(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘history of books

“From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”*…



Codex Sinaiticus (4th century, eastern Mediterranean)


“Codex” is just the Roman name for a book, made of pages, and usually bound on the left. Its predecessor was the scroll or book roll, which was unrolled as you read. The codex is manifestly superior: one can hold many volumes (from the Latin for book roll, volumen); codices have a built-in cover for protection; and pages that can be numbered for reference, from which arose a cornucopia of tables of contents and indices.

The codex didn’t catch on until surprisingly late in the ancient world. The early Christians, however, took to the codex with singular enthusiasm. Wider adoption of this form seems to have corresponded to Christianity’s spread. In the 4th century, no less a figure than St Augustine illustrates the difference between a codex and a roll – and the nagging ‘Christianity’ of the codex.

Not yet baptised, in his garden where he had been reading, Augustine tells us he heard a child’s voice chant: ‘Tolle Lege!’ (‘Take up and read’). So he grabbed his book and flipped to a random page. His eyes lit upon a passage in Paul’s ‘Letters to the Romans’. The words he found were the key to his conversion. The book couldn’t have been a roll: it was a codex of the Gospels. But many of his other, often non-Christian books, were rolls.

Virtually all ancient Christian texts were codices, and with each new scrap pulled from the Egyptian sands, this has been confirmed, rare exceptions ‘proving the rule’. Historians have concluded that, while Christians probably didn’t invent the codex, their scribes had gifted the general use of it to the Roman world and, in so doing, passed it, and much of what survives of Classical literature, on to us. But an inability to explain the exact origin and nature of this ‘Christian codex’ clouds every investigation, and for good reason: this conclusion is wrong. While nearly every early Christian text is a codex, not every early codex is Christian…

The fascinating story in full: “The birth of the book: on Christians, Romans and the codex.”

* Groucho Marx


As we turn the page, we might send speedy birthday greetings to Samuel Finley Breese Morse; he was born on this date in 1791.  After establishing himself as a successful painter, Morse returned to a school-day obsession, electricity, and began to experiment with using it to communicate…  sufficiently successfully that he is now less well remembered for his (then celebrated) art work, than for his success as contributor to the development of the single wire telegraph– which revolutionized global communications— and as the co-developer of Morse Code.

220px-Samuel_Morse_1840 source


Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 27, 2019 at 1:01 am

Only two months to go!…


May 8, it’s right around the corner:  “Post horns, W.A.S.T.E. insignia, the novels of Thomas Pynchon read unashamedly on trains”– Pynchon in Public Day.


As we prepare to take on Thurn und Taxis, we might recall that it was on this date in 1481 that England’s first printer, William Caxton completed his translation of  The Mirror of the World (a French encyclopedia probably written by Walter/Gossuin of Metz).  Printed later that year, it is generally believed to be the first illustrated book printed in English. (The other candidate is Caxton’s Cato, which appeared at about the same time).



Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 8, 2013 at 1:01 am

Show and Tell…


Congressmen and women make complex arguments on the floor these days– arguments strengthened by the use of graphics.  And so our representatives frequently employ charts, graphs, photos, and other visual aids…

Some are original graphics…

Some are taken for effect from popular media…

And some are animated…

Readers will find a much richer selection of Congressional infographics at the mesmerizing Floor Charts.

Democracy at work!


As we redouble our doodling, we might recall that it was on this date in 1509 that the first book with Roman type was published in Britain:  Ship of Fools, Alexander Barclay’s English adaptation of Narrenschiff, Sebastian Brant’s German poem satirizing all manner of late-fifteenth century folly.  It was one of the most successful published works of its age, and as its popularity grew it was translated into several European languages.  Printed by Richard Pynson, one of the finest printers of his time, it was immensely popular– one of the first international bestsellers– and paved the way for a new wave of satirical literature.

This printed leaf from the first edition features both Latin and Old English text, and a woodcut by Albrecht Dürer:



Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 13, 2012 at 1:01 am

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