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Panel organized by the the American Friends of Herculaneum Society:

Call for Papers

2024 Annual Meeting

Libraries Ancient and Modern:

from Herculaneum to the New Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Since the days of Ashurnasipal, libraries have served as essential repositories of the world’s knowledge. Even the buildings, let alone the decoration or contents, of libraries from classical antiquity rarely survive. We can still recognize the shells of the Attalid library at Pergamum, Celsus’ library at Ephesus, or Pantaenus’ library at Athens, but the greatest libraries like Ptolemy’s at Alexandria or Augustus’ on the Palatine are long gone.

The only library which survived intact was the private library of the philosopher Philodemus at the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum, rediscovered in 1752. Its contents and furniture preserved in a carbonized state by the pyroclastic flow of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, but even this library has yet to be reentered by modern archaeologists. Nonetheless, passages in ancient literature and archaeological discoveries have served to inspire a tradition of reception among architects and librarians from the Renaissance down to our own day, as part of a series of great creations that range from the Laurentian Library in Florence, the Vatican Library, the Escorial Library, the Library of Trinity College Dublin, or the Art Institute Library in Chicago, all the way to the new British Library, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt, or the National Library of Greece which is about to open.

Down the centuries, great painters have decorated libraries with classical themes, like Raphael in the Stanza della Segnatura in Rome or Veronese in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, and sculptors have created busts of great writers of past and present, such as already adorned the library in the Villa of the Papyri. These may have served to indicate which works were kept where, as did the bust of Aristotle in the Campanian library of Faustus Sulla, under which Cicero consulted Aristotle’s own manuscripts.

This panel will seek to clarify the contours, trace the continuities, and explore the differences between ancient and modern libraries. Contributions are invited on such diverse aspects as their range of holdings, their degree of accessibility to the general public, their methods of cataloguing, and their differing modes of physical layout and artistic decoration.

Abstracts must be anonymized and must follow the guidelines given at

This organizer-refereed Panel has been approved by the Program Committee for presentation at the next Annual Meeting. The Program Committee has delegated all discretionary responsibility for selection of abstracts and discussants to the panel organizer(s). In order to maintain anonymity in reviewing, all abstracts must be submitted to Prof. Roger MacFarlane by Monday February 27, 2023, at or by mail to Prof. Roger T. Macfarlane,

Classical Studies, 3021 JFSB, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602. They will then be forwarded anonymously to the panel organizer(s), and panelists can expect to be notified of their decision by Monday March 6.


Margarete Baur-Heinhold, Schöne alte Bibliotheken. Munich, Callwey, 1972.

Horst Blanck, Das Buch in der Antike, Munich, Beck, 1992.

Luciano Canfora, The Vanished Library. A Wonder of the Ancient World. Berkeley and Los Angeles, UC Press, 1990.

Lionel Casson, Libraries in the Ancient World. New Haven, Yale, 2001

John Willis Clark, The Care of Books. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1901.

Claude Clément, Musei sive bibliothecae. Lyons, Prost, 1635

Emy Nelson Decker and Seth M. Porter, Engaging Design: Creating Libraries for Modern Users. Santa Barbara, Libraries Unlimited, 2018.

Anthony Grafton, Rome Reborn: the Vatican Library and Renaissance Culture. New Haven, Yale, 1993.

George Houston, Inside Roman Libraries. Book Collections and their Management in Antiquity. Chapel Hill, UNC, 2014

André Masson, Le Décor des bibliothèques. Geneva, Droz, 1972.

—— The Pictorial Catalogue: Mural Decorations in Libraries. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981.

David Sider, The Library of the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum. Malibu, Getty Museum, 2005.