Fun facts from library history.

06 Sep

All of the following facts are taken from Scribes, Script and Books: The Book Arts from Antiquity to the Renaissance by Leila Avrin.

  1. The word ostracize comes from clay pots. “As in the rest of the Mediterranean world, an important everyday writing surface in Athens was the ostracon, the recycled broken pot. One use for sherds was for banishing unwanted leaders. This custom was introduced by Cliesthenes, one of the founders of Athenian democracy, toward the end of the sixth century B.C.E. In late winter, when the Athenian assembly thought it necessary, each citizen wrote down on an ostracon the name of the politician he wanted to see leave Attica. Hence our word “ostracize.” To get rid of someone for ten years, six thousand of these negative write-in votes were needed (there were about thirty thousand citizens in Athens in 500 B.C.E.).” And my favorite part:”Collections of ostraca actually have been excavated. In one instance 190 ostraca were found on a slope of the Acropolis with “Themistocles” written on them in fourteen different handwritings, which means that citizens either hired scribes to write the name for them, or that the invitations to leave town were prepared by members of an anti-Themistocles political party.”
  2. Sepia comes from squid. “Another source of ink was the brown secretion of the cuttlefish, sepia (Latin, from the Greek term; the name of both the sea creature and the ink).” Side note – I got to see a baby cuttlefish at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Expect to hear more about sea creatures in the future.
  3. OK, this one’s not really a fact so much, but look:
  4. “When the legend on the Column of Trajan is read from below, all of the letters appear to be the same size, but a photograph taken directly opposite shows that the size of the letters gradually diminishes from the top to the bottom rows.”

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Posted by on September 6, 2005 in library stuff


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