Origins of the book Edit
The binding of a Chinese bamboo book (Sun Tzu’s The Art of War)
The craft of bookbinding probably originated in India, where religious sutras were copied on to palm leaves (cut into two, lengthwise) with a metal stylus. The leaf was then dried and rubbed with ink, which would form a stain in the wound. The finished leaves were given numbers, and two long twines were threaded through each end through wooden boards, making a palm-leaf book. When the book was closed, the excess twine would be wrapped around the boards to protect the manuscript leaves. Buddhist monks took the idea through Afghanistan to China in the first century BC.
Similar techniques can also be found in ancient Egypt where priestly texts were compiled on scrolls and books of papyrus. Another version of bookmaking can be seen through the ancient Mayan codex; only four are known to have survived the Spanish invasion of Latin America.
Writers in the Hellenistic-Roman culture wrote longer texts as scrolls; these were stored in boxes or shelving with small cubbyholes, similar to a modern winerack. Court records and notes were written on wax tablets, while important documents were written on papyrus or parchment. The modern English word book comes from the Proto-Germanic *bokiz, referring to the beechwood on which early written works were recorded.
The book was not needed in ancient times, as many early Greek texts—scrolls—were 30 pages long, which were customarily folded accordion-fashion to fit into the hand. Roman works were often longer, running to hundreds of pages. The Greeks used to call their books tome, meaning “to cut”. The Egyptian Book of the Dead was a massive 200 pages long and was used in funerary services for the deceased. Torah scrolls, editions of the Jewish holy book, were—and still are—also held in special holders when read.
Scrolls can be rolled in one of two ways. The first method is to wrap the scroll around a single core, similar to a modern roll of paper towels. While simple to construct, a single core scroll has a major disadvantage: in order to read text at the end of the scroll, the entire scroll must be unwound. This is partially overcome in the second method, which is to wrap the scroll around two cores, as in a Torah. With a double scroll, the text can be accessed from both beginning and end, and the portions of the scroll not being read can remain wound. This still leaves the scroll a sequential-access medium: to reach a given page, one generally has to unroll and re-roll many other pages.
Early book formats Edit
In addition to the scroll, wax tablets were commonly used in Antiquity as a writing surface. Diptychs and later polyptych formats were often hinged together along one edge, analogous to the spine of modern books, as well as a folding concertina format. Such a set of simple wooden boards sewn together was called by the Romans a codex (pl. codices)—from the Latin word caudex, meaning ‘the trunk’ of a tree, around the first century AD. Two ancient polyptychs, a pentaptych and octoptych, excavated at Herculaneum employed a unique connecting system that presages later sewing on thongs or cords.
At the turn of the first century, a kind of folded parchment notebook called pugillares membranei in Latin, became commonly used for writing in the Roman Empire. This term was used by both the pagan poet Martial and Christian apostle Paul the Apostle. Martial used the term with reference to gifts of literature exchanged by Romans during the festival of Saturnalia. According to T. C. Skeat, “…in at least three cases and probably in all, in the form of codices” and he theorized that this form of notebook was invented in Rome and then “…must have spread rapidly to the Near East…” In his discussion of one of the earliest pagan parchment codices to survive from Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, Eric Turner seems to challenge Skeat’s notion when stating “…its mere existence is evidence that this book form had a prehistory” and that “early experiments with this book form may well have taken place outside of Egypt.”
Early intact codices were discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt. Consisting of primarily Gnostic texts in Coptic, the books were mostly written on papyrus, and while many are single-quire, a few are multi-quire. Codices were a significant improvement over papyrus or vellum scrolls in that they were easier to handle. However, despite allowing writing on both sides of the leaves, they were still foliated—numbered on the leaves, like the Indian books. The idea spread quickly through the early churches, and the word Bible comes from the town where the Byzantine monks established their first scriptorium, Byblos, in modern Lebanon. The idea of numbering each side of the page—Latin pagina, “to fasten”—appeared when the text of the individual testaments of the Bible were combined and text had to be searched through more quickly. This book format became the preferred way of preserving manuscript or printed material.