In a delightful review written by The Philadelphia Inquirer's Stephan Salisbury of the exhibition Private Lives of Old Books, exhibition organizer and Ph.D. candidate Kate Barnes says the exhibit amounted to “a great excuse for me to go and say, ‘Special Collections. I want to look at literally every manuscript you have that is in Latin that has any sort of record in the catalog of having marginalia at all.’”
"What she found were books with notes jotted in various languages in the margins. She found passages underlined. She found volumes filled with doodled monks’ heads and sketched-in arrows and drawn fingers pointing at particular lines. She found colored-in illustrations, caricatures, sassy talk-back, vernacular whining, mildly randy jokes, wormholes, and all manner of other indignities suffered by volumes printed half a millennia ago that have somehow endured it all."
In addition to Barnes, Salisbury spoke to Catherine Conybeare, the Leslie Clark Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies, who, along with staff from Special Collections, worked with Barnes on the exhibition.
From the article:
"Conybeare chuckled over one particular Latin grammar by Aelius Donatus that was copied by an unknown scribe in Florence in 1474.
"Apparently the Donatus, as it is known, was seen by hoards of monks and aspiring scholars as presenting a kind of Iron Man competition in Latin studies. Getting through it amounted to a feared and perhaps insurmountable challenge, a mission impossible with no high-tech gadgets and no turning back.
"'All over the end page, it seems a number of people are so exuberant to work their way to the end, that they’ve written ‘finis’ in Latin and ‘telos‘ in Greek and made absolutely clear that they’re done with this,' said Conybeare."
The Private Lives of Old Books is on display through Dec. 17 in the Rare Book Room of Canaday Library.