Biblioklepty? Lives of Crime and Missing Books, a New Classics Confessional Game

Earlier today, we re-tweeted a tale about the tragic theft of some Plutarch:

This made me think of my own history of kleptobiblia (or should it be biblioklepty? Let’s go with that). The only time I can think of planning to and actually stealing a book was when I was in middle school. My parents and my friends’ parents were mostly aging history. One friend’s father had Abbie Hoffman’s classic on his shelf.

steal this book

What could one do but steal it?

Now, I am sure that antiquity has many anecdotes of book-theft to contemplate and even more certain that the history of classical scholarship, peopled by myriad rogues and bibliophiles, must have as many if not more. But I can’t think of any (apart from the apocryphal Alexandrian edict on the surrender of books).

But I am equally certain that just as the books we read (and display) say something about us, so too the books we ‘steal’ (and don’t) have something essential to communicate. So, my new classics confessional game is this: what book did you ‘steal’ (or acquire by less-than-legit means); what book do you wish you hadn’t (absconded with); and what book do you wish you had (taken)?

Here’s my list:

Book I ‘stole’: Albert Lord’s The Singer of tales. My undergraduate adviser lent it to me and I loved it. I never gave it back. To make amends, I became a Homerist.

Book I wish I hadn’t: While in graduate school I walked out of a famous library with their edition of the first volume of the Cambridge Commentary on the Iliad. It was purely accidental. I had my own copy at home! No alarms went off. I was too embarrassed to return it. It sits on my shelf to this day, unopened, a token of my lingering shame.

Book I wish I had: When I was leaving graduate school, I had designs on Slater’s Lexicon to Pindar. I had this crazy idea I was going to translate all of Pindar’s odes. I chickened out. But then, Perseus put it online. All’s well that ends…

Any other confessions out there?

4 thoughts on “Biblioklepty? Lives of Crime and Missing Books, a New Classics Confessional Game

  1. Check the online catalog of the famous library. If there is any indication that that book is still missing, drop it in the mail anonymously. They’ll be happy to get it back and your shame will be gone.

    Also, in general people? If you walk out with a book, and the beeper goes off, and you just forgot and you’re embarrassed-just put it in the book drop. We won’t mind.

      1. I’m not trying to shame here-I still have a book I legit stole from my elementary school (which no longer exists, so I can’t really send it back at this point). I’m just saying if it bothers you, let it go by sending it back to the library! In general librarians are pretty chill.

        Thanks for the compliment, I’m going to start thinking of myself as one of the Commonwealth’s hidden gems. 😉

  2. “To make amends, I became a Homerist.” Euge, bene! What an admirable piece of sophistry.

    I haven’t actually stolen any books; in fact, much the opposite, the library at that expertly-managed academic institution which is so dear to our hearts once misplaced a book which I had, in fact, returned. This naturally entailed a series of slanderous accusations and academic holds until they accidentally found the book and quietly removed the holds.

    Oh, but I do still have two of your books that I keep forgetting to bring back to you! Perhaps all “stealing” is but long term borrowing. You’re still alive, and could in principle return any of those books at any time. Clear your conscience, sir! No crime committed!

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