Konstantinos Sp. Staikos. the History of the Library in Western Civilization, Vol 4: From Cassiodorus to Furnival: Classical and Christian Letters, Schools and Libraries in the Monasteries and Universities, Western Book Centres

By Denton, William | Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview
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Konstantinos Sp. Staikos. the History of the Library in Western Civilization, Vol 4: From Cassiodorus to Furnival: Classical and Christian Letters, Schools and Libraries in the Monasteries and Universities, Western Book Centres


Denton, William, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada


Konstantinos Sp. Staikos. The History of the Library in Western Civilization, vol 4: From Cassiodorus to Furnival: Classical and Christian Letters, Schools and Libraries in the Monasteries and Universities, Western Book Centres. Trans. Timothy Cullen and Doolie Sloman. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press; Houten, NL: HES & De Graaf, 2010. 500 pp.; US $75.00 ISBN 9781584561811

This is the fourth volume in a series of six. The first three were reviewed in these pages and comments there apply equally well here, and will also, I expect, to the fifth, due in 2012, subtitled "The Renaissance: From Petrarch to Michelangelo." (The sixth will be a bibliography and index.) Volume 1, "From Minos to Cleopatra," was reviewed by Merrill Distad in the Papers/Cahiers 44 (Spring 2006): 134-36; volume 2, "From Cicero to Hadrian," by Tana J. Allen in 45 (Fall 2007): 215-17; and volume 3, "From Constantine the Great to Cardinal Bessarion," by Peter F. McNally in 46 (Spring 2008): 116-19.

The word for this book is "lavish." It is "a lavish production with excellent images and easy-on-the-eyes typeface" (Allen) and "lavishly illustrated" (McNally) with over 170 "black-and-white and colour illustrations contained in a lavishly produced format" (Distad).

The first chapter begins with Rome and Italy after Constantine had moved the capital and in a few pages gives an overview of the rest of the book: the growth of Christian writing and scholarship, scriptoria, the crucial role of monks and monasteries, the Carolingian Renaissance, and the rise of universities. The preservation of classical literature through medieval times is where libraries, such as they were, played a key role, and four important Christian scholars involved in this were Boethius, Cassiodorus, Isadore of Seville, and the Venerable Bede. Tertullian (b. 150) begins a discussion of early Christian writers in Latin.

Chapter 2 covers monastic libraries and changes in book production and distribution. St. Jerome's work process illustrates the practices of the times: he dictated to a notarius and the text was given to a trained and educated scribe who would make an examplar that would be used by copyists in a scriptorium as the basis for more copies. St. Augustine's personal library is examined (one of many such in the book), and there is discussion of the Bible--so important that the scribe's work of copying was an apostolic task--and of manuscripts that survived the start of the Early Middle Ages. The chapter ends with the Vivarium, a monastery founded in 538 by Cassiodorus, who "foresaw that with the collapse of political institutions monasteries would play an important part in preserving the Graeco-Roman tradition."

Chapter 3, "Roman and Early Medieval Britain," oddly covers nothing about Roman Britain. Monasteries in Britain and Ireland were important in keeping classical knowledge alive, and libraries there became the best in Europe. Some of the best evidence comes through Bede at Jarrow where "there was no comparable collection in continental or insular Europe."

Chapter 4 is about the Carolingian Renaissance. Englishman Alcuin, who met Charlemagne on a trip to Italy and later joined his court in Aachen, revived the teaching of the seven liberal arts and played a crucial role in saving manuscripts and building libraries. Charlemagne himself built a large library of his own. The chapter also looks at the major monastic libraries of the period, such as St. Martin's and Corbie Abbey in France and St. Gallen in Switzerland.

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Konstantinos Sp. Staikos. the History of the Library in Western Civilization, Vol 4: From Cassiodorus to Furnival: Classical and Christian Letters, Schools and Libraries in the Monasteries and Universities, Western Book Centres
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