Categories: world

“Libro De Los Epítomes,” A 500-year Library Catalog, Surfaces Anew: NPR

Libro de los Epítomes, a guidebook to the 16th century library by Hernando Colón, who recently appeared in a manuscript archive in Denmark. Suzanne Reitz / Arnamagnæan Institute, University of Copenhagen hide caption change caption Suzanne Reitz / Arnamagnæan Institute, University of Copenhagen Libro de los Epítomes, a guidebook to the 16th century library by Hernando Colón, who recently appeared in a manuscript archive in Denmark. Suzanne Reitz / Arnamagnæan Institute, University of Copenhagen It's a Hollywood blockbuster: A hundred years ago, a son of Christopher Columbus gathered one of the largest libraries the world has ever known. Volumes inside were mostly lost to history. Now a valuable book summarizing the contents of the library has appeared in a manuscript collection in Denmark. The newly discovered manuscript is "a totally wonderful thing," said Edward Wilson-Lee, author of The Shipwrecked Books Catalog – a biography of Columbus's son Hernando Colón. "It's about the size of a coffee table. It's almost a foot thick. It's 2,000 pages long in beautifully beautiful handwriting." The reference volume, called Libro de los Epítomes, was designed to help a user find books in the huge library. Colón was "looking for the Google algorithm for printing," Wilson-Lee explains, "How to take large amounts of information and do something useful out of it." [19659011] Interview Highlights At Hernando Colón Hernando was the second out-of-wedlock son of Christopher Columbus. He was born of a deal Columbus had when he kicked around the Spanish court and was still waiting for…

Libro de los Epítomes, a guidebook to the 16th century library by Hernando Colón, who recently appeared in a manuscript archive in Denmark.

Suzanne Reitz / Arnamagnæan Institute, University of Copenhagen

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Suzanne Reitz / Arnamagnæan Institute, University of Copenhagen

Libro de los Epítomes, a guidebook to the 16th century library by Hernando Colón, who recently appeared in a manuscript archive in Denmark.

Suzanne Reitz / Arnamagnæan Institute, University of Copenhagen

It’s a Hollywood blockbuster: A hundred years ago, a son of Christopher Columbus gathered one of the largest libraries the world has ever known. Volumes inside were mostly lost to history. Now a valuable book summarizing the contents of the library has appeared in a manuscript collection in Denmark.

The newly discovered manuscript is “a totally wonderful thing,” said Edward Wilson-Lee, author of The Shipwrecked Books Catalog – a biography of Columbus’s son Hernando Colón. “It’s about the size of a coffee table. It’s almost a foot thick. It’s 2,000 pages long in beautifully beautiful handwriting.”

The reference volume, called Libro de los Epítomes, was designed to help a user find books in the huge library.

Colón was “looking for the Google algorithm for printing,” Wilson-Lee explains, “How to take large amounts of information and do something useful out of it.” [19659011] Interview Highlights

At Hernando Colón

Hernando was the second out-of-wedlock son of Christopher Columbus. He was born of a deal Columbus had when he kicked around the Spanish court and was still waiting for patronage that would start his journey west. As the journey in 1492 became successful, Hernando grew with a lot of power and privilege – but because he was born incredibly, he never got the levels of prominence his father did.

But he always wanted to show his father’s son in spirit. And so he did this bizarre, extraordinary project to build a universal library that would have every book in the world in it. And he saw very much as an opposite to his father’s desire to bypass the world. So Hernando would build a universal library that would bypass the world of knowledge.

On the newly discovered volume

One of the things that Hernando realized was to collect every book in the world – and this was during the early age of the press as the number of books accelerated rapidly – not to collect all these books would be very useful if you had no way of organizing and distilling them all. So he paid a reader master to basically read each book in the library and distill it to a brief summary so that this huge library could be made available to a single person who could control it.

This book, Libro de los Epítomes, which contained the summary of the books in the library, is mentioned in the library’s book by its last librarian. And then it lacks shortly after Hernando’s death in 1539 and is not really heard of for almost 500 years, until three weeks ago – it arose in a library in Copenhagen.

How this volume got “lost”

This collection [in which it was found] in Denmark [the Arnamagnæan Collection at the University of Copenhagen] is mostly a collection of Icelandic manuscripts and it has a very small number of books that are not Icelandic – but Because they are not Icelandic, it is really what is interested in them. So this is really a story about a book that was lost in the library, almost, because it was on the wrong shelf.

Whoever collected this collection … Arni Magnusson seems to have bought Hernando’s manuscript as part of a group of manuscripts because he wanted some of the other manuscripts in the same group. So it was in this collection … and no one really knew what it was until Hernando’s story became a little more known, and they realized what they were doing.

On what we can learn from the summaries

The most exciting thing about this is that many of the books that are summarized will be books that get lost in all other forms. Hernando was in many ways a kind of crazy visionary – like his father. While most other book collectors of the day gathered dusty old manuscripts by Plato and Cicero, Hernando was one of the few people who could see the real potential for printing.

And then he went around collecting all kinds of wasted things that [were] really changed the world – so early newspapers and weather reports and such – and takes them back to his library. So this Libro de los Epítomes will capture the world of premature pressures in ways that … are often lost.

On learning, this volume had been discovered – after writing a whole book on this old library

Colon’s guides to his massive personal library contain summaries of about 2000 books.

Suzanne Reitz / Arnamagnæan Institute, University of Copenhagen

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Suzanne Reitz / Arnamagnæan Institute, University of Copenhagen

Colon’s guides to his massive personal library contain summaries of about 2000 books.

Suzanne Reitz / Arnamagnæan Institute, University of Copenhagen

I spent six years with Hernando every day – her whole story is amazing. But … there are some small pieces of the library that are considered lost forever. …

I actually sat on a beach in Kenya, where I grew up, then [of the discovery] and I received an email about it and I just released the phone into the sea. … I didn’t want to believe it was true until I actually came to Copenhagen and there was really no doubt. It has its hand over it, and it can be confirmed in every way. … It was shockingly exciting.

What happens now

There is an ongoing project to digitize the manuscript and to transcribe it. It will be translated for anyone whose 17th century Latin is not so sharp, and it will be available to the public. … It probably takes five or seven years to actually get all this done. So there is a lot of work to do to identify which books are there and which ones are lost in all other forms. … But it will eventually become available to the public and contribute to this amazingly exciting story.

On what he hopes to learn from Libro de los Epítomes

The big question about the library that this book helps us to answer is how exponentially increasing the amount of information age changed how people organize knowledge of the world. … This will only get us so much closer to seeing how all this information would not have circulated publicly before changing its way of thinking the world.

Gustavo Contreras and Courtney Dorning produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Beth Novey and Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it to the web.

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