A Danish treat for bibliophiles–or at least biblio-catalogue-philes–was the subject of a recent Guardian article. Scholars have discovered the manuscript of the Libro de los Epítomes, a 2000+ page summary of books acquired by Hernando Colón (pictured above). Colón was the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus, and had acquired the world’s biggest private library in the early sixteenth century from his extensive travels: some 15,000 volumes, a real Colum-busload of books. In lieu of amassing a gargantuan library card catalogue (remember those?), Colón commissioned (perhaps on one ‘summary’ day) a group of scribes to write summaries of all the contents of his collection. The summaries vary in length from short blurbs to a 30-page account of Plato’s complete works, and the catalogue as a whole covers not just ancient, medieval, and early modern classics but also almanacs and pamphlets. Thus, it provides not just epitomes of epic-tomes but also mini-tomes–and perhaps even duller reading, in the form of mono-tomes; or telephone listings, i.e., ring-tomes and dial-tomes; or abbreviated musical scores, i.e., semi-tomes, half-tomes, and quarter-tomes.
Since only a quarter of his library survives, in Seville Cathedral, the catalogue is especially valuable for knowing what and how people read in this time. The manuscript found its way into the hands of the seventeenth-century Icelandic scholar Árni Magnússon, and so the Libro de los Epítomes became a Magnússon opus. After his death in 1730, he donated his collection to the University of Copenhagen, including only about 20 manuscripts in Spanish and thus the catalogue lay hidden. Guy Lazure at the University of Windsor first rediscovered the catalogue, which was then verified by others.
Researchers at Early Modern Times’s Department of Lost Epitomes have, in addition, discovered an appendix to the Libro de los Epítomes, written in code and containing summaries of books which were apparently too personal or controversial to be included in the main catalogue. Here are some of the titles, authors, and brief descriptions where relevant:
A Secret History of Spanish Colón-ialism: Hernando’s insider perspective on the devastating effects of his father’s arrival in the Americas.
How to Connect Independent Clauses & Avoid Comma Splices, by Hernando’s half-sister and grammarian, Handi Semi-Colón.
The Colón-oscopy: a searing and painful examination of Hernando’s inner workings, by the collector’s personal physician.
Eau de Colón: an anonymous account of how Hernando devised a new perfume in his own bidet when travelling in Paris.
How to Cook Non-Watery Pasta, by Hernando’s Italian cook, Chef Colón-der.
Further Prophecies of Nostradamus for the Year 2003: We Will Find Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, by General Colón Powell
Tornadoes, Hurricanes, and Other Destructive Storms, by Hernando’s meteorologist uncle, Cy Colón.
Dolly the Sheep & the Future of Genetics, by Hernando’s mad livestock-scientist brother, Mutton Colón.
Till next week,
Director, Early Modern Post-Colón-ialism Studies Program