Book Curses

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.


About reinkat

I am an iconographer, and have been studying Russian/Greek icons since 1995. I'm married with 3 children. I love hiking, camping, animals, my family and church--and icons.
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8 Responses to Book Curses

  1. SR says:

    Loved this!!!:>) The points you bring out are good also regarding our “attachment to things.” I do not know though, I am a very big Tudor buff and have lots of books regarding that time in history. I would not part with those books for my life. There is always something I want to go and look up. What does help though is my Nook. I cannot loan that out, so all is safe within my dwelling:>) Good post and God Bless, SR

    • reinkat says:

      I guess it all depends on what you like to do with those books. I would not part with my icon books for anything (although somehow 2 of them have disappeared, necessitating another purchase). They are my constant references, my teachers. I just won’t lend them out, not to anybody.

  2. Ha, funny! Maybe I would not have lost as many had I placed that warning on the inside cover!

    • reinkat says:

      Me too. I am thinking of remedying that: maybe printing the curse out in Old English Font and pasting it to the inside cover of each book. It might even work!!

  3. Biltrix says:

    I never lend books. When I give someone a book I tell them just to keep it, because I know I will never see it again anyway.

  4. geloruma says:

    can I suggest this on keeping us free from attachements? Its Marino restrepo – his ministry is “approved” by the church by the way!

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