|Image from Jeffers, The Incredible Book-Eating Boy|
In the Renaissance, when books were quite scarce and each one a precious object, owning a library was a sign of either wealth or eccentricity. Cardinal Bessarion (1403-1472) assiduously tried to assemble, piece by piece, most of the forgotten learning of the Greek and ancient world before it was irretrievably lost. As he explained in a letter,
“I tried, to the best of my ability, to collect books for their quality rather than their quantity, and to find single volumes of single works; and so I assembled almost all the works of the wise men of Greece, especially those which were rare and difficult to find…They must be preserved in a place that is both safe and accessible, for the general good of all readers” (Jardine, Worldly Goods).
For Bessarion, there was a difference between many books and good books: he was willing to exhaust his time and coffers to find “quality” rather than simply amass a library. Even a Cardinal knew they needed a richer, more varied diet than 15th century
to the masses. If every dish represents a culture, then so, too, each book represents
a whole history of ideas, preserved in careful thought and language. By reading
the great works of the ancients, he hoped to bring about a true Renaissance of
learning, as if books alone could resurrect the academies and agoras of the