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Bibliotheca Classica
Bibliotheca Classica
Bibliotheca Classica
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Bibliotheca Classica

Автор Simon Brett

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A rare eighteenth-century encyclopedia reveals a murderous secret in this short story by the CWA Diamond Dagger–winning author of A Shock to the System.
 
For Professor Derrick Rounsevell, antique books can bring the past into the present, through not only their content but also telling traces left by previous readers. In the case of his newly-inherited copy of Bibliotheca Classica—an obscure eighteenth-century encyclopedia—peculiar markings reveal a chilling tale.
 
Heavy erasures throughout the book indicate that a past owner attempted to remove any lurid content from its entries, which, in cataloging tales from mythology, resound with unseemly acts. Together with his wife, Harriett, Derrick investigates the book’s intriguing history, uncovering a tale of manipulation, theft, and a century-old murder plot. In the process, Harriett makes discoveries about her husband that Derrick hoped would remain buried . . .
ЯзыкEnglish
Дата выпуска11 февр. 2020 г.
ISBN9781504059947
Bibliotheca Classica
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Автор

Simon Brett

Simon Brett worked as a producer in radio and television before taking up writing full-time. He was awarded an OBE in the 2016 New Year's Honours for services to Literature and also was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. In 2014 he won the CWA's prestigious Diamond Dagger for an outstanding body of work.

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    Bibliotheca Classica - Simon Brett

    Bibliotheca Classica

    Simon Brett

    To

    The Memory

    of

    Benjamin Whitrow,

    a Great Actor

    and

    a Lover of Books

    Chapter One

    In the days before Wikipedia, when people consulted books to find out facts, I used to pride myself on my personal reference section. It was housed in the room adjacent to my study, which my wife and I rather grandly—and a little sardonically—called ‘The Library’. For my work as an academic author and historian, I need a huge amount of research material. And back in those days, before writers could spend significant amounts on ever-more-sophisticated computer equipment, books were among the few purchases which could be set against tax.

    Most of the volumes in my collection I had bought myself. My requirements were too specific for the titles to be put on birthday or Christmas wish-lists. Besides, like many people working from home, I had very exact rules about what came under the heading of ‘work’, and what came under the heading of ‘life’. And I knew that I hadn’t always kept the dividers between the two as rigid as I should have done.

    Take my marriage, for example—my second marriage, that is. I first met Harriett back at Oxford, when she was a graduate student, and she was doing some research for me. Our academic relationship progressed into something more intimate. Whether that was an entirely satisfactory development is something which I have on occasion had cause to question.

    It was rare—almost unheard of—for Harriett to make recommendations for my reference collection, but when a great-aunt of hers died, I did accede to her suggestion that I might glance through the books the old lady had left. That generation had different priorities, and I had occasionally found unexpected treasures from such sources.

    So it proved with Harriett’s Great Aunt Elsie. Amongst a lot of dross, I came across a copy of Bibliotheca Classica¹. For those who don’t know—which would include most people—that particular work of reference was compiled by John Lemprière and first printed in 1788. It is a concordance of many of the proper names in classical literature, with brief biographies of the individuals selected. It is the kind of work which, in these days when search engines can remove so much of the grind of genuine research, would not be difficult to compile. But to create such a reference book in the late eighteenth century bore witness to John Lemprière’s considerable industry and scholarship.

    There are people who, knowing little about the subject, refer to the book as Lemprière’s Classical Dictionary or just Lemprière’s Dictionary. There was even a writer who used the latter as the title for a tiresomely ‘experimental’ novel. I personally always refer to the work by its proper name, Bibliotheca Classica. I am strongly averse to laziness in academic matters—or any other matters, come to that.

    Great Aunt Elsie’s copy was not a first edition², which might have been worth a couple of thousand pounds. It was a less collectable volume, published by T. & J. Allman in 1825, but it was, nonetheless, of great value to me. Even thirty years ago, most intelligent people had had some elements of a proper education, and literature abounded in classical references. Back then, one would not have dared to embark on something as trivial as a Times crossword without a working knowledge of schoolboy Greek and Latin. Nowadays, I fear, a familiarity with the jargon of computer technology would be of more use to the contemporary cruciverbalist³.

    So, as a serious scholar, rather than trust myself to the unreliable vagaries of Wikipedia, I would still prefer to check facts in a genuine work of reference. And so it was that I welcomed Great Aunt Elsie’s volume into my library.

    Harriett was almost pathetically pleased by my reaction. Though she had made many attempts to get herself … if I may be forgiven for the witticism … ‘into my good books’, the selection of volumes she bought for my birthdays and Christmases rarely proved to be apposite. And though I put up with this annoyance in the early part of our marriage, after a couple of years I had to ask her to refrain from making any further such purchases without first checking the title—and edition—of the work with me. My enthusiastic acceptance of the Bibliotheca Classica seemed bizarrely to represent to her some advance in our relationship.

    It was only when I was finally alone in my study with Great Aunt Elsie’s bequest that I discovered something odd about it.

    Pure coincidence dictated that the first entry I checked was Messalina Valeria. It was not, obviously, that I didn’t know her history from the accounts by Tacitus and Suetonius, amongst others, but I was interested to see how John Lemprière would have chronicled her life.

    It was here that I encountered my first surprise. The entry began:

    Messalina Valeria, a daughter of Messala Barbatus. She married the emperor Claudius, and disgraced herself by her cruelties,

    and it concluded:

    Her extravagances at last irritated her husband; he commanded her to appear before him to answer all the accusations which were brought against her,

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