UCL: ‘Antique’ book returned to UCL Libraries after 50 years

The book, an edition of a play called Querolus, which was written by an anonymous author, was posted to UCL alongside a letter, which read: “Dear Librarian, I fear this book is some 50 years overdue! Please don’t just throw it out, now that I’ve taken the time and trouble to return it. It must be an ‘antique’ by now.”

The book’s original due date was in summer 1974, meaning that it would have accrued overdue fines of £1,254 – at 10p per day.

Suzanne Traue, Subject Liaison Librarian, who opened the parcel, said: “I returned from 18 months of working from home to find rather a lot of books on my desk with no note to indicate who they were from, or why they’d been sent to me. So, to be honest, my first thought when I saw the padded envelope on my desk was ‘Oh no, not another one…’.

“I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this book came with a note, but I think my jaw may literally have dropped when I read it!”

The book is a comedy from the fifth century CE and is written in Latin. It is the only complete Roman play to survive apart from the plays of Plautus, Terence and Seneca. In it, a magician attempts to cheat a poor man of his inheritance.

Fortunately, the Library holds several editions of this work, including online access to the two earliest editions of the work from the sixteenth century: 1564 (Daniel) and 1595 (Rittershusius and Gruter) as well as three later editions in print: 1880 (Havet), 1978 (Brożek) and 1994 (Jacquemard-Le Saos).

Professor Gesine Manuwald, Head of the Department of Greek & Latin, who researches Roman drama said: “It is amazing to see such loyalty from a former user of the UCL Library that they bring back a book after almost 50 years.

“In a sense this book is ‘antique’ since it dates from 1875, but it is still the most recent edition of the work in the standard Teubner series of scholarly editions of ancient Greek and Latin texts. While this edition is now also available on Google Books, it is great to have access again to a hard copy of the original 1875 edition.

“This late antique play is a great piece of evidence in showing how drama developed after the period of classical antiquity and is waiting to be explored by today’s scholars.”

While UCL encourages customers to return their books on time so that other users can read them, automatic renewals have also been in place at the university since March 2021.

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