Exhibit Shows 'Odyssey' Transformed by Travel in Time

Photograph: Papyrus fragment of Homer's Odyssey, 200 B.C.
Photograph: Papyrus fragment of Homer's Odyssey, 200 B.C., (detail).
Photograph: "The Trojan Horse," in Virgil, Opera Virgillana, Lyon 1529, from Columbia's Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Photograph: "The Trojan Horse," (detail).
Photograph: John Mortimer's "Lear", an engraving, London, 1776.
Photograph: John Mortimer's "Lear", (detail).
Photograph: "Turnus and Messapus outside the Trojan camp," from Virgil, "Opera", Strassburg, 1502.
Photograph: "Turnus and Messapus, (detail).
Photograph: A page from Biblia Polyglotta, Acala de Henares, 1514-1517, Volume 1, with Greek translation with interlinear Latin; a Latin translation of St. Jerome's Vulgate; Hebrew text; and Chaldean (Aramaic) translation in a Hebrew paraphrase.
Photograph: A page from Biblia Polyglotta, (detail).

In celebration of the 75th anniversary of Columbia College's famed core curriculum, the Columbia University Libraries will mount an exhibition in March illustrating the evolution through the years of many of the great literary works of Western Civilization.

Titled "In Pursuit of Meaning," it will show how the presentation of the classic Western texts read in the key courses of the core curriculum--Literature Humanities and Introduction to Contemporary Civilization--have changed over time. Among the important works on view in various editions, appearances and contexts over time are the Bible, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, Shakespeare's King Lear, Galileo's Starry Messengers, Thomas Paine's The Rights of Man and Marx's Communist Manifesto.

"Our purpose is to show that these literary masterpieces have been alive and decidedly unfixed to any one of the generations that have encountered them," said Jean Ashton, director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. "Each wave of readers has been engaged in its own search for these texts' meanings and has left its own readings in the actual physical embodiments of the texts it produced. Format, textual editing, translation, illustration, commentary and imaginative adaptation all have played a part in each generation's recreation of these classic texts."

All materials on display will be drawn from Columbia's own extensive collections.

The Bible, which played a critical role in the spread of the codex book format, will be shown in various forms: a 10th-century Samaritan parchment fragment, a Hebrew manuscript, a chapter from the Gutenberg Bible (the first book printed from movable type); the first polyglot, Complutensian Bible, printed in Spain, and a 16th-century Luther German New Testament, with woodcuts by the workshop of Lucas Cranach, the Elder.

The Iliad and Odyssey will be displayed in papyrus fragments dating from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D.; in their first printed appearance of 1488, and as a portable 16th-century Aldine edition presented to Martin Luther by Philipp Melanchthon. Also on view will be 20th-century writer James Joyce's Ulysses, shown in the copy seized by U.S. Customs for obscenity and marked by the District Attorney.

Among landmark typographic productions of the Aeneid on exhibit will be the first numbered limited edition printed by Pierre Didot at the Louvre in 1798. Political concerns of the times are evident in such illustrated editions as the 1502 Strassburg Aeneid of Sebastian Brant. An exploration of the changes in presentation of King Lear will make use of Columbia's Brander Matthews Collection. Shakespeare's first folio will also be on view, along with the first illustrated edition of Shakespeare and the first bowdlerized Shakespeare.

Galileo's Starry Messengers (Sidereus Nuncius) will be shown in its first printed edition, and its context and consequences will be illustrated by an original Galileo drawing, a 17th-century celestial chart, and the printed responses of Johannes Kepler. Various editions of Marx will be on display, along with other writings that echoed the Manifesto and Das Kapital.

In "Pursuit of Meaning" will be on view from Mar. 2 through June 9 in the Kempner Exhibition Room of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, located on the sixth floor of Butler Library.

Hours are Monday to Friday from 9:00 A.M. to 4:45 P.M. Information: 854-2231.


Columbia University Record -- February 24, 1995 -- Vol. 20, No. 18