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6 The Universal Library

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Chapter Summary

As a prime locus for the accumulation and dispersion of commonplaces, the library has an ambivalent reputation in Renaissance writing. In effect, the library is the composite topos of Renaissance humanism: it is the locus locorum or repository of all the transient debris of classical culture. The library is an archive or storage place for famous sayings, proverbial gems, exemplary anecdotes, but it is also where people meet to cite, translate, adapt, and share these forms. Beyond its literal meanings, the library is a figure for the entire process of humanist learning and communication, and as such it stores up the ambitions and insecurities of an age. Konrad Gesner's dedicatory epistle to Leonard Beck of Beckenstein brings together many of the paradigmatic commonplaces of the humanist tradition, familiar to us from other contexts, while modestly explaining the multifarious value of his own work.

Keywords: humanist tradition; Konrad Gesner; renaissance humanism; Universal library



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