Sunday, December 12, 2021

Cicero On Repairing His Damaged Books

Repairing a loose fragment of P.Oxy 3203 using small ‘tabs’ applied with tweezers.
Image from the British Museum Blog
Faith after the pharaohs: Egyptian papyri conservation - British Museum Blog

I have written elsewhere of the various circumstances that could shorten the useful life of ancient books (See Here). Not only could books be outright destroyed, ancient documents could be damaged by use and environment to such an extend as to be almost unusable (See Previous Post Here). Cicero (106 BCE-43 BCE), was sent into exile to Thessalonica by a law introduced by Publius Clodius Pulcher. In his absence, Cicero's library had been damaged, dispersed, and a portion of it possibly destroyed (Houston, 218). Upon his return from exile, he began to re-assemble and repair his library. In order to do this, Cicero aquired the services of the Greek Scholar Tyrannio of Amisus. Cicero also turned to his friend Atticus, asking him to send slaves that could repair damaged papyrus and parchment, and to attach titles to rolls.

"It will be delightful if you come to see us here. You will find that Tyrannio has made a wonderfully good arrangement of my books, the remains of which are better than I had expected. Still, I wish you would send me a couple of your library slaves for Tyrannio to employ as gluers, and in other subordinate work, and tell them to get some fine parchment to make title-pieces, which you Greeks, I think, call "sillybi." But all this is only if not inconvenient to you. In any case, be sure you come yourself, if you can halt for a while in such a place, and can persuade Pilia to accompany you. For that is only fair, and Tullia is anxious that she should come. My word! You have purchased a fine troop! Your gladiators, I am told, fight superbly. If you had chosen to let them out you would have cleared your expenses by the last two spectacles. But we will talk about this later on. Be sure to come, and, as you love me, see about the library slaves." (Att. 4.4b)
From this interchange it can be seen that the care of a library in antiquity took a considerable amount of work by scholars and slaves alike. It goes to show how precious and valuable it is that we have so many manuscripts that have survived (in various states of completion) from antiquity.

English translation of Cicero's letter to Atticus by Evelyn Shuckburgh
Letters to Atticus/4.4b - Wikisource, the free online library

Houston, George W. Inside Roman Libraries: Book Collections and Their Management in Antiquity (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2014)

No comments:

Post a Comment