European studies blog

07 October 2020

Nomen est omen

We’re all too young to remember this joke from ITMA.

Posh lady: ‘There’s nothing my little Jimmy likes better than snuggling up in front of the fire with Enid Blyton.’
Louche voice: ‘Beats reading any day.’

Authors are often conflated with their books, sometimes through ignorance. In the Middle Ages Policraticus/Policratus was often cited as an author rather than the work by John of Salisbury.

Other authors made a point of naming their books after themselves: Orme (the 12th-century Augustinian) called his exegetical work Ormulum

Thiss boc iss nemmnedd. orrmulum; / Forr tha orrm itt wrohhte.
[This book is named Ormulum; for that Orme it wrote.]

Similarly, Emmanuele Tesauro named his biblical compendium the Handy Treasury, so that on the title page it came out as Emmanuelis Thesauri Thesaurus Manualis. Manuel and Manual of course aren’t related. But note that crazy chiasmus.

Title-page of Thesauro Manual en el Conde Manuel Thesauro

Title-page of Thesauro Manual en el Conde Manuel Thesauro … (Madrid, 1674) 4226.dd.33 

When Dutch mapmaker Jacob Aertsz Colom wanted a title for an atlas to guide the seafarer, he thought back to his Bible reading and recalled Exodus 13:21-22. When Pharoah let the Israelites go they went out:

through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea … And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people. (King James Bible)

And so Colom called his book De Vyerighe Colom (Amsterdam, 1654; Maps C.8.c.3.), translated into English in 1648 as Upright fyrie colomne … wherein are described and lively portrayed all the coasts of the west, north and east seas.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections