Bibliophilia

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An illustrated copy of the Notitia Dignitatum, a document detailing the administrative organisation of the Eastern and Western Roman Empires in the early 5th century AD. This manuscript was commissioned by Pietro Donato in 1436.

There are many book lovers, but few bibliophiles. Bibliophilia means of course love for/of books, but it is not enough to love books to be a bibliophile.

While social media buzzes with declarations of love for reading and for books, true bibliophilia is only rarely achieved. At least the kind of bibliophilia which makes all famous bibliophiles belong to the same family.

A bibliophile loves books and loves reading, but also collects books, writes about them, and promotes the life and ecosystem of books. The Venetian humanist Pietro Donato (1380-1447) was a bibliophile who commissioned manuscripts, collected all he could find, furthered the cause of book learning, and engaged with the literate community on the subject of important texts and the volumes which contained them.

Richard de Bury, whom you will have an opportunity to hear more about on this blog (see about this blog page), lived a generation before Pietro Donato and expressed his bibliophilia in a famous book called Philobiblon (written about 1345). Even more remarkably than Donato, De Bury espoused the cause of books at a time when Europe was waking up to the importance of literacy, learning and education. Some of the chapters of the Philobiblon have an early-modern, even modern ring to them: ‘The Complaint of Books against Wars’, ‘Who Ought to be Special Lovers of Books’, or ‘That it is Meritorious to Write New Books and to Renew the Old’.

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