The Millions

Binding the Ghost: On the Physicality of Literature

Homer on parchment pages! / The Iliad and all the adventures/ Of Ulysses, for of Priam’s kingdom, / All locked within a piece of skin / Folded into several little sheets!”
Martial, Epigrammata (c. 86-103)

“A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.”
-—John Milton, Aeropagitica (1644)

At Piazza Maunzio Bufalini 1 in Cesena, Italy, there is a stately sandstone building of buttressed reading rooms, Venetian windows, and extravagant masonry that holds slightly under a half-million volumes, including manuscripts, codices, incunabula, and print. Commissioned by Malatesta Novello in the 15th century, the Malatestiana Library opened its intricately carved walnut door to readers in 1454, at the height of the Italian Renaissance. The nobleman who funded the library had his architects borrow from ecclesiastical design: The columns of its rooms evoke temples, its seats the pews that would later line cathedrals, its high ceilings as if in monasteries.

Committed humanist that he was, Novello organized the volumes of his collection through an idiosyncratic system of classification that owed more to the occultism of Neo-Platonist philosophers like , who wrote in nearby Florence, or , who would be born shortly after its opening, than to the arid categorization of something like our contemporary Dewey Decimal System. For those aforementioned philosophers, microcosm and macrocosm were forever nestled into and reflecting one another across the long line of the great chain of being, and so Novello’s library was organized in a manner that evoked the connections of both the human mind in contemplation as well as the universe that was to be contemplated itself. Such is the sanctuary described by in where a

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Millions

The Millions4 min read
Twenty-Five Ways to Roast a Raven: The Spiciest Criticism of Edgar Allan Poe
“[Egdar Allan] Poe tried alcohol, and any drug he could lay his hand on. He also tried any human being he could lay his hands on.” —D.H. Lawrence The post Twenty-Five Ways to Roast a Raven: The Spiciest Criticism of Edgar Allan Poe appeared first on
The Millions4 min read
Love Your Bookstore: Greenlight Bookstore
For this year's Love Your Bookstore Challenge, the staff at Brooklyn's Greenlight Bookstore share their colorful and varied must-read titles. The post Love Your Bookstore: Greenlight Bookstore appeared first on The Millions.
The Millions8 min read
In Witchcraft There Are No Spectators: The Millions Interviews Amanda Yates Garcia
I don’t believe we should be grateful for adversity. But we can be grateful to ourselves for the strength we find to make it out of the underworld alive. The post In Witchcraft There Are No Spectators: The Millions Interviews Amanda Yates Garcia appe