Libro de los Epítomes

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Libro de los Epítomes

The Libro de los Epítomes (The Book of Epitomes) is a catalogue or epitome of more than 2,000 pages of Ferdinand Columbus (Hernando Colón)'s library of around 15-20,000 books, which he assembled in the early sixteenth-century in an effort to create a library of every book in the world.

Background and library[edit]

Ferdinand Columbus

Ferdinand Columbus (1488–1539) was a Spanish bibliographer and cosmographer, the illegitimate son of the explorer Christopher Columbus.[1] In the early sixteenth-century he embarked on a project to create a library of every book in the world, assembling around 15-20,000 books during his lifetime and creating the largest library of his day. Unlike other collectors who sought Greek and Latin manuscripts, Columbus recognised the significance of print and prioritised printed books and ephemeral and popular printed material such as ballads and newspapers.[2]

The collection has been housed at Seville Cathedral since 1552, but only about a quarter of the books have survived where they are now form the Biblioteca Colombina of the Institución Colombina.[3]


To create the Libro de los Epítomes, Columbus used a team of readers and writers to prepare a summary of each book in his library, varying from just a few lines for the smaller works to around 30 pages for major works such as the writings of Plato.[3] There are around 2,000 summaries in the book.[2] The catalogue as bound is around 12 inches thick[3] and of around 2,000 pages.[2]


Árni Magnússon
Biblioteca Colombina, 1913.

The catalogue was rediscovered in 2019, after having been thought lost since its existence was last recorded in Spain at the time of Columbus's death.[2][3] It was found in the Arnamagnæan Manuscript Collection in Copenhagen in the collection of Árni Magnússon (1663–1730), an Icelandic scholar who gave his books to the University of Copenhagen at his death in 1730.[3] The connection to Columbus was first identified by Guy Lazure of the University of Windsor in Canada.[3]

It is thought to have been overlooked for centuries because only 22 of the thousands of items in the collection are in Spanish, with the others in Icelandic or Norwegian.[1][2] It has been speculated that the volume arrived in Copenhagen with a collection of manuscripts brought by Cornelius Lerche who was an envoy to the Spanish court.[1]


According to University of Cambridge academic Edward Wilson-Lee, author of a recent biography of Columbus and account of his library, The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books, "It's a discovery of immense importance, not only because it contains so much information about how people read 500 years ago, but also, because it contains summaries of books that no longer exist, lost in every other form than these summaries".[3]

Wilson-Lee and colleague José María Pérez Fernández of the University of Granada are working on a book about Columbus's library that they expect to be published in 2020, and there is a project to digitise the catalogue.[3]


  1. ^ a b c Book of Lost Books Discovered in Danish Archive Jason Daley,, 11 April 2019. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e Manuscript reveals lost books of Christopher Columbus' son's library. Interview with Edward Wilson-Lee, Newshour, BBC World Service, 10 April 2019. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Flood, Alison (10 April 2019). "'Extraordinary' 500-year-old library catalogue reveals books lost to time". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 April 2019.