Littera Scripta

A Curse on Book Thieves

It was traditional, particularly before the invention of the printing press when books were all hand written manuscripts, to letter a curse into the book to prevent theft. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have worked very well, as the books also had to be chained into place. Even chains had limited effect. Witness the many ancient libraries where there are still chains in place -- but no books.

Here are a few examples...

Thys boke is one
And God's curse another;
They that take the one
God geve them the other.

He who steals this book
may he die the death
may he be frizzled in a pan...

This present book legible in scripture
Here in this place thus tacched with a cheyn
Purposed of entent for to endure
And here perpetuelli stylle to remeyne
Fro eyre to eyre wherfore appone peyn
Of cryst is curs of faders and of moderes
Non of hem hens atempt it to dereyne
Whille ani leef may goodeli hange with oder.

Steal not this Book my honest Friend
For fear the Galows should be your hend,
And when you die the Lord will say
And wares the Book you stole away?

A variation on the same theme...

Steal not this book, my worthy friend
For fear the gallows will be your end;
Up the ladder, and down the rope,
There you'll hang until you choke;
Then I'll come along and say -
"Where's that book you stole away?"

From the Monastery of San Pedro, Barcelona, a blanket curse for the entire library...(I really wish this one existed, but unfortunately, it appears that it is apocryphal -- there is no monastery in San Pedro. It's so nasty though that I include it anyway.)

For him that Stealeth a Book from this Library,
Let it change into a Serpent in his hand & rend him.
Let him be struck with Palsy, & all his Members blasted.
Let him languish in Pain crying aloud for Mercy,
Let there be no Surcease to his Agony till he sink to Dissolution.
Let Bookworms gnaw his Entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not,
When at last he goeth to his final Punishment,
Let the flames of hell consume him for ever & aye.


 

 

 


Related Articles

Literary Quotations


Recommended Books

Marc Drogin. Anathema: Medieval Scribes and the History of Book Curses (Out of Print)

Holbrook Jackson. Anatomy of Bibliomania (Out of Print)


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Copyright © 2000 by Deanna Ramsay