" 1887

In his utopian novel Looking Backward (1887), describing life in the year 2000, Edward Bellamy used the term credit card eleven times—the first description of the use of a card for purchases.

"The book tells the story of Julian West, a young American who, towards the end of the 19th century, falls into a deep, hypnosis-induced sleep and wakes up one hundred and thirteen years later. He finds himself in the same location (Boston, Massachusetts), but in a totally changed world: It is the year 2000 and, while he was sleeping, the United States has been transformed into a socialist utopia. The remainder of the book outlines Bellamy's thoughts about improving the future. The major themes are the dangers of the stock market, the use of credit cards, the benefits of a socialist legal system, music, and the use of an "industrial army" to make tasks run smoother.

"The young man readily finds a guide, Doctor Leete, who shows him around and explains all the advances of this new age; including drastically reduced working hours for people performing menial jobs and almost instantaneous, Internet-like delivery of goods. Everyone retires with full benefits at age 45, and may eat in any of the public kitchens. The productive capacity of America is nationally owned, and the goods of society are equally distributed to its citizens. A considerable portion of the book is dialogue between Leete and West wherein West expresses his confusion about how the future society works and Leete explains the answers using various methods, such as metaphors or direct comparisons with 19th-century society.

"Although Bellamy's novel did not discuss technology or the economy in detail, commentators frequently compare Looking Backward with actual economic and technological developments. For example, Julian West is taken to a store which (with its descriptions of cutting out the middleman to cut down on waste in a similar way to the consumers' cooperatives of his own day based on the Rochdale Principles of 1844) somewhat resembles a modern warehouse club like BJ's, Costco, or Sam's Club. He additionally introduces a concept of credit cards in chapters 9, 10, 11, 13, 25, and 26, but these bear no resemblance to the instruments of debt-finance. All citizens receive an equal amount of "credit." Those with more difficult, specialized, dangerous or unpleasant jobs work fewer hours. Bellamy also predicts both sermons and music being available in the home through cable "telephone". Bellamy labeled the philosophy behind the vision "nationalism", and his work inspired the formation of more than 160 Nationalist Clubs to propagate his ideas"(Wikipedia article on Looking Backward, accessed 02-07-2012)

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Thomas C. Mendenhall Issues One of the Earliest Attempts at Stylometry 1887 – 1901

In "The Characteristic Curves of Composition," Science 9, No. 214, 237-249, American autodidact physicist and meteorologist Thomas. C. Mendenhall of The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, published one of the earliest attempts at stylometry, the quantitative analysis of writing style. Prompted by a suggestion made in 1851 by the English mathematician Augustus de Morgan, Mendenhall  “proposed to analyze a composition by forming what may be called a ‘word spectrum,’ or ‘characteristic curve,’ which shall be a graphic representation of an arrangement of words according to their length and to the relative frequency of their occurrence." (p. 238) These manually computed curves could then be used as a means of of comparing models of the writing style of authors, and potentially as a means of identifying the writing of different authors.

"Mendenhall attempted to characterize the style of different authors through the frequency distribution of words of various lengths. In this article Mendenhall mentioned the possible relevance of this technique to the Shakespeare Authorship Question, and several years later this idea was picked up by a supporter of the theory that Sir Francis Bacon was the true author of the works usually attributed to Shakespeare. He paid for a team of two people to undertake the counting required, but the results did not appear to support this particular theory. It has however since been shown by Williams that Mendenhall failed to take into account 'genre differences' that could invalidate that particular conclusion. For comparison, Mendenhall also had works by Christopher Marlowe analysed, and those supporting the theory that he was the true author seized eagerly upon his finding that 'in the characteristic curve of his plays Christopher Marlowe agrees with Shakespeare about as well as Shakespeare agrees with himself' "(Wikipedia article on Thomas Corwin Mendenhall, accessed 05-18-2014) 

Writing at the end of the nineteenth century, Mendenhall described his counting machine, by which two ladies computed the number of words of two letters, three, and so on in Shakespeare, Marlowe, Bacon, and many other authors in an attempt to determine who wrote Shakespeare.

Mendenhall, "A Mechanical Solution of a Literary Problem," The Popular Science Monthly 60 (1901) 97–105.

A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004. 


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Mallarmé: Experimentation with the Relationship Between the Word and the Printed Page May 1897

In May 1897 French symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé issued his poem Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard (A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance) in the magazine CosmopolisMallarmé's death in 1898 prevented him from realizing the full expression of his experimentation with the relationship between the word and the printed page. The poem was first published in book form on July 10, 1914 by the Imprimérie Sainte Catherine at Bruges, in an edition limited to 60 copies. In this edition the printers attempted to follow Mallarmé's specific instructions for the typography:

"The poem is spread over 20 pages, in various typefaces, amidst liberal amounts of blank space. Each pair of consecutive facing pages is to be read as a single panel; the text flows back and forth across the two pages, along irregular lines.

The sentence that names the poem is split into three parts, printed in large capital letters on panels 1, 6, and 8. A second textual thread in smaller capitals apparently begins on the right side of panel 1, QUAND MÊME LANCÉ DANS DES CIRCONSTANCES ÉTERNELLES DU FOND D'UN NAUFRAGE ("Even when thrown under eternal circumstances from the bottom of a shipwreck"). Other interlocking threads in various typefaces start throughout the book. At the bottom right of the last panel is the sentence Toute Pensée émet un Coup de Dés ('Every Thought issues a Throw of Dice')" (Wikipedia article on Un Coup de Dés . . . , accessed 01-27-2014). 


"Prior to 2004, "Un Coup de Dés" was never published in the typography and format conceived by Mallarmé. In 2004, 90 copies on vellum of a new edition were published by Michel Pierson et Ptyx. This edition reconstructs the typography originally designed by Mallarmé for the projected Vollard edition in 1897 and which was abandoned after the sudden death of the author in 1898. All the pages are printed in the format (38 cm by 28 cm) and in the typography chosen by the author. The reconstruction has been made from the proofs which are kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, taking into account the written corrections and wishes of Mallarmé and correcting certain errors on the part of the printers Firmin-Didot.

"A copy of this new edition can be consulted in the Bibliothèque François-Mitterrand. Copies have been acquired by the Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques-Doucet and University of California - Irvine, as well as by private collectors. A copy has been placed in the Museum Stéphane Mallarmé at Vulaines-sur-Seine, Valvins, where Mallarmé lived and died and where, according to Paul Valéry, he made his final corrections on the proofs prior to the projected printing of the poem" (Wikipedia article on Stéphane Mallarmé, accessed 01-27-2014).

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Lewis Carroll Wrote or Received 98,000 Letters January 14, 1898

On January 14, 1898 the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the English author, mathematician, logician, Anglican clergyman, and photographer, best known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll, died. He had spent nearly his entire life at Christ Church College, Oxford, in various capacities. In addition to his published writings, which included Alice in Wonderland, Dodgson maintained a meticulous ledger recording his incoming and outgoing correspondence over his lifetime. As a reflection of how many letters an individual could exchange in this era before telephone, Dodgson/Carroll wrote or received approximately 98,000 letters.

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1900 – 1910

The Earliest Fictional Account of a Universal Library, Foreshadowing the Virtual Library on the Internet 1901

In 1901 German scientist, philosopher and science fiction writer Kurd Lasswitz at Gotha, Germany published a story entitled Die Universalbibliothek, describing a library which was universal in the sense that it not only contained all existing written works, but all possible written works.

"In 1901 Kurd Lasswitz wrote a short story, 'The Universal Library,' elaborated upon by Jorge Luis Borges as 'The Library of Babel' in 1941. 'When it was proclaimed that the Library contained all books, the first impression was one of extravagant happiness,' Borges explained. 'All men felt themselves to be the masters of an intact and secret treasure. There was no personal or world problem whose solution did not exist.' Borges described the library in magical tones, whereas Lasswitz, a mathematician as well as a philosopher, got down to practical details. 'You say that everything will be in the library? The complete works of Goethe? The Bible? The works of all the classical philosophers?" Professor Wallhausen's companion, the magazine editor Max Burkel, asked. 'Yes, and with all the variations in wording nobody has thought up yet. You'll find the lost works of Tacitus and their translations into all living and dead languages. Furthermore, all of my and my friend Burkel's future works, all forgotten and still undelivered speeches in all parliaments, the official version of the Universal Declaration of Peace, the history of all the subsequent wars...'

" 'I'm going to subscribe right now,' Burkel exclaimed. 'This will furnish me with all the future volumes of my magazine; I won't have to read manuscripts any more!' Professor Wallhausen decided to calculate how many volumes (a large but finite number) the universal library would have to contain.  ' 'Will you — ' he turned to his daughter — 'hand me a sheet of paper and a pencil from my desk?' Max Burkel added, 'Bring the logarithm table too.' After a few minutes Wallhausen had the result, and wrote it down: 10^2,000,000.

" 'You make your life easy,' remarked Mrs. Wallhausen. 'Why don't you write it down in the normal manner?'

" 'Not me. This would take me at least two weeks, without time out for food and sleep. If you printed that figure, it would be a little over two miles long.'

' 'What is the name of that figure?' the daughter wanted to know.

"It has no name," Wallhausen replied.

"The number of books in the Universal Library lies somewhere between a googol (10^100) and a googolplex (10^googol), numbers which were named, by 8-year-old Milton Sirotta and his uncle Edward Kasner, in 1938. In Lasswitz's tale, Wallhausen went on to demonstrate that there would not be enough room in the visible universe to contain all possible printed books. Editor Max Burkel's hope for the 'elimination of the author from the literary business' was doomed" (Edge: The Third Culture, "The Universal Library" by George Dyson, 11.30.05, accessed 05-25-2009).

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L. Frank Baum's "The Master Key" Imagines a Kind of Augmented Reality 1901

L. Frank Baum's 1901 illustrated novel, The Master Key: An Electrical Fairy Tale, Founded Upon the Mysteries of Electricity and the Optimism of its Devotees, describes the adventures of a 15 year old boy who experiments with electricity and accidentally touches "the Master Key of Electricity," encountering a Demon who gives him various gifts.  One of these gifts is a "Character Marker" introduced on p. 94:

"It consists of this pair of spectacles. While you wear them every one you meet will be marked upon the forehead with a letter indicating his or her character. The good will bear the letter 'G,' the evil the letter 'E.' The wise will be marked with a 'W' and the foolish with an 'F.' The kind will show a 'K' upon their foreheads and the cruel a letter 'C. Thus you may determine by a single look the true natures of all those you encounter."

This character marker has been viewed retrospectively as an early foreshadowing of features analogous to those obtainable in augmented reality devices.

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"The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism" January – February 20, 1909

On February 5, 1909 Italian poet and editor Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published Manifesto iniziale del Futurismo in the newspaper Gazzetta dell'Emilia in Bologna. In Milan, Marinetti had begun writing its list of eleven demands in October or November 1908, and in January 1909 he circulated to his friends a two-page leaflet entitled Manifesto del Futurismo containing the programmatic section. Later that month Marinetti wrote the narrative preamble that would accompany his list of demands, and sent the document to the Gazzetta dell'Emilia, and other newspapers. Within the month of February, Marinetti's first manifesto of futurism was reprinted, according to the article on Marinetti in the Italian Wikipedia, in 5 Italian newspapers and one magazine: in Il Pungolo of Naples on February 6, in Arena in Verona on February 9, in Il Piccolo of Trieste on February 10, in Il Giorno of Rome on February 16, and in the weekly magazine Tavola rotonda of Naples on February 14. On February 20, through the influence of one of the major shareholders of Le Figaro, who had been a friend of Marinetti's father, the manifesto was published in French on the front page of the leading French newspaper, Le Figaro. From this version, which was headed simply, "Le Futurisme" on the front page of the newspaper, but which is typically translated as The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism, Marinetti became an international celebrity. On the issue of whether or not Marinetti revised the text during the various rapid reprints or in the French translation I have seen no scholarship. 

"The Futurist Revolution did not seem, at first, to be much concerned with books. In Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's intitial Futurist Manifesto . . . books are hardly mentioned; whereas trains, airplanes, the automobile are gloried as tools and symbols of the modern age, libraries, like museums are to be burned. But it would be wrong to view this book-burning—an image inevitably associated for us with all too real subsequent occurences under totalitarian regimes—in sinister terms. The primary impulse of Futurism, indeed its raison d'être, was to shake Italy and Italians out of what Marinetti and his friends saw as a paralyzing obsession with the glories of the past. Passéism—a futurist coinage—was the enemy. A recent nation-state, far from unified within its own borders and unsure of its status among other European powers, Italy, in their view, needed to embrace modernity wholeheartedly; instead of looking at the past, with the inevitable result of an inferiority complex, it ought to confront the future, boldly assert its own creative voice. And books, in the development of which Renaissance Florentine, Milanese, and Ventian printers had played such a prominent part, were a thing of the past.

"Yet, paradoxically, Futurism was also a revolution of the book, and there rests, in fact, one of its greatest artistic legacies. This revolution, as in many other -isms of the twentieth-century, began as a revolution of the word, an opening up of language to all kinds of hitherto unexplored possibilities. But Futurism was much more than a literary movement: as much as the writing of the book and its contents, Futurist poets and artists were interested in its making—its design, thpography, printing, and final appearance. . . ." (Vincent Firoud, Marinetti's Metal Book. Code(x)+2 Monograph Series No. 1, Berkeley: Codex Foundation, 2012). 

Rainey, Poggi, Wittman (eds) Futurism: An Anthology (2009).

In January 2014 an English translation of Marinetti's first manifesto and a reproduction of its appearance in Le Figaro were available from Italianfuturism.org at this link.

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An Early Sci-Fi View of the Internet and Virtual Reality November 1909

In 1909 English writer E. M. Forster published a short story entitled The Machine Stops.

Describing a world in which people live beneath the surface of the earth, with technology running virtually all aspects of their lives, the story anticipated instant messaging and videoconferencing with a machine called "the speaking apparatus." It also anticipated television with a machine called the "cinematophote."

The only book that the main character in the story uses is an enormous technical manual about "the Machine."

Reacting to H. G. Wells's optimism about science and technology, and fearing that man might be unable to live without the all-encompassing technology that he created, or eventually might not even remember that the technology was man-made, Forster stressed the value of actual or direct experience versus "virtual" experience.

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1910 – 1920

Incunable of Poetic and Typographic Experimentation of the 20th Century 1912 – 1914

Excerpted in journals between 1912 and 1914, Italian futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's sound poem and concrete poem, Zang Tumb Tumb (usually referred to as Zang Tumb Tuuum), was published as an artist's book by Marinetti's publishing company, Edizioni Futuriste di "Poesia", in Milan in 1914. An account of the Battle of Adrianople, in October 1912 during the First Balkan War, which Marinetti witnessed as a reporter for the French newspaper L'Intransigneant, the poem used what Marinetti called Parole in libertà, (words in freedom)— radically creative typography, different typefaces, some hand-arranged, and of various sizes to show explosions of grenades and shots of the weapons. The text uses onomatopoeias to express the variety of sounds and noises of battle. including emulations of sounds of gunfire and the clatter of telegraphic messages being transmitted and received.

"In 1914, Marinetti put these theories [his theories of language and typography] into practice when he published Zamg Tumb Tuum, a book that has been called 'the incunable of the entire poetic experimentation of our century.'. . .  It in fact opens with the 'Destruction of Syntax' manifesto and ends with the 'Technical Manifesto.' . . .Marinetti translated his impression into a poetic prose which makes full use of both the new kind of writing and the typographical freedom he advocated, mixing letter sizes, bold type and italics, and introducing all kinds of typographical fantasies" (Vincent Giroud, Parole in Liberta. Marinetti's Metal Book. Code(x) +2 Monograph Series No.  [2102] 5).

The poem is read aloud in Italian in the video below:

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Marinetti's Manifesto of his Typographical Revolution May 11, 1913

In his manifesto of May 11, 1913, the title of which was translated into English as Destruction of Syntax—Radio Imagination—Words-in-Freedom, first published as an independent leaflet in Italian, futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti wrote in a section entitled "Typographical Revolution":

"I have initiated a typographical revolution directed against the bestial, nauseating sort of book that contains passéist poetry or verse à la D'Annunzio—handmade paper that imitates models of the seventeenth century, festooned with helmets, Minervas, Apollos, decorative capitals in red ink with loops and squiggles, vegetables, mythological ribbons from missals, epigraphs, and Roman numerals. The book must be the Futurist expression of Futurist thought. Not only that. My revolution is directed against the so-called typographical harmony of the page, which is contrary to the flux and reflux, the leaps and bursts of style that run through the page itself. For that reason we will use, in the very same page, three or four different colors of ink, and as many as twenty different tpographical fonts if necessary. For examples: italics for a series of swift or similar sensations, boldface for violent onomatopoeias, etc. The typographical revolution and the multicolored variety in the letters will mean that I can double the expressive force of words.

I oppose the decorative and precious asesthetic of Mallarmé and his search for the exotic word, the unique and irreplaceable, elegant, suggestive, exquisite adjective. I have no wish to suggest an idea of sensation by means of passéist graces and affectations: I want to seize them brutally and fling them in the reader's face.

I also oppose Mallarmé's static idea. The typographic revolution that I've proposed will enable me to imprint words (words already free, dynamic, torpedoing forward) every velocity of the stars, clouds, airplanes, trains, waves, explosives, drops of seafoam, molecules, and atoms.

And so I shall realize the fourth principle contained in my "First Manefesto of Futurism" (20 February 1909): 'We affirm that the beauty of the world has been enriched by a new form of beauty: the beauty of speed' " (Rainy, Poggi & Wittman eds., Futurism: An Anthology [2009] 149-50).

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1920 – 1930

Introduction of the Word "Robot" 1920

In 1920 Czech novelist, playwright, journalist and translator Karel Capek published R. U. R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) in Prague. This play, written in Czech except for the title, introduced the word “robot” and explored the issue of whether worker-machines would replace people.

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The Literature and Culture of Suicide 1927

In 1927 journalist and suicide researcher Hans Rost published one of the more unusual specialized bibliographies: Bibliographie des Selbstmords mit textlichen Einführungen zu Jedem Kapitel.  This bibliography on the literature of suicide considered the subject from many points of view including philosophical, medical, psychological, religious, literary, and artistic, as well as topics like family suicide, mass suicide and euthanasia, from the 15th to 20th centuries. The bibliography listed about 4000 works in thematic chapters, to each of which Rost wrote an introduction. The book included 54 illustrations, which may have represented the first published collection of historical images on suicide. 

Rost's library of suicide literature was acquired by the city library of Augsburg in 1928.  Since 1988 the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Suizidprävention (DGS)(German Association for Suicide Prevention) has presented the Hans Rost Prize for outstanding scientific achievements in suicidology and for outstanding practical solutions toward the prevention of suicide.

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The First Broadcast of a Play by Television September 11, 1928

On September 11, 1928 W2XB, owned by General Eelectric's WGY in Schenectady, New York, televised the first dramatic program in the United States. The play broadcast was The Queen's Messenger by J. Harley Manners, "a blood and thunder play" with guns, daggers, and poison.

"There were more technicians required for special effects than there were actors. In fact, technical limitations were so great and viewing screens so small, that only the actor's individual hands or faces could be seen at one time. Three cameras were used, two for the characters and a third for obtaining images of gestures and appropriate stage props. Two assistant actors displayed their hands before this third camera whenever the occasion demanded.

"E. F.W. Alexanderson, General Electric's engineer in charge of television, remembered the presentation as "a little drama, a playlet, that was not a great work of art by any means." The director was a man brought up from New York City especially to work on the play. Everyone became very annoyed with him when he kept calling his rehearsals at 4:00 a.m.

"According to the New York Herald Tribune's article of September 11, 1928, "...Director Mortimer Stewart stood between the two television cameras that focused upon Miss Isetta Jewell, the heroine and Maurice Randall, the hero.  In front of Stewart was a television receiver in which he could at all times see the images that went out over the transmitter; and by means of a small control box he was able to control the output of pictures, cutting in one or another of the cameras and fading the image out and in.  Whether it was successfully received at any point, other than the operation installation of the General Electric Laboratory, could not immediately be ascertained. It was the general opinion among those that watched the experiment that the day of radio moving pictures was still a long, long way in the future.  Whether the present system can be brought to commercial practicability and public usefulness, remains a question."  With all its technical weaknesses, however, "The Queen's Messenger" marked the first step toward modern dramatic programs" (http://www.earlytelevision.org/queens_messenger.html, accessed 10-18-2014).

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1930 – 1940

Bob Brown: Visionary of New Reading Machines and Changes in the Process of Reading 1930 – 1931

In 1930 prolific American avant-garde writer Bob Brown (Robert Carlton Brown), published an essay entitled "The Readies" in the international avant-garde journal transition issued from Paris, no. 19/20, 167-73, calling for a new reading machine, and new reading material for it called "The Readies."  Brown intended these innovations as ways for literature to keep up with the advanced reading practices of a cinema-viewing public, as epitomized in the then new expression for sound films, "the talkies." The first feature film originally presented as a talkie had been The Jazz Singer, released in October 1927. 

"The word 'readies' suggests to me a moving type spectacle, reading at the speed rate of the day with the aid of a machine, a method of enjoying literature in a manner as up-to-date as the lively talkes. In selecting the "The Readies' as title for what I have to say about modern reading and writing I hope to catch the reader in a receptive progressive mood. I ask him to forget for the moment the existing medievalism of the BOOK (God bless it, it's staggering on its last leg and about to fall) as a conveyer of reading matter. I request the reader to fix his mental eye for a moment on the ever-present future and contemplate a reading machine which will revitalize this interest in the Optical Art of Wrting.

"In our aeroplane age radio is rushing in television, tomorrow it will be commonplace. All the arts are having their faces lifted, painting (the moderns), sculpture (Brancusi), music (Antheil), architecture (zoning law), drama (Strange Interlude), dancing (just look around you tonight) writing (Joyce, Stein, Cummings, Hemingway, transition). Only the reading half of Literature lags behind, stays old-fashioned, frumpish, beskirted. Present-day reading methods are as cumbersone as they were in the time of Caxton and Jimmy-the-Ink. Though we have advanced from Gutenberg's movable type through the linotype and monotype to photo-composing we still consult the book in its original form as the only oracular means we know for carrying the word mystically to the eye. Writing as been bottled up in books since the start. It is time to pull out the stopper.

"To continue reading at today's speed I must have a machine. A simple reading machine which I can carry or move around and attach to any old electric light plug and read hundred thousand word novels in ten minutes if I want to, and I want to. A machine as handy as a portable phonograph, typewriter or radio, compact, minute operated by electricity, the printing done microscopically by the new photographic process on a transparent tough tissue roll which carries the contents of a book and is no bigger than a typewriter ribbon, a roll like a minature serpentine that can be put in a pill box. This reading film unrolls beneath a narrow magnifying glass four or give inches long set in a reading slit, the glass brings up the otherwise unreadable type to comfortable reading size, and the read is rid at last of the cumbersome book, the inconvenience of holding its bulk, turning its pages, keeping them clean, jiggling hs weary eyes back and forth in the awkward pursuit of words from the upper left hand corner to the lower right, all over the vast confusing reading surface of a page. . . .

"My machine is equipped with controls so the reading record can be turned back or shot ahead, a chapter read or the happy ending anticipated. The magnifying glass is so set that it can be moved nearer to or father from the type, so the reader may browse in 6 points, 8, 10, 12, 16 or any size that suits him. Many books remain unread today owing to the unsuitable size of type in which they are printed. A number of readers cannot stand the strain of small type and other intellectual prowlers are offended by Great Primer. The reading machine allows free choice in type-point, it is not a fixed arbitrary bound object but an adaptable carrier of flexible, flowing reading matter. . . .

"The machine is equipped with all modern improvements. By pressing a button the roll slows down so an interesting part can be read lesurely, over and over again if need be, or by speeding up, a dozen books can skimmed through in an afternoon without soiling the fingers or losing a dust wrapper. . . .

"The material advantages of my reading machine are obvious, paper saving by condensation and elimination of waste margin space which alone takes up a fifth or sixth of the bulk of the present-day book. Ink saving in proportion, a much smaller surface needs to be covered. . . Binding will be unnecessary, paper pill boxes are produced at the fraction of the cost of cloth cases. Manual labor will be minimized. Reading will be cheap and independent of advertising which today carries the cost of the cheap reading matter purveyed exclusively in the interests of the advertiser" (167-69).

Brown also intended his device as one way of achieving "The Revolution of the Word," as called for in the manifesto published in issue 16/17 of transition by its editor Eugene Jolas in 1929. Later in 1930 Brown privately published a 52-page pamphlet entitled The Readies in an edition of 150 or 300 copies. The imprint of the pamphlet read Bad Ems: Roving Eye Press. (It is possible that the publishing location was a joke.) The pamphlet represented an expansion with examples given, of Brown's essay from transition, a revised version of which it republished as chapter 3.

Written before anyone imagined electronic computers, and even longer before anyone imagined a hand-held electronic computer, one goal of Brown's vision of new media for reading was saving space, paper and ink through media more compact than traditional printed books. Though he could not foresee how the changes would actually occur, he was also an extremely early predictor of changes to the traditional codex book that would occur sixty years later with electronic publishing. In the pre-electronic computer era Brown, like Emanuel Goldberg and Vannevar Bush, saw the future of of information primarily in the context of film and microfilm, and in developing more verbally compact means of communication. While Goldberg and Bush were focussed on developing more efficient means of information storage and retrieval, Brown was focussed on the creative aspects of new writing and new forms of communication with the reader:

"This important manifesto, on a par with André Breton's Surrealist manifestos or Tristan Tzara's Dadaist declarations, includes plans for an electric reading machine and strategies for preparing the eye for mechanized reading. There are instructions for preparing texts as “readies” and detailed quantitative explanations about the invention and mechanisms involved in this peculiar machine.

"In the generic spirit of avant-garde manifestos, Brown writes with enthusiastic hyperbole about the machine's breathtaking potential to change how we read and learn. In 1930, the beaming out of printed text over radio waves or in televised images had a science fiction quality—or, for the avant-garde, a fanciful art-stunt feel. Today, Brown’s research on reading seems remarkably prescient in light of text-messaging (with its abbreviated language), electronic text readers, and even online books like the digital edition of this volume. Brown's practical plans for his reading machine, and his descriptions of its meaning and implications for reading in general, were at least fifty years ahead of their time.  . . .

"Brown’s reading machine was designed to 'unroll a televistic readie film' in the style of modernist experiments; the design also followed the changes in reading practices during the first quarter of the twentieth century. Gertrude Stein understood that Brown’s machine, as well as his processed texts for it, suggested a shift toward a different way to comprehend texts. That is, the mechanism of this book, a type of book explicitly built to resemble reading mechanisms like ticker-tape machines rather than a codex, produced—at least for Stein—specific changes in reading practices.  

"In Brown’s Readie, punctuation marks become visual analogies. For movement we see em-dashes (—) that also, by definition, indicate that the sentence was interrupted or cut short. These created a 'cinemovietone' shorthand system. The old uses of punctuation, such as employment of periods to mark the end of a sentence, disappear. Reading machine-mediated text becomes more like watching a continuous series of flickering frames become a movie" (Afterward from: The Readies, edited with an Afterward by Craig Saper, Houston: Rice University Press,[2009] accessed 05-23-2010).

After Brown published The Readies authors in the transition circle sent  him pieces intended for publication on the hypothetical machine. In 1931 he self-published these as a 208-page book, Readies for Bob Brown's Machine, in an edition of 300 copies also from the Roving Eye Press, but this time from Cagnes-sur-mer. That work, which contained contributions by 42 authors including Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, and Paul Bowle's first appearance in a book, contained two crude illustrations of a prototype of Brown's reading machine — a wooden contraption that hardly embodied machine-age sleekness; part of it looked a bit like a waffle iron. It is unclear whether Brown's machine ever operated; probably it did not. What matters more are Brown's futuristic ideas.


♦ Following the "all digital" policy of Rice University Press since it was re-organized in 2006, the Rice edition of The Readies was available as a free download from their website, or as print-on-demand from QOOP.com. When I clicked on the purchase button on 05-23-2010, I was given the following purchase options at QOOP.com:

"+Hard Bound Laminate for $25.85

"+Hard Bound - Dust Jacket for $32.35

"+Wire-O for $16.00

"+eBook for $7.00."

♦ When I attempted to access QOOP.com in June 2013 it appeared that the site had closed down. An electronic version of Bob Brown's The Readies was then freely available at Connexions (cnx.org).

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Marinetti's Metal Book: "Parole in Liberta . . ." 1932

Five years after Fortunato Depero issued his sensational Depero futurista, a "mechanical" book full of futurist poetry and graphics that featured a binding held together with two machined bolts, in 1932 Italian poet and editor Filippo Tommaso Marinetti introduced his definitive model of the mechanical book, Parole in libertà: olfattive, tattili, termichea collection of his poetry, designed by futurist artist Tullio Mazzoti, better known by his pseudonym, Tullio d'Albisola, and produced by industrialist Vincenzo Nosenzo. Nosenzo owned a tin can factory in Zinola, a suburb of Savona, and had perfected and patented a method of lithographing on tin, called "lito-latta," the English translation of which would be "lithotin." Publication was shared by Nosenzo's firm, Lito-Latta in Savona (Nosenzo's imprint), which was responsible for the book's production, and Marinetti's Futurist publishing house "Poesia" in Rome. Thus, while Depero's book was printed on paper, Marinetti's book was printed entirely on tin sheets, reflective of the materials and textures of the Machine Age. It was also intended to be an imperishable book. The book's content was also innovative, as Marinetti introduced new references between words and physical interaction with olfactory, tactile, and thermal sensations.

Copies of Marinetti's metal book weigh 852 grams, not including the slipcase. Though dimensions apparently vary from copy to copy, its 15 sheets of tin are typically 24 x 24 centimeters, bound with a tubular aluminum spine, on which they rotate on metal wire spindles attached at head and foot—a feat of book engineering credited to Nosenzo. The tin leaves are extremely thin (no more than 1 mm each), and to prevent cuts they are very slightly folded on their edges.

"Notwithstanding its unusual components and the originality of Tullio's design, the Metal Book features all the elements we expect to find in a book. It has a front and a back cover, the front cover doubling as a title page; three preliminary 'leaves,' including copyright page, frontispiece, and dedication page (not necessarily found in this order from copy to copy); a body of text, comprising nine leaves printed on both sides; and an advertisement and table of contents at the end. None of the 28 'pages' is paginated" (Vincent Giroud, Parole in Liberta. Marinetti's Metal Book. Berkeley: Codex Foundation Code(x) +2 Monograph Series No. 1, 2012).

The edition was 101 unnumbered copies, of which 50 were for sale, and the rest for presentation. "A unique copy was printed on paper, comprising a different title page (with the imprint of the Edizioni Futuriste di 'Poesi'), the copyright page, a different frontispiece portrait of Marinett (wearing his Accademia d'Italia uniform), the deication page, the nine poems as printed in the Metal Book (but without any of the typographical plates), and the table. Measuring 34 x 31.5 cm., this unicum is bound in a full red and green leather binding held together, in the manner of Depero futurista, with five bolts— one of which is now missing. Destined for Marinetti, and inscribed to him by Tullio and Nosenzo on 5 December 1932, it is now in the Beinecke Library, where a significant part of Marinetti's library now rests" (Giroud, op.cit., 20-21).  

In January 2014 digital images of Yale's complete tin copy were available from the Beinicke Library at this link.

As a companion to Giroud's study of Marinetti's Metal Book, fine printer Peter Koch and the Codex Foundation also issued in 2012, as No. 2 in the Code(x) +2 Monograph Series, a reduced-format color reproduction of the copy at Yale. The reproduction is entirely printed on black paper to emphasize the metallic aspects. This also reproduces the very rare slipcase, missing from some copies. In my opinion Giroud's 22-page essay, and its companion reproduction, are among the most interesting studies of an individual publication.

In 2009 the British Library acquired a copy of Marinetti's metal book for £83,000.

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"Pygmalion's Spectacles," Probably the First Comprehensive and Specific Fictional Model for Virtual Reality 1935

In 1935 American science fiction writer Stanley G.Weinbaum presented a comprehensive and specific fictional model for virtual reality in his short story Pygmalion's Spectacles. In the story, the main character, Dan Burke, met an elfin professor, Albert Ludwig, who invented a pair of goggles which enabled "a movie that gives one sight and sound [...] taste, smell, and touch. [...] You are in the story, you speak to the shadows (characters) and they reply, and instead of being on a screen, the story is all about you, and you are in it."

Weinbaum's career in science fiction was very short but influential. His first story, "A Martian Odyssey", was published to great, and enduring, acclaim in July 1934, but he died from lung cancer within eighteen months, and the age of only 33.

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La Réalité virtuelle 1938

In 1938 French poet, playwright, actor and director Antonin Artaud, working in Paris, published Le théâtre et son double. Artaud described theatre as  "la réalité virtuelle," a virtual reality "in which characters, objects, and images take on the phantasmagoric force of alchemy's visionary internal dramas."  Arnauld's description may be the first use of the phrase, virtual reality.

(This entry was last revised on April 6, 2014.)

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Mass Hysteria Induced by Electronic Media October 30, 1938

On October 30, 1938 Orson Wells and the Mercury Theatre in New York broadcast over CBS radio H. G. Wells' 1898 novel, The War of the Worlds. The broadcast was heard by 6,000,000 people, some of whom believed that the story of the invading Martians was real. To the extent that a large number of people were deceived, this may be one of the earliest examples of mass hysteria induced by electronic media.

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Fantasies of an All-Encompassing Archive or "Universal Library" 1939

In 1939 Argentine writer and librarian Jorge Luis Borges in Buenos Aires published an essay entitled La bibliotheca total (The Total Library), describing his fantasy of an all-encompassing archive or universal library.
In Borges' work this universal library was created, remarkably, by an abstract device that produced a random sequence of letters and symbols, ad infinitum. In his essay Borges

"traced the infinite-monkey concept back to Aristotle's Metaphysics. Explaining the views of Leucippus, who held that the world arose through the random combination of atoms, Aristotle notes that the atoms themselves are homogeneous and their possible arrangements only differ in shape, position and ordering. In De Generatione et corruptione (On Generation and Corruption), the Greek philosopher compares this to the way that a tragedy and a comedy consist of the same "atoms", i.e., alphabetic characters. Three centuries later, Cicero's De natura deorum (On the Nature of the Gods) argued against the atomist worldview:

" 'He who believes this may as well believe that if a great quantity of the one-and-twenty letters, composed either of gold or any other matter, were thrown upon the ground, they would fall into such order as legibly to form the Annals of Ennius. I doubt whether fortune could make a single verse of them.'

"Borges follows the history of this argument through Blaise Pascal and Jonathan Swift, then observes that in his own time, the vocabulary had changed. By 1939, the idiom was 'that a half-dozen monkeys provided with typewriters would, in a few eternities, produce all the books in the British Museum.' (To which Borges adds, 'Strictly speaking, one immortal monkey would suffice.') Borges then imagines the contents of the Total Library which this enterprise would produce if carried to its fullest extreme:

" 'Everything would be in its blind volumes. Everything: the detailed history of the future, Aeschylus' The Egyptians, the exact number of times that the waters of the Ganges have reflected the flight of a falcon, the secret and true nature of Rome, the encyclopedia Novalis would have constructed, my dreams and half-dreams at dawn on August 14, 1934, the proof of Pierre Fermat's theorem, the unwritten chapters of Edwin Drood, those same chapters translated into the language spoken by the Garamantes, the paradoxes Berkeley invented concerning Time but didn't publish, Urizen's books of iron, the premature epiphanies of Stephen Dedalus, which would be meaningless before a cycle of a thousand years, the Gnostic Gospel of Basilides, the song the sirens sang, the complete catalog of the Library, the proof of the inaccuracy of that catalog. Everything: but for every sensible line or accurate fact there would be millions of meaningless cacophonies, verbal farragoes, and babblings. Everything: but all the generations of mankind could pass before the dizzying shelves—shelves that obliterate the day and on which chaos lies—ever reward them with a tolerable page' " (Wikipedia article on Infinite Monkey Theorem, accessed 05-25-2009).

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1940 – 1950

Borges' Universe as a Library, or Universal Library or Archive 1941

In 1941 Argentine writer and librarian Jorge Luis Borges published the short story La biblioteca de Babel (The Library of Babel) in his collection of stories entitled El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths) in Buenos-Aires through the publishing house of Editorial Sur. 

In 1944 the entire 1941 book was included in his Ficciones (1944), through which it received much larger circulation. In 1962 two different English-language translations of The Library of Babel appeared: one by James E. Irby in a collection of Borges's works entitled Labyrinths and the other by Anthony Kerrigan as part of a collaborative translation of the Ficciones. A new translation by Andrew Hurley appeared in 1998 as part of a translation of the Collected Fictions. Hurley's translation of The Library of Babel was republished separately in 2000 by David R. Godine with reproductions of eleven etchings by Erik Desmazières illustrating Borges' text.

Borges' story of a universe in the form of a library, or an imaginary universal library, has been viewed as a fictional or philosophical predictor of characteristics and criticisms of the Internet.

"Borges's narrator describes how his universe consists of an endless expanse of interlocking hexagonal rooms, each of which contains the bare necessities for human survival—and four walls of bookshelves. Though the order and content of the books is random and apparently completely meaningless, the inhabitants believe that the books contain every possible ordering of just a few basic characters (letters, spaces and punctuation marks). Though the majority of the books in this universe are pure gibberish, the library also must contain, somewhere, every coherent book ever written, or that might ever be written, and every possible permutation or slightly erroneous version of every one of those books. The narrator notes that the library must contain all useful information, including predictions of the future, biographies of any person, and translations of every book in all languages. Conversely, for many of the texts some language could be devised that would make it readable with any of a vast number of different contents.

"Despite — indeed, because of — this glut of information, all books are totally useless to the reader, leaving the librarians in a state of suicidal despair. However, Borges speculates on the existence of the 'Crimson Hexagon', containing a book that contains the log of all the other books; the librarian who reads it is akin to God" (Wikipedia article on The Library of Babel, accessed 05-25-2009).

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Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics + the Zeroth Law March 1942

In the March 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction science fiction author Isaac Asimov introduced The Three Laws of Robotics in his short story "Runaround."  The Three Laws are:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

"These form an organizing principle and unifying theme for Asimov's robotic-based fiction, appearing in his Robot series, the stories linked to it, and his Lucky Starr series of young-adult fiction. The Laws are incorporated into almost all of the positronic robots appearing in his fiction, and cannot be bypassed, being intended as a safety feature. Many of Asimov's robot-focused stories involve robots behaving in unusual and counter-intuitive ways as an unintended consequence of how the robot applies the Three Laws to the situation in which it finds itself. Other authors working in Asimov's fictional universe have adopted them and references, often parodic, appear throughout science fiction as well as in other genres.

"The original laws have been altered and elaborated on by Asimov and other authors. Asimov himself made slight modifications to the first three in various books and short stories to further develop how robots would interact with humans and each other. In later fiction where robots had taken responsibility for government of whole planets and human civilizations, Asimov also added a fourth, or zeroth law, to precede the others:

0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm."
(Wikipedia article on Three Laws of Robotics, accessed 10-20-2013).
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"Waldo" : Imagining Remote Manipulators and TeleRobotics August 1942

In his short story, "Waldo," published in Doubleday's Astounding Science Fiction Magazine in August 1942 under the pseudonym Anson MacDonald, American science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein wrote about a mechanical genius who developed a device patented as "Waldo F. Jones' Synchronous Reduplicating Pantograph."

"Wearing a glove and harness, Waldo could control a much more powerful mechanical hand simply by moving his hand and fingers. This and other technologies he develops make him a rich man, rich enough to build a home in space. In the story, these devices became popularly known as "waldoes". In reference to this story, the real-life remote manipulators that were later developed also came to be called waldoes" (Wikipedia article on Waldo (short story), accessed 03-13-2012).

Heinlein's idea was extensively implemented in telerobotics used in surgery, space, etc.

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"From Script to Print. An Introduction to Medieval Literature" 1945

In July 2014, just about the time that I celebrated my 69th birthday, I found a reference online to the 1945 book by H. J. Chaytor, From Script to Print. An Introduction to Medieval Literature. At the time of publication Chaytor was Master of St. Catharine's College, Cambridge. As readers of my "About the Database" may know, HistoryofInformation.com began as an effort to understand and compare the transition from print to electronic information in our time with the transition from manuscript to print in the second half of the fifteenth century. This topic became a focus of my reading since about 2003, and I was surprised to learn that there was a relatively early study in English touching on the fifteenth century transition that was previously unknown to me. So, as is my habit, I obtained a copy of Chaytor's relatively short book of 156 pages, which remained in print from Cambridge University Press.

I did not hear of Chaytor's work previously because it was probably not cited in the standard works on the book history of the fifteenth century since it is primarily a study of medieval literature, especially that of the French troubadour. Rather than focusing on the standard issues that concern book historians of the period, Chaytor was primarily interested in the effect of printing on aspects of French literature. Because he was interested in a class of literature that was primarily performed orally to an audience that was primarily illiterate, rather than written, he did not discuss the medieval manuscript tradition in ways familar to the book historian. Instead he concentrated on the difference between a literature distributed and published orally through "performance" during the medieval period prior to print, and a literature published and understood, after the introduction of printing, by an increasingly literate audience, through the reading of printed books.  As Chaytor put it toward the end of his introduction, p. 4:

"In short, the history of the progress from script to print is a history of the gradual substitution of visual for auditory methods of communicating and receiving ideas." 

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Humphrey Bogart and Dorothy Malone Appear in Probably the Most Famous Bookstore Scene in Movie History 1946

Probably the most famous bookstore scene in movie history was in The Big Sleepa classic 1946 film noir of Raymond Chandler's 1939 novel, with a screenplay co-written by William FaulknerLeigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman. In the bookstore scene detective Philip Marlow played by Humphrey Bogart visited the Acme Book Shop and enjoyed a witty, pseudobibliophilic and teasing interchange with the seductive bookstore owner played by Dorothy Malone

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Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" is Published 1949

In 1949 English author Eric Arthur Blair, writing under his pseudonym, George Orwell, published the dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four in London. The story followed the life of Winston Smith, an apparently minor civil servant whose job was to falsify records and political literature, and thus perpetuate propaganda. Becoming disillusioned with this system and his meagre existence, Smith began a futile rebellion against the system. Orwell's novel became famous for its satirical portrayal of surveillance, and of society's increasing encroachment on the rights of the individual. Since its publication the terms Big Brother and Orwellian became widely used in popular speech.

"Nineteen Eighty-Four's impact upon the English language is extensive; many of its concepts: Big Brother, Room 101 (the worst place in the world), the Thought Police, the memory hole (oblivion), doublethink (simultaneously holding and believing two contradictory beliefs), and Newspeak (ideological language), are common usages for denoting and connoting overarching, totalitarian authority; Doublespeak is an elaboration of doublethink; the adjective "Orwellian" denotes that which is characteristic and reminiscent of George Orwell's writings, specifically 1984. The practice of appending the suffixes "-speak" and "-think" (groupthink, mediaspeak) to denote unthinking conformity. Many other works, in various forms of media, have taken themes from Nineteen Eighty-four" (Wikipedia article on Nineteen Eighty-Four).

As an aside, I remember reading Nineteen Eighty-Four in school in the 1950s. During the Cold War it, along with Orwell's Animal Farm, were required reading in many schools.  When I first read Nineteen Eighty Four I found much of it scary, but it seemed like it was set in the distant future. Later, when 1984 rolled around, I reread the novel and thought how "unlikely" it would be that Orwellian ideas would propagate in our free society. In 2013 with the disclosures by Eric Snowden of extensive secret electronic surveillance of Americans by the U.S. National Security Agency, Orwellian ideas did not seem so far-fetched, even in America.

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1950 – 1960

"A Sound of Thunder": Famous Science Fiction Story; Dubious Film June 27, 1952

"A Sound of Thunder,"a science fiction short story by Ray Bradbury, was first published in Collier's magazine in June 28, 1952, and was very widely reprinted for decades. The story was based on the idea of the butterfly effect, in which a very small event could cause a major change in the outcome of later events. Bradbury's story, set in 2055, concerned the use of a time machine to travel back into the very distant past. In the story the killing of a butterfly during the time of dinosaurs caused the future to change in subtle, but meaningful ways. For those of us who sometimes wonder what might have happened had this or that event been a little different, this story may have special interest.

Here is a radio adaptation of the story:

In 2004 Bradbury's story was made into a feature film with the same title. Why the distinguished actor Ben Kingsley accepted a leading role in this questionable film remains unclear. The film was widely panned by critics and viewers, and bombed at the box office, but I found it amusing enough to include this in the database:

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Ray Bradbury's Early Dystopian View of Books: "Fahrenheit 451" 1953 – November 2011

Having written the entire book on a pay typewriter in the basement of UCLA's Powell Library, in 1953 Ray Bradbury published the dystopian science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451, named after the temperature at which books are supposed to combust spontaneously. Besides the regular trade edition, the publisher, Ballantine Books, issued a limited edition of 200 copies signed by Bradbury and bound in white boards made of "Johns-Manville Quinterra," a fire-proof asbestos material.

"The novel presents a future American society in which the masses are hedonistic, and critical thought through reading is outlawed. The central character, Guy Montag, is employed is a 'fireman' (which, in this future, means 'book burner'). The number '451' refers to the temperature (in Fahrenheit) at which the books burn when the 'Firemen' burn them 'For the good of humanity'. Written in the early years of the Cold War, the novel is a critique of what Bradbury saw as an increasingly dysfunctional American society.

Bradbury's original intention in writing Fahrenheit 451 was to show his great love for books and libraries. "He has often referred to Montag as an allusion to himself" (Wikipedia article on Fahrenheit 451).

François Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard wrote a screenplay based on the novel, and Truffault directed a film, released in 1966, entitled Fahrenheit 451, starring Julie Christie and Oskar Werner. The film was re-issued on DVD by Universal Studios in 2003.

♦ After publically opposing ebooks for several years, telling The New York Times in 2009 that "that the Internet is a big distraction," in November 2011, at the age of 91, Bradbury authorized an ebook edition of Fahrenheit 451, and several other of his best-selling books. By this date Fahrenheit 451 had sold more than 10 million copies in print, and had been translated into many languages. Also by this date, ebooks comprised 20% of the fiction book market in the U.S. 

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The First Use of a Computer to Write Literary Texts October 1954

In the October 1954 issue of the journal Enounter (pp. 25-31) British computer scientist Christopher Strachey published "The 'Thinking' Machine."  Strachey's paper included two love letters written by the Ferranti Mark I computer at the University of Manchester running a program which he had written. This represented the first use of a computer to write literary texts.

Herzogenrath & Nierhoff-Wielk, Ex Machina-Frühe Computergrafik bis 1979. . . . Ex Machina- Early Computer Graphics to 1979 (2007) 229.

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One of the Earliest Surviving British Television Dramas December 12 – December 14, 1954

From December 12-14, 1954 the BBC presented a television production of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, adapted for television by Nigel  Kneale.

"Kneale's script was a largely faithful adaptation of the novel as far as was practical with the limitations of the medium. The writer did, however, make some small additions of his own, the most notable being the creation of a sequence in which O'Brien observes Julia at work in PornoSec, and reads a small segment from one of the erotic novels being written by the machines there."

"When it had become clear what an important production Nineteen Eighty-Four was, it was arranged for the second performance [December 14, 1954] to be telerecorded onto 35mm film – the first performance having simply disappeared off into the ether, as it was shown live, seen only by those who were watching on the Sunday evening. At this stage, Videotape recording was still at the development stage and television images could only be preserved on film by using a special recording apparatus (known as "telerecording" in the UK and "kinescoping" in the USA), but was only used sparingly, then in Britain for historic preservation reasons and not for pre-recording. It is thus the second performance that survives in the archives, one of the earliest surviving British television dramas" (Wikipedia article on Nineteen Eight-Four (TV Programme), accessed 07-26-2009).

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One of the First Fictional Depictions of Autonomous Machine Self-Replication November 1955

In November 1955 science fiction writer Philip K. Dick published a short story entitled “Autofac” in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, pp. 70-95. The story described a nationwide system of automated factories that produced food, consumer goods, and “miniature replicas” of more factories. Possibly influenced by John von Neumann's theory of self-reproducing automata (1948), this was one of the first descriptions of autonomous machine self-replication to appear in science fiction. Dick’s story ended with the almost destroyed factory shooting out a torrent of metal seeds that germinated into miniature factories. In December 2013, when I wrote this entry, these metal seeds might be viewed as self-replicating nanorobots.

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"Nineteen Eighty-Four" Filmed 1956

In 1956 English director Michael Anderson directed 1984, a science fiction drama film based on the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, and starring Edmond O'Brien, Jan Sterling, Michael Redgrave, and Donald Pleasance.

This was the first cinema rendition of the novel. It was released on DVD in 2004.

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The Movie "Desk Set", Satirizing the Role of Automation in Eliminating Jobs, and Librarians 1957

The romantic comedy film, Desk Set, brought to the silver screen in 1957, was the first film to dramatize and satirize the role of automation in eliminating traditional jobs. The name of the computer in the film, EMERAC, and its room-size installation, was an obvious take-off on UNIVAC, the best-known computer at the time. In the film, the computer was brought-in to replace the library of books, and its staff—an early foreshadowing of the physical information versus digital information issue.  Directed by Walter Lang and starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Gig Young, Joan Blondell, and Dina Merrill, the screenplay was written by Phoebe Ephron and Henry Ephron from the play by William Marchant.

The film "takes place at the "Federal Broadcasting Network" (exterior shots are of Rockefeller Center, in New York City, headquarters of NBC). Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn) is in charge of its reference library, which is responsible for researching and answering questions on all manner of topics, such as the names of Santa's reindeer. She has been involved for seven years with network executive Mike Cutler (Gig Young), with no marriage in sight.

"The network is negotiating a merger with another company, but is keeping it secret. To help the employees cope with the extra work that will result, the network head has ordered two computers (called "electronic brains" in the film). Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy), the inventor of EMERAC and an efficiency expert, is brought in to see how the library functions, to figure out how to ease the transition. Though extremely bright, as he gets to know Bunny, he is surprised to discover that she is every bit his match.

"When they find out the computers are coming, the employees jump to the conclusion the machines are going to replace them. Their fears seem to be confirmed when everyone on the staff receives a pink slip printed out by the new payroll computer. Fortunately, it turns out to be a mistake; the machine fired everybody in the company, including the president" Wikipedia article on Desk Set, accessed 12-23-2008).

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The First Digital Poetry 1959

In 1959 German computer scientist Theo Lutz from Hochschule Esslingen created the first digital poetry using a text-generating program called “Stochastiche Text” written for the ZUSE Z22 computer. The program consisted of only 50 commands but could theoretically generate over 4,000,000 sentences.

Working with his teacher, Max Bense, one of the earliest theorists of computer poetry, Lutz used a random number generator to create texts where key words were randomly inserted within a set of logical constants in order to create a syntax. The programme thus demonstrated how logical structures like mathematical systems could work with language.

Funkhouser, Prehistoric Digital Poetry: An Archaeology of Forms 1959-1995 (2007).

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Stephen Parrish's Concordance of the Poems of Matthew Arnold: the First Computerized Literary Concordance 1959

The first published concordance of a literary work was probably Stephen M Parrish's A Concordance to the Poems of Matthew Arnold published by Cornell University Press in 1959. According to the Cornell Daily Sun newspaper issue for February 15, 1960, p. 6:

"The University Press introduced the use of an electronic computer to prepare "A Concordance to the Poems of Matthew Arnold," edited by Prof. Stephen M. Parrish of the Department of English.

"The device eliminates years of tedious work previously needed to prepare such volumes, and will serve as a model for future editions.

"The IBM 704 Computer reads 15,000 characters and makes 42,000 logical decisions per second. The computer run took 38 hours and the printing took 10 hours.

"The new process produces finished pages ready for offset reproduction and greatly reduces the number of errors.

"One feature of the concordance, unavailable in hand-edited volumes, is the Appendix, which lists the words of Arnold's vocabulary in order of frequency, and also gives the frequency of the word."

Parrish's concordance was reproduced by offset from line printer output in uppercase letters, with punctuation omitted, causing such ambiguities as making shell indistinguishable from she'll.

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1960 – 1970

Arthur C. Clarke Publishes "Dial F for Frankenstein," an Inspiration for Tim Berners-Lee 1961

In 1961 British science fiction writer, inventor and futurist Arthur C. Clarke of Sri Lanka published a short story entitled "Dial F for Frankenstein."

". . . it foretold an ever-more-interconnected telephone network that spontaneously acts like a newborn baby and leads to global chaos as it takes over financial, transportation and military systems" (John Markoff, "The Coming Superbrain," New York Times, May 24, 2009).

"The father of the internet, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, credits Clarke's short story, Dial F for Frankenstein, as an inspiration" (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/arthur-c-clarke-science-fiction-turns-to-fact-799519.html, accessed 05-24-2009).

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The IBM 7094 is The First Computer to Sing 1961

A recording made at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey on an IBM 7094 mainframe computer in 1961 is the earliest known recording of a computer-synthesized voice singing a song— Daisy Bell, also known as "Bicycle Built for Two." The recording was programmed by physicist John L. Kelly Jr., and Carol Lockbaum, and featured musical accompaniment written by computer music pioneer Max  Mathews.

The science fiction novelist Arthur C. Clarke witnessed a demonstration of the piece while visiting his friend, the electric engineer and science fiction writer, John R. Pierce, who was a Bell Labs employee at the time. Clarke was so impressed that he incorporated the 7094's musical performance in the 1968 novel, and the script for the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. One of the first things that Clarke’s fictional HAL 9000 computer had learned when it was originally programmed was the song "Daisy Bell". Near the end of the story, when the computer was being deactivated, or put to sleep by astronaut Dave Bowman, it lost its mind and degenerated to singing "Daisy Bell."

(This entry was last revised on 03-21-2015.)

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Alvar Ellegård Makes the First Use of Computers to Study Disputed Authorship 1962

The first use of computers in the study of disputed authorship study was probably Alvar Ellegård's study of the Junius letters. Ellegård, professor of English at the University of Gothenberg in Sweden, did not use a computer to make the word counts, but did use machine calculations which helped him get an overall picture of the vocabulary from hand counts.

Ellegård, A. A Statistical Method for Determining Authorship: The Junius Letters 1769–1772. Gothenburg: Gothenburg Studies in English, 1962. 

A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell, 200

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Spacewar, the First Computer Game for a Commercially Available Computer 1962

In 1962 Programmer and computer scientist Steve Russell, aka Steve "Slug" Russell, and his team at MIT, including members of the Tech Model Railroad Club, took about 200 hours to program the first computer game for a commercially available computer on a DEC PDP-1.

Inspired by the space battles in the Lensman serial of science fiction space opera by E. E. "Doc" Smith, the computer game, or videogame, was called Spacewar .

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Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin' " 1963

On December 10, 2010 Sotheby's in New York sold a single rather worn sheet of binder paper on which Bob Dylan wrote the original lyrics of his most famous song, The Times They Are A-Changin, probably in October 1963. This battered piece of paper with messy writing sold for $422,500.

"Dylan's friend, Tony Glover, recalls visiting Dylan's apartment in September 1963, where he saw a number of song manuscripts and poems lying on a table. 'The Times They Are a-Changin'  had yet to be recorded, but Glover saw its early manuscript. After reading the words 'come senators, congressmen, please heed the call', Glover reportedly asked Dylan: 'What is this shit, man?', to which Dylan responded, 'Well, you know, it seems to be what the people like to hear'.

"Dylan recalled writing the song as a deliberate attempt to create an anthem of change for the moment. In 1985, he told Cameron Crowe: 'This was definitely a song with a purpose. It was influenced of course by the Irish and Scottish ballads . . .'Come All Ye Bold Highway Men', 'Come All Ye Tender Hearted Maidens'. I wanted to write a big song, with short concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. The civil rights movement and the folk music movement were pretty close for a while and allied together at that time.'

"The climactic lines of the final verse: 'The order is rapidly fadin'/ And the first one now/ Will later be last/ For the times they are a-changin' have a Biblical ring, and several critics have connected them with lines in the Gospel of Mark, 10:31, 'But many that are first shall be last, and the last first.'

"A self-conscious protest song, it is often viewed as a reflection of the generation gap and of the political divide marking American culture in the 1960s. Dylan, however, disputed this interpretation in 1964, saying 'Those were the only words I could find to separate aliveness from deadness. It had nothing to do with age.' A year later, Dylan would say: 'I can't really say that adults don't understand young people any more than you can say big fishes don't understand little fishes. I didn't mean 'The Times They Are a-Changin' ' as a statement. . . It's a feeling" (Wikipedia article on The Times They Are a-Changin', accessed 12-11-2010).

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Julio Cortázar Issues the First "Hypertext" Novel, Before Hypertext 1963

In 1963 Argentine writer Julio Cortázar, writing in Paris, published Rayuela (English: Hopskotch), an introspective stream-of-consciousness novel with multiple endings that can be read in different ways. It was translated into English by Gregory Rabassa in 1963. This has been called the first hypertext novel, though the concept of hypertext hardly existed at the time.

"Written in an episodic, snapshot manner, the novel has 155 chapters, the last 99 being designated as "expendable." Some of these "expendable" chapters fill in gaps that occur in the main storyline, while others add information about the characters or record the aesthetic or literary speculations of a writer named Morelli who makes a brief appearance in the narrative. Some of the 'expendable chapters' at first glance seem like random musings, but upon closer inspection solve questions that arise during the reading of the first two parts of the book.

"An author's note suggests that the book would best be read in one of two possible ways, either progressively from chapters 1 to 56 or by "hopscotching" through the entire set of 155 chapters according to a "Table of Instructions" designated by the author. Cortázar also leaves the reader the option of choosing his/her own unique path through the narrative.

"Several narrative techniques are employed throughout the book, and frequently overlap, including first person, third person, and a kind of stream-of-consciousness. Traditional spelling and grammatical rules are often bent and sometimes broken outright. A few chapters purport to be written by other authors, and there is even a whole section taken almost verbatim from another novel that may or may not exist in actuality" (Wikipedia article on Hopskotch, accesseed 01-04-2014).

"I suppose it's unreasonable to expect the world's first so-called hypertext novel - one in which you can read the chapters sequentially, or in an order recommended by the author, or in any other order you choose - to have a compelling plot. After all, plot relies on anticipation and surprise, both of which come from authorial control over how and when information is revealed. A lot of the delight in fiction comes from this, and most of the rest from character, theme and the texture of the language. Cortazar's revolutionary novel is big on the last few, but not unexpectedly fails to be very engaging when it comes to story. It's more of a character study, or rather an elaboration of a philosophical position through the depiction of certain people in a particular place and time, i.e. left-leaning international emigres in 1950s Paris, and later the locals in Buenos Aires, who spend most of their time smoking, drinking, listening to jazz, competing for affection, philosophizing about life, and trying not to be the creative geniuses they obviously know they are. There are some wonderful set pieces: the infamous Chapter 28 involving a baby in a darkened room; the afternoon a plank bridge is erected to join two hotel rooms on opposite sides of a busy Buenos Aires street; an elaborate booby trap of water-filled basins, tangled threads and ball-bearings to thwart a vengeful lover in the night; and, obviously, the hopscotch squares of the title which are drawn in the courtyard of an insane asylum. These incidents are all engaging, comic, and wonderfully laden with a metaphorical/philosophical import which serves Cortazar's embedded theme: that is, the conundrum of consciousness; the unending desire to break through "the wall" to the other side of life in order to achieve the "unity" we intuitively feel exists but to which there is no easy path. This is the novel's engine, but it does take a while to fire up. If slowly savouring 500+ pages of that kind of thing interests you, then you'll enjoy "Hopscotch" immensely. If it doesn't, then reading this novel will be somewhat like being trapped at a really bad party with drunk and depressive philosophy undergraduates who think they know everything about jazz. I had the urge to leave early, but I'm glad I stayed until the end. Eventually, someone shut the music off, opened all the windows, and in the silence of dawn something clicked" (review by  Steven ReynoldsDecember 31, 2004, on Amazon.com, accessed 01-04-2014).

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The Printing and the Mind of Man Exhibition July 16 – July 27, 1963

Detail of cover of Printing and the Mind of Man.  Please click to see entire image.

Detail of back cover of Printing and the Mind of Man.  Please click to see entire image.

The Printing and the Mind of Man exhibition took place in London at the British Museum and at Earls Court Exhibition Centre during a period of only two weeks, from July 16 to July 27, 1963.

The lengthy and complex title of its catalogue, with an emblem and tailpiece designed and engraved by Reynolds Stone, read: Catalogue of a display of printing mechanisms and printed materials arranged to illustrate the history of Western civilization and the means of the multiplication of literary texts since the XV century, organised in connection with the eleventh International Printing Machinery and Allied Trades Exhibition, under the title Printing and the Mind of Man, assembled at the British Museum and at Earls Court, London, 16-27 July 1963. The catalogue described and illustrated with 32 black & white plates, and a color plate reproducing a page from the Mainz Psalter, more than 656 examples of printing and printing technology documenting the influence of print on the development of Western civilization. This exhibition occurred at Earls Court.  The catalogue also described, and illustrated with 16 black & white plates, an exhibition of 163 examples of Fine Printing mounted at the British Museum from July to September 1963.  At the end of their Acknowledgements on p. 9 of the catalogue the Supervisory Committee for the exhibition– librarian Frank Francis, typographer and historian of typography Stanley Morison and writer and antiquarian bookseller John Carter– stated:

"We pay tribute to the organizers of the Gutenberg Quincentenary Exhibition of Printing, assembled at Cambridge in 1940 (and prematurely disassembled because of the risks from enemy bombing). It was our original inspiration for several sections of our display, and its invigorating catalogue has been our constant friend."

Comparison of the 641 items described in the catalogue of 1940 with those described in the catalogue of 1963 show a great deal of overlap, especially as Percy Muir and John Carter, who had been prime movers in the exhibition in 1940, were extensively involved with the exhibition of 1963. The 1963 exhibition and its catalogue were, of course, significant expansions and improvements over the early wartime effort.

The 1963 catalogue was  followed in 1967 by a further-expanded larger format cloth-bound edition with a dramatic double-page engraved title by Reynolds Stone, significantly more detailed annotations, and without discussion of "printing mechanisms," entitled Printing and the Mind of Man. A Descriptive Catalogue Illustrating the Impact of Print on the Evolution of Western Civilization, compiled and edited by antiquarian booksellers and bibliographers John Carter and Percy H. Muir, assisted by book historian and writer Nicolas Barker, antiquarian bookseller H.A. Feisenberger, bibliographer Howard Nixon and historian of printing S.H. Steinberg.

This exhibition, and especially the 1967 book based on it, was, and remains, immensely influential on both institutional and private collectors of landmark books that influenced the development of Western Civilization.   

Taking place at the dawn of online searching and the ARPANET, and roughly twenty years before the development of the personal computer, this exhibition and its catalogues may also record the peak of the print-centric view of information before the development of electronic information technology leading to the Internet. The only references to computing in the exhibition and its catalogues were to Napier on logarithms, and to Leibniz's stepped-drum calculator. The exhibition and catalogues included references to the invention of radio, telephone and films, but not to television. 

Sebastian Carter, "Printing & the Mind of Man," Matrix 20 (2000) 172-180.

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Arader, Parrish & Bessinger Organize the First Humanities Computing or Digital Humanities Conference September 9 – September 11, 1964

From September 9-11 the first Literary Data Processing Conference occurred. It was organized by Harry F. Arader of IBM and chaired by Stephen M. Parrish of Cornell and Jess B. Bessinger of NYU. This was the first conference on what came to be called humanities computing or digital humanities.

"Among the other speakers, Roberto Busa expatiated on the problems of managing 15 million words for his magnum opus on Thomas Aquinas. Parrish and Bessinger, along with the majority of other speakers, reported on their efforts to generate concordances with the primitive data processing machines available at that time. In light of the current number of projects to digitize literary works it is ironic to recall Martin Kay’s plea to the audience not to abandon their punch cards and magnetic tapes after their concordances were printed and (hopefully) published" (Joseph Raben, "Introducing Issues in Humanities Computing", Digital Humanities Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 1 [2007])

On March 20, 2014 Joseph Raben posted information relevant to the conference on the Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 908, from which I quote:

In September 1964 IBM organized at the same laboratory what it called a Literary Data Processing conference, primarily, I believe now, to publicize the project of Fr. Roberto Busa to generate a huge verbal index to the writings of  Saint Thomas Aquinas and writers associated with him. IBM had underwritten this  project and Fr. Busa, an Italian Jesuit professor of linguistics, had been able to  recruit a staff of junior clergy to operate his key punches. The paper he read at this conference was devoted to the problems of managing the huge database he had created. IBM had persuaded The New York Times to send a reporter to the conference, and in the story he filed he chose to describe in some detail my paper on the Milton-Shelley project. The report of the eccentric professor who was trying to use a computer to analyze poetry caught the fancy of the news services, and the story popped up in The [London] Times and a  few other major newspapers around the world.

What impressed me most at that conference, however, was the number of American academics who had been invited to speak about their use of the computer, often to generate concordances. Such reference works had, of course, long  antedated the computer, having originated in the Renaissance, when the first efforts  to reconcile the disparities among the four Gospels produced these alphabetized lists of  keywords and their immediate contexts, from which scholars hoped to  extract the "core" of biblical truth. The utility of such reference works  for non-biblical literature soon became obvious, and for centuries,  dedicated students of literature, often isolated in outposts of Empire,  whiled away their hours of enforced leisure by copying headwords, lines  and citations onto slips which then had to be manually alphabetized for  the printer. Such concordances already existed for a small number of major poets, like Milton, Shelley and Shakespeare.

Apparently unrecognized by the earlier compilers of concordances was the concept that by restructuring the texts they were concording into a new order – here, alphabetical, but potentially into many others – they were creating a perspective radically different from the linear organization into which the texts had originally been organized.  A major benefit to the scholar of this new structure is the ability to examine all the  occurrences of individual words out of their larger contexts but in  association with other words almost immediately adjacent. Nascent in  this effort was the root of what we now conceive as a text database.

Some of this vision was becoming visible to the members of the avant garde represented at the Literary Data Processing conference, who had generally taken up a program called KWIC (keyword in context) that IBM  had "bundled" with its early computers, a program designed to facilitate  control over scientific information. Because it selectedkeywords from  rticle titles, it was recognized as a crude but acceptable mechanism for literary concordances, to the extent that Stephen M. Parrish had  begun publishing a series for Victorian poets, and others at the  conference reported on their work on Chaucer, Old English and other areas of literary interest. In hindsight it is evident that the greater  significance of these initiatives was twofold: first, they made clear that even in their primitive state in the 1960s, computers could perform functions beyond arithmetic and second,
that another dimension  f language study was available. From the beginning signaled by this small event would come a growing academic discipline covering such topics as corpus linguistics, machine translation, text analysis and literary databases.

Beyond the activity reported at that early conference, it became
increasingly evident that computer-generated concordances could not only serve immediate scholarly  needs but could also imply future applications of expanding value. Texts could be read non-linearly, in a variety of dimensions, with the entire  vocabulary alphabetized, with the most common words listed first, with  the least common words listed first, or with all the words spelled  backwards (so their endings could be associated), and in almost any  other manner that a scholar's imagination could conjure.Concordances  could be constructed for non-poetic works, such as Melville's Moby-Dick or Freud's translated writings. Many poets of lesser rank than Shakespeare, Milton, and Chaucer could now be accorded the stature of being concorded, and even political statements could be made, as when the anti-Stalinist Russian Josip Mandelstam was exalted by having his poetry concorded. David W. Packard even constructed a concordance to Minoan Linear A, the undeciphered writing system of prehistoric Crete.

Looking beyond that group's accomplishment in creating the concordances and other tools they were reporting on, I had a vision of a newer scholarship, based on a melding of the approaches that had served humanities scholars for generations with the newer ones generated by the computer scientists who were struggling at that  time to understand their new tool, to enlarge its capacities. Sensing that the group  of humanists gathering for this pioneering conference could benefit from maintaining communication with each other beyond this meeting, I devoted  some energy and persistence to persuading IBM to finance what I  conceived first as a newsletter. Through the agency of Edmond A. Bowles, a musicologist who had decided he could support his family more successfully as an IBM executive than as a college instructor, I received a grant of $5000 (as well as a renewal in the same amount), a huge award at that time for an assistant professor of English and enough  to impress my dean, who allowed me a course reduction so I could teach myself to be an editor. . . ."

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Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke Create "2001: A Space Odyssey" 1968

In 1968 the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, written by American film director Stanley Kubrick in collaboration with science fiction writer and futurist Arthur C. Clarke, captured imaginations with the idea of a computer that could see, speak, hear, and “think.” 

Perhaps the star of the film was the HAL 9000 computer. "HAL (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic Computer) is an artificial intelligence, the sentient on-board computer of the spaceship Discovery. HAL is usually represented only as his television camera "eyes" that can be seen throughout the Discovery spaceship.... HAL is depicted as being capable not only of speech recognition, facial recognition, and natural language processing, but also lip reading, art appreciation, interpreting emotions, expressing emotions, reasoning, and chess, in addition to maintaining all systems on an interplanetary voyage.

"HAL is never visualized as a single entity. He is, however, portrayed with a soft voice and a conversational manner. This is in contrast to the human astronauts, who speak in terse monotone, as do all other actors in the film" (Wikipedia article on HAL 9000, accessed 05-24-2009).

"Kubrick and Clarke had met in New York City in 1964 to discuss the possibility of a collaborative film project. As the idea developed, it was decided that the story for the film was to be loosely based on Clarke's short story "The Sentinel", written in 1948 as an entry in a BBC short story competition. Originally, Clarke was going to write the screenplay for the film, but Kubrick suggested during one of their brainstorming meetings that before beginning on the actual script, they should let their imaginations soar free by writing a novel first, which the film would be based on upon its completion. 'This is more or less the way it worked out, though toward the end, novel and screenplay were being written simultaneously, with feedback in both directions. Thus I rewrote some sections after seeing the movie rushes -- a rather expensive method of literary creation, which few other authors can have enjoyed.' The novel ended up being published a few months after the release of the movie" (Wikipedia article on Arthur C. Clarke, accessed 05-24-2009).

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Philip K. Dick Imagines Replicants 1968

In 1968 American writer Philip K. Dick published his science fiction novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It told of the moral crisis of Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who stalked androids—robots visually identifical to people—in a fall-out clouded, dystopic, partially deserted San Francisco.

In 1982 the novel was brought to the screen as Blade Runner, with its location changed to Los Angeles. 

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Cybernetic Serendipity: The First Widely-Attended International Exhibition of Computer Art August 2 – October 20, 1968

From August 2  to October 20, 1968 Cybernetic Serendipity: The Computer and the Arts was exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, curated by British art critic, editor, and Assistant Director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts Jasia Reichardt, at the suggestion of Max Bense. This was the first widely attended international exhibition of computer art, and the first exhibition to attempt to demonstrate all aspects of computer-aided creative activity: art, music, poetry, dance, sculpture, animation.

In the video below Jasia Reichardt introduced the exhibition:

"It drew together 325 participants from many countries; attendance figures reached somewhere between 45,000 and 60,000 (accounts differ) and it received wide and generally positive press coverage ranging from the Daily Mirror newspaper to the fashion magazine Vogue. A scaled-down version toured to the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC and then the Exploratorium, the museum of science, art and human perception in San Francisco. It took Reichardt three years of fundraising, travelling and planning" (Mason, a computer in the art room. the origins of british computer arts 1950-80 [2008] 101-102)

For the catalogue of the show Reichardt edited a special issue of Studio International magazine, consisting of 100 pages with 300 images, publication of which coincided with the exhibition in 1968. The color frontispiece reproduced a color computer graphic by the American John C. Mott-Smith "made by time-lapse photography successively exposed through coloured filters, of an oscilloscope connected to a computer." The cover of the special issue was designed by the Polish-British painter, illustrator, film-maker, and stage designer Franciszka Themerson, incorporating computer graphics from the exhibition. Laid into copies of the special issue were 4 leaves entitled "Cybernetic Serendipity Music," each page providing a program for one of eight tapes of music played during the show. This information presumably was not available in time to be printed in the issue of Studio International.

Reichardt's Introduction  (p. 5) included the following:

"The exhibition is divided into three sections, and these sections are represented in the catalogue in a different order:

"1. Computer-generated graphics, computer-animated films, computer-composed and -played music, and computer poems and texts.

"2. Cybernetic devices as works of art, cybernetic enironments, remoted-control robots and painting machines.

"3. Machines demonstrating the uses of computers and an environment dealing with the history of cybernetics.

"Cybernetic Sernedipity deals with possibilites rather than achievements, and in this sense it is prematurely optimistic. There are no heroic claims to be made because computers have so far neither revolutionized music, nor art, nor poetry, the same way that they have revolutionized science.

"There are two main points which make this exhibition and this catalogue unusual in the contexts in which art exhibitions and catalogues are normally seen. The first is that no visitor to the exhibition, unless he reads all the notes relating to all the works, will know whether he is looking at something made by an artist, engineer, mathematician, or architect. Nor is it particularly important to know the background of all the makers of the various robots, machines and graphics- it will not alter their impact, although it might make us see them differently.

"The other point is more significant.

"New media, such as plastics, or new systems such as visual music notation and the parameters of concrete poetry, inevitably alter the shape of art, the characteristics of music, and content of poetry. New possibilities extend the range of expression of those creative poeple whom we identify as painters, film makers, composers and poets. It is very rare, however, that new media and new systems should bring in their wake new people to become involved in creative activity, be it composiing music drawing, constructing or writing.

"This has happened with the advent of computers. The engineers for whom the graphic plotter driven by a computer represented nothing more than a means of solving certain problems visually, have occasionally become so interested in the possibilities of this visual output, that they have started to make drawings which bear no practical application, and for which the only real motives are the desire to explore, and the sheer pelasure of seeing a drawing materialize. Thus people who would never have put pencil to paper, or brush to canvas, have started making images, both still and animated, which approximate and often look identical to what we call 'art' and put in public galleries.

"This is the most important single revelation of this exhibition." 

Some copies of the special issue were purchased by Motif Editions of London.  Those copies do not include the ICA logo on the upper cover and do not print the price of 25s. They also substitute two blanks for the two leaves of ads printed in the back of the regular issue. They do not include the separate 4 leaves of programs of computer music.  These special copies were sold by Motif Editions with a large  (75 x 52 cm) portfolio containing seven 30 x 20 inch color lithographs with a descriptive table of contents. The artists included Masao Komura/Makoto Ohtake/Koji Fujino (Computer Technique Group); Masao Komura/Kunio Yamanaka (Computer Technique Group); Maugham S. Mason, Boeing Computer Graphics; Kerry Starnd, Charles "Chuck" Csuri/James Shaffer & Donald K. Robbins/ The art works were titled respectively 'Running Cola is Africa', 'Return to Square', 'Maughanogram', 'Human Figure', 'The Snail', 'Random War' & '3D Checkerboard Pattern'.  Copies of the regular edition contained a full-page ad for the Motif Editions portfolio for sale at £5 plus postage or £1 plus postage for individual prints.

In 1969 Frederick A. Praeger Publishers of New York and Washington, DC issued a cloth-bound second edition of the Cybernetic Serendipity catalogue with a dust jacket design adapted from the original Studio International cover. It was priced $8.95. The American edition probably coincided with the exhibition of the material at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. The Praeger edition included an index on p. 101, and no ads. Comparison of the text of the 1968 and 1969 editions shows that the 1969 edition contains numerous revisions and changes.

In 2005 Jasia Reichardt looked back on the exhibition with these comments:

"One of the journals dealing with the Computer and the Arts in the mid-sixties, was Computers and the Humanities. In September 1967, Leslie Mezei of the University of Toronto, opened his article on 'Computers and the Visual Arts' in the September issue, as follows: 'Although there is much interest in applying the computer to various areas of the visual arts, few real accomplishments have been recorded so far. Two of the causes for this lack of progress are technical difficulty of processing two-dimensional images and the complexity and expense of the equipment and the software. Still the current explosive growth in computer graphics and automatic picture processing technology are likely to have dramatic effects in this area in the next few years.' The development of picture processing technology took longer than Mezei had anticipated, partly because both the hardware and the software continued to be expensive. He also pointed out that most of the pictures in existence in 1967 were produced mainly as a hobby and he discussed the work of Michael Noll, Charles Csuri, Jack Citron, Frieder Nake, Georg Nees, and H.P. Paterson. All these names are familiar to us today as the pioneers of computer art history. Mezei himself too was a computer artist and produced series of images using maple leaf design and other national Canadian themes. Most of the computer art in 1967 was made with mechanical computer plotters, on CRT displays with a light pen or from scanned photographs. Mathematical equations that produced curves, lines or dots, and techniques to introduce randomness, all played their part in those early pictures. Art made with these techniques was instantaneously recognisable as having been produced either by mechanical means or with a program. It didn't actually look as if it had been done by hand. Then, and even now, most art made with the computer carries an indelible computer signature. The possibility of computer poetry and art was first mentioned in 1949. By the beginning of the 1950s it was a topic of conversation at universities and scientific establishments, and by the time computer graphics arrived on the scene, the artists were scientists, engineers, architects. Computer graphics were exhibited for the first time in 1965 in Germany and in America. 1965 was also the year when plans were laid for a show that later came to be called 'Cybernetic Serendipity' and presented at the ICA in London in 1968. It was the first exhibition to attempt to demonstrate all aspects of computer-aided creative activity: art, music, poetry, dance, sculpture, animation. The principal idea was to examine the role of cybernetics in contemporary arts. The exhibition included robots, poetry, music and painting machines, as well as all sorts of works where chance was an important ingredient. It was an intellectual exercise that became a spectacular exhibition in the summer of 1968" (http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/exhibitions/serendipity/images/1/, accessed 06-16-2012). This website reproduces photographs of the actual exhibition and a poster printed for the show.

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1970 – 1980

John B. Smith's Early Attempts at "Computer Criticism" of Literature 1973 – 1978

In 1978 American computer scientist John B. Smith, then of the Pennsylvania State University, theorized how computers could be used to study literature in "Computer Criticism," STYLE XII.4 (1978) 326-56. In this paper Smith proposed that algorithms or manual encoding could be used to create layers that represent structures in texts. These layers would be like the layer of imagery that he extracted and discussed in his earlier paper, "Image and Imagery in Joyce's Portrait: A Computer-Assisted Analysis," published in Directions in Literary Criticism: Contemporary Approaches to Literature. Eds. Weintraub & Young (1973) 220-27. Smith did not call these models, but they may be viewed as a form of surrogate that can be studied and compared to other surrogates. In his 1978 paper, “Computer Criticism,” Smith provided some visualizations of extracted features that showed some of the pioneering ways he was modelling texts.

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Fictional Vision of the Electronic Book and the Internet 1978 – 1979

In March and April 1978 English writer Douglas Adams began a series for BBC Radio 4 entitled The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

This program, and the novel by Adams with the same name published in 1979, featured a fictional electronic reference book containing all knowledge in the galaxy, plus much more. As Adams conceived it, this vast amount of data could be fit into something the size of a large paperback book, with updates received over the "Sub-Etha"—possibly a play on ethernet, which in turn is a play on the concept of the aether. Adams's book and/or the radio series was adapted for television  broadcast in January and February 1981 on UK television station BBC Two:

"The Guide is described as resembling 'a small, thin, flexible lap computer' encased in a 'sturdy plastic cover' with the words 'Don't Panic' inscribed on it 'in large, friendly letters'. It is presumably of robust construction, making it able to withstand falling through time/space wormholes and being thrown into swamps, being rescued, and still operating. Arthur Dent's copy survived a spaceship crash which melted the ship into something unrecognizable yet the Guide (and on-board entertainment system) survived. Its entries are arranged alphabetically on the screen and accessed via typing entry codes on a keyboard; 'Earth' is on the same page as 'Eccentrica Gallumbits, the Triple-Breasted Whore of Eroticon 6.'

"In the film [2005] the Guide is depicted as a large metal book with a large screen instead of pages. Entries here are reached by voice activation (e.g. saying the word 'Vogon' will bring up the article on Vogons, etc.) The visual graphics of the guide entries here were animated by Shynola" (Wikipedia article on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (fictonal), accessed 11-08-2013).

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1980 – 1990

Umberto Eco Publishes "The Name of the Rose" 1980 – 1983

In 1980 Italian medievalist, semiotician, philosopher, literary critic and novelist Umberto Eco published Il nome della rosa.  The English translation by William Weaver appeared in 1983 under the tile of The Name of the Rose. It is an intellectual murder mystery, combining semiotics, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory, set in an Italian monastery patterned after the abbey and library at Bobbio, Italy, in 1327. Just a few of the appealing aspects of the plot, without a "spoiler," include an unknown treatise by Aristotle, On Laughter, a mysterious labyrinthine library, a medieval monk detective patterned after Sherlock Holmes, narration by a "sidekick" patterned after Dr. Watson, and many other features of interest to readers of this database. The title of the novel alludes to the literary tradition of Le Roman de la Rose.

This novel clearly attracted numerous contributors to the Wikipedia, and their articles both on Eco and The Name of the Rose provide such detailed and insightful analysis that it would be pointless to summarize. Instead I recommend that you follow the links for further information, and read the book if it suits your taste.

In 1983 Eco published an informative small illustrated book explaining aspects of the novel entitled Positille a Il nome della rosa. This was also translated into English by William Weaver as Postscript to the Name of the Rose, and published in 1984. I found reading Eco's Postscript very worthwhile.

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"Blade Runner" 1982

The 1982 science fiction film Blade Runnerstarring Harrison Ford and directed by Ridley Scott, loosely based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, depicted a dreary, rainy, and polluted Los Angeles in 2019. In the film genetically manufactured, bioengineered biorobots called replicants—visually indistinguishable from adult humans—are used for dangerous and degrading work in Earth's "off-world colonies."  After a minor replicant uprising, replicants are banned on Earth; and specialist police units called "blade runners" are trained to hunt down and "retire" (kill) escaped replicants on Earth.

The film, which  became a cult classic for many reasons, including its unique sets, lighting, costumes and visual effects, is considered the last great science fiction film in which the special effects were produced entirely through analog, rather than digital or computer graphics methods, using elaborate model-making, multiple exposures, etc.

Scott's original director's cut of the film was first issued as a DVD in 1999. In 2007 the so-called "Final Cut" with a great deal of supplementary material, including three previous versions of the film, and a "definitive" documentary, even longer than the original film, was issued on DVD and Blu-ray. The documentary, and the collection of versions of the film, presented a superb opportunity to gain insight into way that Ridley Scott created a film.

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William Gibson Coins the Word Cyberspace July 1982

In July 1982 American-Canadian writer William Gibson coined the word "cyberspace" in his story, Burning Chrome, published in Omni magazine.

"It tells the story of two hackers who hack systems for profit. The two main characters are Bobby Quine who specializes in software and Automatic Jack whose field is hardware. A third character in the story is Rikki, a girl with whom Bobby becomes infatuated and for whom he wants to hit it big. Automatic Jack acquires a piece of Russian hacking software that is very sophisticated and hard to trace. The rest of the story unfolds with Bobby deciding to break into the system of a notorious and vicious criminal called Chrome, who handles money transfers for organized crime, and Automatic Jack reluctantly agreeing to help. One line from this story — "...the street finds its own uses for things" — has become a widely-quoted aphorism for describing the sometimes unexpected uses to which users can put technologies (for example, hip-hop DJs' reinvention of the turntable, which transformed turntables from a medium of playback into one of production)" (Wikipedia article on Hackers (anthology), accessed 11-26-2010).

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The Earliest Fictional Treatment of Word Processing by a Prominent Literary Author January 1983

A short story by American novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, columnist, actor, television producer, film director Stephen King published in the January 1983 issue of Playboy Magazine, under the title of "The Word Processor", may be the earliest fictional treatment of word processing by a prominent literary author. This story, which King wrote on a Wang dedicated word processing microcomputer known as the Wang System 5, was later retitled "Word Processor of the Gods."

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"Cyberspace" Popularized 1984

In 1984 American-Canadian writer William Gibson popularized the term “cyberspace” in his cyberpunk novel Neuromancer.

"The portion of Neuromancer cited in this respect is usually the following:

"Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts... A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.

" . . . . Gibson later commented on the origin of the term in the 2000 documentary No Maps for These Territories:

All I knew about the word "cyberspace" when I coined it, was that it seemed like an effective buzzword. It seemed evocative and essentially meaningless. It was suggestive of something, but had no real semantic meaning, even for me, as I saw it emerge on the page" (Wikipedia article on Cyberspace, accessed 11-26-2010).

Gibson coined the term cyberspace in his short story, Burning Chrome (1982).

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The First Book Written by a Computer Program 1984

Detail from cover of The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed, the first book written by a computer program.  Please click on image to see image of entire cover of book.

In 1984 American writer and programmer William Chamberlain of New York published The Policeman’s Beard is Half Constructed, a volume of prose and poetry that, except for Chamberlain's introduction, was entirely written by a computer program called RACTER that had been developed by Chamberlain with Thomas Etter. The program was given credit for authorship on the title page which read: The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed. Computer Prose and Poetry by Racter. Illustrations by Joan Hall. Introduction by William Chamberlain. The bright red cover of the paperback stated that this was "The First Book Ever Written by a Computer." It also called it "A Bizarre and Fantastic Journey into the Mind of a Machine." The blurb stated that the book contained:

"• Poetry and limericks

"• Imaginatige Dialogues

"• Aphorisms

"• Interviewss

"• The published short story , "Soft Ions" and more.

"You are about to enter a strange, deranged, and awesome world of images and fantasies– the 'thoughts' of the most advanced prose-creating computer program today."

The program, the name of which was an abbreviation for raconteur, could generate grammatically consistent sentences with the help of a pre-coded grammar template. Although certainly readable in the sense that each sentence displayed a competent grammar, any anxiety that the program could replace human authors would have been put to rest after a single glance at the computer-generated narrative:

"At all events my own essays and dissertations about love and its endless pain and perpetual pleasure will be known and understood by all of you who read this and talk or sing or chant about it to your worried friends or nervous enemies. Love is the question and the subject of this essay. We will commence with a question: does steak love lettuce? This question is implacably hard and inevitably difficult to answer. Here is a question: does an electron love a proton, or does it love a neutron? Here is a question: does a man love a woman or, to be specific and to be precise, does Bill love Diane? The interesting and critical response to this question is: no! He is obsessed and infatuated with her. He is loony and crazy about her. That is not the love of steak and lettuce, of electron and proton and neutron. This dissertation will show that the love of a man and a woman is not the love of steak and lettuce. Love is interesting to me and fascinating to you but it is painful to Bill and Diane. That is love!" 

According to Chamberlain's introduction to the book, RACTER ran on a CP/M machine. It was written in "compiled BASIC on a Z80 micro with 64K of RAM." 

The book was imaginatively published by Warner Books, extensively illustrated with black and white collages combining 19th century imagery with computer graphics by New York artist Joan Hall.

Describing the "author," the book stated on its first preliminary page:

"The Author: Racter (the name is short for raconteur) is the most highly developed artificial writer in the field of prose synthesis today. Fundamentally different from artifical intelligence programming, which tries to replicate human thinking, Racter can write original work without promptings from a human operator. And according to its programmer, 'Once it's running, Racter needs no input from the outside world. It's just cooking by itself.' Racter's work has appeared in OMNI magazine and in 1983 was the subject of a special exhibit at the Whitney Museum in New York. Now at work on a first novel, Racter operates on an IMS computer in New York's Greenwich Village, where it shares an apartment with a human computer programmer."

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The Perseus Digital Library Project at Tufts University Begins 1985

The Perseus Digital Library Project began at Tufts University, Medford/Somerville, Massachusetts in 1985. Though the project was ostensibly about Greek and Roman literature and culture, it evolved into an exploration of the ways that digital collections could enhance scholarship with new research tools that took libraries and scholarship beyond the physical book. The following quote came from their website around 2010:

"Since planning began in 1985, the Perseus Digital Library Project has explored what happens when libraries move online. Two decades later, as new forms of publication emerge and millions of books become digital, this question is more pressing than ever. Perseus is a practical experiment in which we explore possibilities and challenges of digital collections in a networked world.

"Our flagship collection, under development since 1987, covers the history, literature and culture of the Greco-Roman world. We are applying what we have learned from Classics to other subjects within the humanities and beyond. We have studied many problems over the past two decades, but our current research centers on personalization: organizing what you see to meet your needs.

"We collect texts, images, datasets and other primary materials. We assemble and carefully structure encyclopedias, maps, grammars, dictionaries and other reference works. At present, 1.1 million manually created and 30 million automatically generated links connect the 100 million words and 75,000 images in the core Perseus collections. 850,000 reference articles provide background on 450,000 people, places, organizations, dictionary definitions, grammatical functions and other topics."

In December 2013 I found this description of their activities on their website:

"Perseus has a particular focus upon the Greco-Roman world and upon classical Greek and Latin, but the larger mission provides the distant, but fixed star by which we have charted our path for over two decades. Early modern English, the American Civil War, the History and Topography of London, the History of Mechanics, automatic identification and glossing of technical language in scientific documents, customized reading support for Arabic language, and other projects that we have undertaken allow us to maintain a broader focus and to demonstrate the commonalities between Classics and other disciplines in the humanities and beyond. At a deeper level, collaborations with colleagues outside of classical studies make good on the claim that a classical education generally provides those critical skills and that intellectual adaptability that we claim to instill in our students. We offer the combination of classical and non-classical projects that we pursue as one answer to those who worry that a classical education will leave them or their children with narrow, idiosyncratic skills.

"Within this larger mission, we focus on three categories of access:

Human readable information: digitized images of objects, places, inscriptions, and printed pages, geographic information, and other digital representations of objects and spaces. This layer of functionality allows us to call up information relevant to a longitude and latitude coordinate or a library call number. In this stage digital representations provide direct access to the physical senses of actual people in particular places and times. In some cases (such as high resolution, multi-spectral imaging), digital sources already provide better physical access than has ever been feasible when human beings had direct contact with the physical artifact.

"Machine actionable knowledge: catalogue records, encyclopedia articles, lexicon entries, and other structured information sources. Physical access can serve our senses but provides no information about what we are encountering - in effect, physical access is like visiting a historical site about which we may know nothing and where any visible documentation is in a language that we cannot understand. Machine actionable knowledge allows us to retrieve information about what we are viewing. Thus, if we encounter a page from a Greek manuscript of Homer, we could at this stage find cleanly printed modern editions of the Greek, modern language translations, commentaries and other background information about the passage on that manuscript page. If we moved through a virtual Acropolis, we could retrieve background information about the buildings and the sculpture.

"Machine generated knowledge: By analyzing existing information automated systems can produce new knowledge. Machine actionable knowledge allows, for example, us to look up a dictionary entry (e.g., facio, "to do, make") in a dictionary or to find pre-existing translations for a passage in Latin or Greek. Machine generated knowledge allows a machine to recognize that fecisset is a pluperfect subjunctive form of facio and to provide reading support where there is no pre-existing human translation. Such reading support might include full machine translation but also finer grained services such as word and phrase translation (e.g., recognizing whetherorationes in a given context more likely corresponds to English "speeches," "prayers" or some other term), syntactic analysis (e.g., recognizing that orationes in a given passage is the object of a given verb), named entity identification (e.g., identifying Antonium in a given passage as a personal name and then as a reference to Antonius the triumvir)." 

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Probably the Best Book History and Library Film Set in the Middle Ages 1986

The Name of the Rose, a 1986 German-French-Italian film made in English based on the novel by Umberto Eco, was directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, and starred Sean Connery and Christian Slater. Exterior sets were built outside of Rome; most interior scenes were filmed in Eberbach Abbey, Eltville am Rhein, Germany. Production was by Constantin Film, Frankfurt, Germany.

Though the film enjoyed good sales in Europe, it was a financial flop in the U.S where interest in medieval culture is more limited. In my opinion this film is an excellent adaptation of the novel even though the inevitable simplication of the story line was necessary. It may be the best book history and library film set in the Middle Ages. It was later issued on DVD and Blu-ray with a fascinating commentary by the director.

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John Burrows Founds Computational Sylistics 1987

In 1987 John Burrows of the University of Newcastle, Callaghan, New South Wales, Australia, published Computation into Criticism: A Study of Jane Austen's Novels and an Experiment in Method. This work, which showed that a quantitative study of function word use can reveal subtle and powerful patterns in language, founded computational stylistics, and pioneered the application of principal component analysis (PCA) to language data.

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The First Hypertext Fiction: "Afternoon, a story" 1987 – 1990

In 1987 American author, critic, and professor of English and media studies at Vassar College Michael Joyce composed Afternoon, a story. This was first offered to the public as a demonstration of the hypertext authoring system Storyspace announced in 1987 at the first Association for Computing Machinery Hypertext conference in a paper by Michael Joyce and Jay David Bolter. In 1990, Afternoon, a story was published on diskette and distributed by Eastgate Systems, producers of Storyspace. 

Afternoon, a story is considered the first hypertext fiction (hyperfiction) a non-linear, interactive electronic literary form as compared to traditional linear fiction. Hypertext fiction was preceded by nonlinear printed narratives such as James Joyce's Ulysses (1922) in which a nonlinear narrative and interactive narrative was achieved through internal references within the printed text.

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1990 – 2000

Visions of a Metaverse June 1992

In 1992 American writer Neal Stephenson published the science fiction novel, Snow Crash. In it he coined the term Metaverse to describe "how a virtual reality-based Internet might evolve in the future."

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The Electronic Beowulf 1993

In 1993 the British Library and Kevin S. Kiernan at the University of Kentucky embarked on the Electronic Beowulf project, an effort to photograph and publish high resolution electronic copies of the manuscript. The Electronic Beowulf was a pioneering effort in the digital preservation, restoration, and dissemination of manuscript material.

"The equipment we are using to capture the images is the Roche/Kontron ProgRes 3012 digital camera, which can scan any text, from a letter or a word to an entire page, at 2000 x 3000 pixels in 24-bit color. The resulting images at this maximum resolution are enormous, about 21-25 MB, and tax the capabilities of the biggest machines. Three or four images - three or four letters or words if that is what we are scanning - will fill up an 88 MB hard disk, and we have found that no single image of this size can be processed in real time without at least 64 MB of RAM. In our first experiments in June with the camera and its dedicated hardware, we transmitted a half-dozen images by phone line from the Conservation Studio of the British Library to the Wenner Gren Imaging Laboratory at the University of Kentucky, where identical hardware was set up to receive the data. Most of these images are now available on the Internet through anonymous ftp or Mosaic."

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Jurassic Park, the First Film to Integrate CGI and Animatronic figures into Live Action Scenes 1993

In 1993 Steven Spielberg directed the science fiction techno-thriller film Jurassic Park, based on the novel by Michael Crichton, and adapted by Crichton for the screen. It was produced by Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, Universal City, California. With gross sales of $914,000,000 when released, Jurassic Park was also among the highest-grossing and most profitable films ever made.

The plot of Jurassic Park centered around the possibility of re-creating dinosaurs by

"cloning genetic material found in mosquitoes that fed on dinosaur blood, preserved in Dominican amber. The DNA from these samples was spliced with DNA from frogs to fill in sequence gaps. Only female dinosaurs are created in order to prevent uncontrolled breeding within the park" (Wikipedia article on Jurassic Park [film], accessed 05-25-2009)

This was the first film to integrate computer generated images and animatronic dinosaurs seemlessly into live action scenes.

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The Matrix: Referencing Cyberpunk and Hacker Cultures 1999

The Matrix, a 1999 science fiction-martial arts-action film,

"describes a future in which reality perceived by humans is actually the Matrix: a simulated reality created by sentient machines in order to pacify and subdue the human population while their bodies' heat and electrical activity are used as an energy source. Upon learning this, computer programmer "Neo" is drawn into a rebellion against the machines. The film contains many references to the cyberpunk and hacker subcultures; philosophical and religious ideas; and homages to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Hong Kong action cinema, Spaghetti Westerns, and Japanese animation" (Wikipedia article on The Matrix, accessed 12-23-2008).

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"The World Wide Web is the only thing I know of whose shortened form takes three times longer to say than what it is short for." 1999

"The World Wide Web is the only thing I know of whose shortened
 form takes three times longer to say than what it's short for." --

This quote by English writer, humorist and dramatist Douglas Adams was penned in November of 1999 for his Sunday regular column in The Independent. On March 17, 2000 Adams posted the column on his website, h2g2.com., The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Earth Edition at this link (accessed 03-14-2014). In May 2002, one year after Adams' early death at the age of 49, the column was published in print in The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time, a posthumous collection of Adams's writings.

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2000 – 2005

Stephen King's "Experiment in Alternate Forms of Distribution" 2000

After his problematic experience in earlier in 2000 with the electronic distribution of his e-book novella, Riding the Bullet, Stephen King decided to release serial installments of his epistolary novel, The Plant, directly from his website in Bangor, Maine, and unencrypted. 

"People could pay a one-dollar fee for each installment using the honor system. He threatened, however, to drop the project if the percentage of paying readers fell below 75 percent. He viewed the release as an experiment in alternate forms of distribution, writing on his website at the time, 'My friends, we have the chance to become Big Publishing's worst nightmare.' More than 200,000 customers downloaded free copies of the story in a 24-hour promotion through the Barnes and Noble book-selling site.

"The book received more than the desired 75 percent for its first installment, but it fell to 70 percent after installment two. With the third installment, the numbers surged back to 75 percent. All told, after six installments, King revealed that he'd made nearly half a million dollars from the release of The Plant in what has been called his e-book experiment. King decided to double the cost of the fourth part of the novel to $2, while at the same time doubling the number of pages to 54. He also promised to cap the cost of the entire book at a total of $13. Paying readers dropped to 46 percent of downloads. The number of downloads decreased overall as well.

"The last installment was published on December 18, 2000. The book is yet to be completed. The original installments are now available for free on Stephen King's official website" (Wikipedia article on The Plant, accessed 10-19-2013).

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The First Mass-Market E-Book + A Video Interview March 14, 2000 – 2010

On March 24, 2000 American author of contemporary horror, suspense, science fiction and fantasy Stephen King first published a novella entitled Riding the Bullet as an electronic book through Simon & Schuster, using technology by Softlock. Available for $2.50, it was the first mass-market e-book. However, there were technical problems with downloading, and hackers eventually cracked the encryption.

"During the first 24 hours, over 400,000 copies of 'Riding the Bullet' were downloaded, jamming SoftLock's server. Some Stephen King fans waited hours for the download.

"With over 500,000 downloads, Stephen King seemed to pave the way of the publishing future. The actual number of readers was unclear because the encryption caused countless computers to crash.

"The financial success of the electronic publication was doubtful. Initially offered at $2.50 by SoftLock and Simon & Schuster, Amazon and Barnes and Noble gave free downloads.

"A movie adaptation of the story, starring Jonathan Jackson and David Arquette, was released in 2004" (Wikipedia article on Riding the Bullet, accessed 10-19-2013).

♦In 2010 Stephen King was interviewed on CNN about the present state and future of books and ebooks:

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The Film: "A. I. Artificial Intelligence" 2001

Steven Spielberg

The movie poster for A.I. Artificial Intelligence

Stanley Kubrick

In 2001 American director, screen writer and film producer Steven Spielberg directed, co-authored and produced, through DreamWorks and Amblin Entertainment, the science fiction film A.I. Artificial Intelligence, telling the story of David, an android robot child programmed with the ability to love and to dream. The film explored the hopes and fears involved with efforts to simulate human thought processes, and the social consequences of creating robots that may be better than people at specialized tasks.

The film was a 1970s project of Stanley Kubrick, who eventually turned it over to Spielberg. The project languished in development hell for nearly three decades before technology advanced sufficiently for a successful production. The film required enormously complex puppetry, computer graphics, and make-up prosthetics, which are well-described and explained in the supplementary material in the two-disc special edition of the film issued on DVD in 2002.

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"Minority Report": The Movie 2002

Steven Spielberg

The movie poster for Minority Report

The cover art for Minority Report by Philip Dick

Philip Dick

Steven Spielberg directed the science fiction 2002 film Minority Report, loosely based on the short story, "The Minority Report" by Philip K. Dick.

"It is set primarily in Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia in the year 2054, where "Precrime", a specialized police department, apprehends criminals based on foreknowledge provided by three psychics called 'precogs'. The cast includes Tom Cruise as Precrime officer John Anderton, Colin Farrell as Department of Justice agent Danny Witwer, Samantha Morton as the senior precog Agatha, and Max von Sydow as Anderton's superior Lamar Burgess. The film has a distinctive look, featuring desaturated colors that make it almost resemble a black-and-white film, yet the blacks and shadows have a high contrast, resembling film noir."

"Some of the technologies depicted in the film were later developed in the real world – for example, multi-touch interfaces are similar to the glove-controlled interface used by Anderton. Conversely, while arguing against the lack of physical contact in touch screen phones, PC Magazine's Sascha Segan argued in February 2009, 'This is one of the reasons why we don't yet have the famous Minority Report information interface. In that movie, Tom Cruise donned special gloves to interact with an awesome PC interface where you literally grab windows and toss them around the screen. But that interface is impractical without the proper feedback—without actually being able to feel where the edges of the windows are' " (Wikipedia article on Minority Report [film] accessed 05-25-2009).

The two-disc special edition of the film issued on DVD in 2002 contained excellent supplementary material on the special digital effects.

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Working Around Chinese Censorship of Literary Works 2002

Author Hao Qun, known by the pen name Murong Xuecun

In 2002 Chinese novelist Hao Qun, under the pen name Murong Xuecun, published his first novel, Chengdu, Please Forget Me Tonight, on the website tianya.cn

"Mr. Murong owes his commercial success to the fact that he has found ways to practice his art and build a fan base on the Internet, outside the more heavily policed print industry.

"He addresses political issues on both a blog and a microblog account that resembles Twitter, which has nearly 1.1 million followers. He posts his novels chapter by chapter or in sections online under different pseudonyms as he writes. This Dickens-style serialization generates buzz, and the writing evolves with reader feedback. Once the book is finished or nearly so, Mr. Murong signs with a publisher. The censored print editions make money, but the Internet versions are more complete" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/07/world/asia/murong-xuecun-pushes-censorship-limits-in-china.html?hp, accessed 11-10-2011).

The uncensored version of Murong's novel was translated into English by Harvey Thomlinson, and published in 2010 as Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu.

"Thirty-six year old Murong - Chinese literary superstar and reclusive celebrity - twenty eight and working as a sales manager in the car industry when he started posting his first novel Chengdu Please Forget Me Tonight on the internet. In 2002 it became a cult hit amongst young middle class Chinese looking for writing that pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable literature. Chengdu Please Forget Me Tonight was eventually posted on almost all of China's online bulletin boards, and attracted around 5 million online readers. Thousands of web commentaries and impassioned debates about the book appeared, while 'formal' commentaries and critiques amounted to more than 50,000 words. The novel won Murong the New Periodical 'Person of the Year', Xinliang website's 'Most popular novel', and the China Literary Journal's 2003 literature prize" (Amazon.com, accessed 11-10-2011).

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The First Cell Phone Novel 2003

The codex form of a Japanese cell phone novel.

An example of cover art for Deep Love

Under the  pen name  "Yoshi," in 2003 a Tokyo man published the first cell phone novelDeep Love— the story of a teenage prostitute in Tokyo. Deep Love

"became so popular that it was published as an actual book, with 2.6 million copies sold in Japan, then spun off into a television series, a manga, and a movie. The cell phone novel became a hit mainly through word of mouth and gradually started to gain traction in China and South Korea among young adults. In Japan, several sites offer large prizes to authors (up to $100,000 US) and purchase the publishing rights to the novel."

"Cell phone or mobile phone novels called keitai shousetsu in Japanese, are the first literary genre to emerge from the cellular age via text messaging. Phone novels started out primarily read and authored by young Japanese women, on the subject of romantic fiction such as relationships, lovers, rape, love triangles, and pregnancy. However, mobile phone novels are trickling their way to a worldwide popularity on all subjects. Japanese ethos of the Internet regarding mobile phone novels are dominated by false names and forged identities. Therefore, identities of the Japanese authors of mobile phone novels are rarely disclosed. 'Net transvestites' are of the most extreme play actors of the sort. Differing from regular novels, mobile phone novels may be structured according to the author's preference. If a couple is fighting in the story, the author may choose to have the lines closely spaced and crowded. On the contrary, if the author writes a calm or soothing poem the line spacing may be further apart than normal. Overall, the line spacing of phone novels contains enough blank space for an easy read. Phone novels are meant to be read in 1,000 to 2,000-word (in China) or 70-word (in Japan) chapters via text message on mobile phones. They are downloaded in short installments and run on handsets as Java-based applications on a mobile phone. Cell phone novels often appear in three different formats: WMLD, JAVA and TXT. Maho i-Land is the largest cell phone novel site that carries more than a million titles, mainly novice writers, all which are available for free. Maho iLand provides templates for blogs and homepages. It is visited 3.5 billion times each month. In 2007 98 cell phone novels were published into books. "Love Sky" is a popular phone novel with approximately 12 million views on-line, written by "Mika", that was not only published but turned into a movie. www.textnovel.com is another popular mobile phone novel site, however, in English."

"Five out of the ten best selling novels in Japan in 2007 were originally cell phone novels" (Wikipedia article on Cell phone novel, accessed 08-23-2009).

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The First Attempt to "Establish the Geneology of the Computer as an Expressive Medium" in a Single Volume 2003

In 2003 computer scientist Noah Wardrip-Fruin of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Nick Montfort, professor of digital media at MIT issued The New Media Reader, with introductions by Janet H. Murray of Georgia Institute of Technology and Lev Manovich, then professor at the University of California at San Diego.

This anthology represented the first attempt to present in a single volume significant representative documents covering the wide range of digital media. As Janet Murray wrote in her introduction, "This a landmark volume, marking the first comprehensive effort at establishing the geneology of the computer as an expressive medium." The 823-page physical volume, designed by Michael Crumpton, and published by MIT Press, was innovative several ways: most notably through the use of special symbols in the text and the margins that directed the reader to cross-references throughout the book— a kind of physical hypertext. The anthology also contained a CD-ROM containing programs, videos, games, interactive fiction and games.

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2005 – 2010

300,000,000 Printed Copies of Harry Potter October 5, 2005

J.K. Rowling

The Harry Potter series

On October 5, 2005 Global sales of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter book series surpassed 300,000,000 printed copies.

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The Film "Avatar" and Visions of Reality, Virtual and Otherwise December 10, 2009

Avatar, an American science fiction epic film written and directed by film director, producer, screenwriter, editor, and inventor James Cameron, and starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez and Stephen Lang, was first released in London On December 10, 2009 by Twentieth Century Fox, headquartered in Century City, Los Angeles.

"The film is set in the year 2154 on Pandora, a moon in the Alpha Centauri star system. Humans are engaged in mining Pandora's reserves of a precious mineral, while the Na'vi—a race of indigenous humanoids—resist the colonists' expansion, which threatens the continued existence of the Na'vi and the Pandoran ecosystem. The film's title refers to the genetically engineered bodies used by the film's characters to interact with the Na'vi.

"Avatar had been in development since 1994 by Cameron, who wrote an 80-page scriptment for the film. Filming was supposed to take place after the completion of Titanic, and the film would have been released in 1999, but according to Cameron, 'technology needed to catch up' with his vision of the film. In early 2006, Cameron developed the script, as well as the language and culture of the Na'vi. He said sequels would be possible if Avatar was successful, and in response to the film's success, confirmed that there will be another two.

"The film was released in traditional 2-D, as well as 3-D, RealD 3D, Dolby 3D, and IMAX 3D formats. Avatar is officially budgeted at $237 million; other estimates put the cost at $280–310 million to produce and $150 million for marketing. The film is being touted as a breakthrough in terms of filmmaking technology, for its development of 3D viewing and stereoscopic filmmaking with cameras that were specially designed for the film's production.

"Avatar premiered in London, UK on December 10, 2009, and was released on December 18, 2009 in the US and Canada to critical acclaim and commercial success. It grossed $27 million on its opening day domestically (in the United States and Canada) and $77 million domestically on its opening weekend. It opened two days earlier internationally and grossed $232 million worldwide in its first five days of international release. Within three weeks of its release, with a worldwide gross of over $1 billion, Avatar became the second highest-grossing film of all time worldwide, exceeded only by Cameron's previous film, Titanic" (Wikipedia article on Avatar (2009 film), accessed 01-16-2010).

♦ From my perspective the most significant aspect of Avatar, apart from its breathtaking computer graphic animation, and the fascinating artificial culture and language of the Na'vi, was the convincing portrayal of a total virtual reality experience, and the interplay between virtual reality, the reality of earth-born humans, some of whom animated the avatars, and the different reality of the Na'vi. The film presented visions of a reality that I could not have imagined before viewing. In its presentation of new views of reality it is reminiscent of the 1982 film, Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott.

Another aspect of the film that was highly timely was its depiction of the struggle between destructive exploitation of natural resources versus living in harmony with nature.

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2010 – 2012

Bestsellers on eBook Readers: Romance Novels December 9, 2010

According to an article published in The New York Times, at the end of 2010 one of the hottest selling fields in ebooks was romance novels, which were also top-sellers in paperback. It turns out that many buyers preferred ordering romance novels online in privacy to buying them in public locations such as drug stores where they might run into people they knew. Many also preferred to read these on an ebook reader, especially in public places like buses or trains, so they didn't have to expose the racy nature of the novels, typically advertised in the graphics on the covers of paperback editions.

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The Second Best-Selling Book in America Priced Like an App (99 Cents) February 25, 2011

The second best-selling book in America, a thriller by Lisa Gardner called Alone, first published in hardback in 2005 at a list price of $25, was made available in February 2011 as an ebook for $0.99.  The ebook sales of this novel drove driven it to the top of bestseller lists. 

"There are a few things going on here that are notable:

"1. Lisa Gardner's latest thriller hits shelves on March 8, so it's clear that her publisher decided to release this older title at a steep discount in order to generate buzz around this author.

"2. Books, like other media, are suddenly being priced like apps. This has far-reaching implications for how all media will be priced in the future, and could indicate a race to the bottom as consumers become increasingly unwilling to pay a premium for new titles when classics come cheap" (http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/mimssbits/26437/?nlid=4177, accessed 02-28-2011).

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"Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out": The New York Public Library Buys the Timothy Leary Papers June 2011

The New York Public Library purchased the library and papers of psychologist, writer and "psychodelic explorer" Timothy Leary for $900,000.

"A hugely controversial figure during the 1960s and 1970s, he defended the use of the drug LSD for its therapeutic, emotional and spiritual benefits, and believed it showed incredible potential in the field of psychiatry. Leary also popularized the phrase 'Turn on, tune in, drop out'. Both proved to be hugely influential on the 1960s counterculture. Largely due to his influence in this field, he was attacked by conservative figures in the United States, and described as 'the most dangerous man in America' by President Richard Nixon" (Wikipedia article on Timothy Leary, accessed 06-16-2011).

That an establishment institution would acquire Leary's papers at a significant cost shows both the insight of the acquisitions committee of the institution and the relatively short time in which it took society to appreciate Leary's central role in the historically significant aspects of the 1960s-1970s counterculture.

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"Distant Reading" Versus "Close Reading" June 24, 2011

Journalist Kathryn Schultz began publishing a column called The Mechanic Muse in The New York Times on applications of computing technology to scholarship about literature. Her first column, titled "What is Distant Reading?", concerned work to date by Stanford English and Comparative Literature professor Franco Moretti and team at the Stanford Literary Lab.

"We need distant reading, Moretti argues, because its opposite, close reading, can’t uncover the true scope and nature of literature. Let’s say you pick up a copy of 'Jude the Obscure,' become obsessed with Victorian fiction and somehow manage to make your way through all 200-odd books generally considered part of that canon. Moretti would say: So what? As many as 60,000 other novels were published in 19th-century England — to mention nothing of other times and places. You might know your George Eliot from your George Meredith, but you won’t have learned anything meaningful about literature, because your sample size is absurdly small. Since no feasible amount of reading can fix that, what’s called for is a change not in scale but in strategy. To understand literature, Moretti argues, we must stop reading books.

"The Lit Lab seeks to put this controversial theory into practice (or, more aptly, this practice into practice, since distant reading is less a theory than a method). In its January pamphlet, for instance, the team fed 30 novels identified by genre into two computer programs, which were then asked to recognize the genre of six additional works. Both programs succeeded — one using grammatical and semantic signals, the other using word frequency. At first glance, that’s only medium-interesting, since people can do this, too; computers pass the genre test, but fail the 'So what?' test. It turns out, though, that people and computers identify genres via very different features. People recognize, say, Gothic literature based on castles, revenants, brooding atmospheres, and the greater frequency of words like 'tremble' and 'ruin.' Computers recognize Gothic literature based on the greater frequency of words like . . . 'the. Now, that’s interesting. It suggests that genres 'possess distinctive features at every possible scale of analysis.' More important for the Lit Lab, it suggests that there are formal aspects of literature that people, unaided, cannot detect.  

"The lab’s newest paper seeks to detect these hidden aspects in plots (primarily in Hamlet) by transforming them into networks. To do so, Moretti, the sole author, turns characters into nodes ('vertices' in network theory) and their verbal exchanges into connections ('edges'). A lot goes by the wayside in this transformation, including the content of those exchanges and all of Hamlet’s soliloquies (i.e., all interior experience); the plot, so to speak, thins. But Moretti claims his networks 'make visible specific ‘regions’ within the plot' and enable experimentation. (What happens to Hamlet if you remove Horatio?). . . ." (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/books/review/the-mechanic-muse-what-is-distant-reading.html?pagewanted=2, accessed 06-25-2011).

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Action Comics #1 Superman sells for $2.16 Million November 11 – November 30, 2011

A nearly pristine copy of the first issue of Action Comics, containing the first appearance of Superman, sold for $2.16 million. The copy, which may have been stolen from the collection of the actor Nicholas Cage, was graded at 9.0 on a scale of 1 to 10. The copy was auctioned starting November 11 online at www.comicconnect.com with a reserve price of $900,000. The auction sale was completed on November 30, 2011. Neither the name of the buyer nor seller was disclosed by the auction house.

Though 200,000 copies were printed, only about 100 copies of Action Comics No. 1 are believed to be in existence, and only a handful of those in good condition.  

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2012 – 2016

What Makes Spoken Lines in Movies Memorable? April 30, 2012

Sentences that endure in the public mind are evolutionary success stories, comparing “the fitness of language and the fitness of organisms.” On April 30, 2012 Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, Justin Cheng, Jon Kleinberg, and Lillian Lee of the Department of Computer Science at Cornell University published "You had me at hello: How phrasing affects memorability," arXiv: 1203.6360v2 [cs.CL] 30 Apr 2012, (accessed 01-27-2013). Using the "memorable quotes" selected from the Internet Movie Database or IMDb, and the number of times that a particular movie line appeared on the Internet, they compared the memorable lines to the complete scripts of the movies in which they appeared—about 1,000 movies

"To train their statistical algorithms on common sentence structure, word order and most widely used words, they fed their computers a huge archive of articles from news wires. The memorable lines consisted of surprising words embedded in sentences of ordinary structure. 'We can think of memorable quotes as consisting of unusual word choices built on a scaffolding of common part-of-speech patterns,' their study said.  

Consider the line 'You had me at hello,' from the movie 'Jerry McGuire.' It is, Mr. Kleinberg notes, basically the same sequence of parts of speech as the quotidian 'I met him in Boston.' Or consider this line from 'Apocalypse Now': 'I love the smell of napalm in the morning.'Only one word separates that utterance from this: 'I love the smell of coffee in the morning.'

"This kind of analysis can be used for all kinds of communications, including advertising. Indeed, Mr. Kleinberg’s group also looked at ad slogans. Statistically, the ones most similar to memorable movie quotes included 'Quality never goes out of style,' for Levi’s jeans, and 'Come to Marlboro Country,' for Marlboro cigarettes.  

"But the algorithmic methods aren’t a foolproof guide to real-world success. One ad slogan that didn’t fit well within the statistical parameters for memorable lines was the Energizer batteries catchphrase, 'It keeps going and going and going.'

"Quantitative tools in the humanities and the social sciences, as in other fields, are most powerful when they are controlled by an intelligent human. Experts with deep knowledge of a subject are needed to ask the right questions and to recognize the shortcomings of statistical models.  

“ 'You’ll always need both,' says Mr. [Matthew] Jockers, the literary quant. 'But we’re at a moment now when there is much greater acceptance of these methods than in the past. There will come a time when this kind of analysis is just part of the tool kit in the humanities, as in every other discipline' " (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/technology/literary-history-seen-through-big-datas-lens.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130127, accessed 01-27-2013).

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How eBooks Are Changing Fiction Writing and Publishing May 12, 2012

"For years, it was a schedule as predictable as a calendar: novelists who specialized in mysteries, thrillers and romance would write one book a year, output that was considered not only sufficient, but productive.

"But the e-book age has accelerated the metabolism of book publishing. Authors are now pulling the literary equivalent of a double shift, churning out short stories, novellas or even an extra full-length book each year.  

"They are trying to satisfy impatient readers who have become used to downloading any e-book they want at the touch of a button, and the publishers who are nudging them toward greater productivity in the belief that the more their authors’ names are out in public, the bigger stars they will become. . . .

"The push for more material comes as publishers and booksellers are desperately looking for ways to hold onto readers being lured by other forms of entertainment, much of it available nonstop and almost instantaneously. Television shows are rushed online only hours after they are originally broadcast, and some movies are offered on demand at home before they have left theaters. In this environment, publishers say, producing one a book a year, and nothing else, is just not enough.  

"At the same time, the Internet has allowed readers to enjoy a more intimate relationship with their favorite authors, whom they now expect to be accessible online via blogs, Q. and A.’s on Twitter and updates on Facebook. . . .

"Publishers say that a carefully released short story, timed six to eight weeks before a big hardcover comes out, can entice new readers who might be willing to pay 99 cents for a story but reluctant to spend $14 for a new e-book or $26 for a hardcover.  

"That can translate into higher preorder sales for the novel and even a lift in sales of older books by the author, which are easily accessible as e-book impulse purchases for consumers with Nooks or Kindles" (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/business/in-e-reader-age-of-writers-cramp-a-book-a-year-is-slacking.html, accessed 05-14-2012)

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The World's Smallest Book Requires a Scanning Electron Microscope to be Seen September 25, 2012

On September 25, 2012 designboom.com reported that Vancouver-based artist Robert Chaplin, using a focused ion beam (FIB) and a scanning electron microscope (SEM) from the nano-processing facility at Simon Fraser University, had broken the Guinness record for the world's smallest book by burning the nano-typographic text from his illustrated story Teeny Ted from Turnip Town onto a microchip thinner than a strand of hair. Chaplin traced the story and type onto a single-crystalline silicon surface where the line weight resolution equated to 42 nanometers (42 millionths of a millimeter). Measuring 70 micrometers x 100 micrometers, the microchip version of the book cannot be seen with the naked eye or with a regular microscope, requring a scanning electron microscope to be viewed.

♦ To make a fine distinction between miniatures, Robert Chaplin's creation should technically be considered the smallest reproduction of a printed book as it is not technically a codex printed on paper. In 2013 the smallest printed codex was Shiki no Kusabana (Flowers of Seasons) printed by Toppan Printing of Tokyo.

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Silvia Hartmann's Novel, "Dragon Lords," Cloud-Sourced with 13,000 Collaborators December 2012

In December 2012 German born researcher, systems designer and author Silvia Hartmann issued The Dragon Lordsperhaps the first cloud-sourced novel. From her website, accessed 01-14-2015:

"In the Summer of 2012, Silvia Hartmann accepted the challenge to write a 'kick ass' fantasy-fiction novel live online on Google Drive as 'The Naked Writer,' trusting in her personal daemon to deliver not just the story, but the order and sequence of the words. Thousands of readers from around the world watched each letter appear on the screen in real time. The Dragon Lords was started on September 12th 2012 and, on November 11th 2012, the last chapter was written live in front of an audience of 150 delegates at the AMT Conference, Gatwick, England."

On December 17, 2012 Robert McCrum reviewed the work in theguardian.com, from which I quote:

"It worked like this. Hartmann's daily 90-minute composition sessions were overseen by hundreds of followers, who could put forward their ideas and influence the plot. Comments were added to the manuscript in real time, with Hartmann responding to them.

"Participants from the UK, US, Brazil, Malaysia, Russia, Australia and New Zealand took part in the project. Their input ranged from critiquing plotlines to actually naming the book. That bit of the process is probably a gimmick. At the end of the day, it's still Hartmann's novel. Indeed, one suspects that the "cloud-sourcing" element is really a new kind of global publicity under another name. I'm not sure that a serious writer, committed to self-expression, would want anything to do with this kind of collaboration. But I digress.

"Dragon Lords was completed between September and November, 2012, which is quick work, but not unseemly. Many famous novels have been written as fast as that. Faulkner famously wrote As I Lay Dying in just over a month. Georges Simenon routinely used to write a police "procedural" in a week.

"However, the making of Dragon Lords is unlike almost any previous English-language novel. More than thirteen thousand people are said to have "interacted" with the title. This is a step-change. (Many books would be grateful to have 1300 readers, let alone 13,000.)

"What's more, in this new world of creativity, all of them were hosted on Google Docs, a word processing tool that promotes and celebrates this kind of collaboration. No surprise, then, that Google is now actively puffing Dragon Lords, mostly as a new-book phenomenon. Everyone involved is being rather coy about its actual literary merit. And indeed, Alison Flood was not convinced by the work in progress. In truth, Dragon Lords is more significant as a technological, rather than a creative, feat." 

The novel was issued in both electronic and print.

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"The Life of Pi": Computer Graphic Animation Indistinguishable from Nature December 22, 2012

On December 22, 2012 my wife Trish and I went to see the Life of Pi, an American adventure drama film based on Yann Martell's 2001 novel directed by Ang Lee and distributed by 20th Century Fox in Los Angeles. There has, of course, been much written about this imaginative novel and the film. With respect to this database the story line, and the inspirational aspects of the novel and film are not strictly relevant. What was of particular interest to me was the revelation only after I had seen the film that most of the scenes with the tiger were done entirely by computer graphic animation. During the film every image—every scene in which the tiger appeared— appeared to be 100% real. No computer graphic animation in any previous film that I had seen had achieved this level of realism.

"Visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer was no stranger to animal-oriented projects when he came aboard Ang Lee's 'Life of Pi' to realize a digital photorealistic tiger. However, the film presented challenges beyond merely creating the beast. In 'Pi,' the tiger, oddly named Richard Parker, is one of the two main characters. He and Pi Patel, played by Suraj Sharma, are castaways who survive 227 days on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean. 

"Westenhofer began his work by bringing four real tigers to Taiwan, where the film was partly shot, in order to obtain very precise animation references with the goal of making the animal as real-looking as possible.  

"According to Westenhofer, even the most skilled animators in the world need visual references. 'A tiger is a solid mass of muscle with a loose bag of skin surrounding it, like a cloth that is draped over it,' he says. 'We really studied the tiny nuances such as the shoulder ripple that occurs when he shifts his weight. By having the reference clips, we kept true to how the animal would react.'

"After training and rehearsing with the tigers for five weeks, the production completed 23 shots of a real tiger around the lifeboat where most of the story takes place. The film's remaining 148 tiger shots would be realized with advanced computer graphics technology. In the film, the real tigers are indistinguishable from the digital ones.  

"The lead vfx shop on the tiger shots, Rhythm and Hues, spent full year on research and development, building upon its already vast knowledge of CG animation as it created the fearsome Richard Parker. 'Forty percent of our efforts were (born of) new technology,' which was used create 'the hair, the way it lights, the muscle and skin system,' Westenhofer says" (http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118063581/?refcatid=13, accessed 12-23-2012).  

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Jane Austin and Walter Scott Were the Two Most Influential Novelists of the 19th Century: A Discovery Made Through Digital Humanities Research January 26, 2013

"ANY list of the leading novelists of the 19th century, writing in English, would almost surely include Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mark Twain.

"But they do not appear at the top of a list of the most influential writers of their time. Instead, a recent study has found, Jane Austen, author of 'Pride and Prejudice,' and Sir Walter Scott, the creator of 'Ivanhoe,' had the greatest effect on other authors, in terms of writing style and themes.

"These two were 'the literary equivalent of Homo erectus, or, if you prefer, Adam and Eve,' Matthew L. Jockers [of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln] wrote in research published last year. He based his conclusion on an analysis of 3,592 works published from 1780 to 1900. It was a lot of digging, and a computer did it.  

"The study, which involved statistical parsing and aggregation of thousands of novels, made other striking observations. For example, Austen’s works cluster tightly together in style and theme, while those of George Eliot (a k a Mary Ann Evans) range more broadly, and more closely resemble the patterns of male writers. Using similar criteria, Harriet Beecher Stowe was 20 years ahead of her time, said Mr. Jockers, whose research will soon be published in a book, 'Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History' (University of Illinois Press)" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/technology/literary-history-seen-through-big-datas-lens.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130127&_r=0, accessed 01-27-2013).

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Writers Explain How New Information Technologies Have Changed Writings October 31, 2013

On October 31, 2013 The New York Times published "Writing Bytes," in which numerous writers described the impact of the Internet, cell phones, and other information technologies on their craft:

"The Internet has changed (and keeps changing) how we live today — how we find love, make money, communicate with and mislead one another. Writers in a variety of genres tell us what these new technologies mean for storytelling."

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Mainstream Publisher Simon & Schuster Launches Erotica Social Media Site to Promote Books December 2013

In December 2013 Simon & Schuster UK has announced the launch of a genre-specific social media and blog site, meant to entice avid readers of its New Adult and Romance titles. Called The Hot Bed, and curated by an in-house team of four Simon & Schuster UK professionals, the site aimed to be the source for news about S&S’s top-selling and most well-loved romance authors, as well as a blog for those authors to make appearances.

"Fans will also get in on the action as they can connect with authors and with one-another via the site. The Twitter and Facebook feeds for the new site will allow fans to engage with the storylines and offer their remarks. The site also offers Tumblr, Pinterest, and YouTube landings.

"As the site continues to grow, new program offerings will be announced, including reader events for fans. The site has also promised future efforts to promote the brand through connectedness with other presumably romance brands."

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"Sensory Fiction": A Kind of Virtual Reality E-Book Reading Experience January 29, 2014

On January 29, 2014 Theguardian.com reported that scientists Felix Heibeck, Alexis Hope and Julie Legault at MIT's Media Lab created a "wearable book" that used temperature and lighting to mimic the experiences of the book's protagonist in a kind of augmented reading, virtual or partial virtual, reality. The e-book senses the page the reader is on, and changes ambient lighting and vibrations to "match the mood." A series of straps form a vest which contains a "heartbeat and shiver simulator," a body compression system, temperature controls and sound. 

The researchers used as prototype James Tiptree Jr's Hugo award-winning novella The Girl Who Was Plugged In, in which the protagonist P Burke – who is deformed by pituitary dystrophy and herself experiences life through an avatar – feels "both deep love and ultimate despair, the freedom of Barcelona sunshine and the captivity of a dark damp cellar."

" 'Changes in the protagonist's emotional or physical state trigger discrete feedback in the wearable [vest], whether by changing the heartbeat rate, creating constriction through air pressure bags, or causing localised temperature fluctuations,' say the academics.

 " 'Sensory fiction is about new ways of experiencing and creating stories,' they write. 'Traditionally, fiction creates and induces emotions and empathy through words and images. By using a combination of networked sensors and actuators, the sensory fiction author is provided with new means of conveying plot, mood, and emotion while still allowing space for the reader's imagination. These tools can be wielded to create an immersive storytelling experience tailored to the reader.

" 'To explore this idea, we created a connected book and wearable [vest]. The 'augmented' book portrays the scenery and sets the mood, and the wearable allows the reader to experience the protagonist's physiological emotions' " (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jan/28/sensory-fiction-mit-technology-wearable-fiction-books?commentpage=1, accessed 01-29-2014).

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Growth of Audiobooks Parallels Growth of eBooks February 22, 2014

On February 22, 2014 The New York Times published an op-ed piece by Stanford anthropologist T. M. Luhrmann entitled Audiobooks and the Return of Storytelling which suggested that the popularity of this form of reading is growing along with digital books. People are exploring different ways of reading. From it I quote:

"The sale of audiobooks has skyrocketed in recent years. In 2012, total industry sales in the book business fell just under 1 percent over all, but those of downloadable audiobooks rose by more than 20 percent. That year, 13,255 titles came out as audiobooks, compared with 4,602 in 2009. Publishers seem to be paying more attention to their production. When Simon and Schuster published Colm Toibin’s “Testament of Mary” last autumn, the narrator was Meryl Streep.

"We tend to regard reading with our eyes as more serious, more highbrow, than hearing a book read out loud. Listening to a written text harkens back to childhood, when we couldn’t read it ourselves, or a time when our parents left off reading the chapter out loud in the middle, a nudge that we’d use our school-taught skills to finish it off by ourselves.

"The great linguist Ferdinand de Saussure thought we treated writing as more important than speaking because writing is visual. Speech is ephemeral — you hear a word, and then it is gone. The word written down remains, and so we attach more significance to it. Saussure wrote that when we imagined text as more important than speech, it was as if we thought we would learn more about someone from his photograph than from his face.

"But so it is. The ability to read has always been invested with more importance than mere speech. When only a small priestly elite could read, books were sacred mysteries. When more people could read, literacy became a means to move forward in the world. These days, the ability to read is a prerequisite for full participation in the social order.

"But for most of human history literature has been spoken out loud. The Iliad and the Odyssey were sung. We think that the Homeric singers of those tales mastered the prodigious mnemonic task presented by those thousands upon thousands of lines of text through an intricate combination of common phrases — rosy-fingered dawn, the wine-dark sea — and nested plots that could be expanded or shortened as the occasion demanded.

"Even after narratives were written down, they were more often heard than read. The Roman elites could read, but gatherings at which people recited their poetry were common. And before the modern era, when printing made books widely available and literacy became widespread, reading was an oral act. People read aloud not only to others but also to themselves, and books, as the historian William Graham puts it in 'Beyond the Written Word,' were meant for the ears as much, or more so, than for the eyes.

"In the early 17th century the Jesuit missionary to China Matteo Ricci captured the orality of writing in this letter to a Peking publisher: 'The whole point of writing something down is that your voice will then carry for thousands of miles, whereas in direct conversation it fades at a hundred paces.' Mr. Graham writes that in Europe, silent private reading became widespread only in the second half of the 19th century."

This last assertion that "silent private reading became widespread only in the second half of the 19th century," did not strike me as correct, so I made a note to myself to verify or deny the assertion, someday. My sense was that silent reading was the method of choice since the Renaissance, but, I suppose, if we take into account the limited overall literacy during that time, and the dramatic growth of literacy that occurred in the second half of the 19th century, then Mr. Graham's assertion regarding "widespread" silent reading could be relatively correct. 

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PHEME: A Social Media Lie Detector February 27, 2014

On February 27, 2014 the following post came across Willard McCarty's Humanist Discussion Group. With its reference to cutting edge social media research in the PHEME project founded in January 2014, combined with the literary quotation on gossip from the Roman poet Ovid's Metamorphosesthis was one of McCarty's characteristically wise posts. It is quoted in full:

Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2014 06:38:05 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: a social media lie detector?

Two researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, are part of an EU project, PHEME, which aims automatically to detect four types of online rumours (speculation, controversy, misinformation, and disinformation) and to model their spread. "With partners from seven different countries, the project will combine big data analytics with advanced linguistic and visual methods. The results will be suitable for direct application in medical information systems and digital journalism." I note in particular the qualifying statement that,

> However, it is particularly difficult to assess whether a piece of
> information falls into one of these categories in the context of
> social media. The quality of the information here is highly dependent
> on its social context and, up to now, it has proven very challenging
> to identify and interpret this context automatically.

Indeed. Ovid would, I think, be amused:

> tota fremit vocesque refert iteratque quod audit;
> nulla quies intus nullaque silentia parte,
> nec tamen est clamor, sed parvae murmura vocis,
> qualia de pelagi, siquis procul audiat, undis
> esse solent, qualemve sonum, cum Iuppiter atras
> increpuit nubes, extrema tonitrua reddunt.
> atria turba tenet: veniunt, leve vulgus, euntque
> mixtaque cum veris passim commenta vagantur
> milia rumorum confusaque verba volutant;
> e quibus hi vacuas inplent sermonibus aures,
> hi narrata ferunt alio, mensuraque ficti
> crescit, et auditis aliquid novus adicit auctor.
> illic Credulitas, illic temerarius Error
> vanaque Laetitia est consternatique Timores
> Seditioque recens dubioque auctore Susurri;
> ipsa, quid in caelo rerum pelagoque geratur
> et tellure, videt totumque inquirit in orbem.
> The whole place is full of noises, repeats all words and doubles what
> it hears. There is no quiet, no silence anywhere within. And yet
> there is no loud clamour, but only the subdued murmur of voices, like
> the murmur of the waves of the sea if you listen afar off, or like
> the last rumblings of thunder when Jove has made the dark clouds
> crash together. Crowds fill the hall, shifting throngs come and go,
> and everywhere wander thousands of rumours, falsehoods mingled with
> the truth, and confused reports flit about. Some of these fill their
> idle ears with talk, and others go and tell elsewhere what they have
> heard; while the story grows in size, and each new teller makes
> contribution to what he has heard. Here is Credulity, here is
> heedless Error, unfounded Joy and panic Fear; here sudden Sedition
> and unauthentic Whisperings. Rumour herself beholds all that is done
> in heaven, on sea and land, and searches throughout the world for
> news.

Ovid, Met. 12.47-63 (Loeb edn)

See http://www.pheme.eu/ for more."

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An Anthology to be Published on Paper in 2114 September 13, 2014

In September 2014 Scottish artist Katie Paterson announced on Futurelibrary.no that 

"A forest has been planted in Norway, which will supply paper for a special anthology of books to be printed in one hundred years time. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished, until 2114.

"The texts will be held in a specially designed room in the New Public Deichmanske Library, Oslo. Tending the forest and ensuring its preservation for the 100-year duration of the artwork finds a conceptual counterpoint in the invitation extended to each writer: to conceive and produce a work in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future." 

Future Library, Katie Paterson from Katie Paterson on Vimeo.

In response to Patterson's announcement The New York Times published the following editorial:

"The hope that creative work survives its creator is usually empty. Shakespeare boasted that his sonnets would outlast monuments and the memory of princes, and they have. But it’s rare for an artist to keep audiences interested over generations. Most creative endeavors are ravaged by what Shakespeare called “sluttish time.” Even the list of Nobel laureates in literature is filled with now-unfamiliar names.

"Yet a Scottish artist, Katie Paterson, has found a clever way around this humbling problem. “A forest has been planted in Norway,” Ms. Patersonexplains on the Future Library site, “which will supply paper for a special anthology of books to be printed in one hundred years’ time. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished, until 2114.”

"Contributors would give up present-day acclaim — or feedback of any kind. In exchange, they would secure the attention of 22nd-century readers.

"Ms. Paterson has already chosen a time capsule for this unusual experiment: The Deichmanske public library in Oslo. And she already has her first contributor: the Canadian author Margaret Atwood, who is known for her speculative fiction.

"Although there is no guarantee that anyone will read Ms. Atwood’s contribution (or anyone else’s) in the next century, Ms. Paterson has increased the odds by laying the groundwork for a media event. Embargoes, like scarcity, can breed fascination.

"Mark Twain’s 100-year embargo on his autobiography (he said it shouldn’t be published until long after his death so he could speak his “whole frank mind”) did wonders for his 21st-century publisher. When the University of California Press released the first volume in 2010, it shot up the Amazon sales rankings and generated so much coverage that The Onion weighed in with a parody in which Twain shows his prescience about YouTube and the Afghan war.

"The project coordinators seem to have thought of everything, going so far as to equip the Deichmanske library with a printing press. If humanity loses the ability to print books, that’s covered. Of course, if humanity should lose the ability to read, that’s another story."

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