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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Book of Lost Books Discovered in Danish Archive | Cool Finds - Smithsonian.com

Jason Daley, Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment inform, The index is part of the Libro de los Epítomes, an effort by Christopher Columbus’ illegitimate son to create a searchable index of the world’s knowledge.
Photo: Arnamagnæan Institute

Christopher Columbus may have explored oceans, but his illegitimate son, Hernando Colón, explored the mind. In the 16th century, he amassed somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 books, part of a pie-in-the-sky effort to collect “all books, in all languages and on all subjects, that can be found both within Christendom and without.” As part of this ambitious endeavor, he commissioned an entire staff of scholars to read the books and write short summaries for a 16-volume, cross-referenced index. Called the Libro de los Epítomes, it served as a primitive sort of search engine. Now, researchers have found one of those lost volumes, a precious key to many books lost to history.

After Colón’s death in 1539, his massive collection ultimately ended up in the Seville Cathedral, where neglect, sticky-fingered bibliophiles, and the occasional flood reduced the library to just 4,000 volumes over the centuries. Luckily, 14 of the volumes of the Libro de los Epítomes index survived, and are now held at the Biblioteca Colombina in Seville, an institution that manages the collection.

Thousands of miles away from Seville, though, one of the lost copies survived, tucked away at the Arnamagnæan Institute at the University of Copenhagan, which houses the vast library of Icelandic scholar Árni Magnússon. Professor Guy Lazure of the University of Windsor in Canada was there when he realized the foot-thick, 2,000-page tome he was looking at may have been one of the lost volumes.

Most of the Arnamagnæan Collection houses manuscripts in Icelandic and Scandinavian languages, with only 22 volumes in Spanish or by Spanish authors. That’s why the massive volume was likely overlooked for centuries until Lazure spotted it. Experts later confirmed that it was, indeed, part of Colón’s project... 

How the index came into Magnússon’s collection is unclear. According to the press release, it’s possible that it was part of a group of manuscripts brought to Denmark from Spain via Cornelius Lerche, an envoy to the Spanish court, though for now that’s just speculation.