Friday, April 17, 2015

FW: Friday Fun

The Medieval Book Curse

In the medieval period, the most effective method of deterring a bibliomaniac from acquiring manuscripts from their proper owners was the book curse. The book curse was not a technological security system but a security system of social context. A book curse reminded would-be book thieves that books were valued and that there were repercussions for taking them without permission.

There was no individual standard curse that was used in all books, rather scribes were free to design curses for the books they had copied. The colophon was the usual location of these curses and it was the only space in a manuscript that the medieval scribe had freedom to write as he or she chose.

Book curses used threats of several different types of punishment to invoke fear among those who would take or damage a book: bodily injury, damnation, excommunication, or anathema. The bodily injuries included hanging, illness, and painful death and usually called for more than one physical torment to befall the thief.  James Thompson records one such curse: "Whoever steals this book let him die the death; let be him be frizzled in a pan; may the falling sickness rage within him; may he be broken on the wheel and be hanged."

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