Books As Dining Room Decoration

Seneca, On the Tranquility of the Mind 9

“For pursuits in which expense is still most respectable it is reasonable as long as it is moderate. What’s the worth of countless books and libraries when their owners are barely able of reading the titles in a lifetime? This mob of books overwhelms a learner instead of teaching—and so it is much better to turn yourself over to a few authors rather than to get lost among many.

Forty thousand books burned at Alexandria—let another worship this as the most beautiful monument to regal wealth as Titus Livius did (and he says that this was the most outstanding evidence of the elegance and care of kings). But this is neither elegance nor care but instead studied luxury—no, not even studied since they produced it not for the sake of learning but as a spectacle. This is the same way many who are ignorant even of a child’s level of literacy have books not as tools of learning but for dining-room decoration.

So, let a number of books be gathered which is enough, but none for show.”

Studiorum quoque, quae liberalissima impensa est, tamdiu rationem habet quamdiu modum. Quo innumerabiles libros et bibliothecas, quarum dominus uix tota uita indices perlegit? Onerat discentem turba, non instruit, multoque satius est paucis te auctoribus tradere quam errare per multos. Quadraginta milia librorum Alexandriae arserunt. Pulcherrimum regiae opulentiae monumentum alius laudauerit, sicut et Liuius, qui elegantiae regum curaeque egregium id opus ait fuisse. Non fuit elegantia illud aut cura, sed studiosa luxuria, immo ne studiosa quidem, quoniam non in studium, sed in spectaculum comparauerant, sicut plerisque ignaris etiam puerilium litterarum libri non studiorum instrumenta, sed cenationum ornamenta sunt. Paretur itaque librorum quantum satis sit, nihil in apparatum

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