Introduction Button Assurbanipal Button Blumberg Button Book Curse Button Damnation in the Curses Button Excommunication in the Curses Button Anathema in the Curses Button Negative Impacts Button Conclusion Button Works Cited Button

Bibliomaniacs - Assurbanipal

The earliest documented bibliomaniac in history was Assurbanipal, a king who ruled in ancient Assyria from 668 to 627 BCE. He was trained as a scribe and had a passionate love of the written word (Lerner, 19). Unlike many bibliomaniacs, Assurbanipal was able to use political power to expand his collection as he claimed books and manuscripts as prizes of war, including texts from collections throughout Babylonia (Lerner, 20). While he was able to build one of the most impressive and important tablet collections on earth with these methods, he also recognized the danger that other collectors posed to his library. To protect his tablets from collectors like himself, he employed one of the earliest known book curses:

The palace of Ashur-bani-pal, king of hosts, king of Assyria, who putteth his trust in the gods Ashur and Belit . . . I have transcribed upon tablets the noble products of the work of the scribe which none of the kings who had gone before me had learned, together with the wisdom of Naub insofar as it existeth {in writing}. I have arranged them in classes, I have revised them and I have placed them in my palace, that I, even I, the ruler who knoweth the light of Ashur, the king of the gods, may read them. Whosoever shall carry off this tablet, or shall inscribe his name on it, side by side with mine own, may Ashur and Belit overthrow him in wrath and anger, and may they destroy his name and posterity in the land [sic] (Drogin, 53).

The curse serves two purposes. First, it draws attention to the greatness of Assurbanipal as a king and a book collector. This type of self-promotion is unusual in book curses generally but is not surprising in this case as the curse was issued by a king. Second, it inspires fear by calling on the gods to punish those who, may at some future date, take or steal the tablet or claim it as their own. This early example set the basic structure of the book curse: to name the deed that would incur the curse, to present religious action as a consequence of the action, and to threaten the earthly or spiritual life of the cursed.

Later bibliomaniacs were not as politically powerful as Assurbanipal but they also build substantial collections. The methods employed to acquire books depended on the wealth of the collector and the availability of manuscripts. Some wealthy collectors such as Peter of Blois purchased books when possible or paid for copies to be made (Jackson, 361). When purchase or copying were not available options because of economic reasons or because owners were not willing to part with their texts, theft became the chosen method of acquisition. The theft might be achieved by borrowing but not returning the book or by actually pocketing the book unobserved and walking out with it. In the tightly controlled world of the medieval monastery, a book thief would have difficulty walking in unnoticed and removing one of the books because books that were not in use were literally locked up. Many were stored in locked cabinets and those that were more visually accessible were often chained to their compartments. The only access a bibliomaniac could get to books was through borrowing them or paying to have them copied at the monastery.

Monks were often occupied by copying their own books for other monasteries or copying books they had borrowed and therefore obtaining a copy was likely to be a slow process. Borrowing a book was not easily accomplished either. Books were incredibly expensive to reproduce and with very few copies of any book in existence, most were irreplaceable. Many monasteries required that either a book of equal value be loaned in exchange or that some other valuable item be held during the loan (Jackson, 368). Unfortunately, the madness for books that characterizes bibliomania often meant that even with such exchanges, the books were not returned to the monasteries. In desperation to keep their books, some libraries such as the library at the Abby of Croyland forbade the loaning of books at all and threatened excommunication to any monk that loaned books (Merryweather, 33).




Created by Sandra Anderson, March 2003.