May 08, 2006

Sven Birkerts reviews The Book of Lost Books: An Incomplete History of All the Great Books You'll Never Read, By Stuart Kelly. (Boston Globe)

"Stories and legends are the meat of Kelly's book. Take the case of Aeschylus and the Ptolemys. It was Ptolemy I who traveled the known world with Alexander the Great, and later ruled Egypt, building there the monumental Alexandrian library. His grandson, Ptolemy III, devoted to the great institution, discovered 'an anomaly of unthinkable proportions' -- the lack of a complete text of the master Greek dramatist. The only extant version, in scrolls, was in Athens, so Ptolemy III arranged to borrow the text for copying purposes, leaving as collateral the staggering sum of 15 talents. A small amount to sacrifice, though, for what was known to be 'a unicum, a nonpareil, a one and only.'"

No comments: