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LIBER (βίβλος, βιβλίον), a book. But it must be recollected that these words in Greek and Latin until a very late period mean a book in the form of a roll, as will be explained below, and that the modern book shape was used only for the codex (in Greek, τεῦχος see CODEX), and not for literary publications. The name liber itself is either a misconception or a relic of antiquity applied to something different. It means “rind” or “bast;” but there seems no doubt that not the rind of the papyrus, but the pith (which Cassiodorus rightly gives as medullae), was used to make paper (charta). The true liber or bast is thought to have been used in pre-historic times for writing in some form, as were also leaves of trees (Plin. Nat. 13.69); but. this has nothing to do with the material of charta; nor has the substance philyra, which Pliny seems to apply wrongly in describing the manufacture of paper. Philyra, as Pliny himself elsewhere (16.65) explains, was the inner bark or skin of the lime-tree, which, as, it happens, was also used for writing, though. not in the form of charta (Ulpian, Dig. 32, 52). It is unnecessary to go further here into this point, which is fully discussed by Birt (Antike Buchwesen, p. 229 sq.). The same view is adopted by Marquardt (Privatleben, 800) and, Blümner (Technologie, 1.309). Of the linen material for books little need be said. It belonged to very early times among the Romans; for the Libri lintei are referred to by Livy not as existing in his own time, but as mentioned by Licinius Macer (Liv. 4.7, 13, 20, 23). They were not books, but merely public records with lists of magistrates, kept in the temple of Juno Moneta. Livy also speaks of a Samnite ritual-book as a “liber vetus linteus” (10.38). In much later times linen was used for note-books by Aurelian (Vopisc. Aur. 1.7). The Egyptian papyrus of which paper (charta) was made formed an article of trade before the time of Herodotus (5.68). He calls the plant βύβλος or βίβλος, but Theophrastus distinguishes πάπυρος as the plant and βίβλος as the pith, the true material of the paper. It was so largely exported that Cassiodorus (Ep. 11.38) speaks of [p. 2.58]the abolition of the tax upon it by Theodoric as the removal of an impediment to learning. The papyrus plant grows in swamps to a height of ten feet or more, and paper was manufactured from it (principally at Alexandria, but also at Rome) in the following manner (see Pliny, 13.77). The pith of the papyrus was cut into strips called schidae (or, in Festus, inae); these strips were placed alongside one another on a wetted board, and, if there was not glutinous property enough in the papyrus, they were smeared with paste: upon them transversely was placed a second layer forming a cross pattern or network: the whole was pressed and beaten into a consistent form and smoothed down with an ivory instrument (hence charta dentata), or a shell (Mart. 15.209), forming a single page (pagina, σελίς), which was called in its manufacture plagula, because of the network pattern in the initial stage (cp. the expressions “texere chartam,” ἤτρια βύβλων, &c.). Pliny (l.c.), unless the reading is altered, seems to think that the Nile water itself acted as a paste: this is in itself highly improbable, and we may more safely conclude that the papyrus itself yielded the glutinous substance when, as in Egypt, it was fresh, but when it was imported and dry the paste was necessary, which Pliny describes as used at Rome. Pliny reckons nine sorts or qualities of paper: (1) the best sort had once been called in Egypt hieratica, because it was specially used for sacred books, but in the Empire it was called Augusta, and was 13 digiti broad, and from a similar compliment the second quality was called Livia, so that, as Pliny notes, the hieratica was relegated to the third class; (4) the amphitheatrica, so called because it was manufactured near the amphitheatre at Alexandria, 9 digiti broad; (5) an improvement upon this by a Roman Fannius, and therefore called Fanniana, 10 digiti broad; (6 and 7) Saitica and Taeniotica (8 digiti), so called from the places of their manufacture in Egypt; (8) emporetica, used not for writing, but, as the name suggests, for wrapping up parcels. Later in Claudius's reign came the Claudia, which was a foot broad, and was regarded as an improvement, because it was thick enough for writing on both sides, whereas the Augusta was thin and transparent, and could only take writing on one side. Parchment (membrana) was also a common material for writing; but

Ancient Writing Materials. (From a painting at Herculaneum.)

the uses of charta and membrana were distinct until late in the Empire. Skins of animals had been used for writing in very ancient times: in fact, in Asia, among the Persians and, as is well known, among the Jews, it had been what papyrus was to the Egyptians (Diod. 11.32; Hdt. 5.58; and see Birt, p. 49). It is therefore not strictly correct of Varro (ap. Plin. Nat. 13.70) to say that parchment for writing was an invention of Eumenes II., king of Pergamum (about 180 B.C.), in consequence of the jealousy of Ptolemy Epiphanes, who prohibited the exportation of papyrus. (Jerome tells the same story of Attalus.) The true account seems to be that great improvement in the preparation of διφθέραι was introduced either by Eumenes or Attalus at Pergamum, whence the term pergamena, parchment, inasmuch as formerly διφθέραι were used (like charta) only on one side, and now they were smoothed for writing on both sides, and in this improved form exported to Rome. But it is important to notice that charta was until long after the Augustan age exclusively used for literary publications. Parchment was bound in the codex form (or book shape), and used for account books, for wills, and for notes. In fact, it competed rather with wax tablets than with paper. The membrana in Horace, Sat. 2.3, 2, A. P. 389, is used for the rough copy of poems to be altered and published later ( “delere licebit quod non edideris” ); and the same purpose is served by the parchment in a diptych stained yellow in Juv. 7.24. For books, i.e. literary publications, the codex was used first by Christian writers, beginning with the codices of the sacred writings; for other writings scarcely before the second half of the 3rd century, and in general use not before the 5th century. Exceptions to this appear in Martial, 14.188, 190, 192; but the membrana there may only refer to the wrapper, which enclosed the roll: cf. Mart. 1.3, 3. Letters were written on wax tablets or on paper, not on parchment. That the word palimpsestus in Cic. Fam. 7.1. 8 does not gainsay this, is shown by his use of chartula in that passage.

The pages (σελίδες, paginae) having been prepared in the manner described above, they were pasted together (conglutinatae) to form a long roll; but sometimes the pages were written first and pasted into a roll afterwards, for which purpose some people kept glutinatores (Cic. Att. 4.4). The writing was in columns, so that the lines of writing were parallel to the sides of the roll: on each page there was a column, and there was a blank space between each column. Down to the time of Caesar, however, it was the custom to write official documents transversa charta; that is to say, across the whole breadth of the roll, so that the lines of writing were at right angles to the sides of the roll. This explains the passage in Suet. Jul. 56. The shape and appearance of Greek and Roman books will be understood from the following woodcut.

The roll was sometimes of considerable length. The Scholiasts indeed (quoted by Birt, p. 444) speak of Thucydides and Homer being written each in one long roll. The roll of Thucydides is estimated at about 578 pages, nearly 100 yards--surely an incredible length; and a Homer roll, 120 yards in length, is said to have been in existence at Constantinople. But this was certainly not the usual system, and the roll rarely exceeded 100 pages (cf. Mart. 8.44), and was [p. 2.59]usually much smaller. It was customary to divide a long work (opus or corpus) into several books (libri); each liber being in one roll (volumen; in Greek, τομὸς or κύλινδρος). Greek writers sometimes called these libri or divisions of a work βίβλια, sometimes λόγοι, and in the later Empire συγγράμματα. Thus, in contrast to the huge roll of Homer, said to have been at Constantinople, we have the papyrus of the 24th book of the Iliad from Elephantine, so that the complete Iliad would have been in 24 rolls or volumes. The pages were numbered, or at any rate the total number was usually put on the titulus: even the total number of verses, or of lines in a prose work, were sometimes written on it. Thus Josephus reckons 60,000 στίχοι at the end of his 20th book of Antiquities, and Justinian gives to the Digests “centum quinquaginta paene milia versuum.” The price of the book was in part estimated by this number, and Marquardt cites an edict of Diocletian (C. I. L. iii. p. 831) in which the payment of the copyist was fixed at so much for every hundred lines.

The writing was usually only on one side of the paper. The other side in cast books was utilised for schoolboys' exercises: “libelle inversa pueris arande charta” (Mart. 4.86), or as scribbling paper (Mart. 8.62). Both sides were, however, sometimes used for the original work, and the books were then called opisthographi (Plin. Ep. 3.5: see Juv. 1.6, and Mayor's note). Sometimes the writing was sponged out (as in a parchment palimpsest) and the paper used over again. This is the point of the joke made by Augustus, “Ajacem suum in spongiam incidisse” (Suet. Aug. 82).

The roll was protected against worms by being smeared with cedar oil, which gave the paper a yellow tinge (Ov. Tr. 3.1, 13; Mart. 3.2; Hor. A. P. 331): then the last leaf was pasted on to a thin piece of wood called the umbilicus or ὄμφαλος (the umbilicus is found also made of tightly-folded paper). Hence the last page is called eschatocollion (Mart. 2.6); and the expression “ad umbilicum adducere” means, to finish (cf. Hor. Epod. 14, 8; Mart. 4.89) = “ad cornua,” Mart. 20.107. The edges (frons) of the roll were carefully cut, and also smoothed with pumice-stone, whence the book is “pumice mundus” (Ov. Tr. 3.1, 13; Mart. 1.67, 8.72; Catull. 22.8; Tib. 3.1, 10). There is an amusing mistake in Isidore's statement, “Circumcidi libros primum Siciliae increbuit, nam initio pumicabantur,” where he has confused sicilire, “to cut” (sica), with Sicilia. His statement is adopted by some modern writers, but there seems no reason to doubt that the book was both cut and smoothed with pumice-stone. As a further decoration, the ends (cornua) of the umbilicus were sometimes gilded as far as they projected (Mart. 8.61). The edges themselves (frons) were also coloured (nigra frons, Ov. Tr. 1.1, 8). A strip of parchment on which the title or subject of the book, and sometimes its number of pages or even lines, was written, was pasted on to the roll. (In this sense “praetexat summa fastigia” = “praetexat frontes.” ) This strip was called titulus or index, in Greek σίττυβοι or σίττυβαι (Cic. Att. 4.4). (Others spell the word σίλλυβοι, but see Phot. and Hesych. sub voce and Marquardt's note, Privatleben, 817.) This titulus or index was often painted a bright colour, and perhaps the “lora rubra” (Catull. 22, 7) have the same meaning (though Göll takes the words to stand for the parchment case). Finally, a cover for the roll (membrana, διφθέρα) was made of parchment coloured red or yellow, “Lutea sed niveum involvat membrana libellum” (Tib. 3.1, 9), which is called purpurea toga, and also sindon (Mart. 10.93; 11.1). If one work was in several libri, they were tied in a bundle (fasces, fasciculus, Gel. 9.4, or δέσμγ). So Aristot. fr. 134: δέσμας πάνυ πολλὰς δικανικῶν λόγων Ἰσοκρατείων περιφέρεσθι ὑπὸ τῶν βιβλιοπωλῶν. The only other addition to be noticed is, that occasionally the portrait of the author was placed on the first page of the book (Senec. de Tranq. An. 9; Mart. 14.186). It is for the imaginative a matter for speculation whether the portrait of Virgil in the Vatican edition is the copy of an original.

In reading, the roll (liber or volumen) was held in both hands and unrolled with one, while the other rolled it up: the unrolling was called

Book held by a crowned Poet. (From a painting at Herculaneum.)

evolvere, revolvere, or volvere; going right through was called explicare: rolling up again, convolvere, replicare, or complicare (Cic. Q. fr. 3.1, 5). So in Mart. 4.82, “charta plicetur” means, “let it remain unread” ; “opus explicitum” (14.1) means “read all through” (cf. “explicet volumen suum,” Cic. pro Rosc. Am. 35, 101). In rolling it up tightly, it was convenient to do so by holding the umbilicus with both hands while the first page was pressed under the chin. This is the meaning of “quae trita duro non inhorruit mento” (Mart. 1.66; cf. 10.93) and ρά σ᾽ ἀναγνοὺς παῖς τις ἀναθλίψει πρὸς τὰ γενεῖα τιθείς, in the Anthology. The above apparatus of a book is given completely by Martial (3.2):

Cedro nunc licet ambules perunctus

Et frontis gemino decens honore
Pictis luxurieris umbilicis;
Et te purpura delicata velet Et cocco rubeat superbus index.

The multiplication of books at Rome began after the conquest and pacification of Italy, but booksellers' shops were not known until the end of the Republic. The earliest mention of such [p. 2.60]shops is in Cic. Q. Fr. 3.4, and Phil. 2.9, 21; but they were then still uncommon, and we find Atticus selling books for the copying of which he had a large number of slaves (Cic. Att. 2.4). Booksellers were called librarii and also bibliopolae (Mart. 4.71, &c.), and in Greek βιβλιοκάπηλοι. Horace gives us the name of the Sosii (Ep. 1.20, 2; A. P. 345). Martial names several, and specifies Argiletum as the booksellers' quarter (1.3, 117): there were also the Vicus Sandilarius (Gel. 18.4) and the Sigillaria (Gel. 5.4). There were booksellers, too, in the provincial towns, e. g. at Lugdunum (Plin. Ep. 9.11; cf. Hor. Ep. 1.20, 13), at Brundisium (Gel. 9.4). As to the price, we have no very clear information; but it would seem that a book was not necessarily, as regards cost of production, very expensive, though it might from special circumstances command a large price. Gellius (2.3) speaks of the 2nd Aeneid being bought for viginti aurei = nearly £18; but it was an antiquarian curiosity, as being reputed (however unlikely that might be) Virgil's own copy: and as a literary tradition, possibly untrue, it was said that Aristotle gave three talents for an autograph MS. of Speusippus, and Plato nearly two for three books of Philolaus (Gel. 3.17). Such instances merely show that book-fanciers lived then as now, and price was regulated by fashion and rarity. Trustworthy copies of Ennius, for instance, were so rare in the time of Gellius that one of undoubted authority was hired for a large sum to decide a dispute as to the reading “quadrupes ecus” or “quadrupes eques” (Gel. 17.5). That, on the other hand, the real cost of production was not great, may be seen from the fact that Statius (Stat. Silv. 4.9, 9) speaks of a book (possibly one of his own) in a neat purple cover costing about fivepence: the first book of Martial, in the shop of Atrectus, cost 5 denarii (Mart. 1.117); but even that was dear; for the bookseller Tryphon could sell it at a profit for two (Mart. 13.3). The author's profit could be made (1) by selling his original copy to a bookseller (Sen. de Ben. 7.6; Suet. de Gr. 8), (2) by selling copies made by his own slaves: but in the absence of all legal protection, the gains so to be made were very small, and the author who sought profit from his writing depended mainly on the liberality of rich patrons. (See Friedländer, vol. iv. p. 66-120, French translation; Birt, ch. vii.)

How early or to what extent booksellers existed at Athens is a matter of dispute. It is not unreasonable (with Birt and Becker) to deduce from the mention of βιβλιογράφοι in Cratinus (Poll. 7.211) that they existed as early as 430 B.C. This name, for which βιβλιοπώλης was afterwards used, would imply that the first booksellers were copyists who both copied and sold books: and though Boeckh thinks that the proverbial use of λόγοισιν Ἑρυόδωρος ἐμπορεύεται, with Suidas's explanation, implies the rarity of such a trade, even after Plato's time, we have, on the other hand, the statement of Xenophon (Xen. Anab. 7.5, 14) that books were on sale even at Salmydessus; we have a book-market (τὰ βιβλία) at Athens in the time of Eupolis (Poll. 9.47); and we might conclude from Aristoph. Frogs 1109, βιβλίον τ᾽ ἔχων ἕκαστος μανθάνει τὰ δέξια, that books were then easily to be purchased: and the same may be inferred from the mention of the book collector Eudemus in Xen. Mem. 4.2 It is indeed probable that the well-known passage in the Apology (26 D) is wrongly adduced as an additional argument. When Socrates says that you can buy the opinions of Anaxagoras at the theatre for one drachma, he does not mean, as has often been imagined (even by Boeckh), that there was a bookstall there, but simply that one drachma would procure admission to the dearest place (εἰ πάνν πολλοῦ) in the theatre, where the doctrines of Anaxagoras might be heard in some play, perhaps, of Euripides. That a book of Anaxagoras could be bought there or anywhere else for a drachma is unlikely, since an inscription of the year 407 gives the price of the paper alone as 1 drachma 2 obols a sheet (i. e. a single roll which would serve for one small book). (C. I. A. 1.324: see Birt, p. 433.) Without this passage, however, there is enough for a fair inference that some kind of book-market began at Athens and in some other Greek towns in the latter part of the 5th century B.C. (See further on this subject Birt, Buchwesen, chap. ix.; Becker-Göll, Charikles, 2.160; Boeckh, ed. Fränkel, 1.60: see also art. BIBLIOTHECA

[W.S] [G.E.M]

hide References (53 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (53):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 2.4
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 4.4
    • Cicero, Letters to his brother Quintus, 3.1
    • Cicero, Letters to his brother Quintus, 3.4
    • Aristophanes, Frogs, 1109
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 11.32
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.58
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.68
    • Xenophon, Anabasis, 7.5
    • Xenophon, Memorabilia, 4.2
    • Cicero, For Sextus Roscius of Ameria, 35
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 56
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 82
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 3.5
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 9.11
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 4, 13
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 4, 20
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 4, 23
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 4, 7
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 18.4
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 2.3
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 3.17
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 5.4
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 9.4
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 17.5
    • Ovid, Tristia, 1.1
    • Ovid, Tristia, 1.8
    • Ovid, Tristia, 3.1
    • Ovid, Tristia, 3.13
    • Statius, Silvae, 4.9
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 10.93
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 11.1
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 13.3
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.186
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.188
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.190
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.192
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 1.117
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 1.3
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 1.66
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 1.67
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 2.6
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 3.2
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 4.71
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 4.82
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 4.86
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 4.89
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 8.44
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 8.61
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 8.62
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 8.72
    • Horace, Epistulae, 1.13
    • Horace, Epistulae, 1.20
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