A Curse on Book Thieves (and Bookworms)

Here’s a wonderful curse one monastery inflicted on those who would steal their precious scrolls. For these were the dark days before Gutenberg’s printing press, when the printed word was still something valuable because it was actually printed, painstakingly, by hand.  How valuable? Here’s what good Christians thought book thieves deserved:

For him who stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain crying aloud for mercy, and let there be no surcease to his agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever.

So, fellow bibliophiles, stamp this curse into your books before you lend them!

As for actual bookworms of the class Insecta, here’s what the Greek poet Evenus had to say about them (and keep in mind that bookworms are symbolic of all enemies of human culture):

booklouse

An adult booklouse

Page-eater, the Muses’ bitterest foe, lurking destroyer, ever feeding on thy thefts from learning, why, black bookworm, dost thou lie concealed among the sacred utterances, producing the image of envy?

(Hat tip: Greenblatt’s The SwerveHow the World Became Modern)

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