The dark side of the moon
April 4, 2013 3:33 PM   Subscribe

When it first surfaced in 2005, it was hailed as 'the most important Galileo find in more than a century'. Then, in June 2012, news broke on the Ex Libris mailing list that the unique 'proof copy' of Galileo's Sidereus Nuncius containing his original drawings of the Moon was in fact a highly sophisticated forgery. The full story is still unclear, but the finger of suspicion points at Marino Massimo de Caro, who in his brief reign as director of the Girolamini Library in Naples removed thousands of rare books in what has been described as a 'premeditated, organised and brutal' sacking of the library. Meanwhile, experts are still marvelling at the quality of the forgery: "We’ve seen missing pages replaced in facsimile, but no one dreamed that an entire book could be forged, something that is now more easily possible because of modern technology."
posted by verstegan (12 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Holy cow. I've been involved in the discovery of stolen material from my own library's fine arts collection; this stuff is way beyond a couple of missing catalogs raisonne and also utterly fascinating. Thanks!
posted by carsonb at 3:39 PM on April 4, 2013

From the NYT article: One serious problem facing investigators here is that they do not know the exact number of books that may have been stolen. Only half of the 170,000 or so books in the collection were ever cataloged

posted by ambrosia at 3:45 PM on April 4, 2013

If you're in the Boston area, Nick Wilding (see the forgery link) will be speaking about the "proof" Sidererus at Harvard next Wednesday at 5:30. (And you can say hi to me!)
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:10 PM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

My academic soul went ARRRGH at the thought of all the uncataloged books, now quite possibly gone forever. All the knowledge!

(Meanwhile, the actual Thomas J. Wise is probably looking down--or up--at all this, and saying, "Wow, just think what I could have managed with 21st century tech.")
posted by thomas j wise at 4:18 PM on April 4, 2013

So - not to minimize the damage done here - these books were stolen, presumably to be sold for private collections, not destroyed, right? At least they aren't being outright destroyed, which has happened more than a few times in history. If we're lucky, we'll get a lot back over the years as these filter back in through the ordinary grey market channels.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:33 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

That's true, certainly, but I presume that part of the theft was stripping these books of all evidence of where they came from, and that's one of the most important things about any given copy of a non-unique book--its provenance, its signs of use throughout the centuries. That's something we won't ever get back.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:57 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by jonmc at 5:13 PM on April 4, 2013

Dr. Wilding, the Georgia State professor who is mentioned in this as one of the key people who uncovered the forgery is, I am proud to say, my secondary research advisor for my dissertation currently. He's my advisor on the entire Italian end of my project, and is a hugely wonderful and frankly brilliant guy. He's got some really amazing research he's working on, besides all of this, too!

Horace Rumpole, tell Dr. Wilding - if you have a chance to speak with him, that his silk PhD student is talking to strangers on the internet. :)
posted by strixus at 5:34 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

> comparable only to the legendary Guglielmo Bruto Icilio Timoleone Conte Libri-Carucci della Sommaja,
> perhaps the greatest biblioklept in history

Wonderful name. And "biblioklept," nice new-to-me word.
posted by jfuller at 6:49 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

What a heartbreaking story. The whole Lord-Elgin-took-the-marbles-to-England-to-save-them-from-their-unworthy-custodians colonialist line takes on a veneer of plausibility, just applied to Camorra-dominated areas rather than the poor Greeks.
posted by sy at 4:34 AM on April 5, 2013

For him that Stealeth a Book from this Library, 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 sink to
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 & Aye.1
posted by steef at 5:34 AM on April 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's some irony in the fact that many ancient Greek texts disappeared (along with the advanced technology they described) for a thousand years (if not forever) because they were dispersed among uncomprehending collectors. Wheels within wheels.

For an eye-opening discussion, see: Lucio Russo, The Forgotten Revolution: How Science Was Born in 300 BC and Why It Had To Be Reborn. 2004. ISBN 3-540-20396-6.
posted by Twang at 5:28 PM on April 5, 2013

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