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BOOKS AND PUBLICATION IN ' THE ANCIENT WORLD FRANK W. BEARE THE publication of literature through the medium of the book is a development which makes its appearance relatively late in the history , o'f human culture. For many centuries after wntmg was invented) men communicated their thoughts and gave their poems 'and stories to their fellows vocally; the singer, the herald, and the orator were the only publishers. Works of literature were composed and published, but not in writing; and books were written but not published. Even in societies which were capable of high cultural achievement over a period of several thousand years, book-publication was virtually un·known. Now ~t so happens that while the history of the book and the history of literature have often been described, little attention has ever been given to the history ~f publication. This article is an attempt to enquire into the rise and development of the practice, chiefly in the societies of the Near East),which are the forerunners of the modern civilization of the West. 1. EGYPT AND BABYLONIA In the ancient cultures of Egypt and Western Asia, writing came into use early in the' fourth millenium B.C., but until Hellenistic times it remained the property of a relatively small class of trained personnel. Apart from the professional scribes, few persons learned the art, so that no reading public was developed and there was no field for publication ' in writing. The Pyramid Texts, for instance) which go back to the early centl.!ries of the third millenium, were inscribed on the walls of the inner chambers of these mighty tombs and were never published. From the same epoch, we have a sort of rude annals, compiled by'the priests for the glory of the divine Kings) but these too were never intended for publication. Some few folk-songs which have survived from that Old Kingdom were inscribed by the artists who decorated the tombs, over scenes of everyday life on which the songs were based, but they were never put into the hands of the public in book-form. "Like sculpture, painting, and the other arts, literature is, at the beginning, only a decoration of temples and tombs ...."1 In the Middle Kingdom, which -flourished in the first quarter of the second millenium , a very' considerable literature arose, and many ,texts from this period have been preserved on rolls of papyrus. This is not to be taken as evidence that the literature was published in book-form. It must be remembered that all the surviving .fragments have been found in tombs; and that the Egyptians always tried to provide the dead man with all the things that he had used in this life; thus the fact that they left beside his mummy a copy of his favourite novel ~nly shows that filial piety desired' lA. Moret, Tlte Nile and Egyptian Civilization (London, 1927), 456. 150 BOOKS AND PUBLICATION IN THE ANCIENT WORLD 151 to provide for his entertainment as well as his sustenance in the life beyond. Professor Breasted remarks that one of the most popular stories of the time ((was even written on sherds or flags of stone to be placed in the tomb for the entertainl)1ent of the dead in the hereafter,"2 and this motive would appear to account for the preservation of all that we have at our disposal; it is far from likely that these songs and stories were published in writing for the benefit of the living. The famous "Book of theDead" was a volume of religious texts which were originally inscribed all the coffins and sarcophagi ; when they became too numerous and too long to allow of this method, they were written on papyrus rolls and bound up inside the wrappings of the mummy. This book, then, although frequently_copied, was not published, for such a mortuary distribution cannot be called / publicatiol:1. It seems proper to conclude that in ancient Egypt books of whatever-description -were written_noL for _ _ communication_to_the__ p_ub1i.c'--___ through general circulation, but for the transmission of priestly lore, for guidance in the celebration of the rites, or for magical purposes (including the guidance and entertainment of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 150-167
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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