Long ago, books were regarded as truly valuable, in no small part because they need to be laboriously copied by hand in monasteries. To lose a book was to lose decades of precise, collaborative work by trained teams of calligraphers and illuminators. According to a recent book called The Swerve, by Stephen Greenblatt, books and manuscripts were rarely sold. They were greatly treasured. Human nature hasn’t changed much over the centuries, though. The libraries were carefully guarded–and often curses were put on the books to warn off potential thieves. Here is one of the most colorful curses:
For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book, from its owner–let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain crying aloud for mercy, and let there be no surcease to his agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever.
I have occasionally yielded to similar sentiments. Books and tools. People so often feel that they can just keep those items, that somehow they were a gift rather than a sharing. Maybe I should transcribe the above into a bookplate for my personal collection . . . or maybe I should have a close look at my attachment to things.