Admitted: Four Authors Only

In Alberto Manguel’s superb The Library at Night, he writes of one aristocrat’s solution to the recurring challenge of housing a growing collection of books:

In a manuscript kept in the Vatican Library (and as yet unpublished), the Milanese humanist Angelo Decembrio describes a drastic culling system by which the young fifteenth-century prince Leonello d’Este furnished his library in Ferrara under the supervision of his teacher, Guarino da Verona. Leonello’s system was one of exclusion, rejecting everything except the most precious examples of the literary world. Banished from the princely shelves were monastic encyclopedic works (“oceans of story, as they are called, huge burdens for donkeys,”) French and Italian translations of classic texts (but not the originals), and even Dante’s Commedia, “which may be read on winter nights, by the fire, with the wife and the children, but which does not merit being placed in a scholarly library.” Only four classical authors were admitted: Livy, Virgil, Sallust and Cicero.