Collectors of old books read catalogues with the same excitement as some of us read suspense stories. One of them is Umberto Eco, the prolific author of the bestsellers The Name of the Rose and Baudolino. His most recent publication is The History of Ugliness.
He has drawn our attention to the catalogue Livres curieux et bizarres, published by Libraires Associés. Browsing through it he was intrigued by a serious treatise on The Sighing of Pigeons by Cardinal Bellarmine (1542-1621), Galileo’s inquisitor, one of the most important cardinals of the period. Eco already knew the work De la Demonaliete by another Jesuit inquisitor, Pater Sinistrari d’Ameno, about sex between women and male and female demons, also listed in one of the catalogues he scanned. Moreover, he was interested in a work by Bishop Pierre-Daniel Huet (1630-1721) about the possible location of the Garden of Eden. According to him, it was in what is now Basra, in Iraq.
Umberto Eco was also tempted to order works on a question he had been researching for some time – the mother-tongue of biblical characters – Adam, for example. John Cleland (1709-1789) thought it was druid. He was the author of Fanny Hill, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. Noah’s son, Ham, spoke basque, according to a book by Pedro Nada that appeared in 1885. This is not as far-fetched as it may seem at first; linguists have established a relationship between basque and languages spoken in the Caucasus, in Chechen, for example.
Eco noted a listing of a book published in 1811 by an anonymous author who had turned the Code Napoléon into verse. He also observed that he would like to read The Sex Life of Robinson Crusoe by Michel Gall, published in 1977. The first edition of this work had been forbidden, it is not clear by whom.
Finally, he noted Claudia Particella, l’Amante del Cardinale, by Benito Mussolini, first published in the socialist journal Il Popolo in 1910.
Umberto Eco did not need esoteric catalogues to draw his attention to this historical romance.
He could have found it in the Robarts Library of the University of Toronto.