Habent sua fata libelli

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The Latin expression Pro captu lectoris habent sua fata libelli (literally, "According to the capabilities of the reader, books have their destiny")[1] is verse 1286 of De litteris, De syllabis, De Metris by Terentianus Maurus.

The early modern scholar Robert Burton deploys the expression in his The Anatomy of Melancholy:

Our writings are as so many dishes, our readers guests, our books like beauty, that which one admires another rejects; so are we approved as men's fancies are inclined. Pro captu lectoris habent sua fata libelli.[2]

The Latin is often only partially quoted as Habent sua fata libelli and then translated (or misunderstood) as "Books have their own destinies." By extension the phrase is understood by Umberto Eco in The Name of the Rose) as "Books share their fates with their readers". In a talk about book collecting, titled "Unpacking My Library" from Illuminations, Walter Benjamin cites the expression in its short form, noting that the words are often intended as a general statement about books; Benjamin's book collector, by way of contrast, applies them to himself and to the specific copies he collects.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Libelli is the plural of libellus which is a diminutive of liber ( "book") suggesting the qualification ("little books ...") was actually meant but in fact libellus was used to mean tracts, pamphlets etc.
  2. ^ Burton, Robert (1621). The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically, Opened and Cut Up. 
  3. ^ Benjamin, Walter (1968). Illuminations. New York: Shocken Books. p. 61. ISBN 0-8052-0241-2.