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What Does each library mean?

The passage below is from The Library: A Fragile History by Andrew Pettegree

After the splendours of the great library at Alexandria, an inspiration for each subsequent generation of collectors, the muted contribution of the Roman Empire to the history of the library is something of a surprise./ It was as if this military people could understand the purpose of an aqueduct, but could not quite work out what a library was for. Many great Roman libraries arrived in the baggage train of conquering generals: the great library of the Greek philosopher Aristotle found its way to Rome in this way. In this robust approach to intellectual property the Romans would find many imitators. In the first decade of the nineteenth century, Napoleon employed the author Stendhal to cherry-pick the libraries of Italy and Germany on behalf of the French national library. Two centuries previously, in the Thirty Years’ War, the Swedes had created an efficient bureaucratic process for appropriating the libraries of captured German cities. Transported back to Sweden, many of the books are still in the university library of Uppsala; the French Bibliothèque Nationale, in contrast, was obliged at the Congress of Vienna to repatriate Napoleon’s trophies, something that caused no little indignation, given the amount they had spent on having the books rebound.

The most substantial legacy of Rome, none of whose libraries survived the fall of the western empire, was the gradual transition from papyrus scrolls to parchment books as the medium of storage. Parchment, made from animal skins, was a much more resilient surface, and it was on parchment that the learning of Rome lived out the next millennium in the monasteries of the Christian West. This thousand-year supremacy of the manuscript book provides us with some of the most hauntingly beautiful products of medieval culture: today, these manuscripts are the most treasured possessions of the libraries where they have found their final homes. By the fourteenth century, the works of monastic scribes and illuminators were increasingly reinforced by a secular market for beautiful books, as these became one further way for the leaders of European society to display their cultural sophistication.


According to FreeDictionary, the definition of library is either a collection of books, or the space containing them.

In the passage above ➀, ➁, ➂ and ➃ seem to mean a collection of books. (Am I right?)

#➅ seems to mean the space containing them. (Am I right?)

Now, what does #➄ mean?

My guess is collections of books. (Am I right?)

But even if I am right, I still have a question about this.

If #➄ means collections of books, that sentence doesn’t make sense to me.

Right, the fall of the western Roman empire might brought about destroying a lot of books, but to say NONE of Roman books survived seems to go too far. Can you tell me about my logic?


Thanks in advance.

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There is much crossover between the two meanings. A library building contains a library, and you can't have the building without it. My library is all the books I own. If I had them in a room of their own, that would be my library, too. I don't think it matters very much which meaning the writer meant most of the time. Also, this is what you get when a major egghead like Pettegree gets going. He gets caught up in his own erudition, and we are left in the lurch. Nobody thinks they need an editor except an editor. I think he switched from one meaning to the other without warning, expecting us to know what he's talking about. The error has a name, COIK error.

Stenka25In the passage above ➀, ➁, ➂ and ➃ seem to mean a collection of books. (Am I right?)

Maybe. I don't know enough about library history to say whether 3 and 4 are not buildings, which illustrates what I said up there.

Stenka25Now, what does #➄ mean?My guess is collections of books. (Am I right?)

Again, it hardly matters, but I would not be surprised to learn either that wealthy Romans had libraries in their houses or that they routinely erected special buuildings in their settlements. Ask Pettegree.

Stenka25#➅ seems to mean the space containing them. (Am I right?)

Not necessarily. There might be private collections with such items.

Stenka25#➅ seems to mean the space containing them. (Am I right?)

I don't know. I'll bet he does.

Stenka25Right, the fall of the western Roman empire might brought about destroying a lot of books, but to say NONE of Roman books survived seems to go too far. Can you tell me about my logic?

Again, I am no historian, but it seems reasonable to me that no Roman book survived. We know their stuff from later copies that have been found.

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Thanks a lot as always, anonymous.

Your explanation on ‘much crossover between two meanings’ gave me much insight for reading complicated English texts. (And for a good measure the way you comment on author’s COIK fallacy makes me smile.) Thanks.