Philobiblon

If you are wondering where the lovely word comes from, it is from the title of a book by Richard de Bury (1281-1345), The Love of Books, Being the Philobiblon of Richard de Bury. Here’s a sample from my 1903 version, “newly translated into English by E.C. Thomas” (Alexander Moring, London):

“Almighty Author and Lover of peace, scatter the nations that delight in war, which is above all plagues injurious to books. For wars being without the control of reason make a wild assault on everything they come across, and, lacking the check of reason they push on without discretion or distinction to destroy the vessels of reason.” (p.46)

11 Comments

  • September 15, 2004 - 4:40 pm | Permalink

    At the time when Richard Aungerville collected his manuscripts, the word biblos and the diminutive biblion were certainly used to refer to books. In its original meaning however, I suppose biblos primarily meant scroll.
    History somehow reapeats itself, I thought, as I was scolling through this aptly named blog.

  • November 7, 2004 - 8:31 pm | Permalink

    Just browsing pedantically. I think that biblos originally meant the inner bark or pith of the papyrus and by metonymy paper or a book. The book could in fact have been a scroll but it could equally have been a codex, or leaved book as we know it.

  • November 8, 2004 - 1:35 am | Permalink

    And there’s an interesting theory around – I read it in Regis Debray but I don’t think that it is original to him – that the fact that the Christians preferred codexes while the pagans liked scrolls helped the former to triumph, their “technology” being more efficient.

  • November 8, 2004 - 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Professor Herwig Maehler in the Oxford Classical Dictionary certainly ascribes the take-off of the codex to its use by Christians, though this is not quite what you were suggesting. The codex would of course have allowed them more easily to leaf through and cross-compare the books of the Scriptures, and it is interesting that the earliest secular use of the codex may have been for legal codifications, where there is I imagine a similar need. Even today a well-thunbed book is still a rapid source of information.

  • John Barton
    December 26, 2005 - 9:38 pm | Permalink

    You should perhaps have mentioned for completeness that Richard of Bury included among the enemies of books the two-legged beast whose cohabitation with clerics is forbidden by the canons.

  • March 3, 2006 - 2:04 am | Permalink

    Biblos was originally Byblos, the Phoenician port from where the papyrus was imported to Greece. Originally it would certainly have been a scroll, though by the 4th century AD codices were the norm, as was parchment, which thankfully began replacing papyrus, and also the quill pen, which replaced the reed pen. Good century for books then, and yes, I think we can thank the Christians.

    Interestingly, both liber (book) and codex originally meant bark, and even the word book is cognate with ‘beech’.

    And, by the way, my favourite passage of the Bury is when he attacks scribblers and youthful despoilers of books, for which see my post here: http://vunex.blogspot.com/2006/01/marginalia.html

  • Christopher Thompson
    June 30, 2006 - 8:43 am | Permalink

    Wonderful to see that my great great uncle’s translation of the Philobiblon can still inspire, even if he ended up doubting that de Bury was its author!

  • July 1, 2006 - 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations on choosing your relatives well!

  • Pamela
    September 27, 2007 - 5:37 am | Permalink

    I love this word. It is of the class that is fun to say. The idea the word describes a passionate embrace of books makes it even more fun.

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