In the Middle Ages, it could take years to create a book. Years a scribe would spend bent over his copy table, with natural light the only illumination to be found. (Candles were too risky to burn near the books.) He spent hours each day taking great care to form each letter by hand and not to make a mistake.
One scribe wrote that the work “extinguishes the light from the eyes, it bends the back, it crushes the viscera and the ribs, it brings forth pain to the kidneys, and weariness to the whole body.”
It’s no surprise, then, that protecting the work was serious business. So scribes resorted to words, the only power they had. “At the beginning or the end of books, scribes and book owners would write dramatic curses threatening thieves with pain and suffering if they were to steal or damage these treasures.”
They called upon the worst punishments they knew—excommunication from the church and horrible, painful death—and described them in great detail.
“For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand & rend him. Let him be struck with palsy & all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain crying aloud for mercy, & let there be no surcease to his agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, & when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him for ever.”
You can read more here: Protect Your Library the Medieval Way, With Horrifying Book Curses
If you’re of a mind to appreciate the cozier aspects of book ownership, have a look at this collection of beautiful libraries from Architectural Digest.
And then take a moment to appreciate Nigella Lawson’s home library. It’s a wonder.