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The introduction of parchment popularized the book in the format familiar to us.

Parchment leaves could not be bound end to end like sheets of papyrus except by

sewing them together, and the long strip would have been too unwieldy to roll into a volume



Writing, Books, and Libraries

A Historical Account

"Technical Matters" 

By James Westfall Thompson


Writing was practiced for many centuries before books were written, just as the book in manuscript was three or four thousand years old before the invention of printing. The oldest writing was monumental and was inscribed upon flat-sided stone pillars or cylinders of stone or brick, as among the ancient Babylonians, or upon stone slabs, as were the hieroglyphic inscriptions of the ancient Egyptians and the Ten Commandments; upon clay tablets which were afterwards baked to give them durability, like the tiles with wedge-shaped writing upon them known as Assurbanipal's "library," or the famous Tel-el-Amarna tablets; upon metal plates of copper or lead-the works of the old Greek poet Hesiod were inscribed on lead plates and deposited in the Temple of the Muses in Boeotia; upon wooden planks-the earliest legislation of the Greeks, known as the Laws of Solon, was so recorded, and carefully preserved. 

The wooden tablets were covered with white gypsum, and on them the words were written, possibly with red paint, which was considered sacred. In Athens, during the Pelopponesian Wars and later, such tablets were used for public notices. Old Orphic songs were also written on wood tablets. For ordinary use, bark, especially bark from lime trees, palm leaves, and the like, were employed. In the Temple of theMuses on the Helicon there was preserved an old example of the Works and Days of Hesiod which was written on lead tablets, despite the fact that this material, though cheap, was not popular. As the need for writing grew with the increase in education, the skin of animals was utilized; this had long been in use as a writing material in the Orient. Herodotus ascribes its use to the Phoenicians.

The use of wax tablets, that is, a thin film of wax, usually black or green, spread upon a hard, white surface (hence the word a/bum), commonly a thin sheet of wood, upon which the writing was, as it were, engraved with a stylus made of metal or bone, was widespread in antiquity. The apparatus resembled a child's slate, the album being enclosed within a frame the ridge of which protected the writing when two or more such frames were employed, which were held together by a cord run through a hole perforated in the corner of the frame. Such a combination of tablets was, in Roman times, known as a codex, literally a "block" since a pile of such tablets resembled a block of wood. If the tablets were small, the block of them was called codicilli-a little codex. 

According to the number of tablets a distinction was made between codices dup/ices, trip/ices, quinquip/ices, or mu/tip/ices-in Greek polyptyeha, a word which passed into the Latin language. The two outside faces of the codex were left blank and covered with leather or boards. This is the remote origin of bookbinding. But wax tablets were never used for books, and hence their history is alien to that of libraries. They were used for keeping accounts, casual notes, correspondence not meant to be preserved. The first draft also of many a work in prose or poetry was indited upon wax tablets, the composition later being transcribed on papyrus or parchment for permanent record. Small papyrus rolls, in like manner, were used for short notes.

Papyrus & Writing

But substances like these were too heavy and too cumbrous for systematic transcription, and were not flexible. The successive parts could not be bound together like the leaves of a book. The earliest flexible material of importance was papyrus, from which the word "paper" is derived. The oldest known papyrus manuscript is of at least 3000 B.C. The papyrus plant was an aquatic plant, now nearly extinct, which once grew in profusion in the Nile Valley. 

Papyrus was made from the pith of the stems, gummed strips of which were laid in two transverse layers, and then crushed and rolled into thin wafers, much as the housewife makes piecrust. When dried and trimmed along the edges, the leaves thus formed were pasted or glued end to end in a long strip, with the lines on each sheet running parallel with the length of the strip. Each end of the strip was attached to a light round wooden rod and the whole rolled up, beginning with the last page, so that the first page would be under the eye of the reader when he began to unroll it for reading purposes. This was the earliest form of the true book or roll or cylinder and was what the Romans called a volumen, from the verb volvere, to roll, from which also the English word vo/ume comes. "The Ionians, who had the Egyptian trade mainly in their hands and who doubtless first began to use papyrus) called it 'skins.' Herodotus V, 58, in explanation of this says that formerly owing to the scarcity of papyrus they had used the skins of sheep and goats."


It was convenient to have the columns narrow, for otherwise an unwieldy length of the roll would have to be unrolled. In the Codex Sinaiticus, a fourth-century manuscript, the columns are not so much as four inches wide. The scribe began to write at the left end of the roll; that is, when he began to write he turned the roll so that the unrolled part was at his right hand. The reader held the roll in his hands by the umbilici or wooden rods with handles upon which the roll was wound, and continually rolled up with his left hand the part he had read. When he had finished reading the work, the roll, of course, had to be unrolled and rolled up again, for otherwise the next reader would have to read the book backward. The first sheet and the last sheet of the roll, which were affixed to the umbilici, naturally met with greater wear and tear than the body of the manuscript. 

Accordingly these parts were reenforced by double sheets pasted together. Even with this precaution, however, the ends of the roll especially were likely to become frayed and be torn off and lost. This explains why some works have come down to us which end abruptly, even in the middle of a sentence. The most remarkable example of this sort of loss is that of the Gospel of Mark, 16:9-20. The end of the roll containing it probably was torn off and lost, either from the autograph of the apostle or from an early copy of it, and no direct trace remains of the original conclusion. The Codex Sinaiticus terminates abruptly with verse 8. All the other Marcian manuscripts append twelve additional verses, but these renderings do not always agree.

"One or two," says Turner, "preserve what is obviously a makeshift, written merely to give an appearance of a proper termination, and containing no new facts. All the rest append twelve additional verses-the recently discovered Freer Manuscript of the Gospels expands them into fourteen--the provenance of which was unknown until Mr. F. C. Conybeare discovered in an Armenian manuscript a title separating these verses from the rest of the Gospel under the words 'Of Aristion the Elder' . . . and there is now no reason to doubt that either he himself, or someone else out of the material left by him, filled up the missing conclusion of St. Mark's Gospel at so early a date that his supplement has found its way into almost all codices that have come down to us."

Some New Testament scholars regard the last chapter of the Epistle to the Romans as a fragment of the Epistle to the Ephesians. It is manifestly out of place. A number of those persons to whom Paul sent greetings could not have been in Rome at the time when he was laboring in Asia Minor and Greece. Priscilla and Aquila are clearly the Priscilla and Aquila mentioned in Acts as having been expelled from Rome, and as meeting Paul in Corinth and preceding him to Ephesus. The long list of greetings in Romans i6 indicates that the letter which contained them must have been written to the Christian congregation of some city where Paul had long dwelt and in which he had many friends.

The abrupt conclusions of St. Luke's Gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles have been ingeniously explained as due to the size of the papyrus rolls used by the writers thereof, who were limited by the length of the roll. If the writer underestimated the length of his narrative and came to the end of the roll before he had calculated to do so, unless he elected to fill an entire new roll he was compelled to summarize what he wished to write in conclusion in as brief a space as was at his command. If he wished to continue his narration on another roll, the necessarily abbreviated narrative at the close of the first roll would naturally be expanded at the beginning of the second. This reasoning probably explains why Luke compressed the story of the Ascension into two verses, and why at the end of Acts Paul's residence in Rome for two years is condensed into two verses.

Antiquity already had lost part of many manuscripts. Diodorus (xvi. 3) sought in vain for four or five rolls of Theopompus' History; Quintilian could find only the fourth book of the rhetorical treatise, Ad Herennium; Suetonius complained that "magna pars intercepta" of the Grammar of Servius Nicanor. Eusebius (vi. 24. i) was unable td acquire twenty-two of Jerome's writings. St. Jerome well knew the hazard attached to preservation of volumina.

Practically, there was no limit to the length of a roll. Some ancient Egyptian papyri are more than 150 feet in length, and in Greece the complete works of such authors as Homer and Herodotus were at first written upon a single roll. But such huge rolls were inconvenient to hold. Accordingly, the Alexandrian scholars adopted the practice of cutting up long rolls into shorter lengths . . . to cut, from which the Latin word tomus and our English word tome are derived. Originally the term had nothing to do with "ponderous tomes"-in fact, they were not ponderous. The motive for dividing literary works into books was to reduce the size of the rolls. No Homeric papyrus yet found contains more than two books. The manuscript of Aristotle's Politics illustrates the division of a work into convenient lengths, and the employment of several scribes. There we find, at the end of the first century A.D., a division into four tolls, each of which was written by a different scribe.

When the substitution of the codex for the older roll came into general usage, it was possible to have a whole series of books, or even an entire work together. The parchment codex was devised in the first century A.D., and eventually supplanted the papyrus roll. By the fourth century the parchment codex was general everywhere as the usual form of the book.

*  *   *   *   *

When, therefore, Irenaeus at the end of the second century writes of the four Gospels as the divinely provided evidence of Christianity, and the number four as almost axiomatic, it is now possible to believe that he may have been accustomed to the sight of volumes in which all four were contained."

In the third century, pagan works were still generally written on rolls, while the codex was the popular form of Christian books. The codex was certainly of Roman, not of Greek origin, and one of the great contributions of Latin culture to world culture. The papyrus codex lasted longest in Egypt, because Egypt was the home of the papyrus plant.

All papyrus came from Egypt. There were many kinds, qualities, and forms of it. Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, xiii. 74, distinguishes nine different sorts: (I) Regia (after the fall of independent Egypt sometimes known as Augusta), which was a large sheet; (2) Livia, of the same dimension, but thinner; (3) Hieratica, a large paper of fine quality distinguishel for its whiteness, much fancied by the priest class, with whom white was a sacred color; (4) Amphitheatrica, named from a paper factory near the amphitheater in Alexandria; (5) Fanniana, which was manufactured at Rome; (6) Saitica, an inferior paper made at Sais in Egypt; (7) Taeniotica, a common sort made atAlexandria, sold by weight instead of by the sheet; (8) Emporetica, wrapping paper; and (9) Charta Claudia, a strong paper in large sheets capable of bearing writmg on both sides and fabricated by command of the emperor Claudius.

Unless the page was small it was customary to write in two or three columns to a page. In the time of the Roman Republic, however, government documents were not so written, but transversa charta, that is to say, in long lines filling the whole face of the page. In general a charta was written only on one side, and Horace (Ep. i. 20.17) and Martial (IV. 86. i.) interestingly inform us that children were taught to write on such discarded sheets. Sometime~ the old writing was sponged off and the sheet used as a palimpsest.

Egyptian papyrus came to Greece quite early, through second or third hand; it is possible that there was direct communication between the two lands even before Psammetichus. It is not without significance that precisely at the time when the communication between the Greeks and the Egyptians was at its highest, literature there developed richly and many-sidely. The development of prose literature, a medium destined for a reading public, made for the utilization of papyrus. Naturally, when the export of papyrus from Egypt was forbidden, its price was high. Papyrus, however, was not suitable for preservation; for, aside from its destruction through moths and bookworms, it crumbles easily, and the result is gaps which impair the manuscript. It was an advance when animal skins were utilized for the library at Pergamum, and the preparation of this writing material had greater care. Parchment, however, owing to its greater expense, never succeeded in ousting papyrus.

Parchment Replaces Papyrus-- From Roll to Codex

The skins of sacrificial animals like sheep and goats were early employed by the priests of all the religions of antiquity for the writing of prayers, rituals, and liturgical matter. Indeed, leather may have been used even before papyrus. Livy records that the treaty between Tarquinius Superbus and the people of Gabii was recorded upon the leather cover of a shield.

But the lightness and cheapness of papyrus made it of almost universal use in the Greco-Roman world. The revival of leather in classical antiquity was due to an improvement in the method of preparing the skins by which it was possible to write upon both sides of them. Ancient tradition alleges that the invention was made in the reign of King Eumenes 11(197-159 B.C.) of Pergamum and was owing to the fact that. the Pharaoh of Egypt raised the price of papyrus to a prohibitive degree. This is mere legend, but it points to the fact that Pergamum was famous for the making of pergamena, from which the word "parchment" comes. But parchment was not popular in antiquity. It was more costly than papyrus and thicker in texture. A parchment book would have seemed a curiosity to Cicero.

The introduction of parchment popularized the book in the format familiar to us. Parchment leaves could not be bound end to end like sheets of papyrus except by sewing them together, and the long strip would have been too unwieldy to roll into a volume, and the stitches, moreover, would make disfiguring ridges. Accordingly, parchment sheets were put together like the pages of a modern book and the whole was bound between board covers. Its form then so much resembled a block of wood that the Romans, as has been noted above, called such a book a codex. 

The size of the codex was determined by the way in which the parchment sheet was folded; for it was not cut up into pages by the scribe or the binder, but was creased and folded so as to make four or eight or twelve or sixteen pages, according to the size of the skin and the dimensions of the proposed book. It is thus that the terms quarto, octavo, duodecimo originated. The ordinary book was made up of quires usually of eight leaves (sixteen pages) composed of four folded sheets; hence the term folio. The quires were numbered or lettered in alphabetical sequence, but the practice of numbering the pages did not obtain until very late in the Middle Ages. At the bottom of each page the first words of the next page were appended, to guide the binder in putting the parts together. 

As the flesh side of a parchment was always smoother and almost white, and the hair side rougher and a light yellow in color, in the makeup of the codex care was taken that the colors of every two adjacent pages should be the same. An added convenience was that the loss of any sheet could be at once perceived by virtue of the contrasted colors which would result if any sheet was removed. Vellum was a superior kind of parchment, being thinner and smoother because made from the skins of young lambs or kids, and was often no thicker than ordinary paper. It was polished with pumice stone.

In general a scribe used a sheet large enough to be folded or double folded so as to make four or eight pages as desired. The double-leaf folio was the base of the quaternion, as the quaternion formed the base of the volume. The parchment was first spread out flat upon a table, its edges trimmed, and then with a rule and compass the writer marked the lines along which the parchment was to be folded. This marking was done upon the hair side because that side was tougher and could bear the point of the marking instrument; and moreover, the flesh side, being more delicate, would show the lines in relief upon the opposite side and so obviate double marking. When doubled, the parchment was folded so that the first page would be flesh side, the second and third pages hair side, the fourth and fifth pages flesh side, and so on to the last page, which, like the first, would be a flesh-side page. Thus, when open the codex displayed two pages of uniform kind, flesh-side pages facing each other and hair-side pages facing each other. This was the quaternion (Lat., quaternio, a group of four).

Strange as it may seem, parchment was not widely used in antiquity although it was more durable than papyrus, less likely to become frayed on the edges, capable of being written upon on both sides, accommodated longer lines, and the codex form was more convenient to hold in the hand and to read than the volumen. Finally, unlike papyrus, parchment could be used again by erasing what had been first written on it. Such a manuscript was called a palimpsest or "twice used" manuscript, which is the literal meaning of the word. Of course, the second writing was not so legible and the effect of the page was not so pleasing to the eye, because some of the ink of the original writing had sunk deep into the fibers of the parchment and could not be entirely removed. But the practice had an economic argument in its favor. Valuable classical works have been recovered from palimpsests, for in the Middle Ages sermons and lives of saints were more popular than pagan classical literature, so that the latter was erased to make room for the former. But by the use of chemical reagents the original version has been restored.

In classical times, parchment was chiefly used for accounts, short notes and letters, and the like. The Roman poet Martial (A.D. 40-102) is the first writer who mentions works of literature inscribed upon parchment. The fourth century, which witnessed the triumph of the Church, also witnessed the transition from papyrus to vellum and from roll to codex. But the use of the vellum codex does not go back as far as the time of the composition and first circulation of the books of the New Testament) for down to the middle of the third century the papyrus roll was almost the universal form in which books were published.

It has been said that the parchment codex owed its introduction and popularity almost wholly to the influence of the Church; but this is an exaggeration, though it must be admitted that the Church early expressed a preference for parchment and the codex form of the book over the papyrus roll. The more durable nature of parchment recommended it to grammarians and rhetors and to their students; also, parchment was the cheaper material. The representations of ancient art permit us to follow the stages of the change by which papyrus was gradually supplanted by parchment and the roll by the codex. By the fifth century the substitution was complete.

In 372 the papyrus manuscripts in the library of Constantinople were transcribed upon parchment and converted from volumina to codices, as had already been done at Caesarea.In 426, Valentinian III ordained that legal citations thenceforth must be made from parchment codices and not from papyrus rolls.

The Greek version of the Old Testament (Septuagint), the New Testament, and the Vulgate or Latin translation of the Bible made by St. Jerome about A.D. 400 were written on parchment and bound in codex form instead of being in papyrus rolls.

The progress and final triumph of Christianity assured the victory of parchment. The Theodosian Code of Roman law proclaimed by the Emperor Theodosius II in A.D. 438 and the great Corpus Juris of Justinian in the sixth century seem never to have been published except in codex form. Thus between the fourth and the sixth centuries the relative positions of papyrus and parchment were reversed. In the early Middle Ages papyrus was only used for short notes, accounts, and unimportant matters of record, while parchment was more and more used for writings on theology, law, literary works, and finally for every sort of record. Papyrus became more and more obsolete and finally disappeared from use; it was employed longer in medieval Italy than anywhere else. The latest example of a papyrus document outside of Spain is 1057. The use of papyrus outside of Italy and Spain had all but vanished by the ninth century.

We have little information on the relative prices of papyrus and parchment.According to Birt, papyrus cost more than parchment. This may have been so in Greec~Birt relies on an Athenian inscription of 407 B.C.--but it cannot have been true of the Roman imperial epoch, when enormous quantities of papyrus were imported from Egypt and there were numerous chartarii or paper dealers. The government owned a huge paper warehouse, the horrea chartaria, for the storage of papyrus used in the offices of the administration. When Constantinople was founded, a similar warehouse was established there. In small provincial towns, however, there was sometimes a shortage of papyrus. Pliny the Younger once (xiii. 89) complained of an "inopia chartae" when away from Rome.

The scribes or copyists were educated and trained slaves. Those working on papyrus or parchment were called librarii, those using wax tablets scribae cerarii. Stenographers were called notarii.

Pens, Ink, & Illustrations

Pens were made of reeds, the best quality coming from Egypt and Cnidus. Pliny (Hist. Nat. xxxv. 41-43) gives a long account of the kinds of ink used in antiquity. Ancient ink was generally made of lampblack mixed with gum. It was very black and of great durability, but it did not sink into the papyrus or parchment and so could be readily erased. This opened the door to forgery, and Pliny informs us that vinegar was often mixed with the ink. Sometimes vitriolic substances were used, but the effect of these was to cancel the lampblack, so that the ink became paler and paler with lapse of time. Both black and red ink were used, but the latter only for titles and rubrics--hence the term. Egyptian ink was made of soot mingled with gum and water. Sepia, the black liquid ejected by the cuttlefish, which was common in the Mediterranean, was also employed. Red ink was manufactured from ruddle or red ocher. A plumb line and compass were used to measure columns, and a rule for making transverse lines. De luxe books were decorated with illuminated capitals done in gold or silver or tints.

As Bradley informs us: "The principle of producing a number of impressions of the same figure or picture in a book was known to the old illuminators, and used long before the fifteenth century.. .. The method of taking transfers, either by stamps or stencils, of frequently recurring subjects was practised in the twelfth century, and probably also as early as the time of the Emperor Augustus. . . . Delicate plates of brass were used to produce a sort of pattern and enable the illuminator to make his capitals of equal size."

The Romans understood the art of illustrating books with portraits. Pliny mentions that Varro wrote the lives of seven hundred illustrious Romans which he adorned with portraits of them. And we learn from Cornelius Nepos that Cicero's friend Atticus was the author of a work on the deeds of famous Romans, which he ornamented with portraits. The portraits in the work of Pomponius Atticus mentioned by Cornelius Nepos, and in those of Varro referred to by Pliny the Elder, were reproduced in duplicate by some sort of mechanical contrivance like a stencil or cut-out brass or copper plate.

Illustrated manuscripts were to be found only where pictorial representation was necessary for the understanding of the work, as in the astronomical handbook according to Eudoxus, in the obscene poem of Philaenis, in the anatomical work of Aristotle. Botanical works could hardly dispense with illustrations, as is shown by Dioscorides. The writings of the tactician

Evangelus, which Philopoemen eagerly studied, had drawings. Nicomachus' Elegy on the famous painters seems to have possessed portraits. Generally the author would himself add the illustrations; sometimes they would be made by another hand, as in the astronomical poem of Aratus and the geographical work of Ptolemy. On the other hand, the pictures in the Milanese manuscript of the Iliad from the fourth or fifth century A.D., as well as those in the Venetian manuscript, continue an artistic tradition. Probably there were similar works in the classical period.

Reading Aloud & In Silence

It was customary in antiquity to read aloud and in company. So common was this practice that it has been absurdly said the ancients were unable to comprehend written words unless they were spoken, so that a reader, even if all alone, pronounced every word as he read. It has even been said that reading in silence first obtained in the monasteries where the rule of silence was enforced! But an educated man in ancient times, as today, read in silence when he chose. Augustine has a striking description of St. Ambrose of Milan, one of the busiest men of the fourth century: "When he read his eyes were riveted on the page and his mind tore open the meaning of the words. But no sound escaped his lips. Often when we had come to see him, we would observe him reading there in silence." 

And who does not know St. Augustine's moving account of his conversion? How he left his friend Alypius, who had long been urging him to come to Christ, and cast him--self down under a fig tree and heard from a neighboring house a voice, as of a boy or girl, singing and oft repeating: "Take up and read. Takeup and read." Checking the torrent of his tears, lie rose, interpreting it as no other than a command from God to open the Book and read the first words he might find; so he seized, opened, and "in silence" read that section on which his eyes first fell. And the words were these: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ."

The Division of Books

It is generally assumed that the division of larger works into separate books originated in Alexandria. This custom, however, is much older. The Iliad and the Odyssey are in twenty-four books. The custom was. known in Aristotle's time; the proof is the habit, which one finds in Aristotle, of employing the twenty-four letters in the alphabet for divisional purposes.

Such division was especially necessary in prose works. Herodotus himself planned to divide his work into distinct parts. Thucydides is divided into eight books. The Anabasis has seven parts, and each successive division has a brief summary of the last one. Plato's Politics is in ten books, and this division may have been made by Plato himself. It was Isocrates' school which was mainly responsible for this practice. Ephorus gave each separate book a special title. From Aristotle's time this custom was generally observed, even in the Roman literature, as in Naevius' poem on the Punic Wars.

Polybius, Diodorus, Josephus, and Appian followed these examples. Certain numbers, such as 7, or 24, were favorites for division. Despite the expense of papyrus, it did not necessarily follow that each division was complete in one papyrus roll; sometimes it ended in the middle of a second roll.169 The ancients distinguished "books," but did not subdivide books into chapters. This practice is modern, or at least dates from the Renaissance. Valerius Soranus, a medical friend of Cicero, seems to have been the first writer who provided a table of contents. It was imitated by Pliny the Elder, the first book of whose Natural History is nothing but a table of contents.

Just as books were divided into parts, so also there began at this period the custom of Counting the lines of a work in order to determine the extent ~f the book. This was first started by the poets; later the same care was applied to the prose works. Theopompus already gave the number of his lines, and Josephus, at the end of his Jewish Antiquities, lists not only the number of books, but also the lines. This method served for all bibliographical purposes; hence the number of lines was carefully registered not only in the catalogues of libraries, but also in the manuscripts themselves. It was a little more difficult with prose, as the width of column in the papyrus rolls varied, and so did the size of the writing. As the copyists did not copy precisely the same number of lines in the same way, the number naturally varied with each copyist. 

Possibly, in order to save time recounting the new copy, the original number of lines was usually given. For example, the numbers given about the Attic orators refer to the parchment manuscripts, where the lines are larger on the average, and not to the papyrus rolls.

The number of lines in a book was an important point. Modern bibliography presupposes the art of printing; it describes one specimen and thereby automatically describes thousands, the entire edition; the buyer can therefore easily determine whether his copy fulfills all his requirements. The prospective buyer of a book in classical times had the same desire; but, of course, he had no conception of editions. Occasionally from ten to twenty slaves would write the same text, which was dictated to them; but in that manner, one could hardly say that an edition was created; it was simply a matter of ten to twenty individual copies, of which each one would have its individual mistakes. Every copy, therefore, had to be individually proofread. If one wanted to play safe, every copy had to be compared word for word with either the original or a standard copy. That was a very arduous undertaking, especially when a book of any size was concerned; an occasional orthographical error did not excite much comment. The buyer, however, needed to have at least the assurance that the copyist did not skip entire sections of the text from sheer laziness. For this reason, he had the number of lines of the original or "standard edition" specified in the copy. 

These are problems of stichometry. The motive for enumerating the number of words--and even letters--in a book obviously was to protect the text from omissions or interpolations. The librarian had to be able to see at the first glance whether a copy was complete or defective, whether a text, to be purchased, agreed in whole and in its parts with the normal or standard copy. A careful author took care to establish these statistics. Theopompus fixed his orations at 20,000 words, his historical works at 150,000. Josephus at the end of his Archaeologia, bk. 30, informs the reader that its length is 6o,ooo stichoi. Polybius established the stichometry of his History, and the proemium to the Digest declares it to have 150,000 lines.

In the Alexandrian Library the tags to the rolls, in addition to the title, indicated the number of books and the number of lines in each book. In the eyes of a publisher these figures were important, for from them he could estimate the size and cost of a book.                                                                   ROLL BOOKS IN A LIBRARY 

The word "bibliotheca" in Greek and Latin signified a place in which scrolls were kept, hence a storeroom for papyrus rolls, and hence a library. It is a compound word . . . and each part has its significance. The Greek word for "book" was . . . answering to the Latin liber, while theca . . . meant the bookshelf. 

Library Arrangement--Catalogues & Bibliographies

Books do not make a library until they have been arranged in some sort of order. Hence the formation of a catalogue. Some ancient writer compared the catalogue of the Alexandrian Library to the thread of Ariadne through the Labyrinth.

The founding of the Alexandrian Library under Ptolemy Philadeiphus is a fact of the greatest significance. This not only saved literature and preserved it, but also opened it up for study. After the masses of manuscripts were classified by five of the librarians who fill the great period--Zenodotus, who invented textual criticism, Apollonius, Eratosthenes, Aristophanes of Byzantium, and Aristarchus of Samothrace--the bibliographical activity was begun. 

This vast work was undertaken by Callimachus, with the help of others. His catalogue of the Alexandrian Library contains a systematic and critical list, according to the shelves, of books in the library. Of each work there was registered the title, the number of lines, the first words, and, where possible, notes on the real or supposed author; for Callimachus was definitely interested in establishing the true authors. But there was neither time nor place for a thorough investigation and analysis. If we take the number to be 90,000 rolls, there were, on the average, 6oo listed in each book of the catalogue; an4 if we count on the average 1500 to 2000 lines in each book of the catalogue, we find that each separate item got only a very few lines. Hence the criticism was also summary and superficial. It is uncertain whether there were short notices on the lives of the authors. 

At any rate, here was a solid foundation for a history of literature. How many books there were at this time can be realized when one considers that the Alexandrian Library had 90,000 rolls, excluding duplicates. This number refers to the catalogue of Callimachus, since it was only after his classification was completed that the counting of the duplicates may have begun. It is possible that some writings escaped the notice of the classifier. Later, with the great activity in literary pursuits, the number of writings continued to grow. Callimachus' list was later completed and supplemented by Aristophanes of Byzantium. 

Similar catalogues were made by the Pergamene scholars in their library. Others later undertook critical bibliographical articles on individual authors, as Andronicus and Adrastus on Aristotle and Theophrastus, and Galen on their own writings. These book catalogues became the chief aids in the bibliographical and literary historical studies. The catalogues of the writings of Greek poets, orators, philosophers, and others, which have been transmitted to us through Diogenes Laertius, Suidas, and others, generally go back to Alexandria. We also possess, on an Egyptian papyrus, a fragment of a catalogue which seems to have contained philosophical works. Other book lists we owe to the custom of inscribing the writings of deceased authors on their gravestones; sometimes statues of authors would have such lists, as the well-known statue of Euripides in the Villa Albani (now in Paris) and that of Bishop Hippolytus in Rome.

Library Administration

We are ill informed concerning the administration of the large libraries of Greece and Rome. We have ruins of buildings and fragments of catalogues, besides some inscriptions of librarians; but from all these facts we can deduce but little concerning the interior operation of the libraries. We only know that the most famous savants were in charge of the library of Alexandria; Callimachus was not one of them. 

It is to a fortunate coincidence, namely, the discovery of Papyrus Oxyrynchus in the second century A.D., that we owe a list of Alexandrian librarians. The papyrus mentions only a pupil of Callimachus; the librarians are Eratosthenes, Aristophanes of Byzantium, Apollonius of Alexandria, and Aristarchus of Alexandria. Bureau chiefs in the Alexandrian Library were called procuratotes, lesser employees bibliothecarii, assistants were designated as a bibliotheca, and copyists as antiquarii. The archivists were known as bibliophulakes.  The ordinary attendants were slaves owned by the state (pub/ici). They were so numerous that they had their own doctor.

These procurators were never directly called librarians for the reason that they were government officials who also had other duties, especially financial. But they were not mere finance officials, for the same men were also imperial secretaries for the Greek correspondence, or councilors of the emperor's studies (a studiis), and hence learned men. They belonged to the class of knights and received a salary of 60,000 sesterces. Real grammarians are mentioned as library administrators; as, for instance, Dionysius of Alexandria.

The identity of Callimachus is not certain. It is commonly supposed that he is identical with the Alexandrian poet who flourished between 310 and 240 B.C. Whoever he may have been, there is high probability that the Pinakes represents his individual enterprise rather than the institutional effort of the great Alexandrian Library. It is not known whether it was simply a catalogue of the Alexandrian Library, or a union catalogue of the principal libraries of that metropolis. In this famous but, unfortunately, lost work, Callimachus distinguished five classifications of subject-matter: (1) Poetry, (2) History, (3) Philosophy, (4) Oratory, (5) Miscellaneous.

Book Titles

As literature developed and spread far, the interest of the readers had to be considered. In the earlier period, book titles were not known, since writers wrote only for a narrow circle. But when books were written for a reading public, they had to be titled so as to enable the reader to differentiate them. In early Greece this was not necessary. The names of the epic poems are old, but come, not from the writers, but from the masses. Generally the names are brief, such as Iliad, Odyssey, Thebais. Sometimes the name refers to the home of the poet. For the majority of lyric poems there was no need of special names. The archon as well as the public knew the names before they were publicly presented, and, after the judges gave their decisions, the name of the poet as well as of the play was announced. Later, persons like Theocritus chose the titles of their poems themselves.

Prose, too, lacked titles in olden times. The author who wrote one book would sign his name to it. Men like Thucydides briefly described the contents of their works; the first chapter of each book summarizes the contents of the book just preceding.

When literature became more complex an inscription of the contents of a book became necessary. At the time of the Peloponnesian War, when literary activity was great, almost no book appeared without a title. Thucydides, sticking to the old form, is an exception. Isocrates, in his dedication to Philip, specifically refers to titles of legal works. Sometimes the original title is confused with a later one; hence double titles. Sometimes there is great uncertainty concerning titles, as there is in the works of Aristotle. To attract attention, writers sometimes used striking, and tasteless, titles. often the title refers to only one section of the book, generally the beginning; for example, Xanophon's Anabasis and the Education of Cyrus. Not infrequently the title is vague

Sometimes two different works would have the same title; they would be distinguished by calling one "great," the other "small." Homer's Iliad is the Great, the Iliad by Lesches is the Little Iliad. the simplest catalogue was a mere book list, sometimes without specification of authors. But the Greeks and Romans knew both the classified catalogue and the bibliographical catalogue . . . (pinax). In the latter the initial words of the book, the author, and the number of lines were indicated. the initial words of the work often constituted the title. 

In papyrus rolls (volumina) the title was written upon the tag attached  to the roll. In codices it was affixed at the end of the work, instead of on the first page as with us, and was known as the colophon. Neither in antiquity nor in the Middle Ages was there any fixed custom in the making of titles. Vergil seems to have called his great epic Aeneas, as we say Hamlet or Macbeth. Tacitus' work on the manners and customs of the German was sometimes styled merely De Germania, sometimes De moribus Germanorum, and sometimes De moribus ac situ Germanorum.

Sources: "Various Technical Matters" (Excerpts) from James Westfall Thompson's Ancient Libraries. University of California Press, 1940.

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)  / Gil Scott-Heron & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

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Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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