Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize 2017: Monolingual Latin Books Win the Day

Latin Only: Two Prizes and a Display

The Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize for a student book collector at the University of London has now run for its fourth year. The winner for 2017 was History undergraduate Astrid Khoo of King’s College London for her collection 'Latin Only: A Revolt against Dual-Language Books'.

Titi Lucreti Cari
Titi Lucreti Cari

Winners of the student prizes at the various universities offering them – London, Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and St Andrews – are then entered for a national prize, and we are delighted to announce that Astrid has won this as well. Such series as the Loeb Classical Library attest to the convenience for many students of a vernacular translation alongside classical texts. The emphasis of Astrid’s collection is precisely the opposite. In Astrid’s words, "My collection has one main purpose: to honour the Latin language by allowing it to shine alone on the page." The major thread running throughout the collection is that the text, including the preface, should be written in Latin only. Further collecting criteria are that works must be well edited (particularly if they are relatively modern: for early printed books, bad editing can be part of the interest), and that they must be of interest to Astrid. The collection ranged from commonly studied works, such as Suetonius' Divus Julius, to lesser-known writers, and to the lesser-known works of major writers. Provenance and evidence of how the students of former centuries have engaged with the texts add to the charm.

Avreli Prvdenti Clementis
Avreli Prvdenti Clementis

Part of the prize consists of a book or books to the value of £250 purchased by the prize winner in conjunction with Senate House Library’s Curator of Rare Books. Astrid’s main purchase was a small edition of the works of the late Latin poet Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-after 405 AD), a provincial governor and practising lawyer who wrote poetry on Christian themes. His most famous work, Psychomachia ('The Contest of the Soul'), describing the struggle of faith against idolatry, was the first completely allegorical poem in European literature and was extremely influential in the Middle Ages. Another component of the volume is Prudentius' Contra Symmachum ('[Books] Against Symmachus'), an extensive reply to the pagan senator Symmachus's request that the altar of Victory be restored to the Senate house; Symmachus’s Relatio . . . pro veteri deorum cultu, adversus Christianos ('Account … on behalf of the ancient cult of the gods against the Christians') is also included. Astrid wrote about the volume: "This Prudentius really represents what I like about Latin books. It's relatively uncommon, the edition includes later Latin by both a pagan (Symmachus) and a Christian, and the physical book sounds beautiful. Most importantly, it puts the spotlight on a neglected author", and: "I like this book because it doesn't just give Prudentius' argument against Symmachus - it also gives Symmachus' original argument. Hence it is a very comprehensive edition, which helps the reader to understand the whole conflict. Evidently it is meant for serious reading, and also useful from a research perspective." 

The book was published by Willem Janszoon Blaeu in Amsterdam in 1625. From a library perspective, it is an especially welcome acquisition as our earliest edition of Prudentius. Formerly our earliest edition had been one published by the Elzeviers, also in Amsterdam, in 1667. This new copy helps to shed light on the seventeenth-century Dutch reception of the work – especially relevant in Senate House Library, given its strong Elzevier collection.

Astrid supplemented the purchase with De rerum natura libri sex ('On the Nature of Things'), an important classical text by the earlier Latin philosopher Lucretius (ca. 99-ca 55 BC) about Epicureanism (Paris: Antoine Coustelier, 1744). This is the first edition of Lucretius by the humanist Étienne-André Philippe de Prétot (1710-1787), a royal censor and professor of history who produced editions of several Latin classics. The edition includes a life of Lucretius by the eminent French classical scholar Denys Lambin (1516-1572), and a list of editions from 1486 to 1744. It plugs a gap in Senate House Library's early editions of Lucretius. The book was formerly owned by Cosmo Alexander Gordon (1886-1965), author of a bibliography of Lucretius.

Another part of the prize consists of the winner’s opportunity to exhibit some of her books at the Library. A selection of Astrid’s books will be displayed outside the Seng Tee Centre, through the Special Collections reading room, with the dates soon to be advertised on the Library website. Do look!

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