Rare Books goes to UMFA


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Greek inscription

A piece from the rare book collections is on loan at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, in its ongoing exhibition,  Ancient Mediterranean Art: Res Mortis. The piece may be viewed at the museum through September, 2018.

The carved fragment of limestone celebrates the life of Helene, to whom is given the credit “In peace and blessing Ama Helene, a Jew, who loves the orphans, [died]. For about 60 years her path was one of mercy and blessing; on it she prospered.”

The piece has been at the J. Willard Marriott for nearly thirty years, a gift of Aziz S. and Lola Atiya. Aziz Atiya founded the University of Utah’s Middle East Center and the Marriott’s Middle East Library in 1969. Rare Books holds many gifts from Dr. and Mrs. Atiya, including this epitaph and one of the largest collections of Arabic papyrus fragments in the world.

When the epitaph was given to the library, it was provisionally identified as a “Coptic inscription, dating from the dawn of the use of the Greek alphabet, not earlier than the second century, but not later than the third.”

Years later, in 2016, Lincoln Blumell, associate professor of ancient scripture, at Brigham Young University translated it, publishing his translation in Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period. News of the piece attracted world wide press attention.

For more information on Dr. Blumell’s translation see our previous post.



The Melody Lingers On


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Happy 50th Anniversary, J. Willard Marriott Library!

“To erect a great library in the year 1968 is an act of stubborn and sassy faith.” — Wallace Stegner, from his dedication address for the opening of the J. Willard Marriott Library

The melody lingers on.

Long live the book! Long live libraries!

(Thanks to Scott Beadles for great photographs)

An Impression of Spring


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“Now sprigs are pricked by bursting buds,
and threading the trees the wind’s weft
skittles, drops and spurts again,
rubbing along the ground to tease old leafings
of skittering litter, scratching swirl…

Between bettling sky and buxom earth —
a mazed and frilling lightning flash!
The eye bleaches and goes black.
A far-off tracking thunder rolls
and tight, hard raindrops teem and patter,
hiss an sheen in rimplin rods…
till overhead the ragging cloud thins off
in clean-washed grin, and sun-bowl tips
over the giggling earth its molten gold.”

An Impression of Spring: A Landscape Panorama
Morris Cox (1903-1998)
London: Gogmagog Press: Dist. by Bertram Rota, 1966
ND497 C748 A43 1966

Gogmagog Press was a one man operation: for more than forty years Morris Cox — artist, writer, and printer — worked alone, using simple tools and creating one of the most important of British post-war private presses. Cox experimented with various aspects of his craft,  always paying meticulous attention to detail.

Morris Cox’s poetry and prose rarely found commercial publication. For this reason, in middle-age, Cox began Gogmagog Press, in order to distribute his work. It was only then that his poetry began to be championed, for the poetry was as good as the press production. Word and image are so intertwined that one divorced from the other leaves only half an experience.

The texture of the prints derives from the unusual printing blocks used to create them. Cox mounted sheets of cardboard onto plywood and layered them with gesso, next adding materials from nature like seeds, leaves, and twigs. These elements were varnished to strengthen them.

Impressions is one of four works on the seasons, all considered to be the peak of Cox’s achievement as a printer. Printed on Japanese ‘Hosho’ paper. Edition of one hundred numbered and signed copies. Rare Books copy is no. 23.

Book of the Week — Geographiae et hyrdrographi reformat


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You who laid the foundations of the earth,
So that it should not be moved forever” – Psalm 104, NKJV

“[A]s Geography without History seemeth a carkasse without motion; so History without Geography, wandreth as a Vagrant without a certaine habitation.”
― John Smith (1580-1631)

Geographiae et hydrographi reformat…
Giovanni Battista Riccioli (1598-1671)
Bononi: Ex typographia hredis V. Benatij, 1661
First edition
G114 R54

Giovanni Battista Riccioli, a Jesuit astronomer, was and is still best known for his work on astronomy, Almagestum Novum, 1651, in which he sets out reasons for and against a heliocentric cosmology. Riccioli was also a geographer. Geographia et hydrographiae reformatae libri is his attempt to collate all the geographic knowledge of the time. Riccioli addresses the variation of the magnetic needle, observations on geographical longitudes and latitudes, and several problems relating to navigation. Riccioli took measurements to determine the radius of the earth and to establish the ratio of water to land.

He developed a leveling device for use in surveying. He gave an account of the methods he used in order to determine the length of a degree of the terrestrial meridian. For this purpose, a base-line was measured near Bologna, and a triangulation was formed between that city and Modena, although the stations appear to have been improperly chosen — the angles between them are often less than eight degrees, and only two were observed in each triangle.

The instrument used to obtain the terrestrial angles was similar to the parallactic rulers of Ptolemy. In reducing the distances between the stations to one spherical surface, Riccioli assumed the refraction as constant, and equal to thirty minutes, as it had been determined by Tycho Brahe for celestial bodies in the horizon. The latitudes of the stations were determined by the sun and certain stars, their altitudes being observed with a quadrant whose radius was eight feet. But the declinations were taken from the catalogue of Brahe, and consequently liable to errors amounting to one minute or more.

Riccioli believed that the measures of the ancients were nearly correct. Among his own observations, he chose results which arrived closest to those earlier measures. Thus, his determination of the length of a degree was erroneous.

A Lasting Gift — The Principles of Psychology


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“The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” — William James

The Principles of Psychology
William James (1842-1910)
New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1890
First edition, first state

Rare Books is pleased to announce the anonymous donation of this first edition of William James’ The Principles of Psychology, a work emphasizing his experimental method and treatment of psychology as a natural science. A landmark in the history of philosophy, The Principles of Psychology includes a survey of literature on the localized functions of the brain, an extensive analysis of the self, and theories of habit, emotion, and association, among other topics. The phrase “stream of consciousness” comes from his writings.

William James came from a large, wealthy New York family. He is the brother of novelist Henry James. His godfather was Ralph Waldo Emerson. While teaching at Harvard, his students included Theodore Roosevelt, George Santayana, and Gertrude Stein. His writings influenced W. E. B. Du Bois and Ludwig Wittgenstein. He associated with Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud and many others. That’s a special bunch of people in the world of literature and scholarship.

We also have special friends, named and unnamed. Thank you!

Book of the Week — Atlas céleste de flamsteed…


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“Newton’s design was to make me come to him, force me to comply with his humors, and flatter him and cry him up as Dr. Halley did. He thought to work me to his ends by putting me to extraordinary charges. Those that have begun to do ill things never blush to do worse to secure themselves. Sly Newton had still more to do and was ready at coining new excuses and pretenses to cover his disingenuous and malicious practices… I met his cunning forecasts with sincere and honest answers and thereby frustrated not a few of his malicious designs. I would not court him, for, honest Sir Isaac Newton (to use his own words) would have all things in his own power, to spoil or sink them; that he might force me to second his designs and applaud him, which no honest man would do nor could do; and, God be thanked, I lay under no necessity of doing.” – John Flamsteed

Atlas céleste de flamsteed…
John Flamsteed (1646-1719)
Paris: Chez F. G. Deschamp [et chez] l’auteur, 1776
Second edition in French, the third edition after the first in English of 1729
QB65 F5 1776

John Flamsteed was England’s first Astronomer Royal. He was a lecturer at Gresham College. Flamsteed used a telescope with an aperture smaller than the smallest modern telescope, including those we might give to a child today. Telescopes used by the most casual amateur astronomers have apertures ten times that of Flamsteed’s telescope.

When first published, this altas represented a new era in celestial cartography, recording the 3000 stars John Flamsteed observed using equatorial and ecliptic coordinates. Flamsteed quarreled bitterly with Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley about his findings. His own findings often contradicted those of Christiaan Huygens. The sky was a battleground, fought over with primitive instruments and by the best minds of the day. 

For the French edition, engineer Jean Nicolas Fortin, reduced the size of the maps, and fixed the location of the stars for 1780 instead of 1690, the date at which they had been fixed by Flamsteed. Fortin also added new discoveries to this edition. Illustrated with thirty double-page engraved plates.

Gilgamesh, King of Erech


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“The white-haired Ziusudra gazes dreaming out to sea.
Above his white head, the tall palms dream also,
Undulating slowly the green indolence of their leaves.
The old man remembers
Long days, long since, when he watched other waves
Heaving like these, heaving onward eternally,
Yet never breaking
On any earthly shore;
For earth itself lay drowned.
Now he watches them breaking for ever,
Like the years;
The blue of his old eyes changes no more
Than the blue of ocean,
And his hoar locks blow like its foam.
Almost as ancient he seems as the rock of granite,
Of red granite, where he sits above the sea.
Yet still his immortal soul regrets
The brief years of his mortality.”

Gilgamesh, King of Erech
Frank Lawrence Lucas (1894-1967)
London: Golden Cockerel Press, 1948
PR6023 U3 G5 1948

The story of part man, part god hero Gilgamesh was first recorded on clay tablets well before 2000 BC. Gilgamesh was a historical king who reigned circa 2700 BC, the fifth in line of the founding first dynasty of Ur, centered around the ancient city of Urak, known in the Hebrew Biblle as Erech. The historical Gilgamesh built one of the first temples in the holy city of Nippur, now ad Diwaniyah, which is where two of our clay tablets are from. This edition is a free translation of the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh, with twelve engravings by Dorothea Braby. Edition of five hundred copies, numbered. University of Utah copy is no. 263.

Excavations at Ur

Pu-Abis Burial Pit

No time, no tomb can hide what we have been.
See what the searchers have uncovered where
Hills are laid low in long-abandoned air,
Centuries swiftly sifted through a screen.
Bay leaves in circlet, gold instead of green,
Carnelian that this river land called rare,
Lapis bought dearly with some distant ware
Crown a crushed skull. Surely here lay a queen.

That future digger who can read the dead,
Build dynasties from what the past discards,
Dust and a different sunlight on his head,
Shaking my grave for artifacts and shards
Will bare no gold bedecking this brown bone
And rightly call a commoner’s skull my own.


Clay Tablets

Molded like primal man from lumps of mud
And pressed with dents peculiar to old needs
The tablets tell of gods’ outlandish deeds,
Record the names kings bore before the Flood.
Now tufted hills lie where the city stood.
The kings eat endless earth and the wind feeds
On eyeless gods. The river stirs far reeds.
The clay alone survives long solitude

And even now some men can read its signs.
The double strokes say water, and the star
Signifies heaven. All the fragile lines
Hold meaning that millenniums fail to mar
While in a familiar alphabet my words
Today go meaningless as marks of birds.

–Luise Putcamp jr., 1964

Excavations at Ur published here by permission of the poet to whom we wish a happy 94th birthday.

Gilgamesh: the postmodern replica


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“Ishtar cried out…
Six days and seven nights the wind
shrieked, the stormflood rolled
through the land. On the seventh
day of its coming the stormflood
broke from the battle…
The word sea grew quiet, the storm
was still; the Flood stopped.
All of humanity was turned to clay.
I crouched, sitting, and wept.
My tears flowed over my cheeks.
Gods, let me not forget this…”

Gilgamesh: the postmodern replica
Ludmil Trenkov
Otis Laboratory Press, 1997
N7433.4 T635 G5 1997

Writing based on the 1985 edition of ‘Gilgamesh’ by John Gardner and John Maier. Edition of fifteen copies.

Recommended reading:

Gardner, John and John Maier. Gilgamesh: Translated from the Sin-leqi-unninii Version…. New York: Vintage Books, 1985
PJ3771 G5 E5 1985, L1

Inanna: from the great above she set her mind to the great below


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“From the great above she opened her ears to the
great below,
The goddess, from the great above she opened her
ears to the great below”

Inanna: from the great above she set her mind to the great below
Jana Lee Pullman
Madison: Western Slope Press, 1989
PS3566 U55 I63 1989

Printed on Nideggen with 12pt Bembo. Edition of twenty-five. Rare Books copy is no. 5.

Seven Lines of Sumerian Cuneiform


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Rare Books thanks Dr. Renee Kovacs for the following translation of our clay tablets.

Palace Dedication Inscription of King Sin-kashid of Uruk

Old Babylonian period, c. 1900-1700 BC

Seven lines of Sumerian cuneiform, six on obverse, one on reverse.

The text of the inscription is known from 174 duplicates (identified in scholarly literature as Sin-kashid RIM E4.4.1.2). Some are written on small clay cones, others on clay or stone tablets. They were intended for foundation deposits, and were immured in the walls of the royal palace in great numbers. There are also many  others expanded by a few lines of royal epithets.

Uruk was one of the most ancient cites of Sumer. The Amnanum were a tribe of West Semitic Amorite-speaking nomads who had come into southern Mesopotamia several centuries earlier.

An excellent reconstruction of the palace is shown at Artefacts: Scientific Illustration & Archeological Reconstruction.

Sin-kashid, mighty man, king of Uruk, king of Amnanum, built his royal palace (“a palace of his kingship”).

For detailed study of the palace and the related texts see the exhibition catalogue:

Fügert, A. and Sanati-Müller, S. 2013: Der altbabylonische Palast von Uruk und seine Texte, in: Crüsemann, N. et al. (editors), Uruk – 5000 Jahre Megacity. Ausstellungskatalog, Petersberg, 243-251.