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From summaries of books in the library of Hernando Colón, composed by him and his staff and collected in Libro de los Epítomes. The manuscript was discovered in 2019 among the holdings of the Arnamagnæan Institute at the University of Copenhagen. Colón, the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus, endeavored to build a library that contained every book in existence. The complete translation from the Latin by the Arnamagnæan Institute’s Book of Books Project is expected to be published in 2026 by Oxford University Press.

the ivory casket by hippocrates: In the medical section of the library there is a certain pamphlet of prognostics with the title “The Ivory Casket,” and here is what I’ve been able to find out about this mysterious name: Hippocrates, sensing his death was near, instructed that the contents of this pamphlet be placed in an ivory casket and buried in his grave with him, to keep people from discovering them. When this came to the attention of a certain emperor, he ordered the grave dug up and saw to it that the contents of the casket were saved for posterity. What is contained in this prognostic are rules or instructions by which to predict the very season, day, and hour of death coming to one who is sick, by the signs that are here set down.

a letter on the unapostolic morals of certain men by lucifer: Some scourge of wickedness, whose name I have not been able to discover, published this letter from Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness, about certain men who claim to have succeeded the apostles and their very unapostolic morals. . . . In it is a note of congratulation from Lucifer to the leaders of the modern church: wishing them good health, he exhorts them to carry on their evil and to abandon the path of the apostles while keeping their power, promising that their first reward will be to be his right-hand men in hell. Other than this, there is nothing in the letter that I need to record in this epitome, so I will only add that the thrust is quite satirical: to criticize the morals of degenerate priests.

a scholars manual beginning respected teacher: Whoever published this book wasted their money. It’s supposed to teach schoolboys what they should expect at university, but I doubt whether someone brought up among the Sarmatians or Scythians would recount such barbaric behavior as this. The Latin itself is awful. The dialogue describes what goes on in places such as Deventer and Cologne, where during the matriculation rituals the little graduate bitches and other wicked scoundrels bombard the freshman with abuse and insults and human filth, and also shave him and inflict other indignities. Then the freshman has to take them all out and get them drunk on his own dime. I will stop here so I don’t shock anyone too much, but the debauched author even includes dialogues about whores and prostitution. There’s nothing funny or clever or charming here—it’s just filth. And, as if that isn’t enough, there’s a string of grammatical errors more than a mile long.

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November 2021

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