Oh, How Many Books We Have Lost!

Vergerio, de ingenuis moribus et liberalibus adulescentiae studiis, XXXVIII:

“Letters and books are a record of things and the common treasury of all knowable things. Therefore, if we ourselves are unable to produce anything of our own, we ought to take care that we transmit those which we have received from earlier generations to posterity intact and uncorrupted. By this we can lend counsel to those who will come after us, and we will in this one way repay the labors of those who have come before us. In this matter, we may justly censure a certain age and the ages which immediately succeeded it. Indeed, we may feel indignant (though we accomplish nothing in so doing) that these earlier ages have allowed so many notable works of famous authors to perish. Of certain of these, indeed, only the names, though decorated with the highest praise, have come down to us. Of others, parts and fragments have come to us. Then, from the splendor of the praises and the noted name, we desire their works as well. We may be indignant that the rest of their labors have perished when we consider the excellence and dignity of those which survive; though it must be conceded that they are in many places so corrupt, cut up, and mangled, that it would almost be better if nothing of them had survived to our day.”

“A vanitas still life with an hour glass, a skull and crossbones, a scroll, two books, music scores, a flute, a violin, a sheet of paper.” Oil on canvas. Edwaert Collier (Renaissance Dutch, 1630-50-1708). Known for vanitas still-life and trompe...

Nam sunt litterae quidem ac libri certa rerum memoria et scibilium omnium communis apotheca. Idque curare debemus ut quos a prioribus accepimus, si nihil ipsi ex nobis gignere forte possumus, integros atque incorruptos posteritati transmittamus, eoque pacto et his qui post nos futuri sunt utiliter consulemus et his qui praeterierunt vel unam hanc suorum laborum mercedem repensabimus. In quo iuste forsitan possumus quoddam saeculum proximasque superiores aetates accusare. Indignari quidem licet, proficere autem nihil, quod tam multa illustrium auctorum praeclara opera deperire passi sunt. Et quorundam quidem nomina sola, summis tamen laudibus ornata, aliorum etiam pars vigiliarum et fragmenta quaedam ad nos pervenerunt. Unde fit ut ex splendore laudum ac nominis opera desideremus illorum. Horum vero reliquos labores deperisse indignemur ex earum rerum quae superant adhuc excellentia ac dignitate, tametsi ea ipsa in plerisque partium suarum tam vitiose corrupta, quaedam etiam intercisa ac mutilata suscepimus, ut paene melius fuerit ex his nihil ad nos pervenisse.

4 thoughts on “Oh, How Many Books We Have Lost!

    1. There isn’t really much chaff; some of the stuff is less exciting and quotable, but this was a short treatise and he manages to pack in a lot of great, sententious, and eminently quotable stuff. Unfortunately (as is the case with many Renaissance texts) it’s not available online, so I have to transcribe anything I post, i.e. I will by necessity only post the real highlights!

      I noticed, though, that there is substantial overlap in the sort of thoughts which Renaissance humanists expressed concerning education. It is also notable that they make heavy use of the same anecdotal illustrations. The story of Timotheus the musician, for example, recurs quite a lot.

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