“Every book in every language on every subject”: Hernando Colón’s universal library and the Libro de los epitomes

Matthew Driscoll


In the beginning of the 16 th century, Hernando Colón, son of the navigator Christopher Columbus, set out to build a universal library, one which would contain “all the books, in all languages and disciplines, that can be found within Christendom and without”. By the time of his death in 1539, Colón’s library in Seville comprised over 15000 volumes of predominantly printed books, the largest private library in the world at the time. To mange it all, he designed a revolutionary cataloguing system consisting of a number of cross-referenced inventories. All of these survive today in the Biblioteca Colombina in Seville, with the exception of one, the “Libro de los epitomes”, which was meant to contain short summaries of the contents of every book in the library. This had been presumed missing for half a millennium, but was recently identified among the manuscripts in the Arnamagnæan Collection at Copenhagen University, of which it had been a part since the end of the 17th century.

In my presentation I will describe the Libro and its contents and how it relates to the other bibliographical tools developed by Colón. I will also present the research project I lead, funded by the Carlsberg foundation and a private doner, which has as its aim the production of a full transcription of the text of the Libro and a study of its contents.

For more information on the project, see our website:

The talk will take place on 7th December, 2023, in Vinco Krėvės room.

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