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The Lost Book of Books of Columbus’s Son

Copenhagen, Denmark —(Map)

Though many people know of Christopher Columbus, not many people are familiar with his children. Now one son, Hernando Colón, has made the news almost 500 years after his death.

Hernando Colón is the son of Christopher Columbus. Colón explored the world of books much like Columbus explored the world by ship. Now a special book of his, missing for close to 500 years, has been found.

AM 377 fol. (shown here ff. 455v-456r) contains summaries of around 2000 books that belonged to Hernando Colón.
Hernando Colón is the son of Christopher Columbus. Colón explored the world of books much like Columbus explored the world by ship. Now a special book of his, missing for close to 500 years, has been found.
(Photo: Suzanne Reitz, source: N. Kıvılcım Yavuz, Arnamagnæan Institute, University of Copenhagen.)

During his life, Hernando Colón had many large collections, including music and pictures. He even collected words – he started a dictionary which grew to 1,432 pages but only got to the letter “B”.

But his greatest collection was books. Colón built a huge library, with over 15,000 books from all around the world. It was the largest in the world at that time. Colón collected all kinds of books, both famous and ordinary.

Portrait of Hernando Colón
Colón’s greatest collection was books. He built a huge library, with over 15,000 books from all around the world. It was the largest in the world at that time.
(Source: Unidentified painter, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Colón didn’t just collect the books. He figured out new ways of organizing and keeping track of them. Professor Edward Wilson-Lee, who studied Colón’s life, says that Colón’s work was similar to the work that search engines like Google do on the internet now. Colón was interested in collecting knowledge and making it easier to find.

With so many books, how could you know what was in them all? Colón hired people to read the books and write summaries – short versions of the main ideas.

The picture shows Colón's "Coat of Arms". The four books in the design stand for four ways of organizing books.
Colón built a huge library, with over 15,000 books from all around the world. He also figured out new ways of organizing and keeping track of books. The picture shows Colón’s “Coat of Arms”. The four books in the design stand for four ways of organizing books.
(Source: [CC BY 3.0 ES], Junta de Anadalucia.)

Colón wanted to make a master book that had a summary of every book in his library. It was a huge task, and it never got finished. But he did get summaries of about 10,000 books. The summaries were hand-written and were put into a book called “Libro de los Epítomes” or “Book of Summaries”.

But after Colón died in 1539, his library was passed on to others who weren’t as interested. Slowly the library broke apart. Parts of it were sold. Almost half the books were gone before the rest were given to the Cathedral of Seville in Spain. Currently only about 25% of the original library remains. The Book of Summaries was one of the books that was lost.

Ancient books on shelves at the Arnamagnæan Collection.
The Book of Summaries was found at the Arnamagnæan Institute in Copenhagen. It had been sitting on the shelves at the collection for hundreds of years. Until recently, no one had ever connected the book to Colón. It’s the book with the number 377 on it.
(Photo: Suzanne Reitz, source: N. Kıvılcım Yavuz, Arnamagnæan Institute, University of Copenhagen.)

Last month, the Arnamagnæan Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark announced that it had found the Book of Summaries. It had been sitting on the shelves at the collection for hundreds of years. Until recently, no one had ever connected the book to Colón.

Measuring 144 mm, AM 377 fol. is the thickest manuscript in the Arnamagnæan Collection.
The Book of Summaries found in Copenhagen is a huge book. It’s 1964 pages long and very thick.
(Photo: Suzanne Reitz, source: N. Kıvılcım Yavuz, Arnamagnæan Institute, University of Copenhagen.)

The Book of Summaries found in Copenhagen is just part of the whole book, including most of the summaries numbered 140 to 2,330. But it’s still a huge book. It’s 1964 pages long and very thick. Some summaries are just a couple of lines. Others are 30 pages long.

The book is especially important because it describes so many other books. Many of the books from Colón’s library have completely disappeared. Now, thanks to the Book of Summaries, we have information on about 2,000 books from 500 years ago.

Matthew Driscoll and Kıvılcım Yavuz examining AM 377 fol.
Many of the books from Colón’s library have completely disappeared. Now, thanks to the Book of Summaries, we have information on about 2,000 books from 500 years ago. The picture shows Professor Matthew Driscoll (left) and Dr. N. Kıvılcım Yavuz with the book.
(Photo: Ditte Gøgsig Christensen, source: N. Kıvılcım Yavuz, Arnamagnæan Institute, University of Copenhagen.)

The book is written in Latin, but the Arnamagnæan Institute plans to take pictures of the book, translate the summaries, and share the results over the internet. It’s not clear how long this will take.

Copenhagen, Denmark


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