Category Archives: Opinion Posts

Noli Hoc Tangere: My visit to The Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library

This week I had the opportunity to visit the Beinecke rare books and manuscript library in New Haven.  I was actually born and raised in New Haven and had seen this unique building many times, but to me it was just the odd stamp-shaped library whose books are not allowed to be borrowed.  The panels that make up the building are Vermont white and grey veined marble, one and a half inches thick, which allows natural light to filter through the building but without damaging the rare books.

The exterior of the Beinecke showing the white and grey-veined marble from Vermont.

A view of the marble panels from inside the Beinecke.

Upon entering the building, one is greeted by a glass tower, six levels high, filled with approximately 180,000 rare books—first editions, manuscripts, letters, etc. There is additional space in the Beinecke’s underground stacks for one million volumes. I could not stop staring at this impressive, gorgeous tower and taking photos of it from all angles. Here are a few of the ones I took:

Central, glass tower of books at The Beinecke.

The glass tower of books, The Beinecke.

A view of the glass tower with marble panels in the background.

Anyone can visit the library during its operating hours and view the Gutenberg Bible and Audobon’s Birds of America which are on permanent display. There is also seating around the main floor for anyone to study, read or sit quietly:

Audobon’s Birds of America on display at The Beinecke.

The Gutenberg Bible on display at The Beinecke.

In addition to these permanent books on display, there is also a collection of rare books and manuscripts to view that changes every few months. The current display is a group of Medieval English Manuscripts from the Takamiya Collection:

Takamiya ms 114. Ranulph Higden, Polychronicon. England, late 15th century.

Beinecke ms 84. Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae. England, between 1400 and 1500.

Beinecke ms 923. Folding calendar. France, c. 1290-1300.

Takamiya ms 117. Scribal sample sheet. Germany, c. 14755-1500.

For additional information about the building, an audio tour, and a description of its rare books, manuscripts and papyri visit their website: http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/about/about-building

Any researchers, even those not associated with Yale University, can request to view books and other materials through the library’s website. There is a rigorous process for identification and the materials can only be viewed in their reading room which, as one can imagine, is closely monitored. I requested to look at their Dorothy M. Richardson collection, the treasures from which I will share in a future post.

(The title for this post “Noli hoc tangere” (don’t touch this) was a clever suggestion from one of my Latin students who came up with this caption after I showed my photos and shared my experience in class.)

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Pilgrimage and Mourning the Loss of Summer Vacation

My levels of anxiety have been at an all-time high in the last few days as I contemplate all of the tasks that go into the beginning of a new semester.  The first week entails hours of meetings, listening to various speakers and leadership team planning.  My mind is swimming with thoughts of various administrative duties I need to perform, of ideas from leadership articles I have been required to read and of dread at the anticipation of sitting through hours of speakers that are supposed to motivate us for the new term.  But as I was reading Pilgrimage, Dorothy Richardson reminded me of the real purpose of my chosen profession, engaging with students.  The advice that is given to Miriam as she completes her first teaching job is just as relevant today as it was 100 years ago and it applies to every teacher, no matter the grade level or subject one instructs:

To truly fulfil the most serious role of the teacher you must enter into the personality of each pupil and must sympathize with the struggles of each one upon the path on which our feet are set.  Efforts to good kindliness and thought for others must be encouraged.  The teacher shall be sunshine, human sunshine, encouraging all effort and all lovely things in the personality of the pupil.

I am truly grateful for a lovely summer that involved lots of reading, swimming, sunbathing, traveling and spending time with my family.  I know how lucky I am to have this extended time off.  I just have to grit my teeth and get through the next week of “professional development” before I get to greet my always fabulous Latin and Ancient Greek students.

I hope all of my readers and visitors have also had a wonderful summer.

 

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Love Has Finally Arrived: My Translation of Sulpicia

Euterpe, Muse of Music and Poetry

Since it is Women in Translation month, I thought that it would be interesting to write a little post and offer my own translation of the only female  poet from Ancient Rome whose work has survived.  Sulpicia, born during the Augustan period and a contemporary of Horace, Ovid and Vergil,  wrote six love elegies which were not published on their own, but instead appended to the volume of poetry penned by Tibullus.  Even nowadays her poems can only be found in the Loeb, for instance, as part of the Corpus Tibullianum.  For many years scholars have denied the fact that a woman could have written these poems but it is now widely accepted that it was the daughter of upper class Roman citizens, connected to Augustus’s inner circle, who composed these elegies.  Unfortunately, more recent studies have criticized Sulpicia’s poems and judged them as inferior to her contemporaries because they are missing the literary allusions that are prevalent in other elegiac poets.

After translating Sulpicia’s poems, however, it is evident that she was keenly aware of the elegiac forms of her fellow Roman poets.  Regardless of what one might think of their literary merit, Sulpicia’s six poems, addressed to her lover Cerinthus, are the only opportunity for us to sneak a glimpse into the mind and heart of a Roman female from her own perspective.

I offer my translation of Sulpicia Poem XIII in which she confirms that the rumors about her love are more than just rumors and she wishes to cast aside all veils and embrace her joys and affections:

Tandem venit amor, qualem texisse pudori
quam nudasse alicui sit mihi fama magis.
Exorata meis illum Cytherea Camenis
adtulit in nostrum deposuitque sinum.
Exsolvit promissa Venus: mea gaudia narret,
dicetur siquis non habuisse sua.
Non ego signatis quicquam mandare tabellis,
ne legat id nemo quam meus ante, velim,
sed peccasse iuvat, vultus conponere famae
taedet: cum digno digna fuisse ferar.

Love has finally arrived, and a rumor that I tried to conceal
this kind of love would bring me much more shame than
revealing it openly. I begged Venus with my poems and
she brought him right to me and placed him in my lap.
Venus has kept her promises.  If anyone is said to be lacking
in his own happiness, then let him speak about my joys.
I wouldn’t wish to entrust anything to wax tablets for fear
that someone else might read about my feelings before my
love. It pleases me to have engaged in this transgression;
I am tired of wearing a mask because of this rumor.
Let it be said that we have been together,
each of us equally worthy of the other.

I love the tone of this poem, that Sulpicia doesn’t care about rumors and she wants to free herself of societal expectations placed on her.  The digno and digna in the last line is my favorite part of the elegy—both she and her lover are “worthy of” and “fitting for” one another.

What is everyone else reading for #WITMonth?

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The Bookshop and The Beach: My Vacation to Maine

Harding Books on Route 1 in Wells, Maine

My family and I went on our annual summer vacation this year to Kennebunk Beach in Maine. This has been our favored destination for the past few years and I thought I would say a few words about my favorite bookshop in Maine and my recent finds there. Harding’s Rare and Used Books is located one town adjacent to Kennebunk, in Wells, Maine on Route 1.  The staff is kind, friendly and very knowledgeable.  I was told by the employees that they buy books every day and their owner, a very nice gentleman named Douglas, also buys books from auctions and dealers.

One realizes this is a serious bookshop when, upon opening the front door, one encounters two gigantic piles of their newest acquisitions.  It took me a while to sift through these piles, but my patience was greatly rewarded by finding a first edition of I, Claudius by Robert Graves. I also dug out a copy of Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor and William H. Gass’s Reading Rilke from these piles.

 

The rest of the store is like a maze with rooms of various shapes and sizes piled with books from floor to ceiling.  Harding’s has a wide variety of first editions as well as signed books and they also have  the largest selection of books about New England that I have ever encountered.  I found a first edition copy of Within the Harbor by Sara Ware Bassett, a New England author whose books are set in two Cape Cod villages that she created.  This is an interesting little find that makes visiting this store so much fun.

A view of part of the hard copy fiction books at Harding’s

 

I spent most of my time in the Latin and Ancient Greek, Poetry and Classic Fiction sections.  Among the classic fiction books, I found two titles to add to my ever growing collection of New York Review of Books classics and I also found five Virago Modern Classics to add to my shelves.

My haul from Harding’s

The Latin and Ancient Greek section had a nice selection of Loebs as well as ancient authors in translation.  My favorite find was a dual language edition of Oedipus by Sophocles with an introduction by Thornton Wilder.  The illustrations in this edition are also quite interesting.

I also found in the Ancient Civilization section a copy of Michael Grant’s book on Nero which is in mint condition; not only is it an excellent introduction to this enigmatic and misunderstood emperor (and my favorite), but it also contains some gorgeous color plates to go along with the text.

Among the poetry books I found a hard copy edition of the Collected Poems of W.H. Auden that was only $5.00.  I have to say that all of the books at Harding’s are very reasonably priced, including the first editions and signed books.

But I didn’t spend all of my time in the bookshop.  I also enjoyed the beach very much, worked on my tan and did a little swimming even though the water was quite chilly.  My daughter did some surfing (I only watched and took some pictures.)  My beach reads were Henry Green’s Party Going and Clarice Lispector’s Agua Viva—more thoughts on those to come.

Surfing at Kennebunk Beach

Finally, we had some truly fabulous meals in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport.  One of our favorites is David’s KPT in Dock Square whose selection of raw oysters is spectacular and decadent.  It is no surprise that the seafood dishes, in particular, are wonderful no matter the restaurant.  I will spare everyone pictures of my food as well as a picture of myself wearing one of those goofy lobster bibs.  The picture below is a view we had during Sunday Brunch.

Where have you spent your holidays this summer?  Have you found any interesting books or bookshops?

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Filed under British Literature, Classics, History, New York Review of Books, Nonfiction, Opinion Posts, Poetry, Travel Writing

My Visit to the Rare Book Room at The Strand

The Rare Book Room at The Strand.

On my recent trip to New York City there was an article in the New York Times about The Strand celebrating its 90th year in business.  Not only does this bookstore have 18 miles of books located on four floors, but they also have rows and rows of sale books on the sidewalk on 12th st. just outside the store, and a kiosk fully stacked with fabulous books outside of Central Park.  The article in the Times mentioned The Strand’s most expensive book—a first edition copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses illustrated by Henri Matisse, signed by both authors.  The Limited Editions Club published 1500 copies in 1935; only 250 copies are signed by both Joyce and Matisse which are rare and very expensive.  The manager at The Strand said that the price tag on their copy is $45,000.    Matisse signed all 1500 copies and the ones with only his signature sell for a lot less—between $3500 and $5000, depending on the condition of the book.

The rare book room is housed on the third floor of The Strand and all of their customers are welcome to visit any time during business hours.  The staff was kind and willing to show me their most expensive and famous book for sale.  The manager extracted the book from a safe where their most precious books are kept and happily allowed me to look at the copy of Ulysses and let me take these photos.

Not all of their books are as rare or expensive as this copy of Ulysses. The rare book room has something for everyone’s budget. There are lots of signed and first edition books by modern authors openly available on their shelves to look at and to browse. I saw a first edition of Derek Walcott’s poetry inscribed by the author, for instance, that was being sold for $40. Some of their more expensive books, the ones that range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars are under glass cases—for instance a first edition German copy of Kafka’s The Castle with a price tag of $2500. But the staff is friendly and helpful and willing to let customers hold and flip through any of their books.

The Strand, all four floors of it, is one of my favorite places to visit in the world and I can’t wait to go back.  I am thinking another trip in the fall is in order.  First, I have to recover from carrying almost 40 books on the train back home and find a place for my purchases.  In my next post I will share some of my NYC book haul.

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