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Lucian's Diatribe on the "Ignorant Book Collector"

Circa 170 CE

Speculative portrayal of Lucian taken from a seventeenth-century engraving by William Faithorne.

About 170 the Assyrian rhetorician, satirist and author of numerous writings in Greek, Lucian of Samosata (Λουκιανὸς ὁ ΣαμοσατεύςLucianus Samosatensis), ridiculed a provincial from Syria who aspired to join the cultured elite by collecting antiquarian and deluxe papyrus book rolls. In doing so he also implied criticism of booksellers, and suggested that there was at this early date some kind of a trade in antiquarian book rolls:

"You expect to get a reputation for learning [παιδεια] by zealously buying up the finest books, but the thing goes by opposites and in a way becomes proof of your ignorance [απαιδενσιας]. Indeed, you do not buy the finest; you rely upon men who bestow their praise hit-and-miss, you are a godsend to the people that tell such lies about books, and treasure-trove ready to hand to those who traffic in them. Why, how can you tell what books are old and highly valuable, and what are worthless and simply in wretched repair—unless you judge them by the extent to which they are eaten into and cut up, calling the book-worms into counsel to settle the question? As to their correctness and freedom from mistakes, what judgment have you, and what it is worth?" (Haines-Eitzen, Guardians of Letters. Literacy, Power, and the Transmitters of Early Christian Literature [2000] 26).

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